“WANTED” (2008) Review


“WANTED” (2008) Review

Based upon the comic miniseries by Mark Millar, ”WANTED” is the story of Wesley Gibson, a meek Chicago accountant who discovers that the father he had never known was part of a thousand year-old secret society of assassins called The Fraternity. Upon being informed that his father had been murdered, and longing for a different life outside a hated job and unfaithful girlfriend, Gibson joins The Fraternity in order to find his father’s killer.

From what I had learned about the two versions of ”WANTED”, the movie version turned out to be quite different from the comic book version. In the former, The Fraternity consisted of assassins whose victims end up being selected by ”Fate” to be hunted and killed. Due to The Fraternity’s founders being a group of weavers, ”Fate” chose the order’s victims through a series of codes embedded in the material woven by The Fraternity members. This business of The Fraternity’s victims being chosen by ”Fate” never played a part in Millar’s comic story. This is because the assassins turned out to be out-and-out villains. Including Wesley.

There were positive and negative aspects of ”WANTED”. I was impressed by both James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson and Morgan Freeman as Sloan, The Fraternity’s leader. Angelina Jolie, as usual, displayed her strong screen presence as Fox, one of the order’s assassins. Unfortunately for Ms. Jolie, her character seemed to possess little depth, despite the small flashback about her childhood, provided by screenwriters Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan. As for the movie’s action, it strongly reminded me of ”THE MATRIX”, with its outrageous stunts occasionally shown in slow motion. But ”THE MATRIX” is now at least nine years old. And quite frankly, I am beginning to find it outdated.

In the end, ”WANTED” failed to appeal to me. Granted, the screenwriters tried to surprise the audience with plot twists. But I managed to spot these plot twists before they were even revealed. And I ended up spoiled and not taken by surprise. I also found the idea of The Fraternity’s method of choosing potential victims – that turned out to be so-called “bad guys” rather ludicrous. As far as I am concerned, the screenwriters, director Timur Bekmambetov and the producers should stuck to the more dangerous choice of adhering more closely to Millar’s comic book version. I suspect that this would have made a more interesting film.

“X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” (2009) Review

Below is a review of the latest movie in the “X-MEN” franchise:

”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” (2009) Review

I must admit that when I had first learned of Marvel’s plans to release a fourth movie in the ”X-MEN” franchise, I did not warm to the idea. And when I learned that this fourth movie would focus upon the origins oes Howlett aka Logan aka Wolverine, my wariness deepened.

Fortunately, ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” eased most of my doubts. It turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining movie. Directed by Gavin Hood, it told the story of how a Canadian mutant named James Howlett (or Logan) became the amnesiac Wolverine first introduced in the 2000 film, ”X-MEN”. The movie not only provided a brief glimpse of his tragic childhood in mid-19th century Canada, which included the deaths of his stepfather; and real father and his relationship with his half-brother, Victor Creed aka Sabertooth, along with an extraordinary title sequence that highlighted the two brothers’ experiences as Canadian mercenaries for the U.S. Army during the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War. But the gist of the film centered around their work as mercenaries for the U.S. Army’s “Team X”, led by military scientist Major William Stryker; and James’ (Logan’s) later conflicts with Victor and Stryker after he left the team.

”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” had received some bad word of mouth before its release at the beginning of May 2009. A rumor circulated that either Marvel or 20th Century-Fox had meddled with director Hood’s finished work. Since I do not know whether this is true or not, all I can do is comment upon what I had seen on the movie screen.

First, I have to say that ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” was not perfect. One, I never understood why James and Victor had served as mercenaries for the U.S. Army during both World War I and II, since Canada had participated in both wars and at least seven decades had passed between the deaths of John Howlett and Thomas Logan (James’ step-father and father) in 1845 and their participation in World War I in 1917-1918. And two, how did Stryker know that Victor had less chance of surviving the adamantium process than James? Was it ever explained in the movie? I also had problems with two of the characters in the movie, along with Nicholas De Toth and Megan Gill’s editing. But I will discuss those later.

Despite some of the flaws mentioned in the previous paragraph, ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” turned out to be better than I had expected. The movie took viewers on James Howlett’s emotional journey that started with him as a young boy in 1845 Canadian Northwest Territories, who stumbled upon an unpleasant truth about his parentage in the worst possible way. By the time the movie ended, James (or Logan) had fought in several wars, participated in Team X’s black operations, estranged himself from Victor, fallen in love, experienced loss, acquired his adamantium claws and lost his memories. Several fans had complained that Logan’s character did not seem like the complex loner from ”X-MEN” throughout most of the movie. Instead, he seemed more like the slightly benign team player that had emerged at the end of ”X-MEN 3: The Last Stand”. I must admit that these fans have a point. Only . . . I am not complaining. This only tells me that screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods had properly done their jobs. If Logan’s character had remained the cynical loner throughout the entire film, I would have been disappointed. One key to good writing is character development. In all of the previous three ”X-MEN”, Logan’s character had developed slowly from the loner to the team player shown at the end of ”The Last Stand”. But ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” is only one movie. And in that single film, the screenwriters, along with Hood and actor Hugh Jackman had to show the audience how James Howlett became that amnesiac loner. The last thing I wanted to see was a one-dimensional portrayal of his character. And I am thankful that I have no reason to complain about Logan’s character arc.

Not only was I impressed by Logan’s character development (which was the gist of the story), I was also impressed by how Hood, Benioff, Woods and Jackman handled Logan’s relationships with Victor and Stryker. I enjoyed how the screenwriters created the con job that both Stryker and Victor had committed against Logan. They had manipulated Logan into volunteering for the adamantium process, so that he could seek revenge against Victor for his girlfriend’s death. What Logan did not know was that he had been nothing more than an experiment – a test run – to see if the process would work for Stryker’s new weapon – a mutant called Weapon XI or Deadpool that had been injected with the abilities of other mutants, including Logan’s healing factor. I feel that Benioff and Woods’ creation of the con job was an imaginative twist to the story . . . and very essential to Logan’s character development.

Speaking of Logan, I must say that Hugh Jackman did an excellent job of conveying Logan’s emotional journey in the film. Thanks to his first-class performance, he took Logan from the loyal, yet wary half-brother of the increasingly violent Victor Creed to the amnesiac mutant who ended up rejecting Remy LaBeau’s help amidst the ashes of Three Mile Island. Mind you, Jackman’s portrayal of Logan has always been first-rate. But since this movie featured a more in-depth look into the character’s development, I feel that it may have featured Jackman’s best performance as aggressive and self-regenerative mutant.

Liev Schreiber seemed equally impressive in his portrayal of Logan’s half-brother, Victor Creed aka Sabertooth. Like Logan, Victor possessed a regenerative healing factor, an aggressive nature and superhuman senses. But Schreiber’s Victor seemed not to have embarked on an emotional journey. Instead, his character seemed to be in some kind of quandary. Not only did Schreiber portray Victor as a more aggressive and violent man than Logan, but he did so with a touch of style that seemed to be lacking in Tyler Mane’s portrayal in the 2000 movie. Schreiber also did a magnificent job in revealing Victor’s conflicted feelings toward the character’s younger half-brother. He loves James, yet at the same time, harbors several resentments toward the younger man – including one toward Logan’s abandonment of Team X and him.

Normally I would pity the actor forced to fill Brian Cox’s shoes in the role of U.S. Army scientist William Stryker. The Scottish actor had given a superb performance in ”X-MEN 2: X-Men United”. Fortunately, Marvel hired Danny Huston for the role. Not only did he successfully fill Cox’s shoes in my opinion, he managed to put his own stamp on the role. Like Cox, Huston did a great portrayal of Stryker as the soft-spoken, yet ruthless and manipulative military scientist who would do anything to achieve his goals regarding the existence of mutants. But whereas the older Stryker simply wanted to destroy mutants, Huston’s Stryker seemed to desire control over them . . . for his own personal experiments. And Huston . . . was superb.

I felt more than satisfied with most of the movie’s supporting cast. Ryan Reynolds was memorable in his brief role of a wisecracking mercenary with lethal swordsmanship named Wade Wilson. He was both hilarious and chilling as the mutant who eventually became Stryker’s premiere experiment – Weapon XI aka Deadpool. Taylor Kitsch made a charming, yet intense Remy LaBeau, the New Orleans hustler and mutant who had escaped from Stryker’s laboratory on Three Mile Island. Rapper will.i.am made a solid screen debut as the soft spoken teleporter, John Wraith. Dominic Monaghan gave a quiet and poignant performance as Bradley, another member of Stryker’s Team X that happened to be a technopath. Kevin Durand as funny as the super strong Fred Dukes aka Blob, who developed an eating disorder after leaving Team X. Daniel Henney was intense and unforgettable as Team X’s ruthless tracker and marksman, Agent Zero. I enjoyed Tahyna Tozzi’s portrayal of the strong-willed Emma “Frost” so much that I found myself wishing she had been the movie’s leading lady.

Which brings me to Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox. I am sure that Ms. Collins is a competent actress. But her performance as Kayla, Logan’s telepathic girlfriend struck me as a bit uninspiring. Oddly enough, she physically reminded me of Evangeline Lilly of ”LOST”. In fact, her portrayal of Kayla damn near came off as flat so much that her acting skills almost seemed as mediocre as Ms. Lilly’s. Considering Ms. Collins’ reputation as an actress, I suspect that screenwriters Benioff and Woods are to blame for the flat portrayal of Kayla, instead of Ms. Collins’ acting skills. Tim Peacock gave a competent, yet unmemorable performance as the younger Scott Summers aka Cyclops – another mutant who became one of Stryker’s prisoners on Three Mile Island and a part of the Weapon XI experiment. If this Cyclops is supposed to be twenty years younger than the one featured in the first three ”X-MEN” films, then I believe that a younger actor should have been cast in this film. Why? I never got the impression that James Marsden’s Cyclops had been somewhere between 34 and 38 in the three previous films.

As I had stated earlier, I was not impressed by Nicholas De Toth and Megan Gill’s editing of the film. At times, it struck me as slightly choppy and amateurish. Only the editing featured in the opening title sequence struck me as impressive. And imaginative. However, Donald McAlpine’s photography and the visual effects supervised by Dean Franklin, Craig Veytia and Mike Rotella struck me as very impressive – especially in the title sequence and the scene featuring Logan and Victor’s fight against Deadpool on Three Mile Island.

In conclusion, I found ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” to be surprisingly enjoyable. It turned out better than I had expected, despite some flaws. It would probably rank third for me in the ”X-MEN” franchise – somewhere between ”X-MEN 3” and ”X-MEN”. And so far . . . it is my favorite movie this summer.

“GET SMART” (2008) Review

“GET SMART” (2008) Review

Recently, I watched my DVD copy of “GET SMART”, a comic action movie based upon the 1965-1971 television comedy that starred Don Adams. Only this version starred Steve Carell as CONTROL Agent 86 – Maxwell Smart.

I can only think of five or six movies based upon old television series that I have ever really enjoyed. And if I must be honest, “GET SMART” is one of them. Many people have stated before its release that they found the idea of someone other than Adams portraying the Clouseau-like spy, Maxwell Smart (Agent 86 of CONTROL). It is understanding, considering it was Adams’ most famous role and he really made it his own.

I never thought I would say this, but Steve Carell can be the second actor who has the right to boast the Smart character as his own. He was truly superb. And what made his performance so astounding is that instead of attempting a replica of Adams’ performances, he portrayed the Smart character in his own style. What also made this movie different from the TV series is that Smart starts out as an intelligence analyst for CONTROL, who desires to become a field agent. He finally gets his chance when CONTROL Headquarters is attacked by their arch-enemy, the evil KAOS organization led by Siegfried (Terence Stamp). Almost all of CONTROL’s Agents are either exposed or killed. Max becomes Agent 86 and is partnered with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), whose recent plastic surgery has protected her identity. Together, the pair investigate how KAOS has been getting nuclear weapons and who was the mole who had betrayed CONTROL.

Portraying Agent 99 is Anne Hathaway (“BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN” and “THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA”), whose take on the character is slightly different than Barbara Feldon’s in the television series. Hathaway’s Agent 99 is a cool and very competent agent like her television counterpart. However, her 99 is more experienced than Max. She is also slightly sardonic and a little more aggressive. What really surprised me was how Hathaway and Carell managed to create a sizzling screen chemistry between them. I mean they really sizzled. Alan Arkin (who co-starred with Carell in “LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE”) really shined as the Chief of CONTROL. Like his television counterpart, he found the antics of Max and certain other CONTROL operatives rather exasperating. But what really seemed to annoy him is the idea that he might be too old for any action in the field.

The rest of the cast included Dwayne Johnson as CONTROL’S top operative, Agent 23. He portrayed the agent with a charm, smoothness and arrogance that justified Max’s envious worship of him. Both Terry Crewes and David Koechner made a great comedic pair as CONTROL agents 91 and Larabee. So did Masi Oka (“HEROES”) and Nate Torrence as CONTROL’s two top techies – Bruce and Lloyd. My only complaint centered around Terrence Stamp, as KAOS’s head honcho, Siegfried. With that impervious expression fixed upon his face, Stamp seemed to try too hard in being funny. And no amount of sardonic lines could convince me otherwise. But I must admit that he managed to have one very humorous scene involving Max’s attempt to penetrate a KAOS lair in Russia.

Thanks to screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, along with director Peter Segal (“MY FELLOW AMERICANS”) and Steve Carell, this version of “GET SMART” turned out to be just as funny as the television series from the 1960s. And believe it or, “GET SMART” also turned out to be a first-class action movie centered around betrayal in the intelligence community and the threat of a nuclear bomb.  It is not surprising that I had rushed out to buy the DVD copy once it was released in the stores.

“Neighbors” [PG] – 11/11

Here is the conclusion to “Neighbors”:



Part 11

“That was a delicious meal, Mrs. McNeill,” Cole commented to Olivia’s mother. “Especially the London Broil. I haven’t had a meal like that since . . . well, in a long time.” Over eight months ago, Cole privately calculated. Since the night before he and Phoebe had first moved into the penthouse.

The half-demon and the McNeills had gathered inside the large, well-furnished drawing of the McNeill manor. They just completed one of Gweneth McNeill’s succulent meals.

The red-haired and still beautiful middle-aged woman flashed a bright smile at Cole. “I’m glad that you enjoyed it. And you might as well call me Gweneth. It’s a shame that you didn’t try a slice of my six-layer Eggnog cake.”

“Yeah,” Harry added, “it’s one of her specialties. And it’s a big seller at Morgan’s bakery.”

Cole promised to sample a slice of the cake before he left. “I noticed that Olivia didn’t eat a slice, either.” He gave his neighbor a sly smile. “On a diet?”

Olivia wrinkled her pert nose in protest. “You’re a real sweetheart, aren’t you, Turner? If you must know, I barely had any room in my stomach to finish dinner. It’s what I get for not eating, today.”

“Busy day?” her father asked.

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “Are you kidding? Captain McPherson has started this major investigation on the Tower Bay Company. It seems no one can explain the sudden disappearance of the company’s employees. Or the disturbance reported by some patrolman.”

Jack McNeill’s eyebrows quirked upward. “Really? Is it a bit premature to say that the Crozat Coven is gone for good?”

“I don’t know,” Olivia said with a shrug. “My friend in Seattle told me that the Malehex Corporation was in the process of moving its operation to San Francisco. And there is still that warlock whom Cole had turned into a pebble. I haven’t been able to find him, today.”

Cole spoke up. “The pebble . . . I mean, he’s probably still there. I’ll help you try to find him, tomorrow. However, I wouldn’t dismiss the Crozats so easily, if I were you. Although much of the Source’s old council had been destroyed during the last coronation . . . ” Cole paused, as he realized that he had just referred to his unborn son. Then again . . . maybe not. He continued, “I suspect that several members might still be at large. And I’ve been keeping an eye out for any of them. And members of my old order, the Brotherhood of the Thorn.”

Elise McNeill eyed the half-daemon with interest. “Now, I know that not all upper-level daemons were part of the Brotherhood.” Cole stared at her, impressed that she knew that much about his former organization. “I’m simply curious as to how YOU became a member. How old are you, by the way?”

A hesitant Cole answered, “Uh, 117 years old.”

The McNeill men whistled in appreciation. Olivia and Gweneth’s eyes grew round. But the old lady did not seem that impressed. Interesting. “Really?” she said. “Not exactly old for a daemon. Most daemons join the Brotherhood at an older age. How did someone of your age managed to join?”

Again, Cole hesitated.

“You might as well tell her,” Olivia told him. “You’ve told me.”

Gweneth perked up. “Really? When did that happen?”

“Last Sunday,” Olivia replied.

Cole added, “I suppose you want to hear the whole story.”

In her blunt manner, Mrs. McNeill replied, “Dear boy, we’ve been dying to hear about your life story. Ever since Olivia first met you.”


“Well, it’s the truth!” the elderly woman protested.

Cole could not help but smile at Elise McNeill’s bluntness. She reminded him of Olivia. “That’s okay. I don’t mind,” he said. “But it’s a long story.”

“Don’t worry about that. Telepathy has a way of making a long story, short,” Mrs. McNeill said with a smile.

His eyes widened immediately. “Telepathy?”

“Of course.” Realization lit up the elderly woman’s gray eyes. “Unless you have a problem with me reading your mind.”

Cole’s first instinct was to reject her offer. He valued his privacy too much, to expose his thoughts to a telepath. But he had been a lonely man for the past several months. Meeting Olivia and her family made him realize that his two years with the Halliwells have made him long for company. And the opportunity to tell someone about his problems. His revelations to Olivia had seemed like a relief. Maybe he would feel an even greater relief once the McNeills learned what led him to becoming the Source. And to his break-up with Phoebe. If there was anything Cole now longed for was the load off his shoulders.

“Okay,” he finally relented. “I guess I wouldn’t mind.”

Mrs. McNeill nodded her head. “Good. Bruce honey, bring that chair over here so that Cole can sit in front of me.” Olivia’s older brother did as he was told. Once the chair was in place, Cole sat in it. “Now, just relax and allow your memories to be released,” she added. “As they come to me, I’ll project them to the others. If you don’t mind.”

“I don’t.”

“Good.” Mrs. McNeill’s hands hovered over Cole’s temples. He took a deep breath and relaxed. The next thing Cole knew, his memories of the past two years rushed back to him. Everything. Well, except for those more intimate moments with Phoebe, thank goodness.

When it ended, Cole took another deep breath. The McNeills did the same. “Well, that was certainly interesting,” Mrs. McNeill said in a breathless tone. “As Harry would say – wow!”

Jack McNeill added, “It would make quite an interesting story. A bestseller on the Wiccan literary underground.”

His wife added, “Including what happened to Ed Miller.” She gave Cole a pointed stare. “So you were the one responsible for his disappearance. I guess you paid for it.”

A hot flush washed over Cole’s face. Memories of Phoebe’s reaction to that little incident returned to him in full force. “Not exactly one of my finest moments, I admit.”

“Well, vanquishing him did seem a bit . . . drastic.” Gweneth McNeill continued, “What you should have done is ask Leo to give him memory dust. Or turn him into a dog. And drop him in the middle of on-going traffic.”

Olivia cried out in protest, “Mom!” Even Cole felt shocked by the older woman’s remark.

Gweneth shrugged. “You all know how I felt about Mister Edward Miller. The man was a bloody rotten berk. Did you know that a young boy had died in one of his buildings, after being bitten by a rat? And that bloody . . . that bastard managed to avoid prosecution by blackmailing several city officials. Everyone knows it’s true, even though no one would prosecute him.”

“She has a point,” Elise McNeill added. “What you did was wrong, Cole. And you paid for it in true Wiccan style, I gather. Considering what you endured afterward. But I must admit . . . what happened to Ed Miller was poetic justice. He avoided responsibility of a death through blackmail. And because of blackmail, he was killed.” She shook her head. “Poetic justice.” When Cole saw that the other McNeills nodded in agreement, he realized that they possessed a moral code that would appall the Halliwells. Although it did suit him.

Bruce turned to Cole. “Uh, there is one other matter that I’m curious about.”

Feeling somewhat uneasy, Cole asked, “Like what?”

“What in the hell made you think you could trust the Seer?” Bruce demanded in astonished tones. “Don’t take this personal, but were you that stupid?”

Once again, Olivia defended her friend. “Okay, Bruce. That’s enough!”

“What? Don’t tell me that you didn’t find what he did, stupid? I certainly did.”

Jack McNeill piped up. “I have to admit, so did I.”

An outraged Oliva continued, “Okay, so did I.” Cole shot her an astonished look. “But he was in a desperate situation. Couldn’t you see that?”

Sighing heavily, both Jack and Bruce admitted that they understood. The older man continued, “I probably would have done the same, to save all of you.”

“Thanks,” Cole murmured sarcastically. He turned to Olivia. “So, you believe I’m stupid?”

Green eyes radiated innocence. “Not really. Just . . . short-sighted. Rash. Besides, can you blame any of us for thinking that?”

Before Cole could answer, the McNeills’ manservant entered the room and announced the arrival of new visitors. A minute later, Cole was surprised to find himself greeting the Charmed Ones and Leo. Who also seemed surprised by Cole’s presence. It seemed like a miracle to Cole that he managed to remain calm. Especially with Phoebe only standing a few feet away.

“Well, look who’s here,” Elise McNeill greeted politely. Cole detected a touch of frost in her voice. Both Piper and Leo flinched. Much to his amusement.

Clearing her throat nervously, Piper stepped forward. “Sorry to interrupt. We, uh . . . well, my sisters and I wanted to say thanks to Olivia and Harry for saving our lives, yesterday.” She shot a quick glance at the half-demon. “And Cole.”

Mrs. McNeill’s smile grew even more arch. “Well, that’s nice of you, honey.”

“And we also want to apologize,” Phoebe added. “For lying to you, on Sunday. Piper, uh . . . made a cake for you.”

Piper thrust the cake forward. “It’s Coconut. From Grams’ recipe.”

Both Mrs. McNeills gasped with delight. “What do you know? Penny’s famous Coconut cake!” the older one declared in breathless tones. “One of my favorites.” Elise McNeill gave Piper a pointed stare. “May I assume that you followed your grandmother’s recipe to the letter?” She took the cake and handed it to Davies.

“To the letter,” Piper said with a smile. “I hope you like it.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will. Gwen, is it okay if they each receive a piece of your cake?” The elderly woman turned to the Halliwells. “It’s her six-layer Eggnog cake. One of Gwen’s best.”

Now, it was Paige’s turn to squeal with delight. “Ooo! I used to buy a slice or a whole cake every time I went to Morgan’s. Is it the same kind?”

“Of course, Paige,” Gweneth replied, looking pleased. Then she ordered Davies to wrap four slices of the Eggnog cake. “Oh, I mean five. Wrap an extra slice for Mr. Turner as well, Davies.”

At the mention of Cole’s name, the Halliwells stared at him. The room fell into an uncomfortable silence. Then Olivia made an announcement. “Oh, I forgot to tell you all. Guess what happened this morning? Darryl and I became partners.” She chuckled softly. “Poor Darryl. Can you imagine his expression when Captain Thompson told us the news? He always thought I was crazy. But now that he knows I’m a witch . . .” She broke off, chuckling again. Cole laughed softly to himself. He wished had been there to witness Darryl Morris’ reaction.

Leo brought up the subject of the Crozat Coven. “The Elders heard what happened. You can’t imagine how relieved they are. The Crozats were in a good position to take over the Underworld. Fortunately, it’s still in chaos.”

Elise McNeill grunted. “Hmmm! If I were the Elders, I’d be worried, instead of relieved.”

The Halliwells and Leo frowned at the elderly woman’s statement. “What are you saying?” Leo demanded. “With the Underworld in chaos, we don’t have to worry about a new Source.”

The old woman sighed. “Oh Leo! And I thought you would understand. Don’t you get it? With the Unde. . . I mean, the Source’s Realm in chaos, the balance between good and evil has been altered. It’s out of whack. Surely you realize what that means?”

Paige replied with a frown, “I certainly don’t.”

“It means that sooner or later, the chaos in the Source’s Realm will spread to other daemonic realms and dimensions . . . including the Whitelighters’ Realm,” Jack McNeill added. “And that can spell trouble for all of us. Unless the balance is restored.”

Now the Halliwells stared at Olivia’s father, as if he had lost his mind. “Wait a minute!” a shocked Phoebe declared. “Are you saying that it would be a good idea if a new Source emerged?”

“It’s not something any of us relish,” Gweneth McNeill calmly explained. “But with the daemonic world in chaos, all of us might find ourselves in serious trouble in the near future. Witches and whitelighters. It’s important to maintain a positive and negative balance in everything. Why do you think the Hollow is traditionally guarded by two – one who chooses good and one who chooses evil?”

It seemed obvious to Cole that the McNeills’ words had seriously disturbed the Charmed Ones and Leo. Cole, on the other hand, understood perfectly. He still recalled Phoebe telling him about a warlock’s attempt to destroy the Elders. Such an act would have not only spelled disaster for witches and whitelighters, but trouble within the demonic world, as well. Demons, warlocks and many others would have surely fallen upon each other for control of the Whitelighters’ Realm and other dimensions. And on a scale that would have meant trouble for the Source.

A troubled Leo quickly nay-sayed the idea of a new Source. “There won’t be a new leader of the Underworld. Well, we almost had one,” he shot a dark glance at Cole, who merely stared back, “but it didn’t last. Besides, without the Grimoire, I doubt there will be a new Source. I destroyed the book, last spring.”

“Are you sure that you destroyed it?” Mrs. McNeill asked in an ominous tone.

Leo firmly added, “Trust me, it’s destroyed. And it’s a good thing. With the Underworld in chaos, maybe evil will finally destroy itself.”

Bruce frowned. “You don’t really believe that, do you? C’mon Leo! You know that one cannot destroy evil. Maybe reject it or rise above it, but destroy it?”

Once again, the drawing room fell silent. The Halliwells remained rooted to floor, looking as if someone had kicked them in the teeth. And the McNeills seemed to regard them as specimen underneath a microscope.

Davies reappeared in the room and broke the uncomfortable silence. He held a cardboard box in his hands. Olivia let out a gust of breath. “Well, here’s Davies with your cake. And just in time. It was about to get heavy in here with all that philosophical talk.”

Piper took the box, with a polite smile on her lips. “Well, thanks for the cake. And I hope you enjoy our present.”

Mrs. McNeill returned the smile. “I’m sure we will, honey. Thank you. By the way, will you be available for our next Sunday brunch?

The three sisters hesitated. Exchanged brief glances. Cole already knew their answers. No. And sure enough, Piper answered, “Uh, we’re not sure. We’ve already made plans for Sunday. But if they fall through . . . we might be available.”

“That’s a no if I ever heard one,” Olivia grumbled. Fortunately, only Cole overheard.

But judging from Mrs. McNeill’s expression, she did not have to hear her granddaughter. The hesitation in Piper’s voice and the Halliwells’ expressions seemed to have made their feelings about another Sunday brunch quite clear. “Well, if you ever find the time,” the elderly woman continued with a cool smile, “let us know.”

The Halliwells said good-bye and immediately retreated to the door. Phoebe shot Cole a quick glance, before she followed the others out of the room. Once the door shut behind them, a sarcastic Bruce asked, “Any bets on whether or not we’ll see them, next Sunday?”

Harry piped up, “I’ll place twenty bucks on NOT.”

Cole wondered if he should defend the Halliwells. He thought about it for a few seconds and realized it would be a waste of time. Especially since he doubted they would do the same for him.

“I think all this talk about a new Source may have scared them, Elise,” Gweneth commented. “Leo too, I shouldn’t wonder.”

Elise McNeill snorted. “Well, they’re not Jack and Penny Halliwell’s granddaughters for nothing. I loved Penny like a sister, but she always did have this rigid sense of morality. Of course, in her case, she always had trouble practicing what she preached.”

Cole struggled to suppress a smile. And failed.

* * * *

The black Porsche slowly eased into its familiar spot inside the underground parking lot. Cole leaned forward and switched off the engine.

“You know, you could have save some gas money by using your powers,” Olivia commented laconically. “Instead of driving your car.”

Cole turned to her and smiled. “You ever heard of the term – ‘boys with toys’? I was in the mood to drive, tonight. Helps me relax.” He opened the car door on his side and climbed out. Then he walked over to the passenger side and helped Olivia out of the car. He noticed an aluminum-wrapped container in her hands. “Is that a piece of your mother’s cake?”

“Yep,” Olivia replied. “Her six-layer Eggnog cake is my favorite. Although I wouldn’t have minded a slice of Piper’s cake.” She stared at Cole’s empty hands. “No cake for yourself?”

Cole coughed slightly. “I had a piece of Eggnog cake before we left. And to be honest, I never was crazy about Coconut cake. You don’t know how many times I’ve had to keep from spitting it up whenever Piper made one.”

The pair made their way across the parking lot and toward the elevator. “Then why didn’t you just tell her?” Olivia asked.

“Are you kidding? The last time I criticized Piper’s cooking, she gave me a look that told me I should be grateful that the family tolerated me. After that, no more complaints.”

A knowing smile creased Olivia’s lips. “In other words, you wimped out.”

“Hey! I didn’t wimp out!” Cole growled. His growl merely hinted annoyance, not menace. And it only widened Olivia’s smile even further.

“Oh c’mon Cole! It’s not like I don’t know what I’m talking about. When Richard and I were dating, he used to tiptoe around the family, all the time. He was afraid they would reject him, because of his past.” Olivia paused, shaking her head. “Poor Richard. He really had a fear of rejection. And he eventually got on Dad’s nerves. I told him to stop trying to prove himself, but he wouldn’t listen. At first.”

A curious Cole asked, “Did he eventually stop?”

“Yeah, but only after I had another talk with him.” The elevator doors slid open. Both Cole and Olivia entered. The doors closed. “When I first told Richard,” Olivia continued, “I don’t think he was really listening. In fact, it got so bad, Dad and Bruce started calling him Dudley Do Right, behind his back.”

The nickname drew laughter from Cole.

Olivia joined in his laughter. “Yeah, I know. Can you imagine a warlock with a nickname like that?”

“No, I can’t,” Cole replied between guffaws.

After their laughter subsided, Olivia immediately sobered. “But after one of Richard’s urges to play hero nearly ended in disaster for Bruce and Harry, I had enough.”

Memories of his own decision to use the Hollow rushed back to Cole. He asked, “Did you break up with him? With Richard?”

“No,” Olivia said, shaking her head. “But I told him that I wasn’t interested in him playing Sir Galahad. That I only wanted him. I also told him that if he wanted to help other people, fine. But he should do it because he wanted to and not to please me.”

The elevator reached Olivia’s floor. Cole found himself brooding over her last words. Hell, he had been just as guilty of the same thing, as Richard Bannen. Fighting evil in order to save Phoebe and her sisters. And prove to them that he was no longer evil. He never realized how much he had grown weary of trying to be someone he was not.

“Cole?” Olivia’s voice snapped him out of his reverie. “Is something wrong?”

He shook his head. “No, I was just thinking. Richard and I had a lot in common.”

“Oh. You tried to pull the Dudley Do Right routine also, huh? To impress Phoebe?”

Cole sighed. “Yeah. And it worked for a while. Until I lost my powers. And the Source possessed me. It got even worse after I returned from the Wasteland. I guess the problem is being myself didn’t seem to help. Phoebe and her sisters . . . well, they’re a little uncomfortable with my dark side.”

A frown creased Olivia’s face, as she unlocked her apartment door. “They’ve got a lot more to worry about than your dark side. Like their own.” The pair entered the apartment. Olivia placed her piece of cake on the kitchen table. Then she faced her neighbor. “Cole, may I ask you something?”


Olivia took a deep breath. “You’re still in love with Phoebe, aren’t you?”

Cole felt his face grow warm. “Well . . . yeah. Yeah, I’m still in love with her.” He eyed Olivia warily. “Why?”

“Because I think she’s still in love with you,” Olivia continued. “I saw the way she kept looking at you.”

Hope fluttered within Cole’s heart. But only for a moment. For reasons he could not fathom, the love he felt toward Phoebe no longer burned brightly as it once did. He still loved her – somewhat – but his desperation for her love had dimmed. “I guess she does,” he quietly replied.

“But you don’t seem very . . . I don’t know, hopeful.”

Cole let out a gust of breath. “Look, don’t get me wrong. I love Phoebe. I always will. But I can’t be the man she wants. Not anymore. I guess after all that has happened, I’m tired of trying to live up to her ideals.”

Olivia’s face almost matched her hair coloring. “Oh. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought up the sub . . .”

“No. I don’t mind. I guess it was time I told someone how I felt.” Cole gave Olivia a warm smile.

A red brow cocked upward, as Olivia returned Cole’s smile. “Glad to be of service.” Then she glanced at the clock on the mantle. “Oh Lord! Look at the time! It’s almost eleven-thirty.”

“I better get home. I have an early appointment, tomorrow morning.”

“Before you leave, I have something for you.” Olivia raced back toward the kitchen. Seconds later, she returned to the living room, carrying a deep dish pan, covered by a sheet of foil.

Cole glanced at the pan. “What is it?”

“Floating Island.” Olivia lifted the foil to reveal the dessert. “After what happened last Friday, I thought we should start all over again. So here, this is my ‘thank you for saving my life’ gift.” She held out the pan.

Unlike the first time, Cole took the dessert without hesitation. “Thank you, Miss McNeill,” he said with playful formality. “And I hope it will taste a lot better, eating it from a plate or bowl than it did from my face.”

Hands on hips, Olivia shook her head as she smiled. “You know, you really are evil. Maybe that’s why I like you so much.”

Cole gave his neighbor a winning smile, before he disappeared from her sight.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: I realized that some of you wanted Cole to end up with Olivia McNeill or Phoebe. Since he and Phoebe became divorced in this story, I thought it was a bit too soon for him to end up in another romance. So I ended the story on a vague note. But don’t worry. This is just the first of at least three stories featuring him, Olivia, the McNeills, Darryl Morris, Leo and the Halliwells. If you have any questions, please send me a message via deerush76@yahoo.com.   Thanks.

“HEARTBREAKERS” (2001) Review

Here is my review of the 2001 comedy, “HEARTBREAKERS”, about a mother-daughter pair who happened to be grifters:

“HEARTBREAKERS” (2001) Review

Directed by David Mirkin, ”HEARTBREAKERS” is a romantic comedy caper about an elaborate con set up by a mother-daughter team to swindle wealthy men out of their money, and what happens during their “last” con together. This 2001 comedy starred Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love-Hewitt as the mother-daughter pair, along with Gene Hackman and Ray Liotta as their wealthy marks.

The movie begins with Max and Page Connors (Weaver and Love-Hewitt) conning an auto-body shop owner and small time crook named Dean Cumanno (Liotta). The con, which is implied has been done a number of times before on other men, involves Max marrying Dean, passing out on their wedding night to avoid consummating the marriage, and then Page (posing as Dean’s secretary) luring Dean into a compromising position to justify Max’s immediate divorce and hefty settlement. Following the success of this con, Page decides that she wants her half of their money before going solo. Max relents, but the two learn from an I.R.S. agent (Anne Bancroft) that that they owe the government a considerable sum on top of the rest of their savings, which have already been seized. Page reluctantly agrees to work together with Max on one last con in Palm Beach (which would result in enough money to pay off the I.R.S. and set Page up to work on her own). For their target, they choose widower William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), a tobacco millionaire and chain smoker who is addicted to his own product. Complicating matters is beachfront bartender named Jack Withrowe (Jason Lee), whom Page meets without her mother’s knowledge, while attempting to go after another target on her own.

Robert Dunn, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur; who wrote the screenplay for ”HEARTBREAKERS”, were also responsible for movies like ”THE LITTLE RASCALS” and ”LIAR, LIAR”. But quite frankly, those two movies were chopped liver as far as I am concerned in compare to ”HEARTBREAKERS”. The movie’s story struck me as sly, witty and absolutely hilarious. Page’s romance with Jack; along with Max and Dean’s love stories were romantic and at the same time, sharp and unsentimental. Max’s attempts to seduce William Tensy, while impersonating a Russian expatriate featured some of the most hilarious moments in the movie – especially a particularly biting sequence that featured the Connors’ dealings with Tensy’s hard-nosed and grasping maid, portrayed by Nora Dunn. Between Tensy’s smoking and pallor and Max’s ordeal in being forced to consume steak tartare, this movie has put me off smoking and raw beef for all eternity. And if the Connors’ misadventures with Tensy were not bad enough, emotions jump a few notches when Dean arrives in Palm Beach in search of Max. It seems that he was really in love with her . . . and she has admitted to having feelings for him. Much to Page’s disgust.

It is not simply the script for ”HEARTBREAKERS” that had me in stitches. Weaver and Love Hewitt lead a first-rate cast that was just as funny as the script. Weaver (deservedly) earned a Golden Satellite Awards nomination as the elegant and quick-thinking Max. However, Love Hewitt matched her in screen presence and comedic skills as the equally intelligent, yet brusque Page. For once Ray Liotta’s intensity came into comedic use as Max’s faux husband, auto shop owner Dean Cummano whose love for the grafter/mother refuses to die, despite his discovery that Max and Page had conned him. Anne Bancroft gave a sly performance as Barbara aka Gloria Vogel, the I.R.S. agent who turned out to be Max’s mentor . . . and the woman who had stolen Max and Page’s bank funds. And of course, there was Gene Hackman, who played the chain smoking William Tensy. I loved his portrayal of the self-absorbed and caustic tobacco magnate. I could tell that he was truly enjoying himself. The only hiccup in this first-rate cast turned out to be Jason Lee. He played Jack Withrowe, the bartender who turned out to be owner of a beachfront bar and minor millionaire. Actually, the problem was not Lee’s performance. It was the writers’ portrayal of him. Quite frankly, Jack was a rather dull boy – a character unworthy of the talented and usually funny Lee. Not even the so-called one-liners they fed the character could not overcome his dullness.

”HEARTBREAKERS” turned out to be another example of a caper film featuring grifters that I find enjoyable. It had a first-rate plot, hilarious and complex characters (with the exception of Lee’s character), delicious scenery featuring Palm Beach and Southern California (standing in as Palm Beach) and a catchy score written by John Debney and Emmanuel Kiriakou. Director David Mirkin was given all of this – some at the last moment – and created comedy magic with it.

“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” (1981) Review


“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” (1981) Review

If James Bond fans and critics had judged all of EON Productions’ 1981 movie, ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” solely on its pre-credit sequence, the movie probably would have barely made a dime at the box office. Worse, it would have been regarded as the worst movie in the entire Bond franchise. Thankfully, the rest of the movie proved to be far superior to its atrocious opening sequence.

”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY marked the directorial debut of John Glen, previously an assistant director and editor of previous Bond movies. Glen ended up steering the Bond franchise through a record five movies, all released between 1981 and 1989. With screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson (say that again?), Glen would take the franchise into a new era that depended less upon gadgets, grandiose villains and their even more outlandish schemes; and more on well-written plots, gritty edge and deep characterizations. And this new direction was certainly obvious in ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” . . . well, except for the pre-title sequence. Which has led me to wonder . . . what on earth made Maibaum and Wilson include that atrocious sequence, in the first place? God only knows. The best I can say about the opening sequence, which featured an unnamed and crippled Blofeld was that its theme resonated with the rest of the movie – namely revenge.

Once the movie moved past its odious beginning, it became a sleek and tight thriller in which James Bond must recover the ATAC missile launching system, that disappeared, following the sinking of a British spy ship off the coast of Albania. MI-6 had originally recruited a British marine biologist named Sir Timothy Havelock to locate the missing ship and missile system, but he and his Greek wife ended up being murdered in full view of their daughter, by an assassin named Hector Gonzalez. Bond tracked Gonzalez to an estate in Spain. But before he could question the killer, Sir Timothy’s daughter, Melina murdered Gonzalez out of revenge for her parents’ deaths. Bond eventually learned that Gonzalez had been hired by a free-lance Soviet agent, who had been recruited to also find the ATAC system. In the Soviets’ hands, the ATAC could be used to destroy Western nuclear submarines.

From the exciting chase sequence in the Spanish countryside, to the ski slopes of Cortina and the Greek Islands, Bond and Melina conducted a search for the missing ATAC that led to a bitter rivalry between two Greek smugglers – one who happened to be an independent agent contracted to the KGB. Portrayed by Israeli actor, Topol and British actor, Julian Glover; former friends Milos Columbo and Ari Kristatos drew Bond into a 30-year feud, in which both tried to convince the British agent that the other is the KBG contact. Even worse, Bond had to contend with Melina’s continuing desire for revenge – despite her murder of Hector Gonzalez. In the end, Bond managed to rein in Melina’s vengeful tendencies, learn that Kristatos was the KBG contact and prevent the ATAC from falling into Soviet hands.

Roger Moore had nearly passed over his fifth chance at portraying the fictional British agent. Fortunately, he changed his mind at the last moment and proved that underneath the sophisticated façade and cheeky wit, he possessed the acting chops to star in a serious spy thriller. To this day, many cannot decide whether his best performance was in ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” or in 1977’s ”THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”. Personally, I am inclined to believe that ”FYEO” was his finest moment in the Bond franchise. An excellent supporting cast and a first-class script – different from what he had been used to – allowed Moore to meet the challenge of a new kind of Bond and turn in a tough and excellent performance. Even better, he did all of this and still managed to retain something of his sly sense of humor. His finest moments included:

-Bond’s conversation with Melina, after saving her life in Cortina
-Bond’s first meeting with Columbo
-Emile Locque’s death (a controversial scene in the Bond franchise)
-final sequence at the St. Cyril’s monastery.

French actress, Carole Bouquet, who was 23 years old when she filmed ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” ably supported Moore as the movie’s leading lady. She skillfully turned in an emotional performance as Melina Havelock, seeking revenge for the murder of her parents. Both Topol and Julian Glover portrayed the two rivaling Greek smuggler, whom Bond has to determine was the KGB contact responsible for the Havelocks’ murder. I must say that both actors gave very subtle performances, making it difficult for the audience to decide who was innocent and who was guilty. And this ambiguity contributed greatly to the movie’s success. In fact, ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” seemed to be blessed with an exceptional cast that included Michael Gothard as the quietly callous killer, Emile Locque; Cassandra Harris (at the time, fiancée to future Bond, Pierce Brosnan) as the flirtatious and doomed Countess Lisl; Lynn-Holly Johnson as Kristatos’ ice skating protégée who develops a yen for Bond, Bibi Dahl; Jill Bennett as Bibi’s stoic trainer, Jacoba Brink; and Stefan Kalipha as the cold-blooded Cuban hitman, Hector Gonzalez. Also in the cast was Charles Dance portraying one of Locque’s henchmen, four years before he became well known in the miniseries, ”JEWEL IN THE CROWN”. Dance also portrayed Bond author, Ian Fleming in a rather dull biopic called ”GOLDENEYE”.

But what really made ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” for me, was the first-rate story centered on MI-6’s recovery of their secret missile system. Both Maibaum and Wilson, very smartly eschewed the gadget-filled fantasy epics of movies like ”YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” and ”MOONRAKER” for a slightly gritty spy thriller with twists and double-crosses, reminiscent of classic spy movies from the 1940s and 50s. Instead of using Bond regular John Barry to write the score, EON Productions turned to Bill Conti, who would later write the score to the ”NORTH AND SOUTH” miniseries and direct the music for future Oscar broadcasts, to create a lively score that I found very entertaining. Also included was the movie’s main theme sung by Sheena Easton. The song went on to receive an Academy Award nomination.

Thanks to Conti’s score, John Glen’s tight direction, a serious and tougher Bond portrayed by Moore, a first-rate supporting cast, and a skillful script written by Maibaum and Wilson, ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” (sans the crappy pre-credit sequence) turned out to be one of the finest movies in the Bond franchise.




I must admit that it took me quite a while to write a review of the latest cinematic installment of ”THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA” saga. This second installment, ”PRINCE CAPSIAN”, tells the story of four Pevensie children’s return to Narnia to aid Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) in his struggle for the throne against his corrupt uncle King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). I tried to think of something different about this chapter in compare to the first – ”THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE”. But it occurred to me that my reaction to this movie seemed more or less the same as the 2005 release. 

And what does that say about my feelings about ”PRINCE CASPIAN”? Honestly, I thought it was a solid and entertaining film that both children and adult fans of C.S. Lewis’ saga might enjoy. That is all I can really say. There was nothing really unique about it. Like many other adaptations of literary works, ”PRINCE CASPIAN” did not faithfully follow its literary counterpart. Considering that I have never read any of Lewis’ works, I was not particularly disturbed by this. The only reason I am aware of any differences between the literary and cinematic versions, is the Internet.

Like the previous movie, the cast is pretty solid. The actors who portrayed the Pevensie children returned for this sequel. Due to the rapid aging of children in general, work on the script began before ”THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE” was released, so filming could begin before the actors grew too old for their parts. William Moseley (Peter), Anna Popplewell (Susan), Skandar Keynes (Edmund) and Georgie Henley (Lucy) all gave solid, yet slightly uninspiring performances as the four siblings. Whereas Keynes got the chance to show Edmund at his peevish worst in the previous film, Moseley portrayed a slightly darker side of oldest brother Peter, whose dissatisfaction with being back in England had produced boorish personality. Perhaps I should rephrase that. Peter’s boorishness, which had been hinted through his handling of Edmund in the first film, was allowed to flourish in this film. It took a military failure against the main villain to give him a boot in the ass to improve his personality. On the other hand, Edmund seemed remarkably changed for the better in this film. One critic had described him as being the film’s ”Han Solo”. I would agree, except Edmund came off as more mature and intelligent than Han Solo. Anna Popplewell had convinced producer Douglas Gresham to allow Susan to appear in the movie’s major battles, because she feared the character came off as too passive in Lewis’ novel. Many fans of the novel were appalled by this. Not being a literary fan of the saga, it did not bother me at all. At least it gave her something to do. Of all the Pevensie siblings, Georgie Henley’s Lucy seemed to have changed the least. Although she seemed less tolerant of Peter’s boorishness than she was of Edmund’s darker side in the first film.

British actor Ben Barnes portrayed the title role of Prince Caspian of Telmarine with as much solid competence as the four actors who portrayed the Pevensies. Perhaps he seemed a little more competent than his younger co-stars in acting skills, but I could not sense anything remarkable about his performance. Portraying Caspian’s evil uncle and the Telmarine’s false ruler, King Miraz, was actor Sergio Castellitto. He made a very effective villain, but lacked Tilda Swanton’s memorable portrayal as the White Witch. Who, by the way, briefly returned to bring a much-needed spark in the middle of the story. If I must be honest, her brief appearance was probably the best scene in the film. But not even Swinton’s spectacular appearance could not overshadow what I feel was the best performance in the movie – namely that of Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin, a cynical red dwarf. I really enjoyed his sharp and caustic take on the dwarf, who is skeptic of the idea of Aslan and magic.

As much as I enjoyed ”PRINCE CASPIAN”, I must admit that I found it no more remarkable than the first. Also, I found it difficult to maintain interest in the film’s first half, as it switched back and forth between Caspian’s flight from his murderous uncle and the Pevensies’ arrival in Narnia. Director Andrew Adamson seemed to lack George Lucas and Peter Jackson’s talent for seemless transition between multiple storylines within one film. But once the Pevensies and Caspian finally met, the movie seemed to discover its pace as it flowed toward the heroes’ ill-fated attempt to attack upon Miraz and the final showdown. There were two scenes that gave me a sense of déjà vu – namely the attacks of the trees and the river god upon the Telmarine army. It seemed as if either Adamson or Lewis had a Tolkien moment. The attack of the trees especially reminded me of the Ents’ attack upon Isengard in”LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS”.

”PRINCE CASPIAN” was not the greatest movie I have seen during the summer of 2008. Nor was there anything unique about it. But if one can overcome the fact that it was not an exact adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ novel, anyone might find the movie quite entertaining to watch. I heartily recommend it.

“ANGELS AND DEMONS” (2009) Review

“ANGELS AND DEMONS” (2009) Review

Three years after the success of the 2006 adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel, “The DaVinci Code”, director Ron Howard and actor Tom Hanks returned to adapt another Brown novel that featured the character of symbologist Robert Langdon – namely, ”Angels and Demons”. Although the latter novel had been published first; it became the second of Brown’s works to be adapted by Hollywood, making 2009’s “ANGELS AND DEMONS” a cinematic sequel to “THE DaVINCI CODE”.

”ANGELS AND DEMONS” revolves around the quest of fictional Harvard University symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) to uncover the mysteries of a secret society called the Illuminati and to unravel a plot to annihilate Vatican City using destructive antimatter. Like the novel, the movie uses the idea of a historical conflict between science and religion, particularly that between the Illuminati and the Roman Catholic Church.

Following the death of the Pope, a destructive antimatter is stolen from CERN (the world’s largest particle physics laboratory located in Geneva, Switzerland) and one of the scientists murdered. The Vatican then receives a threat from a group calling itself the Illuminati (a former secret society that consisted of European freethinkers that supported new scientific discoveries, despite the Catholic Church’s opposition), which claims it will destroy the Vatican using the stolen antimatter. The Church summons both Robert Langdon and CERN scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) to prevent the Illuminati from carrying out its threat in less than 24 hours. During their time at the Vatican, both Langdon and Vittoria encounter some degree of hostility – mainly from Commander Richter, head of the Swiss Guard (Stellan Skarsgård).

”ANGELS AND DEMONS” can boast solid performances from a first-rate cast. There were no bad performances that I could spot. On the other hand, not one member of the cast gave what I would consider an exceptional performance – not even top-notch talents like Hanks, Skarsgård or Ewan McGregor, who portrayed the Vatican’s the Camerlengo, Patrick McKenna. The more I try to think of an exceptional performance in this film, the more difficult it was for me to achieve this goal. However, I must admit that I found Rance Howard’s appearance as one of the Cardinals voting for a new Pope rather out of place. Other than his appearance, everyone seemed . . . solid.

And if I must be frank, I might as well say the same about the movie. Some have claimed that the screenplay had failed to follow the novel very closely. I say . . . who cares? I am not a fan of Dan Brown’s novel. It bored me so much that I did not even bother to finish it. The only reason I had bothered to go see the movie was due to my hope that like ”THE DaVINCI CODE”, it would be an improvement over the novel. Thankfully, Ron Howard’s direction, along with the screenplay written by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman improved the story immensely. Well, the parts I had read. Like the novel’s beginning.

I can see that it would be futile to compare the entire novel to the entire film. Especially since I never bothered to finish the novel. But . . . I must admit that I did enjoy the film. Langdon and Vittoria’s efforts to stop the group from killing four Vatican cardinals and destroying the Vatican managed to maintain my interest. I was especially impressed by Howard’s direction of the sequences that featured Langdon and the Swiss Guard’s Lieutenant Chartrand (Thure Lindhardt) being trapped in the Vatican’s increasingly airless archives; Langdon and Inspector Ernesto Olivetti’s (Pierfrancesco Favino) attempts to save one of the kidnapped cardinals suspended above a roaring fire inside the Santa Maria della Vittoria Basilica; and the efforts of Langdon, Vittoria, Chartrand and Father McKenna to find the antimatter and prevent it from blowing up.

If a moviegoer is looking for an exceptional movie, ”ANGELS AND DEMONS” is not the right flick. But I rather enjoyed”ANGELS AND DEMONS” a lot. It was a solid and entertaining thriller filled with good performances, first-rate action, great location photography of Rome and a pretty good solid story. If you simply want to be entertained, I highly recommend this movie.

“SPEED RACER” (2008) Review


“SPEED RACER” (2008) Review

When I first saw the trailer for “SPEED RACER” . . . I had simply cringed in my seat. Granted, I had been a fan of the Japanese cartoon when I was a kid. But looking at that trailer, my mind simply cried, “Hell no!” There was no way in the world I was going to see this movie. 

But the more I saw the trailer, old memories of the cartoon kept welling in my thoughts. Soon, I found myself filled with nostalgia for the cartoon. I eventually decided to go see the movie after all. It might turn out to be a pile of crap, but I had to exorcise the ghosts of my childhood. Well . . . I went ahead and saw the movie. And I must say that it turned out to be a hell of a lot better than I had expected.

At a running time of two hours and fifteen minutes, “SPEED RACER” is about a young 18 year-old American (Emile Hirsch) with natural racing instincts. His goal is to become a world-class car racer, in the wake of the tragic death of his older brother, Rex Racer (Scott Porter) during the Casa Cristo, a cross-country rally. Speed is loyal to the family business, run by his parents Pops (John Goodman) and Mom (Susan Sarandon). Pops designed Speed’s car, the Mach 5. The owner of Royalton Industries (Roger Allam) makes Speed a lucrative offer to join the company’s racing team, but Speed rejects the offer, angering the owner. Speed also uncovers a secret that top corporate interests, including Royalton, are fixing races and cheating to gain profit. After Speed denies his offer to join his racing conglomerate, Royalton wants to ensure that Speed will not win any future races. Speed finds support from his parents and his girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) and enters the Casa Cristo Rally in a partnership with his one-time rival, Racer X (Matthew Fox), in an effort to rescue his family’s business and the racing sport itself.

I must admit that when I first saw this movie, the first ten minutes had left me puzzled. Although I enjoyed how the story introduced Speed Racer’s obssession with racing and the death of his older brother, Rex Racer; I must admit that I had been taken aback by the movie’s visuals. It looked very cartoonish and I have not seen such bold colors since Warren Beatty’s 1990 film, “DICK TRACY”. But my mind adjusted to this new visual style and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the story. In fact, by the time the movie focused upon The Casa Cristo cross-country race, I found myself marveling over John Gaeta’s visual effects and David Tattersall’s photography. Quite frankly, I also ended up enjoying Larry and Andy Wachowski’s screenplay. “SPEED RACER” must be one of the few movies based upon a cartoon that possessed a strong social message – namely one against corporations’ involvment in the sport. And I found it pleasantly surprising.

As for the cast, Emile Hirsch struck me as a little flat at first. But in the scene in which Speed rejected Royalton’s offer, Hirsch’s Speed Racer finally bloomed into life. Christina Ricci gave a fun and charming performance as Trixie, Speed’s girlfriend. Both John Goodman and Susan Sarandon were solid as Speed’s parents. And I do not think that Matthew Fox had never been as sexy and enigmatic as he was as Racer X – Speed’s rival and ally in the fight against Royalton. I especially enjoyed his fight against a ninja assassin. Richard Roundtree gave a surprisingly sly and funny performance as Ben Burns, a former racer who became a commentator. To my surprise, Roger Allam’s slightly bombastic performance as the corrupt Royalton did not bother me at all. In fact, his character’s over-the-top personality seemed perfect for the movie. The biggest surprise turned out to be Paulie Litt as Spritle, the youngest Racer sibling. Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Regis Philbin once described the young television actor as a 40 year-old in a child’s body. Perhaps he is right. But young Paulie was a bundle of energy with great comic timing.

“SPEED RACER” did possess a few imperfections. Either the movie is fifteen minutes too long or its pacing had dropped off a bit, following the Casa Cristo race sequence. And I was a little annoyed with the Wachowski Brothers’ interruption of the fascinating sequence between Speed and Royalton’s discussion about the racing scene with comic moments of Spritle and his pet monkey, Chin Chin, trying to break into the businessman’s candy storage. It just seemed out of place and it nearly ruined the marvelous scene between Speed and Royalton.

Judging from some of the reviews I had read, it seems many film critics had disliked the film. I suspect that “SPEED RACER”‘s unusual visuals may have been a little too mind blowing for them. Unfortunately, a good number of moviegoers ended up paying attention to those critics. Which is a shame, in my opinion. I feel that “SPEED RACER” is one of the most entertaining films I have seen this year . . . hell, in the past decade; and one of the most unusual I have seen in a long time. And it was a shame that it bombed at the box office.  Considering many moviegoers’ recent habit of avoiding anything unusual, perhaps I should not have been surprised.  But I was disappointed.  An unusual movie such as “SPEED RACER” deserved success.  At least I think so.

“Neighbors” [PG] – 10/11


Part 10

The following morning saw Olivia among the first in her squad to report for work. However, there seemed to be one person who had already arrived. Namely Darryl Morris. 

“Good morning!” she greeted her colleague with a cheerful smile. “You’re bright and early, for once.” Olivia knew that Darryl had never been considered an early bird in their squad. Which meant he wanted to speak with her. She smirked. “Oh, oh! You must have been waiting for me.”

Darryl placed a sheet of paper on Olivia’s desk. “That’s right, I have.”

“What’s this?” Olivia picked up the sheet of paper.

“A report from a patrolman. I found it in Thompson’s out-box before I went home, last night. Apparently, he and his partner were driving along Bayshore Drive, when they saw unusual lights from the Tower Bay warehouse. When they went to investigate, Thompson and his partner heard more sounds of explosions and a scream. You know, that sort of thing.”

Green eyes widened. “Really?”

Darryl rolled his eyes. “Yes, really. When Thompson checked inside the warehouse, he and his partner found nothing.” He paused dramatically. “Except for a scorch mark on the east wall.” A sigh left Darryl’s mouth. “Now, I’m glad that you’re all safe. Or else you wouldn’t be here, smiling like a cat with canaries in her mouth. I just . . .” Both he and Olivia spotted a clerk entered the squad room. “I just want to know what happened.”

Olivia glanced at the newcomer. She sat on the chair behind her desk. “If you must know, we got rid of the warlocks.”

“You and the Charmed Ones?”

A loud scoff escaped from Olivia’s mouth. “No, actually it was my brother Harry, Cole Turner, and me.”

“What happened to . . .?” A knowing look creased Darryl’s face. “Wait. Don’t tell me. You had to rescue the Halliwells.”

Olivia sighed. “I’m afraid so. It’s a good thing that Harry was able to read Phoebe’s premonition. He’s telepathic.”

Darryl shook his head. “Please. Don’t tell me. I don’t wanna know anymore than I do.”

“But I thought you wanted to know everything.”

Darryl shot back, “I wanted to know what happened inside that warehouse. Not about your brother.”

A tall figure strode into the squad room. It belonged to their supervisor, Captain McPherson. He glanced at the two inspectors. “Morris, McNeill, I’m glad to see you both here. See me in my office. In five minutes.” The he continued on toward his office.

The two friends glanced at each other. “What was that about?” Olivia asked.

“You got me,” Darryl said as he shrugged. “Getting back to the subject, you say that Cole helped you rescue the Halliwells? I guess this will finally put him back in Phoebe’s good graces.”

Darryl’s words hit Olivia like a punch in the gut. “Oh. I never thought about that.” Nor did she really want to.

* * * *

The telephone rang three times before a voice on the other end of the receiver announced, “Hello?”

Phoebe took a deep breath. “Cole?”

A pause followed. Then, “Phoebe? Is that you?”


Cole’s voice hesitated. “Uh, is there something wrong? Why did you call?”

Now it was Phoebe’s turn to hesitate. Why could she say? Cole called out her name again. “Phoebe? Are you there?”

She sighed. “Yeah. I . . . uh, I just wanted to thank you, again. For saving us from those warlocks.”

“You’re welcome. Although I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Olivia or Harry’s help.”

Phoebe grunted. “Yeah. Well . . . with or without their help, thanks.”

Silence greeted Phoebe’s last words. Then Cole said, “Was there any other reason why you called?” Phoebe thought she heard hope in his voice.

Was there another reason? Why was she calling him anyway? To reunite with him? It was the last thing she wanted. After all of the trauma over the Source, Phoebe realized that she could not deal with the uncertainly of Cole turning evil again. Not while he possessed those powers he had received from the Wasteland. But she could not say so over the telephone. Besides, Cole knew how she felt.

Phoebe took a deep breath. “No. I just wanted to say thanks. Again.”

“You’re welcome.” Cole’s voice now sounded flat. “Good-bye Phoebe.”

The telephone receiver went dead. Phoebe whispered, “Good-bye.” And she hung up the telephone.

“Who was that?” a cheerful Paige asked, as she and Piper entered the Solarium.

Phoebe murmured, “Cole.”

Her sisters’ expressions sobered at the mention of her ex-husband. Especially Paige’s. Piper’s eyes also radiated concern. “Oh? What did he want?” She sat down on the sofa, next to Phoebe.

“He didn’t call. I did.”

Paige demanded, “And why did you do that?”

“This has nothing to do with yesterday, does it?” Piper asked, shooting the youngest with a quick glare.

Phoebe took a deep breath. “Well, I figured that he deserved a thank you for saving us from those warlocks. After all, we practically ignored him, yesterday.”

The other two Halliwells looked slightly abashed. Piper spoke up. “Maybe we did seem a little ungrateful. But Phoebe, are you sure there’s nothing more to your phone call?”

“Like what?” Phoebe warily asked.

Piper glanced at Paige, who shrugged. The former continued, “Like Cole . . . and Olivia McNeill.” Piper paused. “And the way they sort of . . . well, smiled at each other. Maybe you don’t like the idea of Cole becoming close with another woman.”

Paige added, “Yeah. Especially with Olivia. Heck, they almost seemed like kindred spirits.”

“Paige!” Piper’s eyes flashed with irritation. “Could you please not . . .?”

But the youngest Halliwell continued on with her usual bluntness. “What? I mean, we all noticed! I know I did. And Phoebe? Don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe this is a sign that you and Cole aren’t simply made to be together. Maybe it’s time to move on, like you keep telling him.”

Once more, Piper admonished Paige. But the latter’s words further twist the knife Phoebe has been feeling in her gut, since yesterday evening. As she struggled to overcome her quixotic feelings about Cole, she asked in a trembling voice, “Where’s Leo? I haven’t seen him since yesterday morning.”

“Meeting with the bosses, I suppose,” Piper muttered. The moment she had spoken, her husband appeared in his familiar sea of blue lights. “Oh! Speak of the devil.”

Leo planted a light kiss on Piper’s forehead. “I don’t know if I like the idea of being referred to as a devil.”

“Where have you been?” Piper demanded.

Leo replied, “Sorry, but I was with a charge in London.”

“London? Cool!” Paige expressed excitement.

“Yeah. And I was also with the Elders. They’re very relieved that the Crozat Coven was prevented from becoming the major power in the Underworld. They were pretty powerful, you know. And large.”

Piper caustically remarked, “Shouldn’t you be at Olivia McNeill’s apartment, telling all her this? After all, she was the one responsible for stopping them.”

“Oh. Well, yeah. I had also heard about that,” Leo added. “That’s why I plan to see her, this evening.”

Ever since she saw the red-haired witch in action, Phoebe had a question in her mind. “Speaking of Olivia, remember when you told us about her powers? Well, exactly how strong is she? I mean, you should have seen her, Leo. Not even Prue’s telekinesis was that strong.”

“That’s because Prue’s power had not been fully developed when she died,” Leo replied. “And Olivia has been developing her power for a longer period of time. Come to think of it, she still isn’t fully developed yet. The same goes for Bruce and Harry.”

Piper stared at her husband in shock. “You’ve got to be kidding! Both she and Harry were like super witches! Or something like that.”

Leo gave his wife what looked like a chastising stare. “That’s because they both took the time to not only control their powers, but to also develop them.” Piper rolled her eyes. “Besides, like I said before, all of you are only slightly more powerful than the McNeills. And I do mean slightly.” Leo hesitated. “Only as the Power of Three, I mean. And there’s also the prophecy.”

Phoebe and the other Charmed Ones frowned at their whitelighter. “Prophecy? What are you talking about?” Phoebe asked.

The whitelighter paused. He seemed very reluctant to continue.

“Come on, Leo! Give,” Phoebe argued. “The genie is already out of the bottle.”

After a heartfelt sigh, Leo finally continued, “There’s a rumor about a prophecy that concerns both the Warren and McNeill lines. It’s rumored that both lines will eventually come together in marriage and produce the most powerful magical being ever.”

“What are you talking about?” Paige demanded. “I thought we were supposed to be the most powerful witches, ever.”

“I said the most powerful magical being, not witch.”

Leo’s words reminded Phoebe of the Seer. The former demon had once revealed that if she and Cole – when he was the Source – had been married by a regular priest or minister, their baby would have been a powerful force of good. Phoebe still doubted the Seer’s words. She simply could not comprehend the idea of a witch and a demon producing such a child. Not while there was the demonic element to consider.

“So, does anyone have an idea which one of us will help bring about this prophecy?” Paige asked, interrupting Phoebe’s thoughts.

Leo shrugged. “Who knows?”

“Speaking of the McNeills . . .” Piper raced out of the room, perplexing her sisters and husband. A few minutes later, she returned, holding a cake encased inside a plastic covering. “This is Grams’ famous Coconut cake. Sort of a peace offering to old Mrs. McNeill for what happened on Sunday. Since you’ll be seeing Olivia, could you give it to her, so she can give it to her grandmother?” Piper handed the cake to Leo.

Who handed the cake back to Piper. “Why don’t you give it to Mrs. McNeill, herself? We can stop by the McNeill manor after we see Olivia. Shouldn’t you all present this cake to Mrs. McNeill? In person?”

The three sisters exchanged long-suffering looks. Eating crow has never been a Halliwell forte.