Top Five Favorite Episodes of “BABYLON 5” (Season One: “Signs and Portents”)

Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season One (1994) of “BABYLON 5”. Created by J. Michael Straczynski, the series starred Michael O’Hare, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle and Mira Furlan: 



1. (1.13) “Signs and Portents” – In this episode, a Centauri noble comes to Babylon 5 to transport an important Centauri relic in Londo’s possession back to the homeworld. And a mysterious man named Mr. Morden visits all the alien ambassadors in order to ask them an unusual question.

2. (1.08) “And the Sky Full of Stars” – Commander Sinclair is kidnapped and interrogated by two war veterans determined to prove that he had betrayed Earth at the Battle of the Line, during the Earth-Minbari War.

3. (1.20) “Babylon Squared” – The previous Babylon station, Babylon 4, reappears at the same place it had disappeared four years earlier. Sinclair and Garabaldi lead an evacuation team for the station’s crew. The story concludes in Season Three. Meanwhile, Ambassador Delenn is summoned by Minbar’s Grey Council and is asked to become the new leader.

4. (1.22) “Chrysalis” – In the season finale, Delenn commences upon a physical transformation, Ambassador Londo Mollari receives an offer from Mr. Morden to deal with a problem regarding the Narns, and Garabaldi uncovers a deadly conspiracy against the President of Earth Alliance.

5. (1.12) “By Any Means Necessary” – Following a fatal accident in the station’s docking bay, an increasingly exhausted Sinclair is forced to deal with a potential labor uprising. And Ambassador G’Kar has to get a replacement G’Quan-Eth plant for an important religious ceremony.

“Shifting Heirs and the Ferrars Estate”




I have been a fan of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, “Sense and Sensibility” ever since I saw Ang Lee’s 1995 adaptation. In fact, the 1995 movie initiated my appreciation of Austen’s novel and other works. But there is a certain aspect of Austen’s tale that has confused me for years. And it has to do with Edward and Robert Ferrars and their family’s fortune. 

“Sense and Sensibility” told the story of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood – the older two of three sisters that encountered love, heartache and romantic obstacles when their father’s death and half-brother’s lack of generosity left them in financial straits. Elinor had fallen in love with Edward Ferrars, the mild-mannered brother of her sister-in-law Fanny; before she, her sisters and mother were forced to leave Norland Park in the hands of half-brother John and Fanny. Unfortunately for Elinor, Edward’s family was determined that he marry an heiress. Later, she discovered that he had been engaged for several years to another impoverished young woman named Lucy Steele, the cousin-in-law of Sir John Middleton, Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin and the family’s benefactor. The younger and more impetuous Marianne fell deeply in love with a young man named John Willoughby. Although the latter harbored feelings for Marianne, he loved the idea of a fortune even more. Willoughby eventually rejected Marianne in order to marry a wealthy heiress, leaving the Dashwoods’ neighbor Colonel Christopher Brandon to console her.

The story arc regarding Marianne’s love life proved to be problem-free for me. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Elinor’s story arc. I still have a problem with that obstacle to Elinor’s romantic happiness – namely Edward’s engagement to the manipulative Lucy Steele. In the novel, Mrs. Ferrars disinherited Edward in favor of his younger brother, Robert, after the Ferrars family learned about his engagement to Lucy . . . and he refused to break said engagement. Mindful of Edward’s financial situation and his ambitions to earn a living with the Church of England, Colonel Brandon offers him the rectory at the former’s estate, Delaford, for a low salary. This is where “Sense and Sensibility” becomes a bit tricky. The novel concluded Edward’s visit to the Dashwoods’ home, Barton Cottage, in which he not only proposed marriage to Elinor, but also announced that Lucy Steele had broken their engagement in order to elope with Robert. Only . . . the latter remained heir to the Ferrars estate by the novel’s conclusion.

The financial fates of both Edward and Robert seemed to be tied with the character of Lucy Steele. Most of the Ferrars family and Lady Middleton seemed to harbor a high regard for Lucy and her sister, Anne. Yet, when Anne exposed Lucy’s secret engagement to Edward, Mrs. Ferrars disinherited the latter in favor of her younger son, Robert. But after Robert’s elopement to Lucy, he remained heir to the Ferrars estate. And to this day, I can only ask . . . why? Why did Mrs. Ferrars disinherited Edward after he refused to break his engagement to Lucy . . . and fail to disinherit Robert, after he had eloped with the same woman?

In the 1981 BBC adaptation, Edward (portrayed by Bosco Hogan) claimed that Robert’s inheritance became irreversible, despite his elopement with Lucy. Frankly, the explanation given by Austen struck me as rather confusing. The miniseries’ screenwriters Alexander Baron and Denis Constanduros failed to explain why Edward financially paid the price for refusing to break his engagement with Lucy. They especially failed to explain why Robert DID NOT pay the price for marrying her. Is there someone out there who can offer an explanation?

“Lessons in Witchcraft” [PG] – 5/9



Chapter 5

Seconds after Harry McNeill closed the door behind him, Piper turned to her sisters. “Is it me, or did they seemed to be in a hurry to leave? Especially Olivia.”

“I think she’s pissed at us,” Paige replied. “You know, for our reaction to her theory about the elements.” 

“Well, can you blame us for reacting that way? Apparently everyone else – except for Harry – seems to think that her little theory is off the radar.” Piper heaved a sigh and allowed her body to flop down on the sofa. She glanced at the sheaf of papers on the table in front of her. “And does she and Harry really expect us to buy all of this stuff for an altar? I mean we’ve managed to do quite well without one for nearly five years. Along with any magical tools.”

Paige heaved a small sigh. “You know Piper, if you think so little of these lessons, why are you taking them?”

“Tell me Paige, how is using an altar going to help us vanquish demons?”

“Your problem is that you still believe that vanquishing demons is what witchcraft is all about. Which is why you can barely stand being a witch.”

A nervous Phoebe immediately intervened. “Okay, guys! There’s no need to fight. We’re supposed to be sisters. Right?”

An awkward silence followed. Both Piper and Paige reluctantly apologized to each other. “Sorry,” Piper mumbled. “Didn’t mean to sound bitchy.”

“You weren’t bitchy,” Paige protested. Piper gave her a long look. “Well, maybe a little. I wasn’t any better. I guess I’ve been a little . . . pushy about the whole matter.” She paused. “And self-righteous.”

Phoebe sighed with relief. “There. Now, don’t you two feel a lot better?”

Both Piper and Paige grumbled, “Yeah.”

“Good.” Phoebe heaved a sigh. “I wonder what tomorrow’s lesson will be about?” she asked.

The words came out of Piper’s mouth before she could stop herself. “Who cares? As long as it’ll be short. Like Olivia had promised.” The others stared at her. She shook her head. “Forget I said that.”


At precisely six o’clock, the doorbell to Olivia’s apartment rang. She opened the door and found the Charmed Ones standing outside. “Right on time,” she commented, allowing the three other witches to enter.

Once inside, Phoebe glanced nervously around the living room. “So, Cole’s not here?” she asked.

Olivia gave the middle Charmed One a shrewd look. “No. As far as I know, he’s out grocery shopping. But don’t worry. He doesn’t plan to show up until later this evening.” Phoebe’s face turned slightly pink. Much to Olivia’s pleasure. “Okay, why don’t we start on the first lesson. Meditation.”

Piper spoke up. “Oh, but we already know about meditation. At least Phoebe and I do. I think. I once used it to control my second power.”

“So did I,” Phoebe added.

Olivia stared at the two older sisters. “Do you guys meditate on a regular basis?”

Phoebe frowned. “Do we have to?”

“You don’t have to, but I would highly recommend it,” Olivia replied. “Meditation can be very important for Wiccans. And for practitioners of other religions, as well. Not only do we use it for controlling our powers, but also for grounding and centering our inner selves. That’s why meditation is so important, when practicing magick.”

Paige asked, “What’s grounding?”

Olivia replied, “It means being connected with the natural energy that flows through the Earth. We have the ability to use that energy to gain entrance into other worlds. Other dimensions that are quite . . . well, spectacular.”

“Why bother?” Piper said, shrugging her shoulders. “All we have to do is get Paige or Leo to orb us to other dimensions.”

It took all of Olivia’s self-control not to incinerate the oldest Halliwell with a stream of fire. How could anyone who seemed like such an intelligent and reasonable woman on the surface, be so damn obtuse? “Thank you, Piper. I’m glad to see that your knowledge of the supernatural world is so extensive,” Olivia retorted sarcastically. “I didn’t realize that teleportation was the only method for dimensional travel. My mistake.”

Piper’s face turned red.

“So, you’re saying that meditation is another method?” Paige asked.

Olivia replied, “Actually, it’s the best method. There are a lot of dimensions that can only be accessed through meditation. And most of these dimensions are on a higher plane of existence.”

Phoebe added, “You make this all sound like it’s about spiritualism or something.”

“It is,” Olivia said. “Don’t forget that witches are basically priests and priestesses. And that Wicca is a religion.”

“But not all witches are Wiccans.”

Olivia nodded. “True. There are witches who are a part of other Pagan religions. Of course, they might be regarded as priests and priestesses.”

Phoebe shook her head. “No, I mean . . . you know, who aren’t part of any particular religion.”

“Like I had told you before, they would be regarded as magick practitioners. You know, a mage or sorcerer.”

Then Piper asked, “What about Christians?”

Realizing that they were about to drift into a controversial topic, Olivia took a deep breath. “Normally, I would say that particular religion does not acknowledge witches. But . . . there is a group called the Fellowship of Christian Magicians. I really don’t know much about them and I would suggest that you do some investigation on your own.”

“Is Paul part of this Fellowship?”

Olivia shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t think so. He once told me that his family had practiced Druidism years ago, but his ancestors had switched to Christianity back in the 1700s. His parents had converted to Wicca in the late 60s. And after their deaths, Paul had ended up being raised as a Christian by his grandparents. He began practicing witchcraft in secret, as a teenager. And after his grandparents’ death, openly.” Olivia sighed. “However, I think he still maintains a good deal of Christian beliefs, despite practicing magick. A lot of witches who haven’t practiced that long, are like that. Including you, I’ve noticed.”

“We follow the Wiccan code,” Piper insisted.

Olivia frowned, wondering if she had heard correctly. “The Wiccan code? Didn’t we discuss the Wiccan ‘Rede’ some two weeks ago?” Before Piper could answer, Olivia shook her head. “Look, why don’t we get back to discussing meditation? Now, there are seven charkas . . .”

“What?” Phoebe demanded.

Chakras. A chakra is an energy that centers upon a certain part of the body, due to a concentration of nerves,” Olivia continued. “There are seven of them. The first is Root or Muladhara Chakras – for the ability to move in a loving way on the physical plane. The second is Svdhistana, which deals with the balance of feminine and masculine energies. And then there is the Solar Plexus or Massipura Chakra, which deals with the positive use of energy.”

Paige interrupted. “Uh, can you slow down a bit, Livy? I’m trying to write all of this down.”

The complaint reminded Olivia of the envelope on her desk. “Oh yeah.” She stood up and retrieved the envelope. Then she removed the contents and passed them to the Charmed Ones. “Sorry, I forgot about the copies of the chakra chart that I had prepared for you. Ready to continue?” When the three sisters nodded, Olivia added, “Next, we have the Anahata or the Heart Chakra. That deals with emotion.”

“How many uh . . . charkas have we . . .?” Phoebe began.

Olivia checked her copy of the chart. “So far, four.” She paused. “Ready? Okay. Now, the fifth chakra is Vishuddha or the throat. It deals with verbal communication.” Again, she paused. “The Third Eye is the sixth chakra and it deals with the Psychic Center. It’s also called the Ajua. And the last chakra . . .”

“Thank God,” Piper murmured. Olivia, who had overheard, stared at the Charmed One. Hard. The other woman’s face turned red before she glanced away. “Sorry.”

“The last chakra,” Olivia resumed, “is the Crown Sahasrata.” She paused. “This deals with Deity or the infinite. Or the Universe. All the same thing, basically. Meditation usually involves some kind of visualization. For example, a popular visualization used by Wiccans involves climbing a steep staircase that leads to a door. Or becoming slowly aware or focused upon the natural beauty of some meadow or forest in your mind.” Olivia gave Piper an arch smile. “And since you have such vast experience in this area Piper, I’m sure that you know what I mean. Right?”

For the third time, Piper’s complexion had turned slightly crimson. “Uh . . . yeah. Right.”

Olivia smiled with mock delight. “Good! That means you can lead the others in regular meditation sessions.”

“Huh?” Piper’s jaw hung open in shock.

Deliberately ignoring the oldest sister’s reaction, Olivia decided to move on to the next topic. “Now, we’ll talk about color magic,” she said. “Colors are important in every area in Wicca. I mean, we use them in everything. If you’ll notice your meditation chart, you’ll see that each chakra has a color association.”

“Why?” Paige demanded. “Why are colors so important?”

Olivia immediately replied, “Because colors play an important role in how we feel, see and think.” She removed more sheets from the yellow envelope on her desk, and passed them around.

The sisters glanced at the new sheets. “What does this mean?” Paige asked. “Black is associated with neutralization?”

“What does the word, neutralize mean?” Olivia responded.

With a shrug of her shoulders, Paige replied, “I guess to make ineffective? To destroy?”

Olivia nodded. “Precisely. When using a brandishing spell . . .”

“Don’t you mean vanquishing?” Phoebe asked.

“Well, a spell for brandishing or vanquishing, we use the color black,” Olivia continued. “And we use it, either for our altar, for candle magic or anything else.”

A frowning Phoebe shook her head. “Wait a minute! Are you saying that we have to use a specific color for a certain kind of spell? I’ve never heard of that before. We just usually use white candles.”

Figures, Olivia replied silently. That would explain why so many of the sisters’ spells tend to go wrong. Instead, she solemnly replied, “Yeah, Leo has told me about some of your spells that went wrong. Have you always used white candles for spells?”

The sisters fell silent. Except for Paige who said, “Ooops! I guess we did.”

“Well,” Olivia continued, “let’s look at the chart. The first color is Black. It’s usually associated with binding, protection, neutralization, karma, death manifestation and will power.”

Paige mumbled, “That’s a hell of a lot.”

“No kidding. Check out the functions for Royal Blue or Purple. They’re used for spells involving business, logic, social matters, political power and material wealth.” Olivia paused. “Hmmm, I guess that’s why the Queen of England’s robe is purple.”

Phoebe glanced at the chart. “I thought Green would be associated with wealth. All I see are stuff like romance, friendship, beauty, soul mates, art, harmony, and . . .”

“. . . prosperity,” Olivia finished. “Green candles are used a lot for prosperity spells, also.” Piper opened her mouth, but the older woman interrupted. “Uh, please don’t ask me a question about personal gain. Please?” The Charmed One closed her mouth.

Olivia continued, “Next is Yellow or Gold. These colors deal with health, success, ambition, personal finances and careers. Then we have Orange, Light Blue or Grey. All three are associated with wisdom, healing, communication, intelligence memory and education. Red deals with passion, partnerships, courage swiftness and energy.”

Paige asked, “And White?”

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. Finally . . . the end. “White . . . and silver are associated with psychic pursuits, psychology, dreams, astral projection, imagination and reincarnation.” She paused. “Any questions?”

“Yeah,” Piper replied. “Do we really have to buy all of this stuff? Different colored candles, and all of these magical tools like cauldrons, chalices, wands, altar cloths and such?”

Olivia stared at her. “Why not? Don’t you already use certain tools? Scrying crystals, athames – although I hope that you’ve already trashed Cole’s old one – cords . . .”

“Cords?” Paige frowned. “You never mentioned that.”

Oh shit! Olivia mentally castigated herself. “Yeah, I guess I had forgotten. A cord is also a magickal tool. It’s used for binding and unbinding. Like in a Wiccan wedding ceremony.”

“Oh yeah,” Piper added. “Like my wedding. Grams had used one.”

Olivia nodded. “Right. As for buying these tools, I’m not saying that you have to, but . . . what the hell? Why not? It would make practicing magick a lot easier for you. Anyway,” she sighed, “that’s it for this evening.”

“When is the next lesson?” Phoebe asked.

“Next Saturday.” Olivia smiled. “And it’s going to be a doozy. About other magical beings . . . including daemons.” Her smile widened.


“THE GREAT GATSBY” (1974) Review



“THE GREAT GATSBY” (1974) Review

Many years have passed since I last saw “THE GREAT GATSBY”, the 1974 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel. Many years. I must have been in my twenties when I last viewed the movie on television. With the release of Baz Luhrmann’s new adaptation, I found myself curious to see how this 39 year-old movie still held up. 

Directed by Jack Clayton and adapted by Francis Ford Coppola, “THE GREAT GATSBY” is a Jazz Age tale about a World War I veteran who becomes rich via bootlegging. His story is told from the viewpoint of another war veteran and Midwestern transplant, Nick Carraway, who happens to be his neighbor. Through Nick’s narration, audiences become aware of Gatsby’s obsessive love for his former paramour and Nick’s second cousin, a Louisville native named Daisy Fay Buchanan. Gatsby became rich, purchased a Long Island estate and befriended Nick in order to be near Daisy, who lived in the more socially elite part of Long Island with her husband Tom Buchanan and their daughter. With Nick’s help, Gatsby hopes to renew his romance with Daisy and convince her to leave the brutish Tom in order to recapture their romantic past.

So . . . what can I say about “THE GREAT GATSBY”? For one thing, it is an elegant looking film. And one can thank John Box’s production designs, which beautifully recapture the super rich of the Jazz Age. Box’s designs were aptly supported by the set decorations of Peter Howitt and Herbert F. Mulligan. Good examples of Howitt and Mulligan’s work can be found in the movie’s opening shot that feature the interiors of Gatsby’s Long Island home. Another aspect of“THE GREAT GATSBY” that contributed to the film’s elegance was Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes. I must admit that they are gorgeous. Take a look:

110571-111018-mia-farrow tumblr_mmv31mtvEM1r4lsbyo1_500

Aldredge had stiff competition for the Best Costume Design Academy Award, but in the end she won. Did she deserve that Oscar? I do not know. One of her competitors was Anthea Sylbert, who was nominated for her work on“CHINATOWN”. As much as I enjoyed Aldredge’s work, Sylbert’s work struck me as equally impressive. The two designers could have easily shared an Oscar. However, I did discover something interesting – although Aldredge did most of the work for the female leads and supporting characters, producer David Merrick hired designer Ralph Lauren to design the costumes for leading male characters – Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway and Tom Buchanan. Although Lauren did not receive any recognition for his work, I must admit they looked great, even if I possess a bigger preference for Aldredge’s work.

Douglas Slocombe’s photography also contributed the elegant look and style of “THE GREAT GATSBY”. Mind you, Slocombe’s shots of the film’s locations – New York, Rhode Island and Great Britain – looked beautiful. But his photography also had that soft focus look that practically screamed PERIOD DRAMA!”. It was the kind of photography that was very popular in the 1970s and still annoys me to this day. Nelson Riddle won an Academy Award for the score he wrote for the film. I wish I could say that I enjoyed it and found it very effective. Actually, I found Riddle’s score to be incredibly boring. The music sounded as if it belonged in a television one-hour drama, instead of a Hollywood film adaptation of a classic novel. The only music that I managed to enjoy in the film were the 1920s tunes featured in the Gatsby party scenes.

What can I say about Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel? Actually, I cannot say a word. According to Coppola, what he wrote and what ended on the screen proved to be two different entities. Even screenwriter William Goldman, who had read Coppola’s original screenplay, seemed indifferent to Jack Clayton’s changes to the script. I have seen at least three adaptations of Fitzgerald’s novel. This is probably the most faithful adaptation I have come across. Unfortunately, this close adaptation did not really help the movie. I have no idea what kind of movie “THE GREAT GATSBY” would have become if Clayton had adhered to Coppola’s script. But judging from the nature of Clayton’s direction, I suspect that it would not have helped in the end. Clayton’s direction proved to be incredibly dull. In fact, he nearly drained the life out of Fitzgerald’s tale. I think Clayton took the concept of period drama a bit too far. I got the feeling that I was watching a “MASTERPIECE THEATER” production that originated on the BBC, instead of a film adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel. And honestly? I have come across “MASTERPIECE THEATER” productions that proved to be a lot more energetic.

Some of the movie’s scenes turned out well. I was impressed by the party scenes at Gatsby’s house, even if screenwriter William Goldman found them vulgar. The scenes’ “vulgarity” did not bother me, because I found them entertaining and energetic. Those scenes, by the way, featured appearances by future star Edward Herrmann, who eventually starred in his own 1920s opus, “THE CAT’S MEOW” twenty-seven years later. I also enjoyed the party held by the adulterous Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson at their own New York hideaway, even if it was nearly bogged down by Myrtle’s account of her first meeting with Tom. I also thought that Clayton handled the discovery of Myrtle’s death very well. It struck me as especially effective, thanks to a flashback of the hit-and-run that claimed her life. The movie’s best scene proved to be Gatsby and Tom’s confrontation over Daisy at the Plaza Hotel suite. This is not surprising, since this scene has proven to be the best in all of the adaptations I have seen and in the novel. My only complaint is that Clayton or the script cut it short by allowing Daisy to flee the suite before she could say anything or make a decision about her relationships with both Gatsby and Tom.

But the movie’s slow pace and reverent exploration of the Jazz Age wealth featured in the production designs nearly grounded “THE GREAT GATSBY” to a halt. I take that back. The slow pacing and obsession with the 1920s production designs proved to be impediments to the movie. But the Gatsby-Daisy love scenes nearly grounded the movie to a halt. I found them incredibly boring. Mindlessly dull. I had to hit the “fast-forward” button of my DVD remote every time Robert Redford and Mia Farrow appeared in a scene alone. They had no screen chemistry whatsoever. Between Redford’s silent intensity and Farrow’s over-the-top impersonation of Zelda Fitzgerald, there seemed to be no middle ground between them in order to form a believable romance. Daisy Buchanan was supposed to be Jay Gatsby’s “American Dream” – his final rung into the world of the American elite. But I had a difficult time accepting this, while growing increasingly bored over Redford and Farrow’s non-existent screen chemistry. Redford and Farrow are partially to blame, due to their performances. But I place most of the blame on Clayton who did not even bother to rectify this flaw.

“THE GREAT GATSBY” was also sabotaged by one particular scene in which Gatsby confronted Daisy over her decision to marry Tom and not bother to wait for his return from the war and France. I must admit that Redford did some of his best acting in this scene. Unfortunately, I found his efforts a complete waste of time. There was no need for this scene. Why would Gatsby confront Daisy on this matter? He knew why she had dumped him in the first place. Why else would he bother to get into bootlegging in order to quickly acquire a great deal of money and a mansion across the bay from her husband’s Long Island home? Even after Daisy finally admitted that “nice rich girls do not marry poor boys”, either Clayton, Coppola’s screenplay or both failed to explore the consequences of Daisy’s confession. Instead, the movie immediately jumped to the scene featuring the Buchanans’ visit to one of Gatsy’s Saturday night parties. In other words, this scene was a complete waste of time.

I also found the lack of African-Americans in this movie rather puzzling. “THE GREAT GATSBY” is set in Manhattan and Long Island, during the early years of the Jazz Age (although the movie changed the story’s setting to 1925). One would think some of the super rich had black servants. The movie did feature a few black characters in the scene at Wilson’s Garage, following Myrtle’s death in the Valley of Ashes. But that is it. I did not expect any major or supporting black characters in this story. But the servants featured in the Buchanans and Jay Gatsby’s mansions were all white. Even the jazz musicians who performed at Gatsby’s parties were white. Even more incredible, they were white, middle-aged men between the ages of 40 and 55. This sounds plausible in the post-World War II era in which one would find such bands engaged in musical nostalgia at some quaint nightclub or community event. However, we are talking about the 1920s. All white jazz bands seem plausible if the performers had been between the ages of 18 and 30. But these jazz musicians were middle-aged. White, middle-aged jazz musicians in 1925? Perhaps some did exist. But this is the only adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel in which I have come across this phenomenon.

Jack Clayton’s direction did nothing for most of the performances in this film. As I had earlier pointed out, Robert Redford’s Jay Gatsby spent most of the film looking iconic and acting mysterious. What happened to the hopeful loser from Fitzgerald’s tale? Even Redford managed to beautifully portray a similar character with great success in 1973’s“THE STING”. Perhaps he simply lost interest, thanks to Clayton’s direction. However, I must admit that Redford had at least two great moments. Despite my dislike of the scene in which Gatsby demanded an explanation from Daisy regarding her earlier rejection of him, Redford gave a perfectly intense performance. But I was really impressed by that moment in which Gatsby met Daisy and Tom’s daughter, Pammy. Redford conveyed a perfect mixture of surprise and wariness. In fact, I would say it was his best moment in the entire movie.Mia Farrow has received a good deal of praise for her portrayal of Daisy Buchanan. She will not receive any from me. I found her performance rather strident and grating. Her performance reminded me more like the wild and unstable Zelda Fitzgerald than the seductive and flaky Daisy. Another over-the-top performance came from Karen Black, who portrayed the grasping and adulterous Myrtle Wilson. She had some nice moments. Despite its protracted running time, Black’s best scene featured Myrtle’s account of her first meeting with Tom. I found it very subtle. But most of her scenes found her nearly screaming at the top of her lungs. “THE GREAT GATSBY” featured Lois Chiles’ third screen role, in which she portrayed Daisy’s Louisville friend, Jordan Baker. Honestly? I really do not know what to say about Chiles’ performance other than I found it flat and dull. She looked good. That, I cannot deny. If one wants to see both Farrow and Chiles at their best, I would recommend 1978’s “DEATH ON THE NILE”, in which both actresses gave better performances.

The movie did feature some good performances. Sam Waterston gave a nice, subtle performance as Gatsby’s neighbor and Daisy’s cousin, Nick Carraway. He managed to project a good deal of emotion, while being subtle at the same time. My only complaint is that both he and Redford failed to generate any kind of chemistry as two neighbors who become friends. Scott Wilson gave an emotional, yet textured performance as Myrtle’s cuckolded husband, George Wilson. The actor did a very good job in conveying both the character’s passionate love for Myrtle and whipped personality. I also enjoyed Howard Da Silva’s performance as Gatsby’s bootlegging colleague, Meyer Wolfsheim. Although brief, I found his performance very entertaining and charming. By the way, Da Silva portrayed George Wilson in the 1949 version of Fitzgerald’s novel. If I had to give an award for the movie’s best performance, I would hand it over to Bruce Dern for his portrayal of Daisy’s brutish and elitist husband, Tom Buchanan. Mind you, Dern did not exactly convey the picture of a sports-obsessed ex-jock with a powerful build. But he did an excellent job in portraying Tom’s obsession with social position, warm passion for Myrtle and possessive regard for Daisy. More importantly, he managed to inject a great deal of energy in all of his scenes – especially the one featured at the Plaza Hotel suite. I must admit that I found one of his lines rather funny for two different reasons. Tom’s complaint about Gatsby’s pink suit struck me rather funny, thanks to Dern’s delivery. But I also found it hilarious that Tom would complain about the color of Gatsby’s suit, while wearing a purple one. If you doubt me, take a gander at the following image:


If the purple in Tom’s suit had been any deeper, one would think he was a gauche social climber . . . or a pimp. Frankly, Dern’s line would have been more effective if the actor’s suit had possessed a more conservative color in that scene.

Overall, “THE GREAT GATSBY” is a beautiful looking movie to behold. And I believe it could have become a more energetic and interesting tale if the producers had hired a better director. I realize that Jack Clayton’s reputation had been made due to his work on 1959’s “ROOM AT THE TOP”. But he really dropped the ball some fifteen years later, thanks to his dull and lethargic direction of “THE GREAT GATSBY”. Cast members such as Bruce Dern and Sam Waterson managed to overcome Clayton’s direction. Others failed to do so. This was especially the case for Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, who portrayed the movie’s two main characters. And because of Clayton’s poor direction, this version of “THE GREAT GATSBY” proved to be a big disappointment for me.

The Incredible Hulk Meets Thor – Part I



Twenty-five years ago, a television movie called “THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS” aired on CBS. It served as a continuation of the popular 1978-1982 television series and starred Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. 

“THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS” not only features another attempt by Banner to rid himself of the Hulk for good, but also his meeting Dr. Donald Blake aka Thor, God of Thunder (Steve Levitt and Eric Allan Kramer). Here is a recap and REVIEW of the movie.

Unless there is another movie that features both the Hulk and Thor, “THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS” features their first on-screen meeting until 24 years later in the 2012 summer blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS”. I think.


“MRS. McGINTY’S DEAD” (2008) Review



“MRS. McGINTY’S DEAD” (2008) Review

Since it first aired on television, I must admit that I have paid scant attention to “MRS. McGINTY’S DEAD”, ITV’s 2008 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1952 novel. I find this amazing, since the novel has always been a favorite of mine. I am not claiming that the 2008 movie is terrible. I was simply distracted by other matters during my last two viewings. This third viewing proved to be the charmed and I finally was able to ascertain the movie’s quality. 

Unlike its literary source, “MRS. McGINTY’S DEAD” was not set in the early 1950s. Because the television adaptation was an episode of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”, screenwriter Nick Dear transform the setting to the 1930s. There is some unwritten rule for the series’ producers that all “POIROT” adaptations had to be set during that decade. Why . . . I do not know or understand to this day. However, changing the story’s setting to another decade did not harm it, unlike“THIRD GIRL” or “TAKEN AT THE FLOOD”. Dear also remove a few characters – including two from a newspaper article that is featured in the plot. And the literary characters of Maude Williams and Dierde Henderson are merged into one – Maude Williams. Fortunately, these changes had no negative impact upon the story.

In “MRS. McGINTY’S DEAD”, the lodger of a dead charwoman is convicted of her murder and sentenced to be executive. Superintendent Spence, the case’s investigating officer, suspects that James Bentley is innocent of Mrs. McGinty’s murder and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate the case for him. Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny and discovers that Mrs. McGinty had often worked as a cleaner at the houses of people in the village. He also discovers among her possessions a newspaper published a few days before her death and that a particular article had been cut out, which he later discovers was about four women connected with famous murder cases. Mrs. McGinty had also purchased a bottle of ink from a local shop. Poirot concludes that Mrs. McGinty had recognized one of the four women and had written to the newspaper for more information. One of Mrs. McGinty’s cleaning learned of her discovery and killed her before she could talk.

After my recent viewing of “MRS. McGINTY’S DEAD”, I realized that I did this movie a disservice by paying scant attention to it during my earlier viewings. The movie proved to be very entertaining and a worthy adaptation of a novel that has long been a favorite of mine. First of all, Christie created an intriguing, yet entertaining mystery that kept me guessing, until the last pages. And both Dear and director Ashley Pierce did an excellent job in translating Christie’s story to the screen, maintaining its drama with links to the mysterious past and humor. Speaking of the latter, “MRS. McGINTY’S DEAD” proved to be one of the funniest Poirot mysteries I have ever come across. Since this story is a “village mystery”, a rarity for a Poirot story, audiences get to witness the Belgian-born sleuth struggle as a guest at an untidy country manor-turned-guesthouse. The movie also dealt with Ariadne Oliver’s frustrating collaboration with a playwright, who wants to adapt (meaning change) one of her Sven Hjerson novels. And the movie provides plenty of laughs from both story arcs. I do have one major regret regarding Dear and Pierce’s adaptation of Christie’s novel – they never included that fabulous scene in which Poirot revealed the murderer by giving the latter a major scare with the murder weapon. It was such a memorable scene that I felt some regret that it had not been included in the movie.

The production values for “MRS. McGINTY’S DEAD” seemed top notch. Production designer Jeff Tessler and his team did an excellent job in re-creating the English countryside of the 1930s. His work was solidly supported by Miranda Cull and Paul Spriggs’ art direction and especially Sheena Napier’s costume designs. I was especially impressed by the fact that Napier did not go over-the-top with her costumes, considering the movie’s village setting. I wish I could be just as complimentary about Alan Almond’s photography. Mind you, I found his photography beautiful and rich in color. But there were scenes I wish had been filmed with more light. And I could have done without the soft-focus photography.

David Suchet gave one of his funniest performances as Poirot in this movie. Mind you, he perfectly conveyed Poirot’s pragmatic nature, intelligence and detective skills. But Suchet was hilarious as the long-suffering Poirot forced to deal with the incompetent housekeeping skills of his hosts, the Summerhayes. Zoë Wanamaker gave an equally hilarious as mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver, forced to endure playwright Robin Upward’s changes in the stage adaptation of one of her novels. And both Suchet and Wanamaker once again created magic whenever they appeared together on the screen.

“MRS. McGINTY’S DEAD” also featured some first-rate supporting performances. After his first appearance in 2006’s“TAKEN AT THE FLOOD”, Richard Hope returned as Superintendent Harold Spence, the police investigator whose dissatisfaction with James Bentley’s conviction, drew Poirot into the McGinty case. He gave a solid performance, just as he did in the 2006 movie. However, both his performance and the character did not knock my socks off. And Amanda Root’s portrayal of the doctor’s wife, Mrs. Rendell, seemed a bit over-the-top. But I did enjoy Raquel Cassidy, Mary Stockley, Sarah Smart and Paul Rhys’s performances. The latter was especially funny as the pretentious playwright, Robin Upward, who drove Mrs. Oliver crazy. But the two performances that really impressed me came from Joe Absolom, who was interesting as the wrongly convicted and anemic lodger James Bentley; and Siân Phillips, who portrayed the enigmatic and secretive Mrs. Upward with great skill and mystery.

In the end, “MRS. McGINTY” proved to be a first-rate adaptation of the 1952 novel. In fact, it was a lot better than I remembered from my first (and second) viewing. I thought it was well written by Nick Dear and directed with skill by Adrian Pearce. Most of all, it featured hilarious performances by both David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker, who re-ignited their screen chemistry with great ease. I really enjoyed this film.

“Lessons in Witchcraft” [PG] – 4/9



Chapter 4 

NOTE: In the previous chapter, the three Halliwell sisters’ knowledge of herbal craft were extended by Bruce and Barbara McNeill. The story picks up with Olivia McNeill recruiting her younger brother, Harry, to assist her in the next lesson. 


An audible silence filled Olivia’s ear, as she waited for her brother’s response to her request. Then Harry finally said, “Help you give a lesson on witchcraft? Why?”

Olivia said, “What do you mean . . . why? Because Paige had asked me to give her and her sisters some lessons. Apparently, they feel they don’t know enough. Ask Gran or Bruce. They’ve already helped me.”

“Are you saying that after nearly five years, they still need lessons?”

Heaving a sigh, Olivia retorted, “C’mon Harry! You know better than to ask that. Learning the Craft is a lifelong experience for all of us.”

“Yeah, but we’re talking about the basics here,” Harry shot back. “What the hell have they been doing all this time?”

Olivia retorted, “Saving the world from evil, what else?”

“And that’s supposed to impress me?”

Another sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “Harry . . .”

“Next question,” Harry said, interrupting. “Why do you want . . . ‘me’ to help you?”

Olivia quickly answered, “Because the next lesson will be on altars, circles and pentagrams. You’re very good in this area. Especially about altars. And I need you to draw a diagram of one.”

“In other words, you couldn’t find anyone else to assist you.”

“Harry!” Olivia paused, before she finally capitulated. “Okay, that’s the real reason. But you are very good when it comes to altars, right? Besides, Paige will be there.”

Olivia heard a tremor in Harry’s voice. “So?”

“C’mon Harry! I’m not blind. I’ve seen the way you’ve been hovering over her, when you think no one else is watching. And when you two are around others, you pretend she doesn’t exist.”

Harry’s voice hardened slightly. “What are you getting at, Livy?”

She heaved a large sigh. “Let me put it this way, little brother. Nathalie Gleason told me what had transpired between you two at her party, last April. Shall I go on?”

“You can go on forever, as far as I’m concerned,” Harry retorted. “And as far as I’m concerned, you’re imagining things.”

Olivia paused. “Does that mean you won’t help me?”

Silence followed. Then, “Yeah, I’ll help. What do you need?”

Relieved that her younger brother had finally agreed to help, Olivia proceeded to instruct him on a few errands.


The following Friday evening saw Olivia and Harry arriving at the Halliwell house. Olivia held her large knit bag, while Harry carried several yellow envelopes in his arms, as they climbed the stoop toward the front door.

After ringing the doorbell, Paige opened the door and ushered brother and sister inside the house. “Hey there,” Olivia greeted. “Ready for your next lesson?”

Paige smiled. “Ready and eager!” The two McNeills stared at her, as if she had grown a second head. The Charmed One’s face turned red with embarrassment. “Okay, that did sound a little too chipper, didn’t it?”

“More like a lot,” Harry muttered sardonically.

Olivia gave her brother a swift and subtle kick in the shin. Then she smiled at Paige. “So, where are the others?”

Paige revealed that her sisters were in the Solarium, waiting for the visitors. “Wyatt is in there, as well. Sleeping. Leo wasn’t available to baby sit, this evening.”

“Did you get a small table, like I had asked?”

Nodding, Paige replied, “It’s in there, as well.”

Once inside the Solarium, Olivia began the lesson. “The first thing we’re going to discuss is the Wiccan altar. Uh, do you guys have one?”

The three sisters exchanged confused looks. “Wiccan altar?” Piper asked.

A slight smirk curved Harry’s lips. “Well, I guess the answer is no.” He received another kick in the shin from his sister.

Olivia turned to the three sisters and smiled. “The altar is a principle part of magic, rituals and daily life. It’s like a sacred space in the home, set aside for major spells and rituals. You’ve seen one, Phoebe. Right?”

The middle Charmed One blinked. “I did?”

“That little closet inside Cole’s old apartment, where he used to live,” Olivia continued. “When you two first met.”


Apparently, Phoebe had not remembered. “Anyway, do you guys have a table that you sometimes use, when conducting major spells?” Olivia continued.

Piper pointed at a small round table in the middle of the room. “We sometimes use this, when we’re in the attic.”

Olivia nodded. “Okay. This is good. In fact, some witches prefer to use a round table, because they believe it represents the circle of life. Now, there are many ways to set up an altar. And Harry,” she lightly slapped her brother’s arm, “is going to hand you a diagram of the altar at our parents’ house.”

On cue, Harry opened one of the yellow envelopes and passed the contents to the Charmed Ones. “Oh God!” Piper exclaimed. “This looks complicated.”

Olivia shook her head. “Not really. It can be quite simple.” She removed a large piece of blue cloth from her bag and spread it over the round table. “First, you need an altar cloth. You also need a specific color that relates to your purpose of the altar. It goes on the table, first. The second thing that goes on the table is the working cloth.” She removed a cheap piece of gray cloth from her bag. “This cloth keeps wax, oil and other stuff from dripping on the altar cloth.”

“Next,” Harry continued, “you place four quarter candles on the table. Each candle is in the color that represents an element . . . and a quarter.” Olivia removed a red candle. “Red for the Fire element and the direction, South. White for Air and East. By the way, the white candle is also supposed to represent the Goddess.” Olivia placed a white candle on the table. Then she removed a blue candle from her bag. “Blue is for Water and West. And Green is for Earth and North.” After Olivia placed a green candle on the table, Harry added, “Also, you don’t always have to place quarter candles on the altar. You can also try free standing pillars.”

Then Olivia removed a small earthen bowl from the bag and placed it on the table. “This is an Earth bowl,” she said. “It can be filled with something that represents that particular element. We usually fill it with soil to represent Earth or holy water.”

“Holy water?” Phoebe declared. “Wiccans deal with holy water?” Harry explained that holy water is used by many religions – Pagan and otherwise – and not just by Catholics.

“Next, is the Wine Chalice,” Harry said, as Olivia removed one from her bag. “It’s for drinking sacred wine that has been consecrated for magickal use. The chalice, like the White candle, represents the Goddess.”

Olivia and Harry continued the list, removing objects from the knit bag. They removed the God and Goddess figures, an incense holder, a non-wine chalice for those who did not indulge in alcohol . . .

“That would be great for me,” Paige said, interrupting.

Piper added, “Is it just me or does the God figure look a like the Devil?”

“That’s the Horned God of the Wild,” Olivia explained. “Not the Devil. Don’t forget – Wiccans do not believe in Satan, the Devil and other forms of ‘Satanism’. The Horned God represents the masculine aspect of nature and the Goddess, the feminine aspect.”


Olivia removed a cauldron from her bag. “I’m sure that you guys remember this. For the altar, it’s used to hold a piece of self-lightning charcoal.” The list continued – consecrated oil, a lighter for the candles, the altar bell, a wand for channeling energy to a specific direction, an athame, a candle-snuffer, and a pentacle.

Harry explained, “The pentacle is basically a grounding tool. When magick is done on the altar, it’s done over a pentacle to ground the magick’s energy.” He paused. “Now, if you would all study the chart I have given each of you, you’ll have a basic idea of how to set up an altar.”

Phoebe displayed a piece of paper, attached to her copy of the altar’s diagram. “What’s this?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s the ritual used for the altar. And be sure there is a circle on the floor.”

When the sisters finished examining the material given to them, Olivia said, “I guess that we can go on to the next lesson. The circle. You, ah . . . You guys do use a magick circle for spells, right?”

Once more, the Halliwells exchanged uneasy glances. “Uh . . . yeah,” Paige finally answered. “I think.”

“Sometimes,” Phoebe added. “I mean . . . we know that a circle should be used.”

Olivia asked, “Do you know why?” When the sisters failed to answer, she sighed. “Okay. The circle is the area in which magickal worship, spells and rituals take place. There are three basic reasons to cast a circle.”

“One,” Harry said, “to create a sacred space, or a place that is different from the mundane world. Two, to keep the energy from magick, focused and contained in one area.”

Olivia added, “And three, a circle provides protection from negative outside forces. It provides safety, since witches inside the circle are able to travel across veils and into different dimensions. In other words, the circle provides safety, as we travel.”

“Like Paige and I did, when we projected into Piper’s mind,” Phoebe said.


Harry opened another yellow envelope. He poured out the contents – more stapled papers – and passed them around. “Now, you each have a list of methods to cast a circle. If you don’t know how to cast one, the instructions provided should be simple.”

“Wait. There’s more than one way to cast a circle?” Phoebe asked.

“Actually, the list I just gave you provides at least four methods on casting a circle and instructions on closing one.”

Paige asked, “What kind of circles?”

Harry sighed. “Well, there is the commonly used method of casting a circle. There is one for casting a circle in a hurry, one for casting a Celtic circle, and one for casting a circle on your hand. Uh, if you guys want to go over each one . . .”

“That’s okay,” Piper quickly interrupted. “These instructions don’t really seem all that difficult.”

The youngest McNeill glanced at his sister, who shrugged. “Okay, sure. I guess we can move on to the next lesson.”

Phoebe sighed. “The final one.” Her voice seemed tinged with relief.

Olivia stared at the middle Charmed One. “Are we getting bored?”

“Huh? Oh . . . uh, no. I just . . . I guess I’m a little hungry.”

Glancing at her watch, Olivia noticed that it read eight forty-seven. “Haven’t you all eaten dinner, yet?”

“Of course we have,” Piper replied. “We just . . .”

Impatience tinged Paige’s voice. “Can we please just get on with the lessons?”

Nodding, Olivia said, “Right. Next lesson – pentagram.”

“We all know what a pentagram is,” Piper commented. “It’s a five-pointed star, held in an upright position. It’s an ancient symbol of protection from evil.”

“Did you know that it’s also called the ‘endless knot’?” Olivia added. “Or that the symbol can be traced back to ancient Egyptian and Summerian cultures? And it’s also been found on Native American tools.”

Piper replied, “No, but we do know that each point represents the five elements – earth, water, fire, metal and wood.”

Olivia blinked. She wondered if she had just heard right. Then she glanced at Harry, who also looked confused. “Piper,” he asked, “could you repeat that list of elements, again?”

“Earth, water, fire, metal and wood,” Piper repeated. “In fact, this house is situated in the middle of a pentagram. Of a nexus. It lies in equal distance from a place or object that represents each element.”

Phoebe added, “Yeah, and that’s why I’m more susceptible to evil than my sisters. Since I was born in the manor, I can easily swing to either evil or good.”

“Honey, I hate to break it to you,” Olivia patiently explained, “but you’ve just about described every living being in existence. Any one of us can easily swing one way or the other. It’s a part of who and what we are.”

Harry added, “And I think I should explain to you guys that the elements associated with Wicca are earth, water, fire, AIRand SPIRIT. The elements that you had mentioned are associated with Chinese spirituality.”

“WHAT?” Both Phoebe and Piper cried out at the same.

“If you’re correct about this house being in the center of some kind of nexus,” Harry continued, “perhaps it’s . . . I don’t know. Chinese?”

Phoebe exclaimed, “But that’s impossible!” She paused, as she stared at the two McNeills. “Is it? I mean, are you saying . . .? Which list is correct?”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea,” Olivia replied. “Both lists may be correct. Every form of philosophy or religion has its own list of elements.”

Harry added, “Olivia has her own theory about the elements.” Knowing what he was about to reveal, Olivia glared at her brother. “What? C’mon Livy! You’ve already told the family.”

“And no one bought it, I might add.”

Paige frowned. “What theory?”

After a long and heavy sigh, Olivia finally capitulated. “Okay, I give up.” She paused. Then, “While studying some of the different religions and philosophies, I had noticed something about the elements associated with them. Although they varied, if you combine them all on one list, you will probably end up with at least seven elements. Namely – earth, water, air, fire, wood, metal and spirit. This leaves me to suspect that there are seven elements, not five or in the case of other religions or philosophies, some other number of elements. By the way, did you know that the Buddhists refer to the spirit element as the Void or Ether?”

Silence hung over the Sun Room like a heavy fog. Disbelief and confusion whirled in the Charmed Ones’ dark eyes, while Harry’s mouth hung open in anticipation. “So what do you think?” he asked. “Makes sense?”

Piper shook her head. “I don’t understand. You’re saying that there are seven elements and not five?”

“That’s my theory,” Olivia coolly replied.

Phoebe spoke up. “But that would make the whole idea of a pentagram irrelevant! And the pentagram, as a symbol, has been around for ages.”

“What?” Harry demanded. “She’s not allowed to challenge a belief that’s been around since the dawn of man?”

Olivia glanced at Paige, who seemed equally dubious. “I guess you don’t buy it either,” she asked her friend.

Paige squirmed with discomfort. “I don’t know, Livy,” she finally said. “It’s just . . . well yeah. I guess I don’t. I just find it hard to buy.”

“Why?” Harry demanded. He seemed disappointed by Paige’s reaction.

Shrugging her shoulders, Paige answered, “I don’t know. Maybe Phoebe’s right. The pentagram has been part of Wicca beliefs for many years. And a part of Celtic and other forms of paganism, long before that. Right? Is Olivia trying to say that the pentagram isn’t a symbol for protection from evil? And if so, what is?”

Olivia thought to herself. Why did I allow Harry to goad me into opening my big mouth? Then she sighed. “I don’t know, Paige. How about a heptagram?” The sisters merely responded with blank stares. So much for her clever idea.

Before the uncomfortable silence could get any worse, Harry came to the rescue. He glanced at his watch. “Look, why don’t we call it a night? I think that we’ve basically covered everything for today’s lesson. And besides, there’s a movie on cable I want to see. And it starts in less than an hour.”

“Good idea,” Olivia quickly agreed, thankful of Harry’s suggestion.

Piper asked, “Before you go, may I ask you guys a question?” The two McNeills stared at her. “Is it really necessary to have a permanent altar in the house?”

“It’s not mandatory,” Olivia replied. “But I would highly recommend having one around for major spells and rituals. You don’t want to take the chance of the magick getting out of control.”

“Our magic never gets . . .” Phoebe began. Then she broke off, as a sheepish expression appeared on her face. “Okay, maybe it does. Sometimes.”

Piper asked another question. “Do we really need an altar for our Book of Shadows?”

“Where did you get that idea?” Harry asked, with a frown.

Giving her eyes a contemptuous roll, Phoebe shot back, “From one of Leo’s old whitelighter buddies. Natalie. She once told us that we should keep our Book of Shadows on a hidden altar.”

“We had ignored her advice, of course,” Piper sardonically added.

Olivia said, “So did we. When Leo first told Bruce and me the same, years ago. Frankly, I think it’s a lot of nonsense.”

“Leo, huh?” Piper looked slightly embarrassed.

“Besides, I don’t keep my Book of Shadows on an altar,” Olivia continued. “There’s no need, as far as I’m concerned. Harry keeps his on a computer CD-disk. So does Nathalie Gleason.”

Paige’s voice rang with disbelief. “A Book of Shadows on a computer disk?”

Phoebe added, “And why would you all maintain separate Books of Shadow, anyway? Isn’t there one for the entire family?”

Harry shook his head. “Not really. Each witch usually maintains his or her own personal book. I’m surprised that none of you have your own book. I mean, what if one or more of you move out?”

“So, you think we should each have our own book?”

Oh God! Impatience tugged at Olivia’s mind. She wanted to end this session. Now. “Look, it’s like Harry said. Every individual witch maintains a Book of Shadows. Paige, Phoebe, Piper – if you don’t want to follow this rule, fine. It’s not a problem. Do what works best for you. Anymore questions?”

Wearing dazed expressions, the Charmed Ones shook their heads. Harry shot to his feet and began removing some of the items on the makeshift altar. “Okay, it’s time to go.” He placed the items in Olivia’s bag.

While Harry finished loading her bag, Olivia stood up. “Okay guys, I guess I’ll be seeing you, tomorrow evening.”

“Why not the morning or afternoon?” Paige asked.

“Because Cole and I are going to Sausalito, tomorrow morning,” Olivia said. From the corner of her eye, she saw Phoebe stiffened at the mention of the half-daemon’s name. “And we won’t be back until five or five-thirty. So, I’ll be seeing you around six, at my apartment. Okay?”

The Charmed Ones agreed. Then much to Olivia’s relief, she and Harry gathered their belongings, bid their hostesses good-bye – and finally left.


“FAST AND FURIOUS 6” (2013) Review

fast furious 6 slider


“FAST AND FURIOUS” (2013) Review

When “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” first hit the movie screens in 2001, I never imagined that it would be such a major hit . . . or spawn five sequels. The franchise seemed in danger of ending with a whimper with 2006’s “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT”, due to its lack of critical success. Three years later saw the rejuvenation of the franchise with the success of 2009’s “FAST AND FURIOUS”. This movie spawned a mini trilogy of its own, culminating in the latest film,“FAST AND FURIOUS 6”

The franchise’s fifth installment, “FAST FIVE” ended with Dominic Toretto and his accomplices reaping the rewards of a successful heist from a Rio drug lord. In the film’s Easter egg segment, U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent Luke Hobbs learns from U.S. Customs agent Monica Fuentes (from 2003’s “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS”) that Dom’s former girlfriend, Letty Ortiz, is alive and well, and working with one Owen Shaw, a British criminal (and former Special Forces soldier) who had recently pulled a heist on a Russian military convoy. Hobbs and his new partner, Riley Hicks, recruit Dom, Brian O’Conner and other members of the gang who helped pull off the Rio heist; to help them take down Shaw. Hobbes convinces Dom to help him, revealing Letty’s existence and offering full amnesty for past crimes. With the exception of Mia Torretto and former Rio police officer Elena Neves (who remain behind to care for Mia and Brian’s new baby), along with Leo Tego and Rico Santos (who remain on the French Riviera gambling); Dom, Brian and the rest of the gang arrive in London to help Hobbes and Hicks to track down Shaw. Upon their arrival, they discover that Letty has amnesia and that capturing Shaw might prove to be more difficult than they had originally imagined.

After watching “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, I came to the conclusion that it was my second favorite movie in the franchise after “FAST FIVE”. However, I am not so sure anymore. There are certain aspects of this latest film that makes me reluctant to view as the franchise’s second best. One, the movie’s premise is not that original – even for a FAST AND FURIOUS movie. In fact, the story premise for “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” bears a strong resemblance to the premise for the 2003 movie, “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS”. In that movie, Brian O’Conner and Roman Pearce helped the Feds bring down a Miami-based drug lord in exchange for pardons and clean records. Brian, Roman, Dom and others help Fed Luke Hobbes take down international criminal Owen Shaw for . . . what else? Pardons and clean records. I also had a problem with the Roman Pearce character. I had no problem with Tyrese Gibson’s portrayal of the character. But I found it odd that Roman would immediately drop his airborne love fest with a group of models due to a summons from Dom Toretto, of all people.“FAST FIVE” did not exactly end with Roman and Dom as the best of friends. If the movie had established that Roman had received the summons from Brian, who was his childhood friend, I could accept his immediate decision to join the team. One last problem I had with “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” proved to be a flashback from 2009’s “FAST AND FURIOUS” regarding the origin of Letty Ortiz’s amnesia. The 2009 movie hinted that Letty had been killed by Arturo Braga’s henchman, Fenix Calderon. But a flashback in “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” revealed that Calderon missed Letty completely and shot the car to which she was standing near. The car exploded, injuring Letty. Why Calderon failed to confirm her death after the explosion remains a mystery to me. The entire scene struck me as clumsily handled. I also noticed that Dom’s ridiculous “Daddy issues” and desire to be “Papa Toretto” to anyone close to him still remains. When he made a comment at the end of the movie about Brian and Mia’s son, Jack O’Conner, being solely a Toretto, I merely laughed. When he repeated the “joke” again, I began to wonder if he was making a demented attempt to claim the toddler as his own offspring. Right now, I feel that Brian and Mia should leave the Toretto home and purchase their own house to raise their kid.

But despite these problems, “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” turned out to be a pretty damn good movie. The franchise’s street-racing theme played a major part in the efforts of Dom’s team to stop Shaw’s team from carrying out their crimes. This theme was definitely apparent in four scenes. One of them was a car chase through the streets of nighttime London that ended with the team’s failure to capture Shaw, as he was fleeing his hideout. Another scene featured Dom and an amnesiac Letty in a street race that ended in a sexy moment in which the former tried to revive the latter’s memories. There was also the film’s final action sequence at a NATO air strip in which Dom and his team finally prevented Shaw from escaping by plane. I found that particular sequence a little hard to bear, considering that at times, it seemed to go on forever and it was shot at night. The only daytime sequence that featured vehicles on a highway not far from that NATO base in Spain. What made this sequence memorable for was the spectacular car chase that featured an outstanding stunt performed by Tyrese Gibson . . . or his double. There is a spectacular fight scene between Letty and Hobbes’ partner, Riley Hicks, in the London Underground. I heard that Michelle Rodriguez felt a bit wary in doing a fight scene with Gina Carano . . . and I do not blame her, considering the latter is a mixed martial arts champ. There was also a pretty decent Dom and Hobbes vs. Shaw and his men aboard the cargo plane in Spain.

Action sequences were not the only staple that made “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” entertaining for me. The movie also featured some pretty damn good dramatic moments and rather funny scenes. I have already pointed out that sexy moment between Dom and Letty in which the former tried to revive the latter’s memories. I also enjoyed the sequence in which Brian allowed himself to be “arrested” (courtesy of Luke Hobbes’ Federal connections) by the FBI, in order to question former adversary Arturo Braga about Letty’s connections to Shaw. Not only did it featured a humorous reunion between Brian and his former FBI colleague, Special Agent Stasiak; but also a very dramatic one between Brian and Braga. “FAST FIVE” featured the beginning of a romance between Han and Gisele. But their relationship took on a more poignant note in this movie, which I found very satisfying. I especially enjoyed how Roman quickly figured out Han’s true feelings for Gisele. Speaking of Roman and Han, the movie featured a very funny moment in which both of them secretly agreed not to inform the others of their defeat against one of Shaw’s men in the London Underground. In fact, Roman proved to have the best lines in the movie. My ultimate favorite? Read the following scene between him and Tej Parker:

[Roman asks Tej for change to use the vending machine]
TEJ: You’re a millionaire and still asking for money?
ROMAN: That’s how you stay a millionaire.

“FAST AND FURIOUS 6” featured some pretty decent performances. But there were those that stood out for me. I especially enjoyed Tyrese Gibson, who not only proved to be even funnier as Roman Pearce, but shared a nice dramatic moment with Sung Kang, while the two discussed Han’s feelings for Gisele. Michelle Rodriguez gave one of her better performances as an intense and amnesiac Letty Ortiz, who is torn between her confusion over her identity and her growing wariness toward Shaw. Dwayne Johnson continued his energetic portrayal of DSS Agent Luke Hobbes with great style. Luke Evans made a particularly formidable foe as former Special Forces soldier Owen Shaw, who proves to be a very difficult to take down. Then again, the franchise has always featured some first-rate villains. Not only did Vin Diesel provided an unexpectedly sexy performance in one particular scene with Rodriguez, he and Elsa Pataky provided a nice poignant moment between Dom and former Brazil cop Elena Neves, who end their relationship due to Letty’s re-emergence in Dom’s life. However, Paul Walker really surprised me in this film. He has always struck me as mediocre or solid actor in the past. But his acting skills seemed to have grown considerably between “FAST FIVE” and “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”. This was apparent in his scenes with John Ortiz, which featured a hostile reunion between Brian and Braga in a California prison.

I feel that “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” had its share of flaws. But thanks to Justin Lin’s direction, a charasmatic cast and a solid script written by Chris Morgan, I feel that it not only proved to be one of the better films for the summer of 2013, but also one of the better films in the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise.



Below is my ranking of THE FLASHMAN PAPERS, the series of novels and short stories written by the late George MacDonald Fraser about a 19th century British Army officer named Harry Flashman. The novels and stories were published between 1969 and 2005: 



1-flashman and the redskins

1. “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) – Serving as an immediate follow-up to “FLASH FOR FREEDOM!”, this 1982 novel depicted Harry Flashman’s experiences in the Old West when he joined a wagon train in 1849 and became an unwilling witness to the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Probably my favorite in the series.

2-flashman and the dragon

2. “FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON” (1985) – Harry Flashman’s experiences during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) and Lord Elgin’s March to Peking during the Second Opium War in 1860 are depicted in this 1985 novel.

3-flashman in the great game

3. “FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” (1975) – Serving as a follow-up to “FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE”, this 1975 novel depicted Flashman’s experiences during the Sepoy Rebellion (1857-1858) in India and a reunion with a deadly former enemy.

4-flashman at the charge

4. “FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE” (1973) – Harry Flashman’s experiences during the first year of the Crimean War (1854-1856) and with Kokand freedom fighters in Central Asia between 1854 and 1855 are depicted in this novel.

5-flash for freedom

5. “FLASH FOR FREEDOM!” (1971) – Fleeing the country from a scandal not of his making, Harry Flashman finds himself aboard a slave ship and receives a first hand look at the trans-Atlantic slave trade and American slavery in the late 1840s.

6-flashmans lady

6. “FLASHMAN’S LADY” (1977) – When a former pirate-turned-businessman from the East Indies become obsessed with Flashman’s wife, Elspeth, and kidnaps her during a trip to Singapore; the cowardly hero’s pursuit leads to him fighting Borneo pirates with the legendary James Brooke and becoming a slave of the notorious Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar during the early 1840s.


7. “FLASHMAN” (1969) – This 1969 novel served as an introduction to Fraser’s literary series and his infamous main character, Harry Flashman. After being expelled from Rugby School, Flashman joins the British Army and eventually participates in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842).

8-royal flash

8. “ROYAL FLASH” (1970) – This 1970 novel turned out to be a spoof of the famous Anthony Hope novel, “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA”. Set during the Revolutions of 1848, Flashman finds himself “recruited” by the Prussian politician Otto von Bismarck to impersonate a Danish prince set to marry the ruler of a German duchy.

9-flashman and the mountain of light

9. “FLASHMAN AND THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT” (1990) – Flashman’s experiences during the First Sikh War in the Punjab is depicted in this 1990 novel.

10-flashman and the angel of the lord

10. “FLASHMAN AND THE ANGEL OF THE LORD” (1994) – After being shanghaied by an old enemy in South Africa, Flashman finds himself back in the United States, where he unwillingly gets caught up in the John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

11-flashman and the tiger

11. “FLASHMAN AND THE TIGER” (1999) – Instead of a novel, this 1999 book is a collection of three stories that depicted Flashman’s experiences in aborting an assassination attempt on Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria; his and wife Elspeth’s participation in the infamous Tranby Croft Affair; and his troubling encounter with a former acquaintance from the Zulu War.

12-flashman on the march

12. “FLASHMAN ON THE MARCH” (2005) – In this final novel written by Fraser, Flashman finds himself caught up in Great Britain’s 1868 military expedition against King Tewodros II of Abyssinia (Ethiopia).




Following the success of the 2009 movie, “STAR TREK”, producer/director J.J. Abrams continued the saga of this alternate STAR TREK with a sequel called “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”. This latest film not only continued the adventures of Starfleet Captain James T. Kirk and his crew, but also re-introduced a well-known villain from the franchise’s past. 

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” begins a year following the events of the 2009 movie. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise has been ordered to observe the volcanic activities of Nibiru, a class “M” planet that serves as home for its primitive inhabitants. Unfortunately, Kirk and his crew violate the Federation’s Prime Directive by using a cold fusion device to deactivate the volcano. Worse, in order to fetch Spoke from the volcano’s depth, the Enterprise rises out of the planet’s ocean and is seen by the Nibirians. Upon the starship’s return to Earth, both Kirk and his first officer, Spock, are chewed out by Admiral Christopher Pike for violating the Prime Directive on Nibiru. Spock is reassigned to another starship and Kirk has lost command of the Enterprise and ordered to finish Starfleet Academy.

Meanwhile, a mysterious man offers a vial of blood to a Starfleet officer named Thomas Harewood in order to save the life of the latter’s dying daughter. In exchange, Harewood used the mysterious ring to blow up the Kelvin Memorial Archives (a secret Section 31 facility) on the mysterious man’s behalf. This new emergency leads Starfleet to assign Admiral Pike as commander of the Enterprise. Pike manages to convince Marcus to assign Kirk as his new First Officer. The bombing of the Kelvin Archives leads to a meeting of starship commanders ordered to hunt down the mysterious perpetrator, revealed as rogue Starfleet agent John Harrison. However, an attack upon the meeting by a jumpship piloted by Harrison leaves several Starfleet officers dead – including Pike. Admiral Marcus reinstates Kirk as commander of the Enterprise and orders the latter to hunt down Harrison to the Klingon homeworld, Kronos, and destroy the rogue agent’s base with 72 prototype photon torpedoes placed aboard the Enterprise. However, the manhunt for Harrison ends up providing a good deal of surprises for Kirk and his crew – including the revelation of Harrison’s true identity.

When I first saw “STAR TREK” four years ago, my initial response to J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the franchise had been . . . somewhat positive, yet slightly uneasy. A second viewing of the movie made me realize that it was a piece of crap, thanks to a script riddled with plot holes. I still maintained hope that this new sequel would prove to be a improvement. And it did . . . to a certain extent. The plot for “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” did not strike me as particularly original. Rogue Starfleet officers have been used in the franchise before – especially in “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” and the 1991 film, “STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY”. The John Harrison character proved to be none other than Khan Noonien Singh, originally portrayed by Ricardo Montalban in an episode of “STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES”and the 1982 movie, “STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN”. In fact, the screenwriters not only used the Khan character, but also Dr. Carol Marcus and put a different spin on a famous scene from the 1982 movie. Khan/Harrison’s attack on Admiral Marcus’ meeting bore a strong resemblance to a scene from a “STAR TREK VOYAGER” episode called(2.14) “Alliances”.

Despite the lack of originality that seemed to permeate the film, I must admit that I enjoyed a good deal of it. I found the conspiracy that surrounded Khan’s connections to Admiral Marcus rather interesting. This was especially the case in the jumpship attack scene, the phaser fight on Kronos, Carol Marcus’ rescue of Doctor McCoy from one of the photon torpedoes and finally Kirk and Khan’s transportation to Admiral Marcus’ ship U.S.S. Vengeance via a “space jump”. These scene proved to be very exciting, thanks to Abrams’ excellent direction. The chemistry between Zachary Quinto and Zoë Saldaña as lovers Spock and Nyota Uhura seemed to have vastly improved from the 2009 film. Perhaps the emotions between the two characters seemed more two-way and genuine the second time around. The chemistry between Quinto and Chris Pine’s James Kirk seemed stronger than ever. Bruce Greenwood gave an intense and superb performance as Admirable Christopher Pike, even if I found the character’s faith in Kirk rather questionable. On the other hand, I found Peter Weller’s portrayal as the warmongering Admiral Marcus a bit hammy. And Simon Pegg’s Scots accent became slightly more bearable in this film. But I do feel that Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin had less to do in this film, than they did in “STAR TREK”. Benedict Cumberbatch struck me as effectively ambiguous and sinister at the same time. However, if J.J. Abrams needed someone to portray the Indian-born Khan, why did he not consider another actor he had worked with in the past? Namely “LOST” alumni Naveen Andrews. He would have been perfect.

Do I consider “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” a vast improvement over “STAR TREK”? There are a good number of fans who view the first film as superior. I simply do not share this opinion. However, I would not exactly label “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” as one of the better movies for the summer of 2013. In fact, I view it slightly better than the first film . . . and nothing more.

However, this movie did have its share of problems. And one of them proved to be the film’s opening sequence on Nibiru, which found Kirk and Dr. McCoy being chased through some kind of forest by some of the planet’s inhabitants. Apparently, Kirk had stolen some sacred scroll to led the Nibirians away from the volcano. This tactic proved to be unnecessary, considering there were only two means to save the Nibirians – Spock’s cold fusion device into the volcano’s core, or the physical removal of the planet’s inhabitants. In other words, this chase scene proved to be completely irrelevant. Another aspect of this sequence that proved to be irrelevant was Spock’s protests against Kirk raising the Enterprise from the planet’s ocean floor and exposing it to the Nibirians. One, what was the Enterprise doing below the ocean? Why not simply allow it to orbit the planet? And the Enterprise does not have the ability to land on the ocean floor, let alone on solid ground. It was never the 23rd century version of the U.S.S. Voyager. And why was Spock complaining about Kirk violating the Prime Directive in regard to the Enterprise’s exposure, when he was violating it by saving the planet with the cold fusion device? I suspect his decision to save Nibiru may have been related to the loss of Vulcan in the first movie. But why did he even bother to protest against Kirk’s actions, when he was just as guilty? And by the way, what happened to Earth’s defense system? This movie is set in the mid 23rd century. There is a defense system for early 21st century Washington D.C. Why was there not one for mid 23rd century San Francisco, the main location for the Federation and Starfleet? Khan’s ship could have been easily destroyed before it had a chance to enter Earth’s atmosphere. I would go on about the photon torpedoes that harbored members of Khan’s crew. But I found this scenario too confusing to discuss.

There were other problems. Why did Khan risk his hide to fire at the room of Starfleet captains and Admiral Marcus, when he could have easily achieved his goal with a bomb? What happened to the situation on Kronos? Marcus had sent the Enterprise to Kronos in order to hunt down Khan and start a war against the Klingons. Kirk, Spock, Uhura and Khan’s encounter with the Klingons proved to be violent and especially deadly for the latter. But no war manifested after the incident on Kronos. In fact, the screenwriters and Abrams completely forgot about the Klingons once Admiral Marcus appeared aboard the Vengeance. Many critics complained about Alice Eve (who portrayed Carol Marcus) being shown in her underwear, accusing Abrams of exploiting the actress. Where were these same critics, four years ago, when both Zoë Saldaña (as Uhura) and an actress who portrayed Uhura’s roommate stripped down to undies in “STAR TREK”? I found both Khan and Admiral Marcus’ plans somewhat convoluted. But I was willing to . . . tolerate them. What I could not tolerate was the movie’s last twenty to thirty minutes. Apparently, the screenwriters and Abrams decided it would be cool to pay some kind of “homage” to the famous Spock death scene in “STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN”. I wish to God they had not. I really do. I found it embarrassing to watch Kirk and Spock switch roles with the former sacrificing his life to prevent the Enterprise from crashing upon Earth. Listening to some of the titters from other members of the audience did not help. And when Zachary Quinto channeled William Shatner’s cry of “Khaaaannn!”, my inner mind screamed “Whhhhyyyy?” I have never been so embarrassed for any actor as I was for Quinto at that moment. To make matters worse – if that was possible – McCoy brought Kirk back to life by using Khan’s superpower blood. And all I can say is . . . “Whhhhyyyy?”

We come to the main problem of “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”. James T. Kirk. I had no problem with Chris Pine’s performance. But I am still wondering why his Kirk is in command of a top-of-the-grade starship. Why? He never finished Starfleet Academy. He never even finished his third year. Yet, Christopher Pike not only saw fit to give him command of the Enterprise at the end of “STAR TREK”, but also prevent Kirk from being sent back to the Academy to finish it. Even after watching “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”, it was plain to see that Kirk was not ready to be a starship commander. Yes, he sacrificed his life to save the Enterprise. Hell, anyone – crewman or officer – could have done this. It was Spock who discovered a way to damage the Vengeance . . . . and prevent it from destroying the Enterprise. He should be the one in command of the Enterprise, not Kirk. I wish I could say that Pike paid his decision to make Kirk a starship commander with his life. Unfortunately, Kirk’s command skills had nothing to do with his death. Only bad writing.

What else can I say about “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”? I found it somewhat more bearable than 2009’s “STAR TREK”. I found the movie’s photography and special effects rather impressive – except for the lens flares, which I despise. And the movie did feature some solid direction by J.J. Abrams and very solid performances from a cast led by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. But in the end, I was not that impressed by the movie. If I must be honest, the screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof nearly sunk it in the end. Better luck next time, fellas.