“IRON MAN 3” (2013) Review



“IRON MAN 3” (2013) Review

One would think after the release of last year’s “THE AVENGERS”, Marvel Studios would call it quits on its saga about the team of superheroes who foiled an alien invasion in said movie. But the “THE AVENGERS” opened the possibility of a new threat to Earth, paving the way for a new slew of stories for the costumed Avengers. 

The beginning of this new group of films resulted in the release of “IRON MAN 3”, the third movie about the sole adventures of billionaire Tony Stark aka Iron Man. The alien invasion from “THE AVENGERS” had left its mark on Tony. He has become even more popular than ever with the public. The U.S. government (including S.H.I.E.L.D.) seemed to be leaving him alone for the moment. And his relationship with Pepper Potts seemed to be going strong. However, Tony also seemed to be in the process of ironing out the kinks for his new method of accessing his Iron Man armor – a method that turned out to be a technological copy of Thor’s habit of summoning the Mjölnir hammer. His chauffeur Happy Hogan has been promoted to Head of Security for Stark Industries. But Happy’s caustic “Super Friends” indicated the latter’s resentment toward Tony’s newly forged connections to the other Avengers. Worst of all, Tony has been experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the Avengers’ battle against the invading Chitauri aliens.

But these problems are nothing in compare to the re-emergence of an old acquaintance whom Tony first met at a New Year’s Eve party in 1999. Thirteen years earlier, a drunken Tony and his date Dr. Maya Hansen encountered the disabled scientist Aldrich Killian, who offered them positions in his new company, Advanced Idea Mechanics. However, Tony rejects the offer, humiliating Killian in the process. Sometime after this encounter, Killian met Dr. Hansen and used her Extremis virus – an experimental regenerative treatment intended to allow recovery from crippling injuries – to heal his own disabilities. However, Extremis also gives the individual superhuman strength and allows him or her to generate heat. As it turns out, Killian is working for the latest threat to strike into the heart of American intelligence, a terrorist known as Mandarin. The latter has been responsible for a string of bombings that have left the intelligence agencies bewildered by any lack of forensic evidence. But Happy’s encounter with Killian’s major henchman, a former Army officer named Eric Savrin, in front of the Hollywood Chinese Theater leads him badly injured. And a very angry Tony issues a televised threat to capture the Mandarin. Former paramour Dr. Hansen appears at Stark’s Malibu home to warn him about Killian and the Mandarin, but the latter orders Savrin to lead an attack on the house. Tony, Pepper and Dr. Hansen all survive. But the house is destroyed and Tony is forced to disappear to somewhere in Tennessee and discover a way to defeat the Mandarin.

I was surprised to learn that Jon Favreau did not return as director for this third IRON MAN movie. Although “IRON MAN 2” proved to be a box office hit, many critics and moviegoers claimed that it was not as good as the first movie,“IRON MAN”. It was not an opinion that I shared, but . . . it was an opinion that led Marvel Studios to ask Favreau to step down as director of “IRON MAN 3”. Star Robert Downey Jr. suggested that the studio hire Shane Black to direct this third film. Downey Jr. and Black had first worked with each other in the 2005 comedy, “KISS KISS BANG BANG”. Did changing directors help the IRON MAN franchise? I do not think so. I am not saying that “IRON MAN 3” was a bad movie. I thought it was far from bad. But a change in directors did not improve the franchise. It was a change that I believe was unnecessary in the first place. However . . . I still enjoyed this third film very much.

One of the best things I could say about “”IRON MAN 3” is that it presented Tony with a very formidable opponent. The Mandarin proved to be not only scary, but very intelligent. The attack on Tony’s Malibu home was mind boggling. But the manner in which the Mandarin managed to track Tony down to a small Tennessee town and steal the War Machine (re-named Iron Patriot) armor by tricking American intelligence and the military regarding his location, and luring James Rhodes (aka War Machine) into a trap struck me as pretty flawless. And in using the Hansen/Killian Extremis virus on disabled military veterans, the Mandarin managed to create a formidable private army. There were other aspects of Black and Drew Pearce’s screenplay that I found very appealing. Although I had no problems with the Pepper Potts character in the previous two movies, I enjoyed the fact that Black and Pearce really put her through the wringer in this one – dealing with Tony’s panic attacks, surviving the Malibu house attack, and becoming a prisoner. Pepper’s ordeals finally paid off when she played a major role in defeating the Mandarin. Although Rhodey had a small presence in the movie’s first half, his presence increased tenfold in the second half. And like Pepper, he played a major role in the Mandarin’s defeat that I personally found very satisfying.

The movie also featured some top-notch action sequences. For me, the second best of them all was the Mandarin’s attack on Tony’s Malibu house. But there were other sequences that I found impressive; including Happy’s encounter with Eric Savrin and another benefactor of the Extremis virus in Hollywood, Tony’s encounter with Savrin and Extremis muscle Ellen Brandt in Tennessee, and the final battle on an oil rig. Mind you, the latter was not perfect, but Pepper and Rhodey’s actions in this sequence made it memorable for me. If the Malibu house attack was my second favorite action sequence, my favorite turned out to be Iron Man’s encounter with Savrin aboard Air Force One and his rescue of the President’s personnel following the plane’s destruction. The use of free fall in Iron Man’s rescue of the Presidential passengers really blew my mind.

There were some complaints that Robert Downey Jr. seemed to be going through the motions in his portrayal of Tony Stark in this film. I cannot say that I agree with this opinion. Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony seemed more sober or stressed out, due to the character’s inability to deal with the aftermath of the events in “THE AVENGERS”. Perhaps this is not a Tony Stark that fans and critics wanted to see. But I congratulate both Downey Jr., Black and Pearce for allowing audiences to see how Tony dealt with the aftermath of encountering invading aliens. I had been impressed by Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of a stressed out Pepper Potts in “IRON MAN 2”. Considering what she had endured in this movie, Paltrow pulled out the stops as she conveyed Pepper’s array of emotions from wariness to fear and finally to anger. Frankly, I feel this movie featured her best performance as Pepper. I noticed that Don Cheadle seemed a lot more relaxed in the role of Lieutenant-Colonel James Rhodes aka War Machine (re-named Iron Patriot). As I had earlier stated, his presence in the movie’s first half seemed rather minimal. But once the movie shifted toward Tony and the American government going after the Mandarin in Miami, his role became more prominent. Not only did Cheadle displayed his talent for comedy, but his James Rhodes proved to be just as much of a bad ass without his War Machine armor, as he was with it. Denied the director’s chair for this movie, the screenwriters gave Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan was allowed a bigger role in the story, when the injuries he suffered at Eric Savrin’s hands snapped Tony out of his lethargy to deal with the Mandarin. And Favreau gave a performance that I found both funny and poignant.

In one article I had read, Guy Pearce described his role in “IRON MAN 3” as merely a cameo. Frankly, I think he may have exaggerated a bit. Like Don Cheadle, Pearce’s presence in the movie’s first half seemed minimal. In fact, his presence as Aldrich Killian did not seem to fully develop until the movie’s last forty-five minutes or so. And his character slightly reminded me of the Dr. Curt Conners (the Lizard) character from last year’s “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”. But I must admit that Pearce did a great job of conveying the character’s development from a pathetic and desperate man eager to use science to heal his disabilities to a charming former acquaintance of Pepper’s and finally a truly scary and difficult-to-beat villain. I have never seen James Badge Dale portray a villain. But I have heard that he once portrayed a serial killer on two carryover episodes from “CSI: MIAMI” and “CSI: NEW YORK”. I need to see those episodes, but I found Badge Dale’s portrayal of henchman Eric Sevrin rather frightening and intimidating. Rebecca Hall portrayed Dr. Maya Hensen, the true creator of the Extremis virus, who found herself regretting her decision to work with Dr. Killian. Hall gave a sharp and witty performance, but I think her presence seemed pretty much wasted. William Sadler gave a solid performance as the President of the United States. Considering his talent, I do wish the script had allowed him to do more. I can say the same about Miguel Ferrer’s ambiguous portrayal of the Vice-President. I finally come to Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of the Mandarin. Many fans were upset over the changes that Black and Pearce made to the Mandarin character. I was not. I found their portrayal of the super villain amazing and mind boggling. And one has to thank Kingsley for giving what I feel was the most entertaining performance in the movie. In fact, I feel that the scene in which Tony meets the Mandarin for the first time is one of my favorite “hero-meets-villain” scenes of all time from any Marvel film. It is a scene I will always cherish.

I do have a few complaints about “IRON MAN 3”. I had already pointed out my slight disappointment at the limited manner in which the Maya Hensen character was utilized. Also, Tony’s trip to Tennessee seemed a bit offbeat to me. I did not need to watch his developing friendship with the kid Harley, which struck me as trite. And although I found some satisfaction in the oil rig sequence – especially in regard to Pepper and Rhodey’s action – I must admit that overall, it struck me as somewhat convoluted. It did not help that the entire sequence was shot at night. Between the night setting, Jeffrey Ford and Peter S. Elliot’s shaky editing and the numerous Iron Man droids, I almost found the sequence disappointing. Well, let me put it another way . . . I have seen better.

Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures are promoting this film as the best IRON MAN film ever. I cannot say that I agree. I feel it has a more complex story than the somewhat simplistic tale for “IRON MAN”. But it has a set of flaws that makes it difficult for me to declare it as “the best”. I guess “IRON MAN 2” is still my favorite. But I do believe that“IRON MAN 3” proved to be a very entertaining and exciting film. In the end, Shane Black did a top-notch job with the help of a decent script and excellent performances from a cast led by Robert Downey Jr.

Hangtown Fry

Below is an article on the 19th century California dish called “Hangtown Fry”



The state of California is not known for its cuisine. In fact, it has developed a reputation for bland and uninspiring dishes. It is a pity since the state has created some memorable recipes over the decades. One of them is the 19th century dish called Hangtown Fry. The latter is an omlette dish that originated sometime between 1849 and 1853 during the California Gold Rush. Although the dish has three origin tales, everyone does agree that the it was created in mid-19th century California. Many also agree that the original dish was an omlette made from eggs, bacon and oysters.

According to the first origin tale, the Hangtown Fry was invented in Placerville, California – then known as Hangtown – in the saloon of the El Dorado Hotel, now known as the Cary House Hotel. When a prospector rushed into the hotel’s saloon, announcing he had struck gold along the banks of Hangtown Creek; he ordered the most expensive dish that the hotel could provide. Since the most expensive food in Gold Rush California were eggs – a delicacy that had to be carefully brought to the mining town, bacon shipped from the East Coast, and oysters brought from San Francisco on icewhich were delicate and had to be carefully brought to the mining town; bacon, which was shipped from the East Coast, and oysters, which had to be brought on ice from San Francisco, over 100 miles away – the hotel’s cook created the omlette known as the Hangtown Fry.

The dish’s second origin tale centered around a condemned prisoner awaiting execution inside a Placerville jail. The authorities asked what he would like to eat for his last meal. The prisoner quickly ordered an oyster omelet, aware that the oysters would have to be brought from San Francisco, over a hundred miles away by steamship and over rough roads. He had hoped the transport of the oysters would delay his execution for a day. And according to the third tale, a man named Parker opened a saloon called Parker’s Bank Exchange in San Francisco’s financial district in 1853. Following the saloon’s opening, he invented and served Hangtown Fry to his customers. Hangtown Fry became a very popular dish in California during the 1850s. It was popularized by Tadich Grill in San Francisco, where it has apparently been on the menu for 160 years. Over the years, cooks have made variations of the dish by adding bell peppers, onions and various spices to its recipe.

Below is a recipe for Hangtown Fry from the “Saveur” website:

Hangtown Fry


12 oysters, such as Bluepoint or Fanny Bay, shucked
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
¼ cup flour
7 eggs
½ cup bread crumbs
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
2 scallions, thinly sliced


Pat oysters dry, and season with salt and pepper; set aside. Put flour, 1 beaten egg, and bread crumbs in 3 separate bowls. Dip each oyster in flour, then egg, then crumbs; place on a floured plate. Heat butter in a 12″ nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oysters; fry, flipping once, until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Whisk remaining eggs in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add eggs to pan with half the bacon and scallions. Cook until eggs are just set, about 3 minutes. Smooth over top; cover, and cook until top is set, about 5 minutes. Transfer omelette to a plate, and garnish with remaining bacon and scallions.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode Two “1844-1848” Commentary

northandsouth 2.1


“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE TWO “1844-1848” Commentary

Unlike Episode One, the second episode of the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” covered a slightly longer time span. This episode focused on George Hazard and Orry Main’s personal and professional lives for a period of three years and five (or six) months – between the fall of 1844 and the early winter of 1848. This episode not only covered their last two years at the West Point Academy, but also their military experiences during the Mexican-American War

Episode Two opens during the fall of 1844, in which George and Orry have embarked upon their third year at the West Point Academy. Orry has been sleep walking through most of his courses, due to his unhappiness over his love Madeline Fabray’s recent marriage to his father’s neighbor, Justin La Motte. But Orry’s apathy over his personal life disappears when he and George begin to notice upperclassman Elkhannah Bent’s continuing abuse toward their fellow classmate, Ned Fisk. The two friends and classmates George Pickett, George McClellan and Thomas Jackson decide to do something about Bent by setting up the latter to get caught with a local prostitute, who happened to be a favorite of one of the Academy’s instructors, Lieutenant DeJong. Although their plan succeeds, George and Orry’s actions earn them Bent’s undying antipathy which will have long lasting consequences upon their families.

Bent’s first chance for revenge occurs during the Battle of Churubusco in August 1847, when he orders the pair to lead their platoons to impossible position that could leave them slaughtered. Bent’s orders also results in Orry getting seriously wounded in the leg. While George waits for Orry to recover right after the war’s official ending in February 1848, he meets and falls in love with his future wife – Constance Flynn, the daughter of Irish-born Army officer, Major Patrick Flynn. It does not take long for George to propose marriage to her. He also receives word of his father’s death and resigns his Army commission to help his family operate Hazard Iron. Due to his wound, Orry also leaves the Army and returns to South Carolina and Mont Royal, a despondent man with a permanently lame leg.

As usual, Episode Two features some changes from John Jakes’ 1982 novel. One, George met Constance in Texas, before his and Orry’s arrival in Mexico. And Constance’s father was an attorney, not a military doctor. The miniseries also dismissed George and Orry’s failed efforts to expose Bent as a brutal military leader before the Battle of Churubusco. Unlike the miniseries, Orry lost one of his arms in the novel. And when Orry returned to Mont Royal in the miniseries, his Cousin Charles had yet to make an appearance.

Like Episode OneEpisode Two was a first-rate chapter in the miniseries saga with a few flaws that more or less irritated me. However, I was very impressed at how director Richard T. Heffron and cinematographer Stevan Larner handled some of the episode’s major scenes – especially the ones that featured the Mains’ barbecue in honor of both Orry and George, the latter’s first meeting with future wife Constance Flynn at an Army ball in Mexico City, and especially the Battle of Churubusco. Three major crowd scenes in one 97-minutes episode. Very impressive. I especially enjoyed how he used the camera to take in all of the details of the Mains’ barbecue at Mont Royal, using Madeline and Justin LaMotte’s arrival to begin the scene. First of all, I would like to touch upon the episode’s costumes. Vicki Sánchez’s work continued to impress me – especially in two of my favorite costumes worn by both Wendy Kilbourne and Lesley-Anne Down:

northandsouth 2.3 northandsouth 2.4

More importantly, Episode Two featured some first-rate dramatic scene. Two of them – ironically – featured slaves being punished. One of the Mains’ slaves, Priam, was punished for drunken behavior at the family’s barbecue in one particular scene. Heffron and Larner utilized unusual camera angles and lighting to emphasize the horror of Priam being branded on the cheek by overseer Salem Jones. Along with the above, the scene’s horror became even more effective, thanks to David Harris (Priam) and Tony Frank’s (Salem Jones) performances. The second scene featured Justin LaMotte’s whipping of a slave to discover if any of his slaves had information on Priam’s escape from Mont Royal. There were no unusual camera angles or lighting used in this scene, just casual brutality, thanks to Heffron’s direction and David Carradine’s performance. And a close look at Carradine’s costume would reveal flecks of blood on his white shirt.

This episode also featured other first-rate dramatic scenes. One of those scenes featured excellent performances by James Read and Patrick Swayze in an argument between George and Orry following Priam’s punishment. The irony of this argument is that Orry’s reaction to George’s criticism of slavery was a great deal more volatile than George’s reaction to his criticism of Northern wage slavery in Episode One. The LaMottes had their own memorable fight, following Madeline’s comments about slavery and secession at the Mains’ barbecue, thanks to Carradine and Lesley-Anne Down’s performances. Philip Casnoff’s memorably creepy performance as Elkhannah Bent added a great deal of depth to at least two scenes. One of them featured Bent’s personal declaration of war to both George and Orry after they had succeeded to get him kicked out of West Point. The second scene featured Bent seeking help from his illegitimate father – a Northern congressman – to get him a commission in the Army after being forced to leave the Academy. Gene Kelly gave a brief, yet excellent performance as Bent’s father and his obvious reluctance to view Bent as his son, along with Casnoff’s performance, produced a rare moment in which I actually felt a glimmer of sympathy for Bent.

There were other performances that impressed me. Mitchell Ryan was excellent as the no-nonsense Tillet Main who angrily defended his decision to punish Priam to Orry. Olivia Cole was allowed to display more of her excellent acting skills in an intense scene in which Maum Sally stops Madeline from interrupting LaMotte’s whipping of a slave. Robert Mitchum gave a charming performance as the observant and slightly roguish Army doctor, Major Patrick Flynn. Andy Stahl continued his first-rate performance as Ned Fisk in his second and last appearance in the 1985 miniseries. Episode Two also featured the introduction of Wendy Kilbourne as George Hazard’s love and future wife, Constance Flynn. Utilizing an Irish accent must have been difficult for her . . . at first. Her accent seemed a bit exaggerated in her first scene in which Constance meets George for the first time at the ball in Mexico City. But Kilbourne quickly adapted to the accent and came out smelling like a rose. More importantly, she infused both a charm and a sardonic wit that has made Constance one of my favorite characters in the saga.

I did have a major problem with Episode Two. Do not get me wrong. I have always thought Patrick Swayze and Lesley-Anne Down had a good, solid screen chemistry. But why oh why did the screenwriters insist upon forcing them to spew so much drippy dialogue? My God! How I grew to hate it! Viewers received a first hint of this at the end of Episode One. InEpisode Two, it simply got worse. Why? The dialogue became hammier and the episode featured two wince-inducing scenes between Orry and Madeline. Let me correct myself. Make that three. One featured a conversation between the two at the barbecue, the second at Salvation Chapel on the day after the barbecue, and the third at the end of the episode, following Orry’s permanent return to Mont Royal and Priam’s escape.

As it turned out, I had another problem . . . and it featured a scene between Madeline and Priam. After escaping from Mont Royal, the latter made his way to the slave quarters at Resolute, the LaMotte plantation. One of LaMotte’s house slaves summoned Madeline to her cabin, where the plantation mistress tried to convince Priam to return to Mont Royal before agreeing to assist him in his escape. This entire scene featured Priam in tears, while Madeline talked to him. And for the likes of me, I do not understand why he was crying? Why was Priam crying? Was this a reaction to Madeline’s initial attempt to convince him to return to Mont Royal? Or were his tears a sentimental reaction to the lose of those years before Salem Jones’ arrival at Mont Royal? Judging from his dialogue, his only reason for leaving the Mains’ plantation seemed to be their brutal overseer. What the hell? What happened to the literary Priam who not only hated Salem Jones, but also angrily resented the Main family for keeping him in bondage. It seemed as if Priam had lost his balls in his transition from John Jakes’ novel to the television screen. Why was it so important for the screenwriters to make Priam less aggressive in his attitude toward the Mains? How gutless.

Despite these flaws, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” seemed to march steadily on in this second episode with great dramatic moments and first-rate performances. With George at Mont Royal to get Orry to stand as his best man at his upcoming wedding to Constance, and Priam as a fugitive, Heffron and the screenwriters have given viewers sufficient incentives to look forward to the next episode.

“Lessons in Witchcraft” [PG] – 2/9



Chapter 2

NOTE: In the previous chapter, Paige had decided to get extra lessons in witchcraft after reading a book she had purchased during a vacation in Scotland. Paige ended up being surprised that her family’s views on being a witch and Elise McNeill’s views were far apart. The story picks up with Paige informing her sisters about her lesson with old Mrs. McNeill. 


Both Phoebe and Piper stared at Paige in disbelief, while she repeated Elise McNeill’s words.

“That can’t be right!” Phoebe declared. “Our Book of Shadows specifically states that it is our duty, as witches, to protect the innocent!”

Piper added, “And how else would you explain all of those demonic attacks that we’ve endured over the years?”

Paige heaved a sigh. “I don’t know, Piper. The Source, himself? I mean we all know that the Oracle had foreseen us killing him. Maybe he had put a bounty on us. To make sure that didn’t happen. Isn’t that what Cole had told us?”

“Yeah,” Phoebe replied. “But still . . .”

“But what?” Although she understood her sisters’ reaction to what Elise McNeill had told her, Paige also felt a slight twinge of frustration at their reluctance to even consider that the elderly witch may have been right. “C’mon, Pheebs! Has it ever occurred to you that whoever said we had a duty to always fight evil, may have been wrong? Maybe the reason the McNeills have managed to live long lives is that they don’t go around chasing after demons and warlocks at the drop of a hat.”

Piper rolled her eyes. “Paige, I realize that you think the world of the McNeills, but it is possible that the, uh . . . old lady may be wrong.”

“Or she could be right,” Paige countered. “Anyway, why are you arguing against this? Wouldn’t you like to accept the possibility that being a witch doesn’t mean that we have to go around vanquishing demons all the time? You don’t even like being a witch. Remember?”

The oldest Halliwell looked away, her dark eyes unfathomable. “Don’t forget that I had a chance to give up being a witch . . . and I didn’t take it.”

“Yeah Piper!” Paige’s voice dripped with scorn. “And we all know why. Don’t we?”

“Paige . . .”

Paige heaved a sigh. “C’mon Piper! Be honest! You had turned down the chance to give up your powers, because of us. Because Phoebe and I had decided to remain as witches. You had accepted our decision, because you had no choice. Majority rules.”

Piper’s mouth tightened. “What are you getting at, Paige?”

“Maybe you should join me in these lessons,” the younger witch replied. She glanced at the middle Halliwell. “Both you and Phoebe. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to find out that being a witch is more than just killing demons and warlocks? I swear, sometimes I feel that we’re nothing more than supernatural killers. And we’re no better than the people we go after.” Both Piper and Phoebe exchanged uneasy looks. “C’mon guys!” Paige added. “What’s the harm? We all know that the McNeills know a hell of a lot more about the Craft than we do. And Phoebe, haven’t you always said that we need to learn a lot more? Well, here’s our opportunity.”

Piper was the first to speak. She sighed. “Well . . . okay. I’ll join you for one lesson and see how it works out. Pheebs?”

The middle Charmed One hesitated. Then she growled, “Okay. Sure. Although I think we’re wasting our time.”

Paige ignored Phoebe’s last barb and continued, “Great! I’ll call Olivia right now.”

“Olivia?” Phoebe looked unpleasantly surprised. “But I thought Mrs. McNeill was . . . Paige wait!” But the youngest Charmed One had rushed upstairs, before Phoebe’s cries could sink in.


The following Sunday afternoon, Olivia appeared at the Halliwells’ manor, carrying a large knit bag. “Hi guys!” she greeted upon entering the house. “Ready for today’s lesson?”

Paige replied cheerfully, “I’m ready! And so is Phoebe.” She indicated her older sister, sitting morosely in one of the living room’s chairs. “Piper’s upstairs with Wyatt. She’ll be down in a few minutes.”

While Olivia removed a few objects from her bag, Piper appeared on the staircase. “Okay, I’m here for the lesson,” she drawled. “Although I think I know all there is to being a witch.”

Olivia responded with a polite smile. “If you say so.” She continued to remove more objects from her bag. “So Paige, what did you learn from my grandmother?”

After taking a deep breath, Paige replied, “I learned that the word, witch, means ‘wise one’. And that witches are basically are basically healers, teachers and spiritual leaders.” She paused before adding, “And not protectors of innocents.” Piper’s eyes rolled, while Phoebe’s mouth formed a tight line.

“Anything else?” Olivia asked.

“Oh yeah. Mrs. McNeill talked about the history of Wicca, and its origins in British Mystery Traditions, like the Picts, who were around before the Celts. The early Celts, and aspects of Celtic Druidism. She also added that modern day American Wicca is descended from British Wicca, which was originated by some guy named Gerald Gardner, back in the 30s.”

Olivia corrected, “Actually, many witches believe that present-day American Wicca comes from the studies of Gerald Gardner, Alexander Sanders, and Celtic Paganism. Did Gran tell you how people become witches?”

Before Paige could answer, Piper turned to her. “I don’t know about your grandmother, but Paige didn’t say anything. Paige? Did she?”

The youngest Halliwell hesitated, before she finally replied, “Oh yeah. I forgot about that. Mrs. McNeill told me how people become witches.”

Both Piper and Phoebe looked confused. “How they become witches?” the former repeating. “What are you saying? That people aren’t born witches?”

“That is exactly what she’s saying, Piper,” Olivia answered. “I was not born a witch, and neither were you or your sisters.”

A half-hearted laugh escaped the oldest Halliwell’s mouth. “Okay, I know this is a joke. We weren’t born witches? Now, I really find that hard to believe. I mean, we all had our powers when we were born. Well, I don’t know about Paige . . .”

“I had my whitelighter powers,” the younger woman interjected.

“This is different, Paige,” Piper continued. “I’m talking about witches’ powers. When I was young, I already had the power to freeze, Prue had her telekinesis and Phoebe . . . well, Mom was able to use her power of premonition, while she was still in the womb. Shouldn’t that have made us witches from birth?”

Olivia shook her head. “Sorry honey. You’re confusing psychic abilities with magick. There are plenty of people with powers similar to ours, but they’re not practicing witches. I know what I’m talking about. My telekinesis had manifested when I was very young. But I didn’t first become a witch until I was eighteen. I had began studying to become one, about a year or two earlier.” Piper began to speak, but Olivia interrupted. “Let me finish. People become witches by Initiation. And that involves contacting and forming a good relationship with the God and Goddess of Wicca. A person who wants to become a witch, studies real hard for about a year and a day, until a qualified Wicca priest or priestess initiates him or her in a ceremony. The latter two are used as channels to pass some their power onto you, as newly made Priest or Priestess. Or a witch. That’s how all of us became witches. Gran and a priest named Walter Goodman were the ones who had initiated Bruce and me.” She paused. “Have any of you ever been initiated?”

The two Charmed Ones stared at the red-haired witch with dumbfounded expressions. The youngest merely sighed. “No,” she answered. “Not really. Although I did study to become a witch, under both Piper and Phoebe.” She turned to her sisters. “Have you guys ever been initiated? Piper? Pheebs?”

Phoebe remained speechless, while Piper managed to squeak, “Uh . . . no. Wait!” She shook her head, as if trying to comprehend what she had just heard. “Are you saying that technically, we haven’t been witches all this time?”

Olivia responded with a shrug. “Unless your grandmother had initiated you, no.”

“Then what the hell have we been for the past five years?”

Another shrug lifted Olivia shoulders. “I don’t know. Ceremonial magicians? Magick practitioners?” Aware of the uncomfortable pause that followed, Olivia added, “So . . . Paige? Did you and Gran discuss anything else? Like the Wiccan Rede?”

“Huh?” Paige croaked.

Olivia bit back a sigh. “The Wiccan Rede. Did you guys talk about that?”

“Well . . . yeah.”

“Do you know anything about the Rede?”

It was Phoebe who finally spoke. “At least this is easy. ‘An Ye Harm None, Do What Thou Wilt’.”

Olivia nodded. “Actually, the Rede is longer, but it all comes down to that line. What about the Law of Three? What do you know about that?”

The Charmed Ones fell silent. Each shot anxious looks at the other. “I think that sort of went by us,” Paige replied sheepishly.

“Okay, basically the Law of Three or the Threefold Law is this – any energy you send out, will come back to you in threefold. Or, the actions and thoughts of an individual are visited back upon him or her in threefold the intensity of the original. This is otherwise known as either ‘what goes around, comes around’ or ‘karmic payback’.” She paused. The Charmed Ones remained silent. “Any other questions?”

Phoebe hesitated before she asked, “What about personal gain? Where does that fit into the Wiccan Rede? Or the Law of Three?”

“It doesn’t,” Olivia quickly answered.

Her questions produced gasps from the three sisters. Piper frowned. “What do you mean, it doesn’t? Isn’t there a rule about personal gain?”


“But . . . there has to be! It’s mentioned in our Book of Shadows!”

Olivia shot back, “Not in mine.”

Piper, however, refused to give up. “But Leo . . .”

“Ah, yes! Leo!” Olivia nodded. “That whole thing about personal gain? Whitelighters’ rule. Now, there are many complexities to both the Wiccan Rede and the Law of Three, but I have to tell you that for witches, it basically boils down to not deliberately harming someone. Or using magick against a person’s will.”

Shaking her head, Phoebe shot back, “That can’t be true! When we had first became witches, I used magic to win at the Lottery. I had the winning ticket, but it disappeared. That means, using powers for personal gain . . .”

“If you had studied Wicca a little more thoroughly, Phoebe, you probably would have realized that the ticket had disappeared for reasons other than personal gain.” Olivia paused. “Your little magical ticket would have prevented the real winner from collecting his or her prize. Remember the Wiccan Rede . . .”

Phoebe sighed. “‘And Ye Harm None, Do What Thou Wilt’,” she quoted morosely.

Nodding, Olivia added, “That’s right. By conjuring up that ticket, you were in the process of robbing the true winner.” She paused to stare at the sisters. “So, anymore questions on what we had just talked about?” No one answered. “Okay, let’s move on to something less controversial. Like magick tools for a witch. Do you guys know anything about that?”

After a brief hesitation, Piper asked, “Will this be about herbal craft or spells? Because we know all about that.”

A wry smile touched Olivia’s lips. “Not exactly. I’m referring to tools used by witches as part of a symbolic system. A provider of a map for entry into, say . . . unfamiliar psychic spaces.” She paused and frowned at her audience. “Did anyone understand what I had just said?”

“We got it,” Piper replied sarcastically.

“Good.” Olivia continued. “Now, one example of a witch’s tool is my staff. Which, by the way, symbolizes the Fire element. So does a wand.”

Paige piped in, “Like in HARRY POTTER.”

One of Olivia’s brows formed an arch. “Ok-ay. I suppose that’s a good comparison. Now, the properties of fire represent will, transmutation, life force and power.” Olivia picked a small black cauldron. “This cauldron corresponds to the Water element – cleansing, regeneration and emotion. A cauldron is also the symbol of the Goddess. Filled with water, it can be used to glimpse into the future. Which is basically called Divination.”

“What?” Phoebe’s eyes grew wide. “Did you just say . . .?”

Olivia interrupted, “That’s right. I did. A cauldron can be used for Divination – scrying into the future. So, if you ever lose your power of Divinity, you can always use a cauldron.” She picked up a silver chalice. “This chalice also represents Water. Like the cauldron, you can fill it with water and use it for Divination. You can also use the chalice to hold the ritual wine. Now, the broom, which also represents Water, usually involves cleansing and protection.”

“I remember that,” Phoebe said. Everyone stared at her. “Remember Piper? When you, Prue and me went back to 1670 Virginia? We had learned about the uses for a broom. Only,” her face fell, “I guess we just forgot about it.”

Piper nodded. She wore a reflective expression. “Oh yeah. I had forgotten about that.”

Pleased that the sisters had learned a few lessons about certain magick symbols, Olivia smiled. “That’s great! Do you know anything about the ankh?” Confusion appeared in the Charmed Ones’ eyes. “I guess not. Well, the ankh, the Keppen rod and a quartz crystal all represent the Spirit element. Which symbolizes perfection, summation, balance, illumination and eternity.”

Olivia picked up an athame. Paige crooned, “Ooooh! Phoebe has one of those,” she declared. Olivia glanced at her questioningly. “It once belonged to Cole. You know, the one she had used to kill that Crozat warlock on the night we had first met.”

Comprehension gripped Olivia’s mind. “Oh my God!” she cried in horror. “I had forgotten.” She stared at Phoebe. “Do you still have that athame?”

“Yeah, sure.” Phoebe nodded. “Why?”

Olivia harshly ordered, “Get rid of it. Now!”

Before Phoebe could speak, Piper demanded, “Why?”

“Because an athame is suppose to be a tool used for spiritual and magical rituals. It’s not a weapon to be used to harm someone.” Olivia heaved a sigh. “Goddess, I wish I had told you this, when we first met. That athame is tainted with blood. Do yourself a favor and get rid of it.”

Aside from the grandfather clock ticking in the background, an uncomfortable silence filled the living room. Olivia noticed that Phoebe’s face had grown considerably pale. “Um, what element is the athame associated with?” the middle Halliwell finally asked.

Olivia quietly replied, “Air. Like the sword. Of course, there are certain Wicca sects who associate both the athame and the sword with the Fire element. The athame is used to direct energy. And it’s an instrument of power and manipulation. The handle is usually a dark color . . . to absorb power.”

“Anything else?” Piper asked.

On the table before Olivia, laid a stone. She picked it up. “Well, there are the tools representing the Earth element. A stone and the Pentagram.”

Nodding, Piper said, “We know about the Pentagram. In fact, the manor lies in the center of a pentagram’s five points – the five elements. In the center of a Nexus.”

“Hmmm,” was Olivia’s only reply. She glanced away.


“Nothing. I . . . uh, I have a few ideas about the pentagram. But I’ll talk about that later. In fact, we’ll discuss the pentagram in another lesson.” Olivia cleared her throat. “As for the stone, or any other kind of mineral – like salt, is used to symbolize the Earth properties – communication, vitality, intellect and understanding.” She paused. “And that’s it. That’s the lesson for today on magical tools. Any questions?”

Confusion darkened Phoebe’s eyes. “Are you sure that you haven’t missed something. Because I have this feeling . . .”

“I have a question,” Piper said, raising her hand.

Olivia directed her gaze toward the eldest sister. “Yes?”

Piper hesitated. Then, “Do you mind repeating all of that? The list of magic tools? I think I might have to take notes.”


“OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” (2013) Review


“OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” (2013) Review

During the late winter/early spring of 2013, the American public found itself bombarded with constant media coverage of militaristic chest thumping from North Korea. By some strange coincidence, Hollywood released two movies featuring the North Koreans as the main villains between September 2012 and March 2013. One of those movies turned out to be the recent action thriller called “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” told the story of a disgraced U.S. Secret Service agent forced to rescue the President of the United from North Korean terrorists that have infiltrated and taken over the White House. I might as well start from the beginning. The movie begins with former Army Ranger-turned-Secret Service Agent Mike Banning is serving as lead agent for the Presidential Detail that guards President Benjamin Asher and the latter’s wife and son. During a drive from Camp David, the car conveying President Asher and First Lady Margaret Asher crashes against a bridge railing. Banning manages to save the President, but the vehicle falls into the river before he and the rest of the detail can save the First Lady and two other agents. Because the sight of Banning triggers President Asher’s memories of his wife’s death, Banning is taken off the Presidential Detail.

Eighteen months later, President Asher finds himself facing a state visit from South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Tae-Woo. Korean-led guerilla forces launch a combined air and ground attack upon Washington D.C. and more specifically, the White House. The attack, led by an ex-North Korean terrorist named Kang Yeonsak, results in the murder of Prime Minister Lee and the capture of President Asher, Vice-President Charlie Rodriguez and Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan. Kang wants the U.S. forces in South Korea to withdraw from the Korean Pennisula and the access codes to the Cerberus system: a fail-safe device that self-detonates any U.S. nuclear missiles during an abort. Meanwhile, Banning was on his way to the White House to ask the President to allow him back on the detail, when he gets caught up in the attack. Banning participates in the defense of the White House led by fellow Agent Roma, but nearly all of the defenders are killed. However Banning manages to get inside the White House and establish contact with Head of the Secret Service Lynne Jacobs, Speaker of the House Allan Trumball, and Chief of Staff General Edward Clegg. Then proceeds to find a way to save the President and other hostages.

The plot for “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” sounds very exciting. It also sounds very familiar. Some critic or blogger once compared it to some other movie I have never seen. But “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” reminded me of the 1997 Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman movie, “AIR FORCE ONE”. Let me be frank. I despised “AIR FORCE ONE” when I first saw it in the theaters. I still despise it. There is nothing more ludicrous than the President of the United States as an action hero.“OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” has its own share of flaws. But I am so relieved that screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt did not transform President Asher into an action hero. But the two movies do share a good number of similarities:

*Both movies feature the U.S. President and personnel being held hostage.
*The hostage situation in both movies are in the presidential settings of either the White House or Air Force One.
*The Vice-President becomes head of state in the 1997 movie. The Speaker of the House becomes head of state in the 2013 film.
*Kazakhstan terrorists disguised as foreign press infiltrate Air Force One. North Korean terrorists disguised as South Korean diplomats infiltrate the White House.
*A Secret Service agent is a mole for the Kazakh terrorists in the 1997 film. A former Secret Service agent is a mole for the North Korean terrorists.

But despite these similarities, I still liked “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”. Somewhat. For me, the movie’s major virtue proved to be its more plausible hero. Instead of using the President of the United States as the main hero, the leading man for “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” turned out to be a former Army Ranger-turned-Secret Service agent. And the movie’s action struck me as very exciting and well directed by Antoine Fuqua. I was especially impressed by the long sequence that featured the North Korean terrorists’ attack upon and takeover of the White House. The movie also benefitted from the emotional connection between Banning and President Asher, thanks to Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart’s performances. The pair’s connection reminded me of the Jack Bauer/President David Palmer relationship from FOX-TV’s“24”. What made the Banning/Asher’s relationship more interesting is that it was nearly severed by the First Lady’s death in the film’s first twenty minutes. Rothenberger and Benedikt’s screenplay proved to be somewhat decent. But I do feel it may have been somewhat undermined by certain sequences and plotlines.

While watching the first half of “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”, I assumed that the North Koreans’ takeover of the White House would prove to be a plot for something bigger – to generate a war between the U.S. and North Korea, resulting in the fall of Communism on the Korean Pennisula. The reason I had made such assumptions was due to my misguided belief that the Hollywood studios had learned to overcome such one-dimensional demonization of another country – especially one that did not harbor Western or non-Communist beliefs. I really should have known better, considering the release of the 2012 remake, “RED DAWN” and the media’s continuing penchant for villifying all Muslims – regardless of whether or not they are terrorists. As much as I had enjoyed the action and relationships in “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”, a part of me felt disappointed by the realization that Kang and his followers were behind the attack and the hostage situation all along. I also felt somewhat perplexed.

Think of it. Two (or three) of Kang’s people managed to steal a U.S. military plane for an aerial attack on the White House. The theft of the plane was never discovered or reported by the U.S. military. Nor was the plane detected, until it was flying over the capital’s airspace. And the U.S. sent only one fighter jet to force it down. And all of this happened in a story set in the post-9/11 world. Are you kidding me? It gets worse. During the movie’s last half hour, Kang’s surviving men post a stolen advanced anti-aircraft called Hydra 6 on the White House roof to kill approaching teams of U.S. Navy SEALs being conveyed to the presidential home by helicopters. Once again, the terrorists managed to steal advanced U.S. military weaponry in the country’s post-9/11 era. No wonder I had originally assumed that some kind of high-level American conspiracy was involved with the terrorists.

Some of the performances in “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” struck me as first-rate. Gerard Butler made an excellent and likable action hero in his portrayal of Secret Service Agent Mike Banning. And if I must be honest, I have not really enjoyed a performance of his in four years. Considering that Aaron Eckhart is ten years younger than Harrison Ford was when the latter portrayed a U.S. president in “AIR FORCE ONE”, I am surprised that the screenwriters and Fuqua did not allow him to indulge in some kind of heroic action. But I must admit that he conveyed his usual intensity and top-notch acting skills in portraying a head-of-state in a dangerous and vulnerable state. Angela Bassett proved to be equally intense and entertaining as Banning’s immediate supervisor and head of Secret Service Lynne Jacobs. Actually, I enjoyed her performance in this film a lot more than I did her take on a C.I.A. station chief in “THIS MEANS WAR”. Rick Yune gave a subtle, yet menacing performance as leader of the North Korean terrorists, Kang Yeonsak. It is a pity that he has been limited to portraying villains most of his career. With his looks and presence, he should be garnering “good guys” roles by now. Ashley Judd had a brief role as First Lady Margaret Asher and did a very nice job with it. Cole Hauser, whom I last saw in “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”, portrayed Banning’s Secret Service colleague, Agent Roma. Fortunately, he managed to last a bit longer on screen than he did in the former movie. And even more fortunate, his Agent Roma died at the hands of the terrorists with style and balls. I can only hope that his next screen appearance will last even longer.

And there were the performances that did not exactly impress me. Some of them came from actors and actresses for whom I usually have a high regard. I love Morgan Freeman, but his performance as Speaker of the House Allan Trumball struck me as somewhat . . . tired. He spent a good deal of the movie either looking tired or reacting to someone else’s dialogue with a stare of disbelief. I am also a fan of Melissa Leo, but her portrayal of Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan seemed a little hammy or frantic at times. I realize that her character was trying to be tough in the face of the terrorists, but . . . well . . . she struck me as a bit hammy. Speaking of hammy, Robert Forster’s performance as Chief of Staff General Edward Clegg was in danger of going far beyond over-the-top. Perhaps his performance seemed unusually aggressive in comparison to Freeman’s tiredness. Then again . . . who knows? Radha Mitchell gave a nice performance as Banning’s wife, Leah. But if I must be honest, she came off as a second-rate Cathy Ryan from the Tom Clancy movies – especially since her character was a nurse. Worst of all, she did not have enough screen time, as far as I am concerned. And finally, there was Dylan McDermott, who portrayed ex-Secret Service Agent Dave Forbes, who became a private bodyguard and mole within the South Korean detail. Hmmm . . . how can I say this? McDermott did not exactly put much effort in hiding his villainy from the audience in the movie’s first half. One glance at his shifty expressions led me to correctly guess that he would be working for the terrorists. And McDermott is usually more subtle than this.

I realize that in the end, “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” came off as a somewhat strident message against North Korea, leading me to compare it to one of those old anti-Communist films from the 1950s or even the 1980s. So . . . why do I still like it? One, screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt wrote a decent story, despite some flaws. Two, Antoine Fuqua handled the movie’s action, pacing and a good number of performances with great skill. Three, there were some pretty good performances in the movie – especially from Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett and Rick Yune. But most importantly, “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” did not follow the ludicrous example of “AIR FORCE ONE” by allowing its Presidential character engage in heroic actions. For that I am truly grateful to the screenwriters and Fuqua.

“Misunderstanding Willie Scott”




One of the special feature clips for my “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” DVD featured a take on the characters featured in the Indiana Jones franchise – love interests, villains and side kicks. When “Indy’s Friends and Enemies” focused on Indy’s love interests, the subject eventually came upon the leading lady of “INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM” – Willie Scott. 

Now, I am aware that poor Willie has never been popular with the majority of Indiana Jones fans. She is probably the least popular of Indy’s three love interests in the films. I just want to make it clear that I do not share this opinion of Willie. I have liked her since I first saw “TEMPLE OF DOOM” during the summer of 1984. But while watching this special feature about the franchise’s characters, it occurred to me that not only was Willie universally disliked, there was a possibility that she was misunderstood as well.

In “Indy’s Friends and Enemies”, the franchise’s director, Steven Spielberg, made a monumentally stupid and misguided comment about Willie Scott. He had described Willie as a showgirl who also happened to come from a rich and privileged background. In other words, Willie was a showgirl who was originally a rich and spoiled woman who was not used to the great outdoors. Either Spielberg was suffering from senility when he did this interview, or he had never really paid much attention to the character’s background. During their journey to Pankot Palace, Willie revealed to Indy and Short Round that he grandfather had been a magician who died a poor man. Near the end of the film, she made it clear that she came from Missouri:

“I’m going home to Missouri, where they never ever feed you snake before ripping your heart out and lowering you into hot pits. This is not my idea of a swell time!”

And according to the novelization for “THE TEMPLE OF DOOM”, Willie Scott had been born on a farm in Missouri. She had ambitions to become a success in Hollywood. Unable to get a break in Depression-era Hollywood, she made her way to Shanghai, where she became a nightclub singer. Considering that she had been born on a farm, one would assume that she was used to the outdoors. However, it seemed apparent to me that a life on a dirt farm was not for her and she wanted the finer things in life – including a successful career as an entertainer of sorts.

I do not think that Willie had been used to being pampered. I suspect that she WANTED a life of privilege. She wanted to be pampered. And Willie was prepared to latch herself to anyone able to give her that life. Which would explain her becoming the mistress of the rich Shanghai gangster, Lao Che . . . or her interest in the Maharajah of Pankot before learning that he was a child.

Willie Scott was not what Steven Spielberg had described her – a spoiled, rich woman used to a life of privilege. She was a woman from a poor background who wanted a better life for herself . . . at almost any cost. Willie was a gold digger, plain and simple. How this managed to escape Spielberg is beyond me.

“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” (2013) Review



“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” (2013) Review

Following the success of 2009’s “G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”, Hasbro and Paramount Pictures followed up with a sequel set a few years after the first film. Unlike the 2009 movie, this latest film was not directed by Stephen Sommers. And several cast members from the first film did not reprise their roles. 

When the G.I. Joes are framed for stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan, Cobra minion Zartan – in disguise as the President of the United States – orders their elimination at their camp in the Middle East via a military air strike. The latter kills most of the Joes, including one Conrad “Duke” Hauser, who had been awarded his own team of Joes following the incidents of the 2009 film. The survivors – Sergeant Marvin “Roadblock” Hinton, Alison “Lady Jaye” Hart-Burnett, and Dashiell “Flint” Faireborn – make their way to the U.S. to learn why the Joes had been destroyed by the President. When Zartan (as President) announces that COBRA troops will replace the Joes, Lady Jaye realizes that he is an impersonator. The trio seeks help from the original Joe, General Joseph Colton. Other Joe survivors include Snake Eyes, who has returned to his old order in Japan to train a new apprentice, Jinx. When COBRA operatives Storm Shadow (who had survived his duel with Snake Eyes in the 2009 film) and Firefly (an ex-Joe) rescue COBRA Commander and Destro from an underground maximum-security prison in Germany, the former sustains injuries during the escape attempt and heads for a Himalayan temple to recover. Snake Eyes’ new order leader, the Blind Master, learn of Storm Shadow’s new location and orders Snake Eyes and Jinx to capture him so that he can answer for the late Hard Master’s death.

I might as well admit it . . . “G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” was a disappointment. Many might be wondering about my disappointment, considering the prevailing view of the its predecessor, “G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”. The 2009 movie may not have been a cinematic masterpiece or anything close to it. But I thought it was a fun movie filled with strong characterizations and a somewhat decent plot. This new “G.I. JOE” had its share of strong characterizations, but I cannot say that it was a lot of fun for me. Despite my disappointment, the movie did possess some virtues.

The main virtue turned out to be leading man, Dwayne Johnson. The man did the best he could to keep this movie together. And as he has done in his past movies, he gave it his all. I can say the same about Byung-hun Lee, whose portrayal of Storm Shadow proved to be even more interesting and complex in this second film. I was also impressed by the always talented and dependable Jonathan Pryce, who had the double duty of portraying the disguised Zartan and the real President of the United States. Adrianne Palicki injected some energy into the story with a lively performance as Lady Jaye Hart-Burnett. Despite his limited appearance, Channing Tatum seemed a lot more relaxed as Duke Hauser in this film. He also had a nice chemistry with Johnson. Also, the movie boasted one of the best action sequences I have seen in recent film. I speak of the Snake Eyes and Jinx’s attempt to capture Storm Shadow from the Himalayan temple and prevent the latter’s men from rescuing him. Director Jon M. Chu really outdid himself in that sequence.

So . . . what was it about the movie that I found disappointing? Despite Chu’s outstanding direction in the Himalayan sequence, I was not that impressed by his work in the rest of the film. I missed Stephen Sommers. I also missed Channing Tatum’s presence after his character was killed off 20-30 minutes into the movie. He went from leading man in the 2009 movie to a guest star in this latest film. Most of all, I missed some of the cast members from the first film. Not only did I miss them, I would like to know what the hell happened to them? What happened to Ripcord, who was Duke’s longtime best friend? What happened to Scarlett, Heavy Duty, Breaker and General Hawk? Where they also killed during the airstrike against the Joes’ Middle Eastern base? Did some of them leave the Joes before the events of this movie? What happened to them? What happened to Anna Lewis DeCobray? The end of the 2009 movie saw her in protective custody, awaiting for American scientists to remove nanomites from inside her body. Was she still in custody during the events of this movie? Did anyone bother to inform her about Duke’s death? Apparently not, since she was never mentioned in the film.

Some of the new additions to the cast did not help this movie. I hate to say this but D.J. Cotrona’s portrayal as G.I. Joe Flint Faireborn struck me as dull. Boring. Mind numbing. My God! Even Joseph Mazzello, who made a brief appearance as a Joe sharpshooter on Duke’s team struck me as ten times more livelier. I love Bruce Willis. I have been a fan of his for years. But what in the hell was he doing in this film? I could have understood if he had replaced Dennis Quaid as General Hawk, commander of the Joes. Instead, Willis portrayed the original Joe, General Colton. Yes, he participated in the movie’s final action sequence. And yes, he provided some arms to the team. But what was he doing in this film? His character seemed like such a waste. And Willis seemed as if he was going through the motions. Ray Stevenson gave a lively performance as ex-Joe turned COBRA minion, Firefly. The problem is that the screenplay failed to mention what led him to leave the Joes and join COBRA. Luke Bracey replaced Joseph Gordon-Levitt as COBRA Commander. And honestly? He was not that interesting. Not only did I miss Gordon-Levitt, I now believe the movie should have allowed Zartan (as the President) serve as the movie’s main villain. What else can I say about “G.I. JOE: RETALIATION”? Other than the main villain’s goal seemed similar to the villain’s goal in the 2009 movie? Okay . . . I said it. Thanks to the screenwriters, the details of COBRA Commander’s plot seemed different. But using arms to achieve world power seemed disappointingly familiar.

Despite the presence of Dwayne Johnson, Byung-hun Lee, a few others and an outstanding action sequence in the Himalayans; “G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” proved to be a disappointing follow-up to its 2009 predecessor. Mind you, “G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” was no masterpiece. But it was a hell of a lot more fun and substantial than this piece of crap.

“Lessons in Witchcraft” [PG] – 1/9



SUMMARY: The Charmed Ones discovers the limitations of their knowledge on witchcraft. Set after “The Staff of Fire” – AU between S5 and S6.
FEEDBACK: – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Leo Wyatt, and Cole Turner belong to Constance Burge, Brad Kern and Spelling Productions. The McNeills, thankfully, are my creations.

NOTE: This story was written out of my growing frustration with the series’ portrayal of witchcraft and the supernatural.

Chapter 1

Paige Matthews read the last page of her new book and slowly closed it. A sigh left her mouth. She had purchased it during her trip to Scotland, two weeks ago. After reading the book, she came to the realization that her knowledge of witchcraft was at best . . . minor. Worse, she could honestly say the same about her more experienced sisters. 

A feeling of inadequacy overtook her. Paige had not experienced such a feeling in over six months. Not since last fall. Back then, her great desire to learn about the Craft had been about escaping the long shadow cast by her late sister, Prudence Halliwell – namely the uberwitch of the Halliwell family. The one sister who knew everything and could kick butt like no one else. This was the sister whose place that Paige had allegedly usurped. Who, in at least Piper’s eyes, could not replace. After nearly a year, Phoebe, Leo and Piper had finally convinced Paige that Prue had not been as perfect as she had originally been led to believe. They also convinced Paige that she was regarded as a member of the family. But they still continued to treat her as a novice witch. Even after two years.

Slowly, Paige made her way downstairs and found her family watching television in the Sun Room. Piper glanced up at the younger woman and frowned. “Hi honey. Is there something wrong? You look a little upset.”

“It’s nothing.” Paige settled in one of the empty wicker chairs. “I just finished reading my new book.”

Leo gazed her. “What new book?”

“The one I had bought in Scotland, last month,” Paige continued. “‘Drawing Down the Moon’. Olivia’s mom had recommended it.”

Phoebe asked, “Is it any good?”

Paige heaved a mournful sigh, drawing stares from the others. “It’s great. It . . . I don’t know. I guess it’s made me realize how little we know about witchcraft.”

Her comment drew protests from the two older Halliwells. “What are you talking about?” Phoebe demanded. “Uh, may I remind you that we’re the Charmed Ones? The most powerful witches, ever? And after five years, we’re not exactly amateurs anymore.”

“I thought that Wyatt was the most powerful witch, ever,” Paige commented. She gazed at her nephew, wriggling in Piper’s arms.

Piper heaved a sigh. “You know what Phoebe meant. I mean, c’mon Paige. We had defeated the Source. Three times.”

“Piper, did you ever think that being the Charmed Ones doesn’t exactly mean we know a lot about magic? Besides, as the Bearer of Aingeal, Olivia is just as strong as the Power of Three.” As she spoke those last words, Paige noticed that her sisters’ bodies had stiffened. “And the other McNeills are also pretty strong. And very talented.”

Piper began to rock Wyatt. “Really? And I thought we were the talented ones. Right Leo?”

The whitelighter, whose attention had returned to the TV, looked up. His blue eyes widened. “Huh?”

“Didn’t you once tell your old whitelighter friend, Natalie, that we were talented witches?”

Leo nodded. “Yeah, I did. And I was right.”

“See?” Piper flashed a triumphant smile.

“Of course, I have to admit that the McNeills are also talented,” the whitelighter added. Piper’s smile disappeared. “I mean, they do know a lot about witchcraft.”

Disbelief creased Piper’s brow. “Are you saying that we could learn a lot from them? Even now?”

“Well . . .”

Piper continued, “Well what? Is that what you’re saying, Leo?”

Paige came to her brother-in-law’s rescue. “I would say that. Heck, I’ve already learned a lot from Olivia during the past seven months.”


Uh-oh, Paige thought. Trouble. She recognized that arch tone in her oldest sister’s voice. And judging from the expression on Phoebe’s face, the latter did not obviously care for her praise of Olivia McNeill. But Paige realized that someone had to speak out. She took a deep breath. “Look, have you guys ever considered asking the McNeills to teach us more about witchcraft? Considering their long experience?”

Both Piper and Phoebe stared at Paige, as if the latter had grown a second head. “You’ve got to be kidding?” Phoebe retorted. “Right?”

“No, I’m serious!” Paige protested. “Didn’t both of you once believed that you needed to learn more about the Craft?” Out of desperation, she turned to her brother-in-law. “What do you think, Leo?”

The whitelighter squirmed with discomfort. He looked as if he wanted to bolt for the nearest door. “Well . . . um . . .”

“Leo, don’t tell me that you agree with Paige,” Piper demanded.

Coughing discreetly, Leo finally said, “Actually, it’s not a bad idea.” Both Piper and Phoebe greeted his words with dismay. He interrupted, “However, I have to admit that you’ve all accomplished a lot on your own, these past few years. So . . . maybe you don’t really need further lessons.”

Disappointed by her brother-in-law’s stance, Paige glared at him. “Chicken,” she muttered.

“Leo’s right,” Phoebe added. “We’re doing okay on our own. Actually, we’re doing more than okay. So, I don’t see why we need ‘lessons’ from the McNeills.”

Paige retorted, “Oh really? I seem to recall Olivia teaching you how to summon a premonition, when Portia Della Scalla had kidnapped Bruce. And you ended up doing it without straining yourself.”

“Paige . . .”

Frustration building within her, Paige shot to her feet. “Well, I’m going to ask Olivia if she’s willing to help.”

Piper rolled her eyes. “Help you do what? Become a witch? I thought Phoebe and I had already trained you.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Piper. But after reading that book, I realized that all of us don’t know enough.” Paige paused, as she stood over her sisters, hands-on-hips. “If you guys are gonna let pride get in the way of more knowledge – fine. Be my guest. But I won’t.” She marched toward the door, imagining the dark expressions on her sisters’ faces.


“Honey, I’d love to help you,” Olivia declared over the telephone. “But am I the right person? I doubt that I know everything there is to be a witch.”

Paige replied, “You know a hell of a lot more than any of us. Since tonight’s Thursday, can I come by your place on Saturday morning?”

Olivia hesitated. “I’m sorry Paige, but I don’t think that Saturday would be a good day. Cole’s taking me to this antique auction in Modesto. We probably won’t be back until later that night.”

“Oh.” Paige tried not to sound disappointed.

“However,” Olivia continued, “I think my grandmother might be available on Saturday. Let me give her a call.”

Keeping her enthusiasm in check, Paige said, “Could you call me back, as soon as you get her answer?”

“Sure. But I’m certain that she wouldn’t mind giving you a few lessons. I’ll get back to you in a few minutes. Bye.”

Paige said, “Bye,” and hung up.


Two days later, Paige found herself seating opposite Elise McNeill, in one of the wicker chairs situated in the McNeills’ garden, on a bright Saturday morning. The elderly woman eyed the younger one with a thoughtful expression. “When Livy told me about your desire for more lessons in the Craft, I was a bit surprised. Didn’t Piper and Phoebe already teach you, when you first started practicing magic?”

Paige nodded. “Yeah, they did. But after reading that book, ‘Drawing Down the Moon’, I realized that I didn’t know enough. And after knowing your family for the past seven months, I figured Olivia or the rest of you would be the perfect ones to teach me.”

Nodding, the older witch said, “I see. Well, let’s start the lesson, shall we? First, tell me what you know about being a witch.”

Paige hesitated. “Oh . . . okay. Um, a witch is a practitioner of magic.”

A silver brow formed an arch. “That’s it?”

Feeling slightly unsure of herself, Paige added, “Oh, ah . . . and a witch is also a protector of the innocent. You know, saving the world from magical evil bei . . .” Her voice faded, as she became aware of the stunned expression on Mrs. McNeill’s face. “Is there something wrong?”

“Goddess!” the old woman declared heavily. “Do you honestly believe that a witch is some kind of supernatural crime fighter?”

Paige’s sense of worth sank a few notches. “Well . . . isn’t that supposed to be our duty? Kicking evil’s ass?”

Mrs. McNeill replied in a sardonic tone, “I doubt it very much, considering that being a witch is not what one would call a duty.”

Paige blinked. “Oh.”

“First of all,” Mrs. McNeill continued, “a person generally chooses to become a witch. People become witches because they want to, not out of some family or supernatural obligation to battle evil.”

Shaking her head, the Charmed One asked, “But if witchcraft isn’t for fighting evil, what . . .?”

Mrs. McNeill heaved a sigh. “My dear Paige, do you know what the word ‘witch’ means?” When the younger woman shook her head, the former continued, “It means ‘wise one’. Witches are basically healers, teachers and spiritual leaders.”

“But what about fighting evil? Vanquishing demons?” Paige demanded. “Isn’t that important?”

Hesitating, Mrs. McNeill gave Paige a look that seemed to tinge with pity. “Paige? Why is it so important for you to fight evil? What do you think you’re going to accomplish?”

Paige opened her mouth . . . and then closed it. Mrs. McNeill’s expression left her feeling slightly uneasy. Then, “Well . . . to protect innocents from evil. Right? I mean, aren’t we supposed to be in a war against evil?”

“Are you referring to a war in which we’ll never win? Or lose? A war that the whitelighters are so determined that we take part in?”

“But we’re supposed to help people!” The outburst came out of Paige’s mouth before she could stop herself.

The elderly witch smiled wryly. “I never said there was anything wrong in helping others, Paige. Why do you think witches are healers, teachers and spiritual guides? In fact, our role as healers makes it important for us to learn the art of herb craft, in the first place. Yes, we might have to deal with the occasional daemon, warlock, or whatever that crosses our paths. Just as they have to deal with us on several occasions. It’s the price we all pay for dealing with the supernatural. But the primary function of witches isn’t to fight them.”

Paige’s first instinct was to reject Elise McNeill’s words. They went against everything that her sisters and Leo had taught her. Besides, the idea of being a witch who protected the innocent and fought against supernatural evil, appealed to her. Gave her a purpose. And the opportunity to atone for the past, which included the misery she had caused her late step-parents and old friends. Quite simply, being a witch gave her the chance to erase the image of that adolescent troublemaker/alcoholic.

“But . . .” Paige began. Unfortunately, she found herself tongue-tied at the moment.

A sigh left the older witch’s mouth. “Look Paige, I realize what you’re thinking. I gather that the idea of being some kind of supernatural heroine must be very appealing. But that is not what being a witch is all about. It’s about finding the opportunity to reach out and experience the oneness of all Life through our honor of the old Gods and Goddesses, through magic – whether we’re Wiccan, Stregheria or any other kind of Pagan religion. In other words, it’s about spiritual self-realization.” She paused, as a small smile formed on her lips. “And not about ‘kicking evil’s ass’.”

Paige finally found her voice. “In other words, we shouldn’t bother to fight demons?”

“If we have to . . . sure,” Mrs. McNeill replied with a shrug. “Mind you, not all daemons are evil. After all, I’ve dealt with my share of the supernatural evil over the years. Daemons, warlocks, trolls, wizards, sorcerers, witches and God knows what else.”

“Witches?” Paige frowned.

Mrs. McNeill nodded. “Well, yes. I’ve encountered witches who have turned away from the path. Gwen’s sister, Rhiannon, was one example.” She peered at the younger woman. “Has Olivia ever told you about her?”

Paige nodded. “Only that she was the one who had killed Olivia’s fiancé. Piper was the same way . . . after Prue’s death.”

The elderly woman added, “And don’t forget Nick Marcano.” She sighed. “But the main thing I wanted to point out is that being a witch is not all about fighting evil. It’s much deeper and personal. Spiritual.”

“Oh.” Paige felt silent. She glanced around the room.

Shrewd blue-gray eyes observed the younger witch. “Is there anything else you want to ask?” Paige shook her head. “Okay. As you know, many people trace modern-day Wicca back to a scholar named Gerald Gardner, in the early 20th century. I’m sure you know that it goes a lot further back. The history of Wicca goes as far back as the pre-Christian era . . .”

Paige barely heard the older woman’s words. Her mind continued to brood on Mrs. McNeill’s views on witchcraft. The Charmed One knew that once she told her sister what she had learned this morning, they would have a fit.


“LES MISERABLES” (2012) Review



“LES MISERABLES” (2012) Review

There were a few movies released in 2012 that I was very reluctant to see in the theaters. One of those movies turned out to be “LES MISERABLES”, the recent adaptation of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s 1985 stage musical of the same name. And that musical was an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel.

Directed by Oscar winning director Tom Hooper, “LES MISERABLES” told the story of early 19th century French convict Jean Valjean released from prison on parole by a guard named Javert in 1815. Nineteen years earlier, Valjean had been imprisoned for stealing bread for his sister’s starving family. Because of his paroled status, Valjean is driven out of every town. He is offered food and shelter by the Bishop of Digne, but steals the latter’s silver during the night. Valjean’s former prison guard, the police captures him. But the Bishop informs them that he had given the silver to Valjean as a gift. The former convict eventually breaks his parole and Javert vows to capture him. Eight years later, Valjean has become a wealthy factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Some of Valjean’s factory workers discover that one of their own, a woman named Fantine, one of his workers, has been sending money to an illegitimate daughter named Cosette. Fantine uses her salary to pay an unscrupulous innkeeper named Thénardiers, his equally shady wife and their daughter Éponine to take care of Cosette. However, Valjean’s foreman dismisses Fantine and she resorts to desperate measures to support her daughter by selling her hair and teeth, before becoming a prostitute. Javert, who has become the town’s chief inspector, arrests Fantine for striking an abusive customer. Valjean saves her and has her hospitalized. He also learns that a man believed to be him, has been arrested. Refusing to allow an innocent man to become condemned in his place, Valjean reveals his identity during the man’s trial. Then then returns to the hospital and he promises the dying Fantine that he will look after Cosette.

Javert arrives to take Valjean into custody, but Valjean escape with a jump into the local river. He then pays the Thénardiers to allow him to take Cosette. The pair elude Javert’s pursuit and begin a new life in Paris. The story jumps nine years later in which the grandson of a wealthy man and student and named Marius Pontmercy becomes involved in a growing revolutionary movement following the death a government official sympathetic to the poor named Jean Maximilien Lamarque. He also falls in love with Cosette, much to Valjean’s dismay, who believes he is an agent of Javert’s. Meanwhile, Marius is unaware that Éponine Thénardier, the daughter of Cosette’s former caretakers, has fallen in love with him. Most of these storylines – Valjean’s reluctance to acknowledge Cosette and Marius’ love; Éponine’s unrequited love for Marius; and Valjean’s problems with Javert, who has joined the Paris police force, culminates in the long and detailed sequence that features the June Rebellion of 1832.

After watching my DVD copy of “LES MISERABLES”, I cannot deny that the movie has some great moments and struck me as pretty damn good. The sequence featuring Fantine’s troubles greatly moved me. After winning an Academy Award for her outstanding performance as the doomed woman, Anne Hathaway had expressed a hope that one day the misfortunes of Fantine would be found only in fiction in the future. That is a lovely hope, but knowing human nature, I doubt it will ever happen. And watching Fantine’s life spin out of control, due to the narrow-minded views of society and male objectivity of her body, I think my views on human nature sunk even further. Some critics had the nerve to claim that Fantine’s situation was something from the past and could never be considered relevant today. I am still amazed that adults – even those who considered themselves civilized and intelligent – could be so completely blind and idiotic. Even Valjean’s attempts to make a life for himself, following his release from prison struck me as relevant – echoing the attempts of some convicts to overcome the criminal pasts and records in an effort to make a new life. Usually with little or no success, thanks to the chilly attitude of the public. Hugh Jackman’s performance beautifully reflected the struggles of many convicts – past and present – to make new lives for themselves – especially in the movie’s first half hour. Although many people tend to view the police officer Javert as evil, I suspect they view his villainy as a product of any society that creates rules – at times rigid – to keep the general population in check. While watching “LES MISERABLES”, I realized that I could never view Javert as a villain of any kind. He merely seemed to be a foil or object to Valjean’s chances for a new life. More than anything, Javert seemed to be a victim of his own rigid views on good, evil and upholding the law. Russell Crowe did a beautiful job of expressing Javert’s inability to be flexible in his views on morality . . . even when his own flexibility comes to the fore when he allows Valjean to finally escape in the end. And it is a shame that he never earned an Academy Award or Golden Globe Award nomination.

“LES MISERABLES” has a running time of 2 hours and 38 minutes. Yet, only 50 minutes of the film focused on Valjean’s early years as an ex-convict, his tenure as mayor of Montreuil-sur-Merhis, Fantine’s troubles and young Cosette’s time with the Thénardiers. The rest of the movie is set in 1832 Paris, leading up to the outbreak of the June Rebellion. And if I must honest . . . I found that a little disappointing. Mind you, not all of the 1832 segment was a waste. Thanks to Tom Hooper’s direction, the segment featured a well directed and detailed account of the June Rebellion – especially from Marius Pontmercy, Valjean and Javert’s viewpoints. It featured more fine performances from Jackman and Crowe, as Valjean and Javert continued their game of cat and mouse. It also featured an excellent performance from Samantha Barks, who made a very impressive film debut as Éponine Thénardier, the oldest daughter of Cosette’s cruel caretakers. Many filmgoers and critics had complained about the romance between Cosette and Marius Pontmercy, claiming that it seemed forced. I do not know if I could agree with that assessment. I thought Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne did a pretty good job in conveying the young couple’s romantic interest in each other. The problem with their romance centered on Cosette’s character.

I realized that Seyfried did all she could to infuse some kind of energy into the role. I could say the same for Isabelle Allen. Both Seyfriend and Allen gave first-rate performances. Unfortunately, both were saddled with a one-dimensional character. At times, I found myself wishing that Éponine and not Cosette had ended up with Marius. In fact, I felt the movie could have explored Cosette and the Thénardiers’ relationship with a little more depth. As for the Thénardiers, they proved to be the story’s true villains. Unfortunately, Helen Bonham-Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen injected a little too much comedy into their performances. The couple came off more as comic relief, instead of villains. And I blame both Hooper and the screenwriters. Cosette and the Thénardiers were not the only problems. Although I had complimented Hooper’s direction of the June Rebellion scenes, the entire sequence threatened to go on and on . . . almost forever. I ended up as one relieved moviegoer when the sequence ended with quick violence and Valjean’s rescue of Marius. I have a deep suspicion that “LES MISERABLES” was really about the June Rebellion. Many claimed that Hugo was inspired by his witness of the insurrection. Which would explain why the story’s earlier period between 1815 and 1823 were rushed in a span of 50 minutes or so. Pity. Other moviegoers complained about Hooper’s constant use of close-ups in the film. And I have to agree with them. For a movie that was supposed to be a historic epic wrapped in a musical production, the balance between wide shots and close-ups somewhat unbalanced. During Valjean’s death scene, he envisioned not only the long dead Fatine, but also the insurrectionists who had fought alongside Marius before getting killed. One of those insurrectionists turned out to be Éponine Thénardier. Only she had died before Valjean had arrived at Marius’ barricade. So . . . why was he experiencing images of her?

I could comment on the singing performances of the cast. I thought they had more or less did a pretty good job. Many had criticized Crowe’s singing, but I honestly felt nothing wrong about it. Hathaway’s acting during her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” impressed me a lot more than her singing voice, which struck me as pretty solid. I had expected Jackman’s singing to knock my socks off. It did not quite reach that level. Like Hathaway and Crowe, his acting impressed me a lot more than his singing. Both Redmayne and Seyfried sang pretty well. So did Helen Bonham-Carter and Cohen. But the one musical performance that really impressed me was Samantha Barks’ rendition of “On My Own”. The actress/singer has a beautiful voice.

I liked “LES MISERABLES” very much. The movie featured fine performances from the cast. And Tom Hooper did a very good job in directing the film, despite the many close-ups. And I do believe that it deserved a Best Picture nomination. Do not get me wrong. I enjoy musicals very much. But I simply could not endure a musical that not only featured songs, but dialogue acted out in song. It stretched my patience just a little too much – like the drawn out sequences leading up to the violence that ended the June Rebellion. I would like to say that I regret missing “LES MISERABLES” in the movie theaters. But I would be lying. I have no regrets . . . as much as I like the film.

“ONCE UPON A TIME”: Relationship Mystery




Since the seventh episode of “ONCE UPON A TIME” called (1.07) “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” aired, many viewers have assumed that the relationship between the Evil Queen aka Mayor Regina Mills and the Huntsman aka Sheriff Graham was one of rape. They believed that after ripping his heart from his chest, Regina used it to force him into having sex with her. Ever since that episode aired, many have accused Regina of being a rapist.

I had believed this as well, until a few weeks ago. While reading a Tumblr account, someone posted an exchange between one of the show’s producers, Adam Horowitz, and a fan. The latter accused Regina of not only using the Huntsman’s heart to have sex with him after she ordered her guards to take him to her bedchamber. The fan also accused Regina of using Graham’s heart of continuing their sexual affairs after the curse led them all to Storybrooke, Maine. Horowitz hinted otherwise in this Twitter exchange:


If Regina did not use Graham’s heart to coerce him into having sex with him – as claimed by Horowitz – how did their sexual affair begin?