Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1920s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1920s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1920s

1. “Boardwalk Empire” (2010-2014) – Terence Winter created this award winning crime drama about Atlantic City, New Jersey during the Prohibition era. Inspired by Nelson Johnson’s 2002 book, “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City”, the series starred Steve Buscemi.

2. “Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Five Little Pigs” (2003) – In this beautifully poignant tale, Hercule Poirot investigates a fourteen year-old murder of a philandering artist, for which his client’s mother was erroneously convicted and hanged. David Suchet starred as Hercule Poirot.

3. “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” (2012-2015) – Essie Davis starred in this television adaptation of Kerry Greenwood’s historical mystery novels about a glamorous socialite who solves mysteries in 1920s Melbourne. The series was created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger.

4. “Rebecca” (1997) – Emilia Clarke, Charles Dance and Diana Rigg starred in this television adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel about a young bride haunted by the presence of her new husband’s first wife. Jim O’Brien directed.

5. “Peaky Blinders” (2013-2019) – Steven Knight created this television drama about a Birmingham crime family in post World War I England. Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory and Paul Anderson starred.

6. “The Day the Bubble Burst” (1982) – Joseph Hardy directed this fictionalized account of the events and forces that led to the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The television movie’s cast included Richard Crenna, Robert Vaughn, Robert Hays and Donna Pescow.

7. “The Great Gatsby” (2000) – Robert Markowitz directed this television adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel about the Jazz Age. Toby Stephens, Paul Rudd and Mira Sorvino starred.

8. “The Forsyte Saga: To Let” (2003) – Damian Lewis, Gina McKee and Rupert Graves starred in this adaptation of John Galsworthy’s 1921 novel, “To Let”, an entry in his The Forsyte Chronicles.

9. “The House of Eliott” (1991-1994) – Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins created this television series about two sisters who create this dressmaking business in 1920s London. Stella Gonet and Louise Lombard starred.

“HARRIET” (2019) Review

“HARRIET” (2019) Review

Many people are familiar with Harriet Tubman, the former slave-turned-Underground Railroad conductor-turned-Civil War operative-turned-political activist. She has appeared as a supporting character in a handful of television productions and the leading character in two other television productions. However, a full-length feature film has finally been made about the famous historical figure. That film is called “HARRIET”.

As I had earlier stated, there have been two television productions about the famous Underground Railroad conductor. One of them was an episode from the 1963-1964 historical anthology series “THE GREAT ADVENTURE” called (1.06) “Go Down, Moses”. It starred Ruby Dee. The other television production was the 1978 miniseries “A WOMAN CALLED MOSES”, which starred Cicely Tyson. Following the latter, the Harriet Tubman figure appeared in a few television productions about slavery and the Underground Railroad until the release of this new film.

“HARRIET” basically covered Tubman’s life during a nine-year period between 1849 and 1850, along with a sequence set in 1858. The movie began in 1849 Maryland with Harriet (or Araminta “Minty” Ross Tubman, as she was known then), along with her husband John Tubman and father Ben Ross (both who were free) approached Harriet’s owner Edward Bodress with a promise made by the latter’s ancestor that her mother Harriet “Rit” Ross would be freed by the age of 45, along with their children (including Harriet). Bodress refused to acknowledge the promise. He also forbade Harriet from seeing her husband John. Brodess’s adult son Gideon caught Minty praying for God to take Mr. Brodess. The latter died shortly afterward. Alarmed by this, Gideon decided to sell Minty as punishment. Suffering from spells that began after she had been struck in the head as a child, Minty had a vision of her being free and decided to run away. She convinced John to remain behind, in case he got caught and punished for escaping with her. Minty eventually reached Philadelphia and freedom. She managed to acquire a job, thanks to the assistance of Underground Railroad abolitionist/writer William Still and a fashionable free black woman named Marie Buchanon. After a few months in Philadelphia, Minty (who renamed herself as Harriet Tubman) returned to Maryland to retrieve John and discovered that he had remarried, believing she was dead. Instead, Harriet decided to escort some family members north to freedom and began her career as a conductor for the Underground Railroad.

I have been aware of Harriet Tubman ever since I was a child of nine years old. My mother had purchased a copy of Marcy Heidish’s 1976 novel called “A Woman Called Moses”, the basis for the 1978 miniseries. But “HARRIET” marked the first time that Tubman was featured as the a character in a motion picture, let alone the leading character. So naturally, I had to see it. I had some problems with the movie. One, I could easily see that it was not historical accurate. This is not a real problem for me. After seeing two television productions that erroneously featured Harriet Tubman operating in the Ohio River Valley, the historical inaccuracies in this film struck me as a piece of cake.

One example would be the scene during her own escape in which her new owner, Gideon Bodress, and a slave patrol cornered her on a bridge. Instead of surrendering, she evaded them by jumping into the river. Needless to say, no such thing happened, since her owner (Anthony Thompson), or any slave patrol were able to capture her during her journey to Philadelphia. But . . . I was able to tolerate this scene. Somewhat. I was also a bit confused about her relationship with John Tubman in this film. Director-writer Kasi Lemmons and co-writer Gregory Allen Howard portrayed Harriet or Minty’s marriage as loving and trouble free. This has not been the case in another Hollywood production I could think of. Unfortunately, no one really knows whether the Tubmans had experienced any marital strife before her flight from Maryland. So . . . I tolerated this portrayal. However, the movie indicated that Minty had suggested John not run with her so that he would not be caught aiding a runaway. This is false. According to history, John did not want her to run in the first place. They also made it clear that John had remarried because he had assumed Minty/Harriet was dead. I do not know whether this is true or not. But it seemed as if Lemmons and Howard seemed hell bent upon portraying John in a positive light as much as possible.

But there were changes in the narrative that left me scratching my head. “HARRIET” featured Minty making her escape from Maryland in the middle of the day . . . which I found odd. The movie had her working in a garden when someone warned her that Bodress had plans to sell her to the Deep South in order to alleviate family debts. No sooner had she received the warning, one of the plantation’s foremen appeared to grab her. Minty ran and . . . hid. She hid around the plantation for hours before she contacted her family and left. What made this even more odd is that Bodress did not learn of her escape from the foreman until hours later. Which I found very odd. Historically, most slave escapes began in the middle of the night, not in the middle of the day. Why did Minty wait so long to contact her family before her escape? And why did the plantation foreman wait so long to inform Bodress? Also, she made most of her journey by night and hid during the daytime. Which would have made that daytime encounter on the bridge with Bodress somewhat implausible. I can only assume Lemmons and Howard had added it for dramatic reasons.

In the movie, Minty/Harriet did not wait very long to return to Maryland and contact her family and John. After escorting several members of her family north, she returned to Maryland and helped others escape on several occasions before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Now this is ridiculous. One, Tubman returned to Maryland to help some relatives escape at least three to four months after the law’s passage. I find it very hard to believe that she had made so many trips to Maryland between her own escape in September 1849 and when the fugitive law was passed in September 1850.  Another troubling aspect of the movie was the sequence featuring the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. The movie featured a scene with former slaves – including Harriet – leaving en masse from the Philadelphia docks, while God knows how many slave catchers suddenly appeared to capture these fugitives. What the hell? I had felt as if I was watching a war movie with refugees escaping from an invaded city. Yes, many fugitive slaves were forced to flee the Northern states for Canada following the law’s passage. But not like THAT. Not like a scene from “CASABLANCA” or “THE WINDS OF WAR”.

I have two more complaints. Why did Lemmons and Howard added that . . . relationship between Harriet and Bodress? Why? It was bad enough that Gideon Bodress never existed. But Tubman had never recounted having to deal with the unwanted sexual interest or assault from any white man. And I got the impression that Lemmons wanted to include some watered down version of the Patsey-Edwin Epps relationship from the Oscar winning film, “12 YEARS A SLAVE” – but without the overt violence and sex. It was obvious that Bodress had never laid a violent hand on Harriet in the film, aside from the slap on the face after he had overheard her wish for his father’s death. But I find it implausible that Gideon Bodress had never attempted to sexually assault her. Even when his father was alive. Another sequence featured Northern black and white members discussing the Fugitive Slave Act passage and whether it would be safe to continue the Underground Railroad. What I disliked about this sequence is that most of them seemed to have this attitude without the organization’s conductors appearing on Southern plantations to lead them, many slaves would not be willing to escape or would not succeed in escaping. And this was far from the truth. One could argue that this scene was a perfect example of a patronizing behavior from Northern abolitionists. But Harriet did not point out that slaves were capable of escaping on their own. Instead, she simply argued for the continuation of the Underground Railroad. Which simply made her equally patronizing to me.

One would think that I disliked “HARRIET”. That person would be wrong. I actually enjoyed it very much. Despite some of the narrative choices, lightweight characterizations and historical inaccuracies; “HARRIET” was both an entertaining and interesting film. One, it is nice to see Hollywood produce a feature film about the former abolitionist. “HARRIET” is a thoughtful drama about a period in United States history about which very few Americans want to discuss, let alone contemplate. Like other Hollywood productions, the movie mainly featured Tubman’s early career as an Underground Railroad conductor. I had assumed that it would also focus on her Civil War experiences, due to some publicity stills released before the film hit the theaters. But the movie only included a coda, featuring Tubman’s participation in a raid during the war. “HARRIET” was, without a doubt, about her role with the Underground Railroady.

Due to the film’s focus on Harriet’s career as an Underground Railroad conductor, it did not focus that strongly on her family life . . . with the exceptions of her attempts to lead them to freedom. Many critics have complained about this. But I can understand why Lemmons only focused on one aspect of Harriet’s life. This was a feature-length film that ran nearly two hours, not a television miniseries. Frankly, I thought it was smart of her to focus one one aspect of Harriet’s life, considering the format she had used. And she focused on one of the former slave/abolitionist’s most famous period in her life – namely that as an Underground Railroad conductor. Only through this story arc was the movie able to somewhat focus on her connection to her family. In fact, one the most interesting arcs in this narrative proved to be a sequence that featured Tubman’s attempts to rescue her sister Rachel and the latter’s children.

This focus on Harriet’s career with the Underground Railroad allowed Lemmons and Howard to reveal Harriet as the action heroine she truly was. The writers’ narrative arc also featured some well staged action sequences. Among my favorite sequences are Harriet’s initial escape from Maryland and her successful rescue of Rachel’s children in the film’s second half. Both struck me as well-shot sequences that featured a great deal of more tension and drama than action. And I thought the focus on these two aspects may have allowed the sequences to be more effective without the obvious action. I also enjoyed the movie’s final action sequence in which Harriet attempted to rescue and lead her parents to freedom in the late 1850s. Not only was this sequence filled with the usual solid action for this trope, it featured a tense-filled final confrontation between Harriet and Bodress.

I certainly did not have a problem with the film’s production values. I thought Warren Alan Young did an exceptional job in re-creating antebellum America, especially in scenes that featured the Bodress plantation, Baltimore (at least I think it is), Canada and especially Philadelphia. I believe Young was ably supported by John Troll’s sharp and colorful cinematography, Wyatt Smith’s film editing, Kevin Hardison and Christina Eunji Kim’s art direction, and Marthe Pineau’s set decorations. I also have to commend Paul Tazewell for his costume designs. I thought Tazewell did an excellent job of conveying the movie’s setting and characters through his costumes, as shown in the images below:

I have a confession to make. Aside from a handful, I was not exactly blown away by the performances featured in “HARRIET”. I am not claiming that most of the performances were terrible or even mediocre. I simply found them solid . . . or serviceable. There were a few that I found slightly above being serviceable – like Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Zackary Momoh, Tim Guinee, Henry Hunter Hall, Joseph Lee Anderson, Jennifer Nettles and Omar J. Dorsey. But like I had said, there were a few that struck me as memorable. One of them Clarke Peters, who gave a subtle, yet warm portrayal of Harriet/Minty’s father, Ben Ross. I was also impressed by Vanessa Bell Calloway, who gave an exceptional performance as the abolitionist’s emotional and slightly edgy mother, Harriet Ritt Ross. Joe Alwyn did an excellent job of portraying Gideon Bodress as a slightly complex character without transforming the character into a one-note, mustache-twirling villain. And I really enjoyed Vondie Curtis-Hall’s subtle, yet colorful portrayal of Reverend Green, the local free black minister, who also happened to be a member of the Underground Railroad.

But the performance that really counted in “HARRIET” came from leading lady Cynthia Erivo. It is almost a miracle that Erivo managed to give such an exceptional performance as Harriet Tubman. I say this, because Lemmons and Howard had failed to fully portray Tubman as a complex human being with not only virtues, but also a few flaws. Their Tubman almost struck me as a borderline Mary Sue, due to their determination to basically portray her as an action heroine. But they did provide some intimate moments between Tubman, her family and friends. And this gave Erivo the opportunity to skillfully convey the warm, yet strong-willed individual underneath the heroic facade. This was especially apparent in scenes that featured Tubman’s desperation to put as much distance between her and the Bodress plantation as possible; her determination to return to Maryland to rescue her family; and her discovery that her husband had married another woman. Thanks to her superb performance, Erivo managed to earn both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. And if I must be brutally honest, she deserved them.

Overall, I enjoyed “HARRIET”. I have always been interested in Harriet Tubman as a historical figure and was happy to see a motion picture about her. It was not the best or most compelling biopic I have ever seen. Nor was it the best biopic about Tubman I have ever seen. But I cannot deny that thanks to Kari Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard’s interesting screenplay, Lemmons’ solid direction and a first-rate cast led by Cynthia Erivo, “HARRIET” is a movie that I will be more than happy to watch on many occasions in the future.

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L.A. Noir II (1969-1988)

Below is the second set of images from some famous film noir movies set in Los Angeles:

L.A. NOIR II (1969-1988)

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“Marlowe” (1969)

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“The Long Goodbye” (1973)

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“Chinatown” (1974)

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“Farewell My Lovely” (1975)

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“Blade Runner” (1982)

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“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988)

“The Corellian Connection” [PG-13] – Chapter 3

“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”

CHAPTER THREE

OUTSIDE ALDERA, ALDERAAN

Padme had just finished her breakfast, when CP-30 entered the dining room. “Pardon me, Milady, but you have a visitor. Prince Organa.”

“Where is he, Threepio?” Padme asked.

The protocol droid revealed that her visitor awaited her in the east drawing-room. Padme heaved a sigh and stood up. She followed Threepio in the said room, where she found an anxious Bail Organa pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. “Bail,” the former senator greeted. “What are you doing here?”

“I just came to say good-bye,” Bail replied. “I’m leaving for Averam.” He went on to explain about a message he had received from a distressed Solipo Yeb. “I’ve already sent extra funds to Corellia. Solipo had planned to remain on Averam, but I advised him to head elsewhere.”

Padme frowned. “Like where?”

With a shake of his head, Bail sighed. “I don’t know. We’ll discuss the matter when we meet.”

Bail’s comments reminded Padme of her present situation as the Alderaan Royal Family’s guest. “Speaking of a permanent home,” she added, “I think we need to consider finding a new home for the twins and myself.”

“Yes, I had thought the same,” Bail said. “As a matter of fact, this situation with Solipo worries me for another reason. Thanks to the Emperor’s new intelligence network . . .”

Padme commented with distaste, “The Inquisitorius. I’ve heard of it.”

“Yes, well there is a chance that Solipo’s message from Corellia may have been detected,” Bail continued. Padme grew alarmed. “Which means that I think you should prepare yourself for the possibility of an immediate escape. Just in case.”

Padme nodded. “I understand.” She gave her former colleague a reassuring smile. “Safe journey, Bail. May the Force be with you.”

Bail returned her smile. “Thank you, Padme. I’ll be sure to visit you upon my return.” He bowed and left the room.

Once alone, Padme heaved a long-suffering sigh. Threepio, she decided, might not like this new development. Come to think of it, she did not care for it, either. But as Bail had pointed out . . . one should be prepared. She then left the drawing room and went in search of the protocol droid.

———

CORONET, CORELLIA

“Give him his breakfast, Dewlanna.”

Han sat quietly at the table in the middle of the kitchen, inside the three-story villa. Opposite him sat his “benefactor”, Garris Shrike. The stocky, black-haired man regarded the eleven year-old with pale blue eyes, while the female Wookie quietly set a plate of food in front of the boy.

Shrike’s stocky face leaned forward. “I’m allowing you to eat this morning, Solo. You’ll need your strength to collect the 2,000 credits that you owe me.”

Two thousand? Han frowned, as he protested, “I thought you wanted me to collect one thou . . .”

“It’s now two thousand!” Shrike interrupted in a hard voice. A thin smile curved his lips. “Since you’re not used to collecting such a large sum, you’ll have two days to do the job. If you fail . . .” His smile disappeared. “. . . more punishment will follow.”

Rubbing the bruise under his left eye, Han had a pretty good idea what “more” entail. “I understand,” he murmured.

“Good.” The smile returned, as Shrike stood up. “Now, eat up. Enjoy your meal. The Trader’s Luck will be leaving Corellia by the end of the week.” He left the dining room.

The eleven year-old grabbed his fork and began to eat his Corellian potatoes. “Not so fast,” Dewlanna growled. “You have not eaten in quite a while. You’ll hurt your stomach if you don’t slow down.”

Very few humans, let alone other species within the galaxy, understood Shyriiwook, the Wookies’ language. Han counted himself among the very few who did. Not only had Dewlanna taught him Shyriiwook, she had ensured that he acquired a decent education and health care – matters that Shrike had deliberately ignored. Han did as he was ordered and ate his potatoes at a slower pace. “I can’t stay here any longer, Dewlanna,” he said between bites. “I have to get out of here. Either Shrike is gonna kill me some day, or I’m gonna get him.”

A growling Dewlanna retorted, “Don’t talk such nonsense, Han! Where would you go?”

Good question, Han thought. Where would he go? Nearly three years ago, Dewlanna had informed him about his family background. It seemed Han came from the famous House of Solo – a family that had once ruled Corellia a long time ago. That knowledge had led Han to run away from Shrike and track down his long lost Aunt Tiion Solo and her son, Thrackan Sal-Solo. Unfortunately, Aunt Tiion proved to be mad and Cousin Thrackan, a violent bully. The latter eventually betrayed Han and sold him back to Shrike.

Who could offer him refuge from Shrike? Memories of the tall, dark-blond pilot flashed in Han’s mind. The pilot’s intense blue eyes, scar and hardened expression gave him an intimidating aura. Yet, Captain Horus had not ratted out Han to the CorSec officer, after Han tried to pick his pocket. Given the eleven year-old’s experiences aboard Shrike’s own ship, the Trader’s Luck, Han figured that he would feel right at home as the pilot’s companion. Deep down, he knew that his chances of receiving help from Captain Horus seemed pretty slim. But he had to make the attempt. After last night, he could not bear staying here any longer.

Han ate the last of his potatoes and drank the rest of his Bribb juice. “Finished,” he declared, as he wiped his mouth. “Gotta go.” He stood up and began to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Dewlanna demanded. She regarded the boy with shrewd eyes.

Through the side of his mouth, Han muttered, “Going to work, of course.”

Dewlanna continued to stare at him. “What about your plans to leave Shrike? Do you still plan to go through with it?”

“Maybe,” Han replied. “But not today. I gotta go.”

“Wait a minute.” She opened the pantry and removed a burlap sack from within. “Here.” The Wookie tossed the bag at Han, who neatly caught it. “There is some food for today and a credit chip that will last you for two weeks.” Sadness crept into her large and expressive eyes. “Ever since last night, I suspected you would try to leave. You’re right, of course. It’s time for you to leave.”

“Dewlanna . . .”

The Wookie walked over to Han and affectionately ruffled his hair. “Good-bye, my scruffy one. Take care.” With a slight yelp, she turned away and left the kitchen.

Han stared at the Wookie’s disappearing form. A lump formed in his throat, as he walked from the kitchen into the villa’s courtyard. He paused before the courtyard’s gate and stared at the house for what he hoped to be the last. Then he opened the gate and left.

———–

THE ALDERAAN SYSTEM

The Imperial Destroyer, the Exactor, hovered in orbit over the serene-looking planet of Alderaan. Darth Rasche and two squads of clone troopers entered the ship’s hangar bay and marched toward the largest shuttle. The destroyer’s second-in-command, Commander Mellon, accompanied them.

“The squad and I will meet with Queen Breha and Prince Bail on Alderaan, and search for the holoproject used to receive Senator Yeb’s message,” the Sith apprentice announced. “Once we have discovered it and retrieved the message, I will arrest both the queen and her husband, and then give the signal for you to send troops to the planet’s surface.”

Captain Mellon asked, “What if the signal from Corellia never reached the Aldera Palace? What if it had reached somewhere else on the planet?”

Squelching a desire to strike the annoying officer, Rasche retorted, “Then I will search every inch of the planet until I learn who had received that signal.”

“But what if . . .?”

Rasche silenced the officer with a deadly glare. “You have your orders, Captain!” he snarled.

Mellon recoiled slightly. “Yes, my Lord.”

“Let’s go,” Rasche ordered the two squads. The Sith Lord and the two squads boarded the shuttle. Minutes later, it hovered over the hangar’s floor before it zoomed into deep space and toward Alderaan’s surface.

——–

ALDERA PALACE, ALDERAAN

Queen Breha sat on a stone bench, situated on her favorite balcony. The latter overlooked the royal woods and the planet’s capital in the far distance. She glanced up from the data pad in her hands and saw her cousin, Raymus Antilles, approach the balcony. “Cousin Raymus!” she greeted warmly. “I thought you and Bail had left on the Tantive IV.”

“His Highness did not leave on the Tantive IV, Your Majesty,” Raymus replied with a bow. “He thought it would be more prudent to leave on a less conspicuous ship. And he asked me to remain behind.” A slight unease crept into his eyes. “Also, I have some dire news, Cousin.”

Breha sighed. She should have realized that this was not a friendly visit. Raymus usually paid such visits in the evening. “Is there a problem?”

“A major one, I’m afraid.” Raymus paused dramatically. “I have just received word from one of His Highness’ contacts on Coruscant that the Empire will be sending an emissary to Alderaan.”

Alarmed by the news, Breha rose to her feet. “Oh no! Padme and the children! The Emperor has finally learned that they’re alive!”

Raymus shook his head. “No, Your Majesty. This has nothing to do with Senator Amidala. According to Prince Bail’s contact, the Inquisitorum has detected the message from Senator Yeb on Corellia. Apparently, they’re aware that he is there.”

Which meant that Emperor Palpatine suspected Bail of being in contact with the former Andalian senator and a traitor to the Empire. “Have you contacted His Highness?”

“I’m afraid not, Your Majesty,” Raymus replied anxiously. “The planet’s communications have been jammed. I was only able to receive most of the message from His Highness’s contact before it happened.” He paused and inhaled sharply. “However, the contact did reveal that the Emperor’s emissary has the title of a Sith Lord.”

A Sith Lord? An uneasy thought came to Queen Breha. Both she and Raymus were among the few that knew that both the Emperor and Padme’s Jedi husband were Sith Lords. She asked Raymus for the full name of the Imperial emissary. Her cousin did not know, since the planet’s communication systems had jammed before he could find out. “However, I must add, Your Majesty, that if Alderaan’s communications are jammed, it is suffice to believe that this emissary has arrived.”

“We need to warn Padme,” Breha insisted. “And some of our other refugees.”

Raymus nodded. “I have sent a group of our most trusted men to warn the others. And I will warn Senator Amidala, as soon as possible.” He paused before adding, “One last thing, Your Majesty – if the Imperials show up any minute, I think it would be best to either hide or destroy Prince Bail’s private holoprojector. If you know what I mean.”

The queen quickly replied, “I understand perfectly. Leave that matter to me.”

——–

CORONET, CORELLIA

“Any messages?” Anakin asked the hotel’s desk clerk.

The clerk, a nervous-looking man with very pale skin and protruding gray eyes, replied, “No, Captain Horus. However . . .” He glanced behind Anakin’s right shoulder. “. . . you have a visitor. He would not give me his name.”

Anakin’s gaze followed the clerk’s. Expecting to find Thalia Kor and her brother, he was surprised to see the young street thief that he had met, yesterday in the hotel lobby’s sitting area. The boy had acquired a nasty bruise on the left side of his face. “Well, well,” Anakin muttered. “Look who’s here.”

“Captain?” the clerk began. “Do you wish for me to have the boy escorted out of the hotel?”

“No. I’ll speak with him. Thank you.” Anakin walked over to the sitting area, where the boy sat in a plush blue chair. The latter seemed overwhelmed by his surroundings. “Han Solo. Am I right? What are you doing here?” Anakin sat down in the empty chair to the boy’s right.

Clutching a burlap sack, young Solo answered, “I came to see you. I wanna join your crew.”

Anakin nearly burst into laughter. Until he remembered that he had been an accomplished pilot before the age of ten. Instead, he coughed slightly and asked, “Now, how did you know that I’m a pilot?”

“I saw you disembarking from a freighter at the spaceport, yesterday afternoon,” Han replied. “I figured that you were the ship’s pilot.”

“And you want to become a member of my crew?”

Annoyance flashed across the boy’s face. “Hey, I might not be a pilot . . . at least not yet. But I’ve traveled all over the galaxy on Shrike’s starship. So, I’m used to space travel.”

One of Anakin’s brows arched questioningly. “Shrike? Would that be the gentleman that the CorSec officer had spoke of, yesterday?” Han remained silent. “Did he give you that bruise?”

Han’s face paled visibly. “It’s not his fault. I didn’t bring in the . . . quota that he wanted, yesterday,” he muttered.

“I see.” Anakin began to realize that the boy yearned to escape from his criminal ‘benefactor’ and a life of thievery. He longed to help, but the former Jedi believed that Han would be better off without him, as well. “Sorry kid,” he finally murmured. “I think you need to find someone else to rescue you. I can’t be that person.” He began to rise from his chair.

A frown creased the boy’s forehead. “Why not? You think I’m too young to be a part of your crew?”

Anakin sighed. “I am the crew of the Hawk. And I don’t need another crewman. If you think that being with this Shrike character is bad, you just might find that I can a lot worse. Trust me.”

“What did you do? Kill someone?”

A long pause followed. Not even the chatter from the hotel’s guests and employees could penetrate the silence that surrounded the pair. Anakin stared pointedly at Han. “No, I didn’t kill someone,” he said in a quiet voice. “I had killed more than one person. Hundreds of them, as a matter of fact. Including children.”

An uneasy smile tugged the corners of Han’s mouth. “You’re kidding, mister. Right? You’re just trying to scare me.”

Anakin leaned forward. “Do I look like I’m kidding?” he said in a menacing voice. Han’s mouth gaped open like a dead fish. “So kid, do you still want to be a part of my crew?”

Han gulped loudly. Then he quickly slid off the chair. Clutching his burlap bag, he murmured a quiet, “Excuse me” and quickly scuttled away.

“I guess the answer is no,” Anakin added. He heaved another sigh. Now that he had resolved that little dilemma, it was time to meet his new clients.

———

ABOVE SELONIA, CORELLIA SYSTEM

A young officer marched onto the bridge of the Imperial warship, the Agamemnon, and headed toward the ship’s commander. “A message from Grand Moff Tarkin, sir.”

The captain, a native of Metellos named Ulen Hardy, switched on the monitor near his chair. The thin, aristocratic face of a man in his forties, appeared on the monitor’s screen. Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. The Eriaduian had recently become one of the Imperial Fleet’s new flag officers and now commanded the star destroyer, the Executrix. “Your Excellency,” Hardy greeted in an obsequious manner reserved for those ranked higher than himself.

Tarkin merely raised his brows slightly. “Captain Hardy, I have an assignment for you. Senator Solipo Yeb has been traced to Coronet on Corellia. Go there, arrest both Senator Yeb and his sister, and bring them back to Coruscant at once.”

“As you wish, Your Excellency. Hardy out.” The captain switched off the monitor and turned to his executive officer. “Commander Jaffe, lay in a course for Corellia.”

Commander Jaffe nodded. “Yes sir.” Then he began to bark the captain’s order to the rest of the crew.

END OF CHAPTER THREE

“HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE” (2005) Review

“HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE” (2005) Review

Despite the release of the first two movies in the film franchise, I did not become a fan of the “HARRY POTTER” series until I saw the 2004 movie, “HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”. I became so enamored of this third film that I regarded the release of its successor, “HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE”, with great anticipation.

Released during the fall of 2005 and based upon J.K. Rowling’s 2000 novel, “HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE” follows boy wizard Harry Potter’s fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This year proves to be a special one for Harry when he unexpectedly finds himself competing in the wizard world’s Tri-Wizard Tournament, a magical competition for young wizards from three different schools, who are 17 years old or older. Not only does the 14 year-old Harry have to deal with the contempt from Hogswarts students who believe he had cheated to enter the competition, he also have to deal with the dangerous tasks that make up the competition and an unpleasant surprise that awaits him once the tournament ends.

When the movie first hit the theaters nine years ago, many had hailed “GOBLET OF FIRE” as the best of the four HARRY POTTER movies, released thus far. I wish I could have agreed with that assessment of “GOBLET OF FIRE”. I really wish I could. But . . . I cannot. Personally, I feel that these critics may have overrated the 2005 film. Why? I considered it the weakest of the first four movies. I would not consider the movie a complete waste of my time. It did feature some very entertaining and mesmerizing scenes. My favorites include the opening sequence in which Harry dreams of Lord Voldemort, Peter Pettigrew and a mysterious man being interrupted by an elderly handyman named Frank Bryce inside a mansion, before the latter is killed by Pettigrew; Headmaster Albus Dumbledore pulling the names of the Tri-Wizard Tournament competitors from the Goblet of Fire; Harry and Ron’s quarrel over the former being one of the tournament’s competitors; the competition’s second task; the third task inside the claustrophobic maze and Harry’s encounter with the . . . uh, unpleasant surprise. But my favorite sequence in the entire film has to be the Yule Ball – the Christmas celebration for the tournament’s participants, the foreign visitors and Hogswarts’ students and faculty staff. I would say that it is one of the best sequences in the entire “HARRY POTTER” film franchise. It is just a joy to watch . . . from the preparations for the ball (that included finding dates and learning how to dance) to the immediate aftermath of the special night.

“HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE” featured some pretty decent performances. But they seemed far and between. Both Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint gave excellent performances as the two best friends – Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. I was especially impressed that they managed to restrain from any theatrical acting when their characters became drawn into a quarrel over Harry’s participation in the tournament. Maggie Smith was her usual competent self as the always dependable Professor Minerva McGonagall. Alan Rickman’s portrayal of potions teacher Severus Snape continued to be a joy to watch. My only disappointment was that his role seemed rather diminished in this film. I was pleasantly surprised by Brendan Gleeson’s portrayal of the colorful teacher and former wizard aurorer, Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody. Gleeson could have indulged in a great deal of hamminess with such an eccentric character. But he kept his performance in full control, while conveying the oddball nature of “Mad Eye”. Miranda Richardson gave a deliciously wicked performance as Rita Skeeter, a reporter who harbored an indulgence for yellow journalism that annoyed poor Harry to no end. I found Jason Isaac’s portrayal of Lucius Malfoy rather theatrical in the Quidditch World Cup scene. But I must admit that I was very impressed by the subtle manner in which he portrayed his character’s obsequious manner in the film’s last half hour. The movie also featured solid performances from Robert Pattison and Katie Leung, who portrayed the student lovers, Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang; Timothy Spall as Death Eater Peter Pettigrew; Robbie Coltrane as Hogwarts teacher Rubeus Hagrid; Frances de la Tour as Beauxbaton Headmistress Olympe Maxime and Eric Sykes as Riddle handyman, Frank Bryce.

Unfortunately, I could find nothing further to admire about “HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE”. My first problem turned out to be the screenplay written by Steve Kloves. I did not expect him to be completely faithful to Rowling’s novel. It would take a two-week miniseries to be completely faithful to it. But there were some scenes I wish Kloves had not eliminated. One, he cut the scene featuring the Weasleys’ visit to the Dursley home on Privet Drive to pick up Harry for the Qudditch World Cup. I mourned this cut, for I believe it was one of the funniest scenes in Rowling’s book series. But Kloves’ further cuts left the main narrative with some serious plot holes. Kloves’ screenplay never explained how Death Eater Barty Couch Jr. managed to escape from the wizarding world’s prison, Azkaban, without the Ministry of Magic’s knowledge. How did Lord Voldemort and Couch Jr. learn about the Tri-Wizard Tournament in the first place? Also, there was one scene that featured “Mad Eye” Moody’s arrival at Hogwarts with no luggage or trunk. Yet, there was another scene in which Harry visited Moody’s room and spotted a trunk. How did the teacher convey his trunk to the castle?

There were other problems that marred my enjoyment of the film. I read an article in which director Mike Newell decided to portray the Hogwarts students in a more “realistic” manner – in other words, as British school children would behave in real life. Unfortunately, his attempt at “realism” merely allowed most of the actors and actresses portraying Hogwarts students to engage in theatrical performances. Even worse, Newell did the opposite with the visiting foreign students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons by allowing the actors to indulge in one-dimensional cliches with their portrayals. I found one scene in which Harry’s trip to the school prefects’ bath was interrupted by a ghost known as Moaning Myrtle. I realize that Myrtle was supposed to be around 14 (the age of her death), the same age as Harry was in this story. But watching actress Shirley Henderson, who was at least 39 years old at the time, flirt with a half-naked or naked Daniel Radcliffe made me squirm in my seat with a good deal of discomfort. On the other hand, I felt a great deal of disappointment toward the movie’s production style and look. I get the feeling that Production Designer Stuart Craig and Cinematographer Roger Pratt, along with Newell, were trying to recapture the look or style of Middle Earth, as shown in “LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS” and “LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING”. I hated the look in those movies and I hated it in this film.

My biggest problem with “GOBLET OF FIRE” turned out to be the acting. I have already pointed out what I believe were the better performances in the film. As for the rest of the cast . . . sigh. I have never encountered so much hammy acting in my life. It seemed as if three-quarters of the cast spent most of the time shouting their dialogue. I am not just talking about the performances of those portraying the students, but especially the adult actors and actresses. There were some questionable performances that really caught my attention. Emma Watson is a first-rate actress, but she seemed to be trying too hard in her portrayal of Hermione Granger in this film. Michael Gambon, who had done such a wonderful job in his debut as Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in 2004’s “HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”, gave a completely different – and very hammy – performance in “GOBLET OF FIRE”. Roger Lloyd-Pack was another actor whom one could depend upon for a first-rate performance. Not in this film. He seemed to be a bundle of out-of-control nerves and very theatrical in his role as head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Barty Crouch Sr. The previous performances mentioned were nothing in compare to both David Tennant and Ralph Fiennes. Lloyd-Pack’s twitchy performance was nothing in compare to David Tennant, whose performance as Death Eater Barty Crouch Jr. revealed more twitchy mannerisms in this one film than Bette Davis did in her entire film career. But when it came to chewing the scenery, no one did it better than Ralph Fiennes in his debut as the series’ main villain, Tom Riddle Jr. aka Lord Voldemort. Words cannot describe the over-the-top performance he gave in the movie’s climatic scene. And I cannot help but wonder why Newell did not reign in his performance. Then again, he was barely able to do the same with other cast members, as well.

Yes, “HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE” struck me as far from perfect. Thanks to the plot holes, unattractive production look and the numerous hammy performances, I found it difficult to consider it a great favorite of mine. But despite its flaws, I still managed to enjoy the film. It just strikes me as a pity that it turned out to be a comedown after the franchise’s first three films . . . at least for me.

Favorite Episodes of “LUCIFER” Season One (2016)

Below is a list of my favorite Season One episodes from the Fox (now Netflix) series, “LUCIFER”. Based on the Vertigo (D.C. Comics) comic book series and created by Tom Kapinos, the series stars Tom Ellis:

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “LUCIFER” SEASON ONE (2016)

1. (1.09) “A Priest Walks into a Bar” – Lucifer Morningstar (aka the Devil) and LAPD Detective Chloe Decker investigate a drug ring, which a priest believes is led by a local youth counselor. Meanwhile, archangel Amenadiel (and Lucifer’s brother) meet with corrupt cop Malcolm Graham to explain why he had pull the latter out of Hell.

2. (1.13) “Take Me Back to Hell” – In the season finale, Lucifer and Chloe must work together to clear the former’s name and find the true killer, Malcolm, after Lucifer is framed for murder.

3. (1.03) “The Would-Be Prince of Darkness” – Lucifer and Chloe explore the world of big money sports when a young football quarterback, whom Lucifer had convinced to lose his virginity, is arrested for the murder of the girl with whom he had sex.

4. (1.12) “TeamLucifer” – Lucifer, Chloe and the latter’s ex-husband, LAPD Detective Dan Espinoza, investigates the death of a woman whose body with a “Hail Lucifer” message was found lying within a pentagram.

5. (1.07) “Wingman” – Lucifer turns to Amenadiel for help, while trying to find the contents of his stolen container – the wings he had removed from his body, following his arrival in Los Angeles.

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Five “Crossroads” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Five “Crossroads” Commentary

The last episode, ”Replacements” saw Easy Company reeling from the Allies’ disastrous defeat during the Operation Market Garden campaign in Holland. Directed by Tom Hanks, this latest episode depicted Richard Winters’ last combat engagement as the company’s commander, Operation Pegasus, and the company’s departure for Belguim as they prepare to participate in the Bastogne campaign.

At the beginning of the aptly named ”Crossroads”; Winters, now the executive officer of the 2nd Battalion of 506th regiment, recounts his last combat mission as commander of Easy Company in a report for regimental headquarters that took place at a crossroads, near a dike in Holland. In the aftermath of the battle, Winters is informed that he has been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel Strayer’s executive officer, leaving Easy without a commander. However, a new man – Frederick Theodore “Moose” Heyliger – becomes Easy’s new commander and leads them in Operation Pegasus, a military mission to escort a large number of British paratroopers trapped behind enemy lines, following the failure of Market Garden. Unfortunately, about a week later, Lieutenant Heyliger is seriously wounded by an American sentry and Easy ends up with a new commander named Norman Dike. Unlike Winters and Heyliger, Easy Company has no respect for their new leader and nicknames him ”Foxhole Norman”.

Not long after Dike becomes Easy’s new commander, a reluctant Winters is ordered to spend a few days of furlough in Paris. During his furlough, Winters is haunted by a moment when he killed a teenaged German soldier during the crossroads battle. Not long after his return to the regiment, the 101st Airborne learns about the German counterattack near Bastogne and is sent to Belgium to repel it. The episode ends with Easy company marching into the Belgian forest in the middle of the night, with minimum supplies and inadequate clothing.

I have always liked ”Crossroads” . . . despite itself. I cannot put my finger on it. Perhaps my feelings about the episode have to do with how Hanks directed the battle fought at the crossroads. He injected a great deal of style into that very moment that featured Winters leading a charge against S.S. troops at the crossroads. I also enjoyed Damian Lewis’ performance during the Paris furlough scenes and Neal McDonough as the slightly stressed out “Buck” Compton, who has returned from the hospital. And I enjoyed the sequence featuring the interaction of some of the company’s men, while watching a Marlene Dietrich film. However, my favorite sequence featured Easy Company’s brief journey to another crossroad – one near the town of Bastogne, Belgium. Screenwriter Erik Jendresen certainly did his best to ensure that the episode’s title adhere to its theme. A good deal seemed to be at a crossroads in this episode – including the location of a Dutch dike, where Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time; and the crossroads near Bastogne, where the company was sent to halt the German counterattack. Winters’ Army career was at a crossroads, as he went from company commander to battalion executive officer. And Easy Company endured a crisis of leadership following Winters’ promotion to battalion.

Yet, despite my positive feelings for ”Crossroads”, I cannot deny that it was one of the miniseries’ weaker episodes. For such a short episode, so much had occurred. Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time. The company participated in Operations Pegasus. It lost “Moose” Heyliger as its commander after he was accidentally shot and gained Norman Dike as the new commander – a man for whom no one seemed to have much respect. This episode should have been longer than 50 minutes. More importantly, watching both ”Replacements” and ”Crossroads” made me realize that Spielberg and Hanks had limited the company’s experiences in Holland to two engagements. The miniseries could have explored a lot more, judging from what I have read in Stephen Ambrose’s book.

It seemed a pity that Spielberg and Hanks failed to take the opportunity to explore more of Easy Company’s Holland experiences. Instead, the second half of this episode focused on Winters’ furlough in Paris and the company’s preparations for the Belgium campaign. And because of this ”Crossroads” seemed unfulfilled . . . and lacking. But it did provide an excellent performance from Damian Lewis as Richard Winters. And it featured a first-rate combat sequence and some personal interactions between the men that I found interesting. It was not a complete waste of time.

“THUNDERBALL” (1965) Review

“THUNDERBALL” (1965) Review

I had just viewed the 1965 Bond movie, “THUNDERBALL” for the first time in several years. And I can see why this movie is considered to be one of my all time favorite Bond flicks. But I do not think I can state why in one or two sentences.

“THUNDERBALL” turned out to be director Terrence Young’s third and last Bond film. Most Bond fans consider it to be his least superior film, but I consider it to be his second best, following 1963’s “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. The story, based upon an unfinished script called “Warhead”, co-written by Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. The unfinished script eventually became Fleming’s 1961 novel, “Thunderball”. This resulted in a major lawsuit between McClory and Fleming and eventually, EON Productions became dragged into it. The story is about SPECTRE’s theft of NATO nuclear warheads and how they used it to blackmail the U.S. and British government for the sum of 100,000,000 pounds. Naturally, MI-6 sends all of their “00” agents to recover the warheads before SPECTRE can carry out its threat to detonate the weapons on U.S. and British soil. Many moviegoers found the movie’s plot a little hard to buy and viewed it as part of the realm of fantasy. But considering the current obsession of terrorism and the high illegal weapons market, “THUNDERBALL” is probably one of the more relevant plots of any Bond film.

Aside from the underwater sequences, “THUNDERBALL” turned out to be an elegant and exciting thriller with excellent drama, a solid plot that managed to avoid any major plotholes, a classy score by John Barry and a first-class cast. Sean Connery portrayed James Bond for the fourth time in this film. Thankfully, he seemed to be at his top game in this one. It is a vast improvement over his performance in 1964’s “GOLDFINGER”, in which he seemed to come off as an immature prat. And he is ably assisted by a first-class cast – Claudine Auger as Domino Duval, Adolfo Celi as villain Emile Largo (SPECTRE’s Number 2), Rik Van Nutter as CIA Agent Felix Leiter and especially Luciana Paluzzi as villainess Fiona Volpe.

Below is a list of positive and negative aspects of the film. I have decided to start with the negative, since there was little that I did not care about the movie:

Negative:

*Rik Van Nutter as Felix Leiter – Do not get me wrong. Van Nutter’s performance as Leiter was competent and very personable. My problem was that his role was written as a “less-than-bright” sidekick of Bond’s, instead of an ally. Bond has been assisted by Leiter in other movies, but they have never come off as some dumb sidekick . . . except for Cec Linder in “GOLDFINGER”.

*Theme Song – I will not deny that the movie’s theme song, performed by Tom Jones is slightly catchy. But I also found the lyrics to be slightly sexist and off-putting.

*Underwater Sequences – Yes, the underwater sequences had threatened to drag the movie a bit. Actually, I can point out two sequences that came close to boring me – the sequence that featured Largo’s acquisition of the warheads and the final battle between Largo’s men and U.S. Navy frogmen.

Blackmail of Patricia Fearing – James Bond’s attempt to seduce Shrublands Clinic nurse, Patricia Fearing, came off as disturbing and tacky. It was bad enough to watch him make attempts to kiss the very professional Ms. Fearing without her consent. But when he resorted to blackmail – willingness to conceal his near death experience with the physiotherapy machine aka “the rack” in exchange for sex – the whole situation became rather sordid.

Positive:

*Luciana Paluzzi – Let us be honest, folks. The red-haired Paluzzi came dangerously close to stealing the picture from Connery. Like Honor Blackman before her, she radiated sexiness and a strong on-screen presence. She seemed to be even more of a threat than Emile Largo and his men.

*Adolpo Celi – What I like about Celi’s performance is that he does not come off as an over-the-top villain. He was elegant, intelligent, ruthless and egotistical. Perfect villain.

*Nassau Setting – The setting in Nassau gave the movie an exotic, yet elegant feel that really added substance to the movie.

*Villain’s Goal – Many critics have claimed that the villain’s goal in the movie – nuclear blackmail for money – seemed unrealistic, due to a belief there was little chance that an organization like SPECTRE could get its hands on a nuclear bomb from a NATO strategic bomber. And yet, I have never considered such a scenario unrealistic. Especially in today’s world. In a way, this scenario seems much more possible than some of scenarios featured in other Bond movies from the same period.

*Dialogue – The dialogue in this movie was unusually sharp and witty. But what really appealed to me was that Connery’s puns did not come out of his mouth every other minute, as it did in his previous two movies. In fact, the movie featured what I consider to be one of Connery’s best lines during his tenure with the franchise.

I would like to conclude with this little note. In 1983, Kevin McClory – one of the original authors of “Warhead” – produced his own movie version of the story, which starred Connery as Bond. The movie, “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN” was not exactly terrible, but it almost seemed like an overblown version of the 1965 movie.

R.I.P. Sir Sean Connery (1930-2020)

R.I.P. Earl Cameron (1917-2020)

“Breath of the Undead” [PG-13] – 8/15

“BREATH OF THE UNDEAD”

Chapter Eight

“How is she?” Olivia asked, as she peered over Harry’s shoulder. Nearly a half-hour following the vampires’ attack, Olivia appeared at Janet Hui’s house.

Harry sat at one end of the living room sofa, as he held up the semi-conscious Janet by the shoulders. “Fine,” he said. “And alive, thank goodness. I think that Ron or the other guy had stunned her.” He attempted to convince his friend to drink a little tea.

“They were vampires,” Cole explained. “Chiang shi.”

Paige frowned. “You mean there are more than one of them?”

Olivia sighed. “It started out as one chiang shi. We believe that Ron became one, sometime last night. And the corpse that Harry found in the driveway this morning is a neighbor on this street named Jan Alamdar. He must have encountered Ron or the other vampire, last night. Or both.”

“I’m surprised that he didn’t become a . . . chiang shi,” Paige commented.

“I’m not,” Harry said. He finally managed to get Janet to take a sip of tea. “A chiang shi cannot turn his or her victim into another vampire.”

Confusion whirled in Paige’s eyes. “Then how did Ron become one?”

Before anyone else could answer, a low moan escaped from Janet’s mouth. Her eyes fluttered momentarily before they flew wide open. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “Was that Ron?”

“Janet!” Harry helped her sit up. Olivia shot a quick glance at Paige, who seemed slightly perturbed by Harry’s concern for the young attorney. “Are you okay?”

Janet took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah. I’m fine. I’m . . . Oh God! That was a chiang shi. Or two! I thought it was some myth that my grandmother used to talk about.” She stared at Harry with apprehensive eyes. “And one of them was Ron!”

Harry sighed. “Yeah, I’m afraid so. Look Janet, I think you better stay somewhere else for a while. You don’t want to take a chance on Ron . . . I mean . . .”

“I understand,” Janet said, interrupting. “But that was Ron, right? Are you going to find him?” Her eyes swept from Harry to Olivia. “I mean, the idea of Ron existing as a vampire for the rest of his life . . .”

Surprise permeated Paige’s voice. “Why do you think that Harry and Olivia can help track a . . .” She broke off, as apprehension dawned in her eyes. “Oh wow! You know, don’t you? About them being witches.” The moment she had uttered the last word, Paige clapped her hands over her mouth.

Harry added, “Janet has known since the last quarter of our sophomore year in college.” He said to his friend, “And you need to stay somewhere else, until this is all over.”

Janet sighed. “All right. I’ll stay at your place. If it’ll make you feel better. I just need to pack a few things.”

At that moment, the doorbell rang. The five people inside the living room exchanged uneasy glances. “You don’t think . . .” Paige began.

“Ron?” Janet’s eyes lit up with fear and expectation. Again, the doorbell rang. “Should I answer it?”

Cole stepped forward. “I’ll accompany you.” He escorted Janet to the front door. A minute passed before the two attorneys returned, accompanied by two dark-suited men. Olivia recognized one of them as FBI Agent Lee Alvarez.

“Well, well, well,” Olivia commented, as she stepped forward to greet the new visitors. “The FBI.” She held out one hand to a pale olive-skinned man with a crew cut. “Lee Alvarez. It’s been a while.”

Agent Alvarez shook Olivia’s hand. “Inspector McNeill. What are you doing here?”

“For the same reason as you.” Olivia glanced at the chestnut-haired man that stood next to Alvarez. “And your partner. Aren’t you going to introduce us?”

Alvarez sighed. “This is Special Agent Jay Ruhl. Jay, this is Inspector Olivia McNeill of the San Francisco Police.”

“Actually, my name is Turner now.” Olivia smiled curtly. “I just recently got married. Or didn’t you see the ring on my finger?”

A cool smile touched Alvarez’s lips. “Congratulations. Who’s the lucky guy?”

“He’s standing to your left.” Olivia regarded Alvarez’s startled glance at Cole with amusement. “Gentlemen, my husband – Cole Turner.”

Janet added, “Mr. Turner is my colleague and I’m Janet Hui. What does the FBI want with me? Do you guys have any news of Ron?” Olivia could not help but admire Janet’s ability to maintain a cool façade toward the agents – despite her current anxiety.

Alvarez blinked several times. “Actually Miss Hui, we’re here to talk to you. Do you have any idea why Mr. Wong would disappear?”

“Of course not!” Janet retorted. “That’s why I had called the police in the first place!”

“When was the last time you saw him?” Agent Ruhl asked.

For a brief second, Olivia wondered if Janet’s tongue would slip, regarding the chiang shi. But those years of college with Harry, along with legal experience, had trained the younger woman to be discreet . . . and lie smoothly. Janet heaved a dramatic sigh. “Around seven-forty, yesterday morning. When he didn’t return home, I thought he had stayed at the office for a few extra hours. So, I fell asleep on the couch. But when I woke up this morning, he still had not returned home.”

“So, she called me.” Harry stepped forward. “I’m Olivia’s brother, Harry McNeill.”

Alvarez asked, “Why did Ms. Hui called you?”

“Because we’re old college friends,” Harry explained. “And Olivia is my sister. I had found a body in the driveway and called her.”

Olivia smiled at the two FBI agents. “I’m sure that the San Francisco Police had provided you with information on the body discovered this morning.”

Alvarez turned to Janet. “What does Mr. Alamdar have to do with you and Mr. Wong, Miss Hui?”

“How in the hell would I know?” Janet retorted. “He was just some neighbor who lived the block. He’d once complimented our front lawn.”

Paige asked, “Why are the FBI interested in Ron’s disappearance?”

Slowly, the two agents stared at the Charmed One. She squirmed uncomfortably under their gaze. “And who are you?” Agent Ruhl coolly asked.

Wariness flickered in Paige’s dark eyes. “The name’s Paige Matthews. I’m a friend of Harry’s. And Janet’s.”

“Well, Miss Matthews,” Ruhl continued, “Mr. Wong happens to be an attorney for the Department of Justice. He is . . . or was part of the prosecution team for a very important case. Naturally, the FBI would be interested in his disappearance.”

Alvarez turned to Janet. “Ms. Hui, if you have any more information regarding Mr. Wong,” the agent handed her a card, “please give me a call.” The two agents gave Olivia a nod before heading toward the front door.

Once everyone heard the front door close shut, Cole heaved a sigh. “Those two are going to a problem.”

————-

Scott guided his blue Nissan Altima into a small parking lot, off Kearny Street. Nearby, pedestrians and vehicles flowed along the Chinatown thoroughfare. Piper frowned at the three-story building that rose next to the parking lot. “What is this place?” she asked.

“Master Chan’s store,” Scott answered. Both he and Piper climbed out of his car. “He owns a herbal shop, like Barbara. Also, he acts as a kind of healer for the locals. You see, Taoist priests usually live amongst those he serve.”

The pair left the parking lot and made their way, inside the building. The shop’s cluttered interior featured large drawers and shelves filled with herbal products of all kinds. A beaded curtain divided the front store and the shop’s private office. Scott led Piper toward a narrow staircase, which took them to the second floor. The aroma of food cooking filled Piper’s nostrils. “Master Chan must be cooking dinner right about now,” Scott added.

Piper sighed. “When you say Master Chan, you mean Mr. McNeill’s friend?”

Scott knocked on one of the second-floor doors. “Yep. According to Olivia, they first met each other at Stanford, during the 60s.”

Seconds passed before the door opened. A middle-aged man in casual dress peered out. Piper immediately recognized Mr. Chan, who frowned at the couple. “Jian Lei. What are you doing here? Miss Halliwell?”

Scott bowed. “Master Chan. Uh, do you mind if we interrupt your dinner? We have a matter to discuss. Supernatural matter.”

Master Chan opened the door wide. “Come in.” Piper and Scott followed the Taoist priest inside a wide room. Aside from a few pieces of furniture scattered about, Piper noticed a circular table with food and a teapot placed on it. The dinner’s aroma struck Piper stronger than ever and her stomach growled in protest. The priest led them to a table. “Would you like something to eat? I have plenty of Beef and Peppers with Black Bean Sauce. How about some tea?”

“Tea would be nice,” Scott replied.

Again, Piper’s stomach growled. Ignoring her hunger, she decided to follow Scott’s example. “Yes, tea,” she said with a wan smile.

The couple eased into empty chairs around the table. Master Chan followed suit, before serving tea to his visitors. “Now, what can I help you with?”

Scott cleared his throat. “I guess that you’ve heard the news . . . or not. But there’s a chance that a vampire – a chiang shi – might have been responsible for two or three deaths in the past few days.”

A gust of breath left Master Chan’s mouth. “I see,” he said with a nod. “It’s been a while, since I’ve last encountered a chiang shi.” He shook his head in a regrettable manner. “Nasty business, the chiang shi. Are you sure?”

Piper spoke up. “I just received a call from my sister, Paige. She, Harry and Cole had encountered one, earlier this evening. I mean, two of them. Unfortunately, they both got away. But, no one was killed.”

“Hmmph.” The Taoist priest took a sip of tea. “Killing a chiang shi won’t be easy. But two of them?” He shook his head and sighed. “This won’t be easy for any of us, Jian Lei.”

With a shrug of her shoulders, Piper asked, “Why not? Paige once told me that holy water and a cross won’t kill a . . . uh, chiang shi. What about sunlight or fire? Or a wooden stake?”

“Your sister was right about holy water and Christian crosses,” Master Chan stated. “But the other methods will kill a chiang shi. Along with a few other methods.” He turned to Scott. “Exactly what do you know about the chiang shi?”

Scott took a sip of his tea, while Piper’s stomach rumbled for the second time. “Well . . . a chiang shi is also called ‘the Hopping Ghost’. Only, it’s not really a ghost, but a demon. One becomes a chiang shi, following a violent death, being cursed, or dying in the wrong spot. Moonlight cast upon a dead body will also cause it to become a chiang shi. Since a chiang shi isn’t known for rising from a grave like a European vampire, the transformation usually takes place before burial. A chiang shi usually kills its victims by sucking out the latter’s breath, instead of their blood. Or its halitosis . . .”

“Huh?” Piper demanded.

“Bad breath,” Scott explained. “It’s bad breath can kill a person. A chiang shi will either go after members of its family or a loved one first. Like Ronald Wong did with Janet Hui. And it usually has green hair, a green tinge on its skin, red eyes, and claw-like fingernails.”

Master Chan added, “You forgot to add that a chiang shi can shapeshift. It can also fly or hop. In fact, its nickname is ‘the Hopping Ghost’, because it hops instead of walks. It’s also blind, which means that it can track a potential victim using his or her breath. Now, if a wooden stake, sunlight, or fire won’t kill it, there are other methods.”

Piper frowned. “Which are?”

“Decapitation, feng shui mirrors, purity rice, straw and chicken blood. Or a death blessing,” the Taoist priest promptly replied. “A death blessing can only be done by a Taoist or Buddhist priest. I would need to write a death blessing on a piece of paper and stick on the chiang shi’s head.”

With a snort, Piper murmured sardonically, “Good luck with that one. I think I’d rather stick with the stakes and fire.”

Master Chan quickly added, “Anything other than a death blessing should be a last resort. We would want to release the host body’s original spirit so that the body can be buried properly. For the family and other loved ones.”

A perturbed Scott frowned. “You’re talking about Janet Hui and Ronald Wong’s family, right?”

“Yes.”

Piper said, “You said something about purity rice?”

The Taoist priest nodded. “As a distraction. Scattered grains of rice will distract a chiang shi, causing him to stop to count the grains.” Piper stared at him. “Please don’t ask me why. I think it’s something symbolic that’s beyond my comprehension. So, please don’t ask.”

“Maybe we can use the rice to distract the vampires,” Scott suggested. “You know, distract it before you can use a death blessing on them.”

Piper spoke up. “Why don’t I just freeze them?”

The two men stared at each other. “Sounds good to me,” Scott said.

Master Chan began, “By the way, about the chiang shi’s halitosis . . .”

“That it can kill?” Piper added. “Yeah, I remembered that.”

The Taoist priest said, “His halitosis can also paralyze or send a person across the room. We need to be careful.”

A sigh left Piper’s mouth. “Great,” she muttered. “The vampire queen that Cole had killed is looking a whole lot better.”

“Oh, you mean Alaria?” Both Piper and Scott stared at the middle-aged priest. “Yes, I have heard of her before. Although, why she considered it necessary to call herself ‘Queen of the Vampires’ is beyond me.” Piper’s stomach grumbled once more, drawing surreptious stares from both Scott and Master Chan. “Miss Halliwell,” the latter said in a polite voice, “pardon my rudeness, but are you sure that you’re not hungry? I would be more than happy to serve you some of my dinner.”

Although embarrassed by what had just happened, Piper realized that she could no longer dismiss her hunger. “I guess a little meal wouldn’t hurt.” She flashed a wan smile, as the Taoist priest stood up to retrieve more plates.

————-

The cell phone on Prax’s desk rang. The daemon ignored it and maintained his attention on the portfolio of a company that had attracted the attention of the Magan Corporation. The phone rang three more times before Prax heaved an exasperated sigh and picked up the cell phone. “Yes?” he responded acidly.

“This is Larson,” a man’s voice answered.

Prax simply demanded, “Is Wong dead?”

A pause followed before the warlock replied, “He’s . . . dead. In a way. I had stabbed him to death, last night.”

A deep suspicion formed in Prax’s mind. “What do you mean ‘in a way’? Are you playing games with me, Mr. Larson? Where is Mr. Wong?”

The warlock’s next words took Prax by surprise. “I believe that he is now a daemon. Or a vampire. I think that some demonic entity has taken over Wong’s body.”

For a moment, Prax wondered if Larson liked to play games with his employers. If so, the daemon would have the warlock killed and replaced with another assassin. “Mr. Larson,” Prax said in a deadly, “I am not someone you can trifle with. If you had failed to kill Mr. Wong, simply say . . .”

“I am not joking!” The warlock’s voice rang with deadly seriousness. “Look, I had killed Wong. Gutted his stomach with my own dagger. I saw him die.” A pause followed, as Prax overheard Larson take a deep breath. “And I had left Wong’s body in the driveway, so he could be found. But when he failed to be reported dead . . . I went back to his house. Earlier tonight. I saw him . . . in some Chinese robe. He looked different. And he was with another daemon. Both of them leapt . . . or flew away. High into the air.”

At that moment, Prax decided that the gods and spirits did not like him. Artemus had ordered him to coordinate the simple murder of a mortal. An act that should have been no problem. Unfortunately, the target – at least according to his hired assassin – had transformed into some kind of daemon. A daemon that flies. Without Ronald Wong’s body, Lloyd would never be able to convince William Bourgh to cooperate with the Magan Corporation.

Prax sighed. Long and hard. “Mr. Larson, whatever entity that has entered Wong’s body, you will have to get rid of it. And leave the host body intact.”

“Me?” Larson protested. “Why don’t you simply hire some daemon to . . .”

“Mr. Wong was your assignment, Mr. Larson,” Prax reminded the warlock in a hard voice. “He is ‘still’ your assignment. We’ve already paid you half of your fee. You’re a talented magic practitioner. At least according to your reputation. I’m sure that you can find a way to finish the job.”

Before the warlock could protest any further, Prax hung up. He decided to give Larson two days to deal with the Ronald Wong problem. If the warlock fails, well he would have to deal with the matter, himself.

————-

Inside the Turners’ bedroom, Cole laid stretched across the right side of the four-poster bed. He watched his wife, perched on a low stool in front of the dresser mirror, rub skin cream from her face. “Was that Scott who had called earlier?” he asked.

Olivia dipped one hand into the jar of cream. She began to rub the cream on her left arm. “Yep. Apparently, he and Piper had paid Master Chan a visit. To learn more about the chiang shi.” She turned to face Cole. “It looks as if Master Chan is going to help us. But considering that we’re dealing with a Chinese vampire, we’re going to need him.” She then applied cream on her right arm.

Cole said, “Tarkin and I didn’t use a Taoist priest, when we had encountered that chiang shi, back in the Fifties. We used good, old-fashioned fire. Of course, keeping him to stand still became rather difficult.” He paused, while Olivia wiped the last of the cream from her arms. “I would be more than happy to help you apply more cream to your body,” he said with a slight leer.

Slowly, Olivia turned around and smiled at her husband. “Thanks, but I only use this cream for my face and arms.”

“Oh. Too bad.” Cole watched Olivia screw the top back on the jar of cream. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t one become a chiang shi after suffering a violent death? If this is true, then it means . . .”

Olivia stood up and strode toward the bed. She sat on the edge, next to Cole. “It means that Ron may have suffered from some kind of violent death.”

“Or perhaps he was murdered,” Cole suggested. “And certainly not by that other Chinese vampire.”

Olivia sighed. “Oh God. That means we might have to deal with the Feds. We really don’t need them breathing down our necks.”

Cole murmured, “Don’t worry. I’ll deal with them, if they cause any trouble.” He stretched out one hand and a bottle of lotion zipped toward him. He shook the bottle. “Is this only good for the face and arms?”

Green eyes widened in surprise, until they shone with realization. “Well . . .” Olivia slid closer toward Cole. A seductive smile curved her mouth. “Why don’t we find out?” Cole wrapped his arm around her waist and drew her closer to him.

———–

Dean Corbin stepped out of the elevator. He strode across the parking structure’s fifth floor, toward his car. A sigh of relief escaped from his mouth. His client, one Curt Becker, had received a reprieve thanks to the disappearance of one of the Federal prosecutors.

Corbin realized that John Reyes would eventually find someone to replace the missing Ronald Wong. But until that happened, Corbin would have plenty of time to overlook his case for Becker. Yesterday’s testimony by Antonio Valez had been costly. The defense attorney needed to find a way to . . .

He stopped in his tracks. For a moment, Corbin thought he had overheard a sound. Possibly heavy breathing. The attorney whirled around and scanned the parking lot. Not a soul could be seen. Deciding that his mind might be playing tricks on him, Corbin resumed his trek to his car.

The moment he reached his car, the attorney felt a gust of cold wind from behind. Once again, Corbin turned around. The sight of a figure in a red-and-gold Chinese silk robe flying toward him took the attorney by surprise. He opened his mouth and let out a final scream before sharp claws dug into his chest.

END OF CHAPTER EIGHT

“SUICIDE SQUAD” Showdown

“SUICIDE SQUAD” SHOWDOWN

The 2016 D.C. Extended Universe (DCEU) film, “SUICIDE SQUAD”, featured an interesting post-credit scene between A.R.G.U.S. Director Amanda Waller and billionaire Bruce Wayne aka Batman. In the wake of Task Force X aka Suicide Squad’s confrontation with former team member, the sorceress Enchantress, Ms. Waller requested a meeting with Bruce for a special favor.

Apparently, Ms. Waller found herself in hot water with the U.S. Department of Defense, due to the Enchantress’ attempt to wreck havoc upon the world and rule it. After all, the sorceress was known to be a former member of the Suicide Squad. Ms. Waller met with Bruce in order to use his Washington D.C. connections to protect her from the backlash against her role, as Task Force X’s creator, in the Enchantress’ rampage. In return, she provided him with government files files on the expanding meta-human community . . . along with documents on both Barry Allen aka the Flash and Arthur Curry aka Aquaman. Following Bruce’s agreement to help Waller in exchange for the files, the pair had this little conversation:

Amanda Waller: There’s the difference between us. You believe in friendship, I believe in leverage.
Bruce Wayne: Good night.
Amanda Waller: You look tired. You should stop working nights.
Bruce Wayne: You should shut it down, or my friends and I will do it for you.

When Ms. Waller had first hinted that she knew Bruce was Batman, his first response was to warn her to shut down the Task Force X team, also known as the “Suicide Squad”. When I first saw the movie, I had taken Bruce’s warning at heart. Especially since she had asked for him to protect her from facing the consequences of using Dr. June Moone aka the Enchantress as part of her Task Force X. And the recently formed Justice League would be more than capable of physically breaking up the squad and keeping its members behind bars. In the end, it took me a while to realize that on a deeper level, Bruce’s warning was hollow. It was just as hollow as Waller’s insinuation that she knew he was Batman.

One, the formation of Task Force X “Suicide Squad” was not illegal. It was sanctioned by the Department of the Defense and the White House. With the exception of Task Force X leader Colonel Rick Flagg and his bodyguard, Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, the other members were convicted criminals. Which meant that Waller or any other member of the government or law enforcement had the right to “recruit” them to work in the interest of the country/community. The Thirteen Amendment (1865) of the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. Which meant that convicted and imprisoned criminals can be used as forced labor. And this is exactly what Waller did when she had nano bombs implanted in their necks and coerced them into working on behalf of the government . . . with the threat of death if any Suicide Squad member did not cooperate.

Two, if Batman and other future members of the Justice League had interfered with any of the Task Force X’s operations, they would find themselves in legal trouble. Especially since the Task Force X is a legally sanctioned intelligence unit. And when Bruce had issued his warning about the squad, he should have remembered that Ms. Waller not only knew about his identity as Batman, she also knew about secret identities of the Flash and Aquaman. After all, she was the one who had provided Bruce with information about the pair. Considering Ms. Waller’s talent for acquiring information, it would have been a matter of time before she discovered Diana Prince’s identity as Wonder Woman, Victor Stone ‘s identity as Cyborg and Clark Kent as Superman. If she does not know the truth about them already. After all, Lex Luthor does.

Three, Waller’s insinuation that she knew about Bruce’s identity as Batman struck me as equally hollow. Even if she had exposed him as the Dark Knight, chances are Bruce would not hesitate to find a way for her to face the consequences of her role in the Enchantress’ rampage. If he could not personally achieve, Bruce would probably arrange for his security chief, Alfred Pennyworth to expose Ms. Waller on his behalf.

Perhaps it would have been best for both Bruce and Ms. Waller to realize that when it came to secrets and protection, they were in a standoff. Waller should have never made such a useless threat. And Bruce should have realize there would be legal consequences if he and the other members of the Justice League had interfered with Task Force X. And both should simply consider leaving each other alone.