“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode Three “1848-1854” Commentary

northandsouth 3.1


“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE THREE “1848-1854” Commentary

Episode Three of the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I”, immediately picked up where the previous episode left off. And unlike Episode Two, this particular episode stretches over a slightly longer period of time of six-and-a-half years – between the late winter of 1848 and the early summer of 1854.

This episode began less than 24 four hours after Episode Two left off. Following his resignation from the U.S. Army, George Hazard paid a visit to his friend Orry Main to inform the latter of his upcoming wedding to Constance Flynn and to invite Orry to serve as best man. In Episode Three, Orry escorts George to the local rail stop in order for the latter to catch a northbound passenger train. Before George’s train arrives, the two friends spot escaped Mont Royal slave Priam attempt to board a passing freight train. Orry prevents Priam’s escape. But as he prepares to shoot the slave in order to prevent the latter from enduring more punishment, George begs Orry to simply allow Priam to go. An angry Orry concedes to George’s request and Priam continues his escape to the North. About a month later, George marries Constance at a local Catholic chapel in Lehigh Station with Orry and the Hazard family in attendance. During the wedding reception, Maude Hazard announces that George and older brother Stanley will operate Hazard Iron together, while Stanley remains control of the finances. And Virgilia Hazard invites Orry to attend an abolitionist meeting where she is scheduled to serve as one of the speakers. Several months later, a major accident at Hazard Iron leads Maude to place financial control of the company in George’s hands, much to the consternation of Stanley and his shrewish wife, Isabel.

The story eventually jumps to the early 1850s, which finds the Main family and others attending the funeral of Tillet Main. One of the attendants is Orry’s Cousin Charles, who has been staying with the family since the death of his parents. Unbeknownst to Orry, sister Ashton has developed a slight lust toward her cousin. However, Charles is attracted to house slave Semiramis, much to the consternation of both Ashton and Jones. Speaking of the latter, he is fired by Orry, who now serves as master of Mont Royal; and later has a fight with Charles at a local tavern. Also, Charles has become involved with a local belle named Sue Marie Smith and is later challenged to a duel by her fiancé Whitney Smith. When Orry helps train Charles for the duel, the two cousins become close. He also suggests that Charles considers a career as an Army officer and arranges for Charles’ entry into the West Point Academy. Orry discovers during the Mains’ visit to Pennsylvania that George has made arrangements for younger brother Billy into the Academy, as well. Also during the South Carolina family’s visit, Virgilia incurs the wrath of her family and the Southern visitors with her comments about the recent Compromise of 1850. Also, George and Orry become partners in the construction of a cotton mill in South Carolina, to the pleasure of both Stanley and Isabel, who believe that George has made a serious mistake. This episode also features Madeline La Motte’s discovery of her husband’s sexual tryst with a slave, and encounters his wrath. George joins Constance in her activities with the Undercover Railroad. She also convinces him to bring Virgilia along with the Hazard family’s visit to Mont Royal by the end of the episode.

As one can see a great deal occurred in this episode. This is not surprising, considering that Episode Three has a longer time span than the other five episodes and stretches across the fringe of two decades. Because of this longer time span and the fact that so much occurred in this episode, I cannot help but wonder if this episode would have benefited from an additional 30-45 minutes. Speaking of time, this is the first time a major blooper regarding the saga’s time span. Following the accident at Hazard Iron in the summer of 1848, the story jumped five years to 1853. The reason this is impossible is that during the Mains’ visit to Pennsylvania a few months after Tillet Main’s funeral, both George and Orry revealed that their younger kinsmen – Billy Hazard and Charles Main – would be entering West Point later that fall. Like I said . . . this is impossible, considering that both Billy and Charles will graduate from West Point in 1856 in the following episode. There is no way in the world those two will spend only three years at the West Point Military Academy. Tillet Main’s death should have occurred either in late 1851 or early 1852. Another scene featured Madeline LaMotte stumbling across her husband Justin LaMotte in a tryst with a female slave at Salvation Chapel, where she and Orry usually meet. My question is . . . why on earth would LaMotte go out of his way to have a rendezvous with one of his slaves, when he could have easily went to her quarters or have her sent to his room?

Although the character of Semiramis has been featured since Episode One, this episode ended up being the only one in which she had a prominent speaking role. Naturally, Erica Gimpel was excellent in the role, I suspect that the writers only used her character in this episode as a set up for the expansion of her role in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II (1986) – including her attraction to Charles Main. I have a deep suspicion that Semiramis was more or less wasted in this miniseries, because Episode Three will prove to be her last appearance until the next miniseries. Perhaps the roles of Semiramis and the other slaves in“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” could be seen as indicative of the writers and producers’ limited attempt to explore the impact of slavery in mid-19th century America. Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh. But the saga’s exploration of the African-American characters seemed a bit more broad in the second and third miniseries that it was in the first.

It did not help that both John Jakes and the writers who adapted his novel for television managed to create a major blooper regarding the institution of slavery. Both the novel and the miniseries featured an abolitionist meeting in Philadelphia where Virgilia Hazard proved to be one of the speakers. First of all, the producers hired actor Robert Guillaume to portrayed famous African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, who also served as one of the meeting’s speakers. Mind you, Guillaume gave an excellent performance. But he was at least 57 when he appeared in this episode. But the abolitionist meeting occurred in the early spring of 1848 . . . when Douglass was just barely 30 years old. Fifty-seven . . . thirty. Hmmm . . . talk about a historical blooper. Virgilia’s speech centered on the topic of slave breeding. Naturally, Orry Main, who was at the meeting, expressed outrage and claimed that her accusations were false. Both George and Constance – who were also at the meeting – shared his feelings. Even Jakes seemed to support this belief in his novel. But despite her lurid words, Virgilia was right. Slave breeding was practiced in pre-Civil War America. Why would Jakes or the writers who wrote the miniseries treat this subject as some lurid fantasy in Virgilia’s mind?

Fortunately, Episode Three had its virtues. It featured another first-rate performance from Kirstie Alley as the volatile Virgilia Hazard. Not only did she give what I believe what was the best performance in the episode, she had at least two dazzling costumes:


Other cast members such as Patrick Swayze, James Read, Inga Swenson, Wendy Kilbourne, Jean Simmons, Jonathan Frakes, Erica Gimpel, Tony Franks, David Odgen Stiers and Wendy Fulton also gave excellent performances. However, it is obvious this episode, especially the 1850s sequences, were all about the younger generation. Actors John Stockwell, Genie Francis, Terri Garber and Lewis Smith made their debuts in this episode as Billy Hazard and the three younger Mains – Brett, Ashton and Charles. All four did a great job in establishing their characters. I was especially impressed by Francis and Garber who did an excellent job in establishing the complicated relationship between sisters Brett and Ashton Main in a delicious scene featured in their Mont Royal bedroom. There were other scenes that I found not only enjoyable, but well acted – the Hazard Iron accident, the Philadelphia abolitionist meeting (despite a few historical bloopers), Orry’s blooming relationship with his younger cousin Charles, Virgilia’s quarrel with Isabel Hazard and Ashton Main during the Mains’ Northern visit and Constance’s revelation of her Underground Railroad activities to George. The episode ended with a deliciously funny scene between Read and Alley, when Virgilia convinces brother George to allow her to accompany the family south to Mont Royal.

With Virgilia and the rest of the Hazards leaving Lehigh Station for their trip to South Carolina, the story is set to get even more interesting in the next episode. And I cannot wait to see what will happen.

Top Five Favorite “LOST” Season One (2004-2005) Episodes


Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of “LOST” (2004-2010). The series was created by Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof; and produced by the latter and Carlton Cuse.



1 - 1.22-1.23 Exodus

1. (1.23-1.25) “Exodus” – This season finale served as a transition in the series’ narrative, as an expedition sets out to find dynamite to open the hatch recently discovered by castaway John Locke. And the raft planned by Michael Dawson finally leaves the island with him, his son Walt, Jin Kwon and James “Sawyer” Ford, resulting in unexpected circumstances.


2 - 1.17 In Translation

2. (1.17) “. . . In Translation” – This episode featured Jin Kwon’s backstory in flashbacks and the further disintegration of his marriage, when he discovers that his wife Sun had learned English behind his back.


3 - 1.04 Walkabout

3. (1.04) “Walkabout” – While Locke and a few others set on a hunting expedition to find boar for the other castaways, his flashbacks reveal his reason for being in Australia.


4 - 1.11 All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues

4. (1.11) “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” – Jack Shephard leads an expedition to find two castaways that had been kidnapped in the previous episode. The episode’s flashbacks reveal the events that led to Jack being responsible for his father’s dismissal from the hospital they worked at.


5 - 1.19 Deus Ex Machina

5. (1.19) “Deus Ex Machina” – In their search for a means to open a hatch they had found, Locke and Boone Carlyle find a Nigerian small plane. And their discovery leads to tragic circumstances. In the flashbacks, Locke meets his parents for the first time, who prove to be major disappointments.

“SAVING MR. BANKS” (2013) Review



“SAVING MR. BANKS” (2013) Review

When I first saw the trailer for the recent biopic, “SAVING MR. BANKS”, I knew I would like it. First of all, the movie was about the development of one of my favorite movies of all time, the 1964 musical “MARY POPPINS”. And two, it featured some very humorous moments that I personally found appealing. Not long after the movie first hit the theaters, I rushed to see it as soon as I possibly could.

Directed by John Lee Hancock, “SAVING MR. BANKS” told the story of “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers‘ two-week stay in 1961 Los Angeles, while filmmaker Walt Disney attempts to obtain from her, the official screen rights to her novels. The development of “SAVING MR. BANKS” began when Australian filmmaker Ian Collie produced a documentary on Travers back in 2002. He saw a potential biopic and convinced Essential Media and Entertainment to develop a feature film with Sue Smith as screenwriter. The project attracted the attention of producer Alison Owen, who subsequently hired Kelly Marcel to co-write the screenplay with Smith. Marcel removed a subplot involving Travers and her son, and divided the story into a two-part narrative – the creative conflict between Travers and Disney, and her dealings with her childhood issues. Because Marcel’s version featured certain intellectual property rights that belonged to the he Walt Disney Company, Owen approached Corky Hale, who informed former Disney composer, Richard M. Sherman of the script. Sherman supported Marcel’s script. Meanwhile, the Disney Studios learned of the script, as well. Instead of purchasing the script in order to shut down the production, they agree to co-produce the movie, allowing Kelly Marcel access to more material regarding the production of “MARY POPPINS”. The Disney Studios approached Tom Hanks for the role of Walt Disney, who accepted. When they failed to secure Meryl Streep for the role of P.L. Travers, they turned to Emma Thompson, who accepted it.

Through the urging of her literary agent, a financially struggling P.L. Travers finally decides to leave her London home, and agreed to meet and negotiate with Walt Disney in Los Angeles over the film rights to her “Mary Poppins” stories, after twenty years. While in Los Angeles, Travers express disgust over what she regards as the city’s unreality and the naivety and overbearing friendliness of its inhabitants like her assigned limousine driver, Ralph. At the Disney Studios in Burbank, Travers collaborates with the creative team assigned to develop the movie – screenwriter/artist
Don DaGradi, Richard and Robert Sherman. She finds their casual manner and their handling of the adaptation of her novels distasteful. And Travers is also put off by Disney’s jocular and familiar personality. She pretty much remains unfriendly toward her new acquaintances and a new set of problems arise between her and the studio. Her collaboration with the Disney Studios also reveals painful memories of her childhood in 1906-07 Australia and memories of her charismatic father, Travers Goff, who was losing a battle against alcoholism; and her mother Margaret Goff, who nearly committed suicide, due to her inability to control Goff’s heaving drinking.

Hollywood politics can be mind-boggling. I learned this valuable lessons, following the reactions to not only the recent historical drama, “THE BUTLER”, but also the reactions to “SAVING MR. BANKS”. The first movie came under fire by conservatives for its historical inaccuracies, when President Ronald Reagan’s son accused that movie of a false portrait of his father. Some four-and-a-half months later, many feminists accused the Disney Studios of not only damaging P.L. Travers’ reputation, but also of historical inaccuracies. Actress Meryl Streep, who had been an earlier candidate for the role of Travers, added her two cents by openly accused Walt Disney of being a bigot on so many levels, while presenting an acting award to Emma Thompson. Since political scandal brought “SAVING MR. BANKS” under heavy criticism for historical accuracy or lack of, I figure I might as well discuss the matter.

Was the movie historically accurate in its portrayal of P.L. Travers? Many criticized the movie’s failure to delve into the author’s bisexuality and relationship with her adopted son. What they failed to realize was that Travers’ sex life and adopted son had nothing to do with her creation of “Mary Poppins” or her dealings with Disney. The movie they wanted was the movie written by Sue Smith. And Alison Owen had put the kibbosh on those storylines long before the Disney Studios got involved. Disney did meet with Travers at her London home. Only he did so in 1959, not 1961. But the movie was accurate about him gaining the movie rights after her 1961 visit. Disney’s 1959 London trip only resulted in his acquiring an option – which gave the filmmaker a certain period of time to acquire the actual film rights. However, Travers’ family, the Goffs, moved to Allora, Queensland in 1905, not 1906 as the movie had suggested.

Was Travers that difficult, as suggested in the movie? I honestly have no idea. Richard Sherman made it clear that he found her difficult to like. I have read somewhere that Travers had managed to alienate both her adopted son and her grandchildren by the time of her death in 1996. And there are also . . . the audio tapes that recaptured Travers’ sessions with Don Di Gradi and the Sherman Brothers in 1961. Tapes that she had requested. She did not come off well in those tapes. Critics also claimed that the movie idealized Disney. Here, I have to keep myself from laughing. Granted, the movie and actor Tom Hanks portrayed the “Disney charm” at its extreme. But the movie also made it clear that Disney was utilizing his charm to convince Travers to sign over the movie rights. And quite frankly, his charm came off as somewhat overbearing and manipulative in some scenes. I perfectly understood Travers’ reaction to the sight of Disney stuffed animals, balloons and fruit baskets in her hotel room. And I certainly sympathize with her reaction to being dragged to Disneyland against her will. I have loved the theme park since I was a kid. But if I had been in Travers’ shoes, I would have been pissed at being dragged to some location against my will.

When the movie first flashed back to Travers’ Australian childhood, I had to suppress an annoyed sigh. I really was not interested in her childhood, despite what the movie’s title had indicated. But the more the movie delved into her childhood and made the connections to her creation of the “Mary Poppins” and the development of the 1964 movie, the more I realized that Kelly Marcel had written a brilliant screenplay. By paying close attention to the story during my second viewing of the movie, I noticed the connections between the tragic circumstances of Travers’ childhood, “Mary Poppins” and her 1961 Los Angeles visit. Some of the connections I made were the following:

*Travers’ aversion of Southern California weather, which must have reminded her of Australia and her childhood

*Her aversion to pears, which reminded her of Travers Goff’s death

*Her aversion to a Mr. Banks with facial hairs

*Her aversion to Mr. Banks’ cinematic personality

*Her aversion to the color red, which may have also reminded her of Mr. Goff’s death

*Her reaction to the Sherman Brothers’ song – “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”, which brought back painful memories of an incident regarding her father at a local fair

*Her Aunt Ellie, whom she re-created as Mary Poppins

I also have to compliment the movie’s visual re-creation of both 1961 Southern California and Edwardian Queensland, Australia. Production designer Michael Corenblith had to re-create both periods in Travers’ life. And if I must be honest, he did an exceptional job – especially in the 1961 scenes. His work was ably supported by Lauren Polizzi’s colorful art direction, and Susan Benjamin’s set decorations. I also enjoyed Daniel Orlandi’s elegant and subtle costumes for the movie. I was amazed by his re-creation of both Edwardian and mid-20th century fashion, as seen in the images below:



I found John Schwartzman’s photography very interesting . . . especially in the 1961 sequences. Unlike other productions that tend to re-create past Los Angeles in another part of the country (2011’s “MILDRED PIERCE”), “SAVING MR. BANKS” was shot entirely in Southern California. But what I found interesting about Schwartzman’s photography is that he utilized a good deal of close-up in those exterior scenes for Beverly Hills and Burbank in an effort to hide the changes that had occurred in the past 50 years. But as much as he tried, not even Schwartzman could hide the fact that the Fantasyland shown in the movie was the one that has existed since 1983. Mark Livolsi’s editing did a solid job in enabling Schwartzman to hide the changes of time for the Southern California exteriors. But I also have to commend Livolsi for his superb editing of one particular sequences – namely the juxtaposition of the 1961 scene featuring the Sherman Brothers’ performance of the “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank” song and the 1906 scene of the bank-sponsored fair in Allora. Thanks to Livolsi’s editing, John Lee Hancock’s excellent direction and Colin Farrell’s portrayal of Travers Goff, this sequence proved to be the most mind-blowing and unforgettable in the entire movie.

Since I had mentioned Colin Farrell, I might as well discuss the cast’s performances. Emma Thompson won the National Board of Review award for Best Actress for her superb portrayal of the very complex P.L. Travers. She did a superb job in capturing both the author’s bluntness, cultural snobishness and imagination. The movie and Thompson’s performance also made it perfectly clear that Travers was still haunted over her father’s death after so many decades. One would think Tom Hanks had an easier job in his portrayal of filmmaker Walt Disney. Superficially, I would agree. But Hanks did an excellent job in conveying some of the more annoying aspects of Disney’s character behind the charm – especially in his attempts to win over Travers. And two particular scenes, Hanks also captured Disney’s own private demons regarding the latter’s father. Colin Farrell gave one of the best performances of his career as Travers’ charming, yet alcoholic father, Travers Goff. I was especially impressed by his performance in the Allora Fair scene. Bradley Whitford was cast as Disney Studios animator/screenwriter Don DaGradi. He not did a first-rate job in portraying DaGradi’s enthusiasm as a Disney employee, but also in portraying how that enthusiasm nearly waned under the weight of Travers’ negative reactions to the project. Both Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak were cast as the songwriting brothers – Richard and Robert Sherman. And they both did excellent jobs in capturing the pair’s contrasting personalities. Schwartzman was deliciously all pep and enthusiasm as the extroverted and younger Richard. And yet, he very subtlely conveyed the younger Sherman’s anxieties in dealing with the difficult Travers. Novak struck me as very effective in his portrayal of the more introverted and intense Robert. And he was also very subtle in portraying the older Sherman’s own penchant for bluntness, especially in one scene in which the songwriter openly clashed with Travers. Ruth Wilson managed to give a very memorable performance as Travers’ long-suffering mother, Margaret Goff. She was especially impressive in one tense scene that featured Mrs. Goff’s suicide attempt. And Paul Giamatti was simply marvelous as Travers’ fictional limousine driver, Ralph. He managed to be both sweet and charming, without being saccharine. The movie also featured solid performances from Annie Rose Buckley, Kathy Baker, Melanie Paxson, Rachel Griffiths and Ronan Vibert.

I must admit that I still feel angry over how “SAVING MR. BANKS” was deprived from any Academy Award nominations, aside from one for Thomas Newman’s score. And if I must be brutally honest, I did not find his score particularly memorable. I was more impressed by John Lee Hancock’s direction, the movie’s visual styles, the performances from a superb cast led by Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks; and especially the Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith screenplay. And considering how so much talent was overlooked by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts, I do not think I can take Hollywood’s politics seriously anymore. It seems a travesty that this superb film ended up as a victim of Hollywood’s flaky politics.

“A Family Affair” [PG-13] – 4/8




Two days following her meeting with Artemus, Nina Kriegler paid a visit to an old colleague from her days as a whitelighter. Harold Vernoff was a former witch who had crossed over to becoming the very thing he used to fight against. In Vernoff’s case – a warlock. A strong telepath, the warlock possessed chestnut-brown hair that fell over his forehead, wide brown eyes and smooth pale skin. Instead of the thirty-six year-old man that he happened to be, he resembled a college student.

The darklighter and the warlock greeted each other with a hug. Then Nina went about explaining the reason behind her visit. When she finished, Venoff’s mouth hung opened in shock. “You . . . you want me to do what?”

“Send a vision to a seer,” Nina patiently explained. “She’s a witch named Phoebe Halliwell. Have you . . .?”

“Ever heard of her?” the warlock finished. “Yeah! She’s a Charmed One, Nina! And very powerful!”

Nina sighed. “Yes Harold, she is a powerful witch. But she doesn’t possess a telepathic ability.” A wicked smile stretched her lips. “And you’re strong enough to mess with her mind.”

Vernoff continued to stare at his former whitelighter. “Okay, say that I can do it.” He paused. “What kind of images will I be sending to her?”

Realizing that the warlock had risen to the bait, Nina pulled out a yellow envelope from her large handbag. “Inside, you’ll find photos of those involved in the vision.” The darklighter tossed a photograph of a dark-haired man around forty, on Vernoff’s coffee table. “He’s a mortal named Mark Giovanni. You’ll send the witch an image of him being killed by this person . . .” Nina removed a recently snapped photograph of a female in a guard’s uniform. “Have her kill the mortal, using energy balls.”

“Energy balls?” Vernoff frowned. “What exactly is she?”

Nina replied, “A daemon by the name of Andrea. She’s a member of the Gimle Order.”

“What the hell is the Gimle Order, and why do you want to have witches go after this . . .?”

Nina brusquely interrupted, “I’ll explain later, Harold. Meanwhile, can you do as I ask? There’s a great deal of money involved for you.”

Nodding, Vernoff replied, “Yeah, I’ll do it. How soon?”

“Tomorrow evening.”


Phoebe entered the Halliwell manor and slammed the door shut. “I’m home!” she cried and walked into the empty living room. “Hello? Piper? Paige? Is anyone home?”

A voice cried from the kitchen, “I’m in here!” Piper.

After dumping her purse on the sofa, Phoebe headed for the kitchen, where she found her older sister preparing dinner. “Hey! Aren’t you home, early?” Piper glanced at the clock. “It’s only four forty-five. You’re usually home by five-thirty.”

Phoebe sighed, as she eased into an empty chair. “I managed to finish most of my work, early, so I left. I didn’t feel like hanging around any longer than it was necessary.”

“You’re not thinking of Cole, are you?”

Piper’s question threw Phoebe into a loop. “Huh?” She frowned at the older woman. “What makes you . . .?” Realization struck Phoebe. “Oh, I get it. You’ve been thinking of Cole. Or should I say, his uncle?”

“No, I haven’t.” Piper’s petulant reply came a little too quick.

“Piper . . .”

The oldest Charmed One finally capitulated. “Okay, maybe I have. I just . . . I don’t know, Phoebe. A demon protecting the innocent? Doesn’t that sound a little odd to you? And how come we’ve never encountered one, before?” Phoebe opened her mouth to respond. “Oh, I know,” Piper continued. “There was Cole. But he had only done it for you. And now, for Olivia. It’s not the same.”

Keeping her emotions in check over the mention of her ex-husband and his girlfriend, Phoebe replied, “The McNeills don’t seem to find the idea unbelievable. In fact, they’ve had experiences with demons like Marbus, before. And I’ve been reading more detailed books on Wicca, lately. It seems Olivia and her family had been right about how Wiccans don’t believe in inherently evil beings like demons and such. And after our experiences with Cole, that demon Riggerio, and Cole’s uncle . . . maybe they’re right.”

Piper sighed. “Look Phoebe, can we talk about this, later? It was bad enough finding out that after five years as witches, our knowledge of witchcraft is at best, minimal; and that we haven’t really been initiated as witches. Now Cole’s uncle shows up and . . . I don’t know. Everything seems to be getting more confusing. I just don’t want . . .”

A cheerful voice cried from the living room, “Hey! I’m home! Where is everybody?”

“In the kitchen!” Phoebe shouted back.

A minute later, Paige stomped into the kitchen, grinning from ear-to-ear. “Good evening, family!” she greeted happily.

Phoebe stared at her half-sister through narrowed eyes. “What did you do? Take a happy pill?”

“Actually, I’ve got some good news!” Paige hesitated for a moment. “Your little sister just got a raise, today. After working at Ostera’s for six months.”

Piper looked surprised. “So soon?”

Paige added, “Well, considering that I had to managed the shop for three weeks, while Barbara and Bruce were on their honeymoon . . .”

“I thought the trip to Europe was your reward?”

Frowning at her oldest sister, Paige complained, “Gee Piper, why can’t you just congratulate me? Why did you have to make a fuss over what seems to me, good news?”

“I’m not . . .” Piper turned to the middle sister. “Phoebe, am I fussing?”

Before Phoebe could answer, Paige continued, “Yes Piper, you are. And I think I have a pretty good idea, why. You’re jealous.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Paige added, “You’re jealous of my friendship with Barbara and Olivia. In fact, you had acted the same way, when I told you about the trip to Europe.”

Piper snorted with derision. “Please! Why would I be jealous over Barbara? She’s your boss.” Once again, she turned to Phoebe. “Do I seem like I’m jealous?”

Phoebe began, “Well . . .” A vision struck her before she could continue her reply. She saw a uniformed female approach Mark Giovanni, as he walked across his lawn. The female’s eyes flashed red before she killed the wine grower with an energy ball. And just like that, the vision ended.

A gasp left Phoebe’s mouth, as she grabbed the table’s edge. “Oh my God,” she murmured. “Ohmigod! We’ve got to stop her.”

“Pheebs, are you okay?” Piper asked, looking concerned. “What happened? A premonition?”

Breathing heavily, Phoebe replied, “It’s Mark . . . Mark Giovanni. I saw him being attacked by a demon. At his house.”

“Then, let’s go,” Piper said, as she ceased chopping vegetables.

Phoebe protested, “Wait a minute, Piper! The attack doesn’t happen until dusk. And how are we going to explain ourselves to Mr. Giovanni?”

A sigh left Piper’s mouth. “And I need a babysitter for Wyatt.”

“Why don’t we just tell Cole to take care of this demon?” Paige suggested. “After all, this is his client, we’re talking about.”

Piper rolled her eyes. “Listen, we don’t need Cole’s permission to save his client. All we need to do is simply vanquish the demon before he . . .”

“She,” Phoebe corrected.

“. . . before she can kill this Giovanni person.” Piper removed her apron. “First, let’s call Leo.” She called out her husband’s name several times, before he finally appeared.

The blond-haired whitelighter appeared in a sparkle of blue lights. “Is dinner ready?” he asked. When the sisters failed to reply, he added, “Something wrong?”

“We need you to take care of Wyatt, until we get back,” Piper replied. “We have a demon to vanquish.”

Paige spoke up. “Before we do, shouldn’t we check the Book of Shadows to see what we’ll be up against?” Phoebe and Piper agreed and Paige teleported the Book of Shadows into her hands. She opened it. “Pheebs, if you see the demon from your premonition, just holler.”

Phoebe poured through the Book, page by page. To her consternation, not one demon in it matched the description of the one she had envisioned. “Great!” she finally cried out in frustration. “She’s not in the Book and we don’t know how to vanquish her.”

“Yeah, and it’s almost dark,” Paige added.

Piper sighed. “Okay, why don’t we just go and take care of this demon. If my power doesn’t work, we’ll use the old ‘Power of Three’ chant.” The other two nodded. “Leo, keep an eye on Wyatt. We should be back, soon.” All three sisters joined hands, as Paige orbed them out of the house.


Andrea felt bored. She tried not to be. She tried to remember what Marbus had told her about the mortal she now protected. That the latter was in danger of being attacked by an assassin. Also, she tried to remember that said mortal also happened to be a client of Marbus’ nephew – Belthazor. But patrolling the mortal’s estate, while wearing this ridiculous outfit, was slowly boring Andrea to tears.

It had not taken much effort for her to win a position as bodyguard on Giovanni’s estate. All Andrea had to do was show up and beg for a job. The mortal took one look at her – pretty face, long dark hair, wide brown eyes and curves that would stop traffic – and hired her on the spot.

During the two days since she had joined the Giovanni household, no other daemon had bothered to attack the mortal. Instead, Andrea found herself fending off Giovanni’s attempts to flirt with her. The daemon wondered how his wife could endure such a man. Until she came upon the blond, horse-faced woman making advances at the pool cleaner. Andrea sighed. She felt more like a cast member of a daily soap opera, than bodyguard of a prominent San Francisco businessman.

She glanced up from her musings and saw a dark-haired man approaching her with a drink. It was Mark Giovanni. Andrea’s body tensed, as she anticipated another advance. “Good evening, Mr. Giovanni,” she politely greeted.

A smarmy grin curved the mortal’s lips. “And good evening to you, Ms. Duscany. Would you like a drink? It’s a glass of one of my finest Chardonnays.” He held out the glass of wine.

Andrea responded with a polite smile. “Thank you for the offer, sir. But I’m on duty.”

“Oh come on. Just one drink.”

Shaking her head, the daemon repeated her answer. “Really sir, thank you, but no. I don’t . . .”

Three women materialized behind Giovanni, taking Andrea off guard. Here it is, she thought. A demonic attack.

The oldest woman immediately threw her hands up. For a brief moment, it seemed as if time had frozen. For Mr. Giovanni, it certainly had. Then Andrea broke the spell by moving. She allowed a fireball to form in her palm. “Whoever you are, leave! Now!”

“Oh my God!” cried another woman. “Piper, freeze her!”

The first woman replied, “I can’t. My freezing power doesn’t work on her! The Power of Three chant!”

The Power of Three? Andrea frowned. The only people she knew who were called that were . . .

The three women began to chant, “The Power of Three will set us free! The Power of Three will set us free!”

At that moment, Andrea realized that she was facing the Charmed Ones. They must think that she was after Giovanni. “Wait a minute!” she cried. “You’ve got it all wrong! I’m not . . .” Andrea’s words fell upon deaf ears, as the witches continued their chant.

“The Power of Three will set us . . .”

Smoke and flames began to touch Andrea’s skin. She screamed in pain. So this is how it ends. Killed, while being mistaken for evil. The smoke and flames had now engulfed her. She screamed one last time, before everything faded to black.


“What do you mean she’s missing?” Cole demanded over the telephone. “Who are you . . .?” He paused, while he listened to Giovanni’s agitated conversation. “Whoa! Slow down, Mark! No, I can’t explain how she had disappeared like that. When did you . . . ?”

Giovanni continued his babbling. He had called ten minutes ago with disturbing news. One of his bodyguards had mysteriously disappeared. A guard named Andrea Duscany. A deep suspicion gnawed at the back of Cole’s mind. Had this Duscany woman been a member of the Gimle Order? Had Marbus went ahead and assigned someone to guard his client? After this incident, Cole decided he would place a protection spell around Giovanni’s house. Especially, now that Marbus’ daemon had disappeared. But thank goodness the wine grower managed to survive.

“Look Mark,” Cole finally said, “I suggest that you say nothing about this incident. Not to the police, to your staff or even your family. The moment you do, you’ll be placed inside the nearest mental ward.” He sighed. “Just chalk it up to a mysterious disappearance and leave it at that.” Cole paused, while his client continued to ramble. “Yeah, yeah I remember you telling me about the woman who had disappeared from the Mortons’, last Saturday.” Again, Giovanni spoke. “Yes, I agree Mark. This is all beginning to sound a little odd. Like I said . . . keep it to yourself. Oh, and I would hire another bodyguard, if I were you. Good-night, Mark.” Cole hung up and heaved a large sigh.

Seconds later, Marbus appeared at his penthouse. “We have trouble,” he declared anxiously.

“Are you referring to the disappearance of a Ms. Andrea Duscany?” Cole’s uncle stared at him. “Yeah, I just received a call from Mark Giovanni. He’s in a state of panic, right now.”

Frowning, Marbus said, “So, you know about Andrea’s death?”

“She’s dead?”

Marbus nodded. “Definitely. But I don’t understand. How was Andrea killed? I thought you had placed a protection spell around Giovanni? How did a daemon or a warlock managed to slip by and kill her? And why spare your client?”

“I don’t know why Mark was spared,” Cole growled. “And I haven’t placed the protection spell around Mark’s home, yet. As for you Andrea, perhaps her assassin had slipped through by entering the house, physically. That’s how Claudia Della Scalla and her cronies managed to get past the McNeills’ protection spell, on Bruce’s wedding day.”

Marbus hesitated. “Claudia Della Scalla? The succubus? I had heard that her entire coven was destroyed. You?”

Cole shrugged. “Only a handful. Olivia’s grandmother, Harry, Paige and a Stregheria witch had done most of the damage.” He sighed. “As for Mark . . . well, now I have to find him a new bodyguard. Someone who can get close to him.”

“I’ll do it,” Marbus volunteered.


The older daemon repeated his words. “I’ll do it. I can’t sacrifice another member of the Order, without him or her knowing what’s going on.”

Cole shook his head. “I can’t pass you off as a bodyguard. Besides, aside from morphing into your demonic self, you can’t shape shift. I can do it for . . .”

“Don’t you bother, lad. Your Mr. Giovanni and I had met, last Saturday. It turns out that he’s a fan of my novels. By the time I’m finished with him, we’ll be chums.”

Why not? Cole felt certain that his uncle would be more than capable of protecting Giovanni. “Okay,” he said. “Sounds like a good idea. By the way, why didn’t you tell me that you had assigned someone from your order to guard Mark?”

Confusion whirled in Marbus’ blue eyes. “Didn’t you tell me to go ahead and do it?”

“No, I said I would think about it.” Cole sighed. “Never mind. What’s done is done. I only hope you would have better luck than poor Andrea.”


The bell hanging over Ostera’s door rang, announcing a new visitor to the shop. Paige glanced up and saw Harry McNeill enter the shop. “Hi!” she greeted. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to buy some dill weed.” Harry paused. “It’s for dinner, tonight.”

The words came out of Paige’s mouth, before she could stop herself. “Have a date with Dana Morton, tonight?” Oh God!Why did she sound like a jealous shrew?

Harry stared at her for a brief moment. “No, I don’t. It’s for Mom. Besides, if I had a date with Dana, I would have taken her to a restaurant. Why did you ask?”

Paige shook her head. “It’s nothing. I’ll see if I can find a package for you.” She walked around the counter and headed for the far corner of the store.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Harry cried. Paige paused in her tracks. “I found a store where you can buy your magick tools at a bargain price. It’s on Ashbury. I’ll take you there, myself. Perhaps this evening. I could use a little extra shopping.”

Dana Morton forgotten, Paige smiled. “Sounds like a great idea. Why don’t you pick me up around seven-thirty?”


“Meanwhile, let me get your dill weed for you.” Paige continued toward the back of the store for Harry’s request. After a long search, she finally found the herb, and returned to the front counter. There, she found Barbara in deep conversation with Harry.

“. . . very anxious over that plant,” Barbara was saying. “And I don’t blame him.”

Harry cried, “You mean to say that Dad hasn’t found a way to get rid of that plant, yet? It’s been over four months, now.”

Barbara sighed. “Your dad thinks he might have to take the plant back to India.”

“India?” Harry shook his head. “During the summer? That’s like going to Florida. Or New Orleans. Just thinking of all that excessive heat makes me want to sweat.”

“Well, your mother certainly wants it out of the house,” Barbara said. “And so do I. If Osbourne wasn’t already dead, I would strangle him for dumping that plant on . . . oh Paige! You got Harry’s purchase?”

Smiling, Paige placed the bag of dill weed on the countertop. “Right here. Are you guys talking about that Soma plant?”

Harry replied, “Yeah, it seems that Dad’s latest attempt to get rid of it, has failed. I guess no one wants to deal with a plant that gives immortality. Looks like he’s going to India.”

“Wow! India during the summer,” she said in a sardonic voice. “Sounds like fun.” Recalling yesterday evening’s excitement, she added, “Hey, guess what happened to us, last night. Well, more like yesterday evening. Piper, Phoebe and I had vanquished a demon. Pretty tough one, too. We couldn’t find her in the Book of Shadows.”

Barbara asked, “Who was the daemon after? Or what?”

The telephone rang. Since Paige stood closer to it, she answered the call. “Good afternoon. Ostera’s Herbal Shop. How may I help you?” When the caller proved to be a potential customer, Paige put him on hold. “Sorry guys, this is going to take a while.” She then returned her attention to the telephone call, while Barbara rang up Harry’s purchases. By the time the call ended, she glanced up and realized that both McNeills had vanished.


The following morning, two visitors appeared at the Giovanni Winery office on Montgomery Street. Cole and Marbus stood before Mark Giovanni’s secretary, Kelson, while Cole announced their presence. A minute later, the two daemons were ushered inside the wine grower’s office. Giovanni offered his hand to the younger daemon. “Cole, what brings you here?”

Smiling, Cole answered, “Just checking up on your well-being. Have you hired a new guard, yet?”

Giovanni sighed. “One of my assistants, Kelson, should be handling that little matter, today.” He glanced at Marbus. “I see that you’ve brought your uncle along.” He shook the older daemon’s hand.

“Yes, uh Miles wanted to see you, today.” Cole hesitated. “As you know, he’s a writer . . .”

Giovanni smiled. “Who doesn’t?” He faced Marbus. “Like I told you, last Saturday, I’m a big fan. What can I do for you?”

Marbus replied, “Well, I’m writing a new novel . . . and part of it takes place in the California wine country. And I was wondering . . .”

“Oh! You want a little background information!” Giovanni nodded. “I would be more than happy to help. “Uh, how about lunch, today? Cole?”

A polite smile appeared on Cole’s lips. “Sorry Mark, but I have an important luncheon to attend, today. But I’m sure that Miles would be more than happy to join you.” He added, “Who knows? You two just might become friends.”


Nina Kriegler strolled nonchalantly into Magan Corporation’s executive office and greeted its demonic CEO. Next to Artemus stood his main lackey – Prax. “Well, don’t you look like the cat that’s swallowed the canary,” she commented drolly. “May I assume you were satisfied with Vernoff’s job?”

“More than satisfied,” Artemus replied. “Your little scheme worked.” He turned to his assistant. “Prax, get the lady a drink. Malt Scotch whiskey, I believe?”

Nina smiled. “Excellent memory.” As she eased herself into an empty chair, she asked, “So, when do we go after Marbus?”

“Soon,” Artemus replied. Prax handed Nina a glass of Scotch. “Perhaps tonight. Prax has delivered some interesting news. According to my spy, Mr. Giovanni had lunch with Marbus, today. Even more interesting, he has invited our favorite daemon to his home for dinner. They’ve become quite chummy.”

After taking a sip of Scotch, Nina murmured, “How nice. Why hasn’t this spy of yours finished off Giovanni, himself?”

“Because although he’s a warlock, he is also a mortal with no active powers.” Artemus leaned back into his chair. “Kelson is not what you would call a skillful killer. The police would be on to him, within a minute. He’s a better spy than assassin.”

“I see.”

The daemon continued, “And thanks to Kelson, I’ve learned that my former comrade has taken steps to ingratiate himself to his nephew’s client.” Artemus’ smile widened. “It’s perfect.”

Nina took another sip. “Perfect?”

“Why yes. Your Mr. Vernoff can send a vision of Marbus killing the mortal to the witch. It should be quite interesting to see how the Charmed Ones react, when they believe that Belthazor’s uncle is after Giovanni.”

The darklighter added, “And when the witch receives this latest vision, she and her sisters will go after him in an instant.” She paused. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait until tomorrow? What if the witches find out that they have killed the wrong person?”

A sigh left Artemus’ mouth. “My dear Ms. Kriegler, that is why I want Marbus dead as soon as possible. Besides, with Marbus having dinner with Giovanni tonight, it would be the perfect opportunity.”

Nina finished the rest of her Scotch and handed Prax the empty glass. “As you wish.” She gave the daemon a quick nod and teleported out of the office.


“REMINGTON STEELE”: Top Five Favorite Season One (1982-1983) Episodes


Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One (1982-1983) of NBC’s “REMINGTON STEELE”. Created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason, the series starred Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan, James Read and Janet DeMay:


1- 1.21 Sting of Steele

1. (1.21) “Sting of Steele” – Remington Steele’s former mentor, Daniel Chalmers, travels to Los Angeles to seek Steele’s help in dealing with a vindictive and crooked London casino owner, and winds up romancing Laura Holt’s mother, Abigail. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and Beverly Garland guest starred.

2 - 1.05 Thou Shalt Not Steele

2. (1.05) “Thou Shalt Not Steele” – A woman from Steele’s past asks him to help her steal a valuable painting that Laura has already agreed to protect, while the latter deals with her visiting mother. Cassandra Harris and Beverly Garland guest starred.

3- 1.16 Steele Crazy After All These Years

3. (1.16) “Steele Crazy After All These Years” – Fellow detective Murphy Michaels’ college homecoming is marred by a murder that awakens memories of a bombing on campus ten years before. Annie Potts, Sharon Stone, Todd Susman, Tony Plana, Allyce Beasley and Xander Berkeley guest starred.

4- 1.13 A Good Night Steele

4. (1.13) “A Good Night’s Steele” – Laura and Steele pose as a doctor and insomniac patient respectively, in order to find a murderer at a sleep disorder clinic. Paul Reiser guest starred.

5- 1.20 Steele Gold

5. (1.20) “Steele’s Gold” – A prospector’s journal stolen during a party leads Laura, Steele and Murphy on a wild gold hunt through the desert with murder suspects. William Russ guest starred.

HM - 1.22 Steele in Circulation

Honorable Mentioned: (1.22) “Steele in Circulation” – After preventing a banker from committing suicide, Steele recruits Laura and Murphy’s help in finding out who had tricked the man into stealing over two million dollars.

“THE MUMMY RETURNS” (2001) Review


“THE MUMMY RETURNS” (2001) Review

“THE MUMMY”, the 1999 remake of the 1932 horror film proved to be a major success for filmmaker Stephen Sommers and Universal Studios. Two years later, both the director and the studio reunited its major stars for a sequel set a decade later. In doing so, Sommers and Universal created a four-movie franchise.

Like the first film, “THE MUMMY RETURNS” began thousands of years ago, in ancient Egypt. However, this flashback focused on an Egyptian mercenary named Mathayus, who makes an unsuccessful attempt to conquer the land. He and his army is exiled to the desert of Ahm Sher, where most of them die from heat exhaustion, except for Mathayus. The latter offers his soul to the god Anubis for the power to defeat his enemies. The latter creates an oasis called Ahm Shere to hide the newly dubbed Scorpion King’s pyramid and gives the latter a legion of humanoid jackal warriors to seek revenge. The Army of Anubis sweeps across Egypt, destroying everything in its path. But once their task is finished, Anubis claims the Scorpion King’s soul and his army.

The movie jumps to the year 1933, which finds the O’Connell family – Rick, Evelyn (“Evie”) and their son Alex – exploring the ruins of Thebes. Evie and Rick discover the bracelet of Anubis, unaware that Alex has stumbled across a trio of mercenaries attempting to take the bracelet for themselves. The family returns home to England, and unbeknownst to his parents, Alex tries on the bracelet and experiences a vision with directions to the Oasis of Ahm Shere. Unfortunately, a group of Egyptian cultists, who had hired the three thugs, invades the O’Connell estate and kidnaps Evie. The O’Connells’ old comrade, the Medjai warrior Ardeth Bay, arrives to help, but is unable to prevent Evie’s kidnapping. The cultists take her to the British Museum, where they resurrect the body of Egyptian high priest and sorcerer Imhotep. They plan to use his power to defeat the Sorcerer King. Rick, his brother-in-law Jonathan Carnahan, Alex and Ardeth arrive at the museum to rescue Evie. After the O’Connells, Jonathan and Ardeth manage to escape the army of mummified soldiers, Alex – who is still wearing the Anubis bracelet – is kidnapped by the cultists. The four adults track him to Egypt, where they recruit the help of Rick’s old World War I friend, Izzy Buttons, to rescue Alex from Imhotep and the cultists and prevent them from reviving the Army of Anubis.

I usually dislike horror films. But I noticed that the 1999 movie, “THE MUMMY” seemed more like an adventure film in the style of the INDIANA JONES movie franchise. I could say the same about ” THE MUMMY RETURNS”. And considering my dislike of horror films, I say “thank God”. However, the movie has enough elements to satisfy those who love this particular genre. This was especially apparent in the scenes that featured Imohtep’s murder of the three mercenaries, the O’Connells’ battle against the high priests mummified soldiers during the bus ride through London and during the finale sequence inside the Scorpion King’s pyramid at Ahm Shere. The sight of the Scorpion King as a transformed centaurid (or scorpion-monster) was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. But if I had to select the one sequence that truly captured aspects of the horror genre, it was the one that featured the O’Connells’ attack upon the cultists in the Ahm Shere jungle that I found particularly off putting. Not only did the movie’s heroes have to attack the cultists in order to save Alex, both sides of the conflict had to deal the pygmy mummies that attacked and killed anyone or any army that marched through the jungle. What can I say? Those pygmies really freaked me out.

“THE MUMMY RETURNS” did feature a good deal of action sequences that seemed more like an adventure than a horror story – thank goodness. The O’Connells’ escape from the flooding of the Thebes pyramid, their escape from Imohtep’s attempt to drown them with a tsunami wave, their escape from the destruction of the Ahm Shere pyramid and various hand-to-hand fight sequences thankfully reminded me that “THE MUMMY RETURNS” was more of an adventure story. Also, Stephen Sommers provided a great deal of rich characterization and humor in his screenwriter. Like the 1999 film,“THE MUMMY”, “THE MUMMY RETURNS” featured some sophomoric humor. But if I must be honest, a good deal of the humor seemed sharper and wittier this particular film – especially in the hands of one particular character, Izzy Buttons. In fact, my favorite line in the film came him:

“Whatever it is, whatever you need, I don’t care. Forget it, O’Connell. Every time I hook up with you, I get shot. Last time, I got shot in the ass. I’m in mourning for my ass!

I never mentioned this in my review of “THE MUMMY”, but I was also impressed by Sommers’ handling of the sequence featuring Imohtep’s background and introduction at the beginning of the film. The opening sequence featuring the Scorpion King’s introduction struck me as mediocre. But I was very impressed by the flashback sequence about Evelyn’s past life in the form of the Princess Nefertiri and her witness of her father, Pharaoh Seti I. Sommers has a real talent for costumed melodrama and it would be nice to see him exploit it in the fullest in his career. This sequence also featured a first-rate fight scene between Rachel Weisz’s Nefertiri and Patricia Velásquez’s Anck-Su-Namun.

Of course, one cannot talk about “THE MUMMY RETURNS” without bringing up its visual effects. First of all, kudos to cinematographer Adrian Biddle for continuing the beautiful photography for which he was responsible in the first film. I especially enjoyed his work in the sequence that featured the parallel journeys across Egypt by both the O’Connell and Imohtep parties. Allan Cameron and his crew did an excellent job in re-creating not only England and Egypt of the early 1930s, but also ancient Egypt. The team of Ahmed Abounouom, Giles Masters and Tony Reading added a great deal to Cameron’s work with their beautiful and colorful art designs. I have always enjoyed Alan Silvestri’s music in past movies. But I must admit that I really appreciated his use of Middle Eastern or North African-style in the movie’s score. I do admire the special effects created by the movie’s visual effects team. I was especially impressed by their work in the Ahm Shere jungle sequence. However, there were times I found it a bit over-the-top. I noticed that Sommers hired his costume designer from the last film, John Bloomfield, to design the costumes for this film. And I wish to God he had hired someone else. I had no problem with Bloomfield’s costumes for the ancient Egypt sequences. His costume designs for the 1933 scenes – namely the costumes for the female characters – were another matter. Honestly, they sucked. I was far from impressed by Bloomfield’s re-creation of 1920s fashion for Evelyn’s character in the 1999 movie. His re-creation of early 1930s fashions for the female characters were just as bad – as shown in the images below:

The-Mummy-Returns-movies-16197854-800-1127 MeelaLg

I can only shake my head in disbelief. The above were Bloomfield’s idea of 1932-33 women’s fashion? Really? They looked more like a modern-day take on the fashions of that particular era. The fact that both Weisz and Velásquez are sporting modern hairstyles does not help.

At least I cannot complain about the acting. An episode of “STAR TREK VOYAGER” featured the first project in which Dwayne Johnson portrayed a character other than himself. He had nothing to do but engage in a fight scene. “THE MUMMY RETURNS” featured his second role in which he portrayed another character. Again, he had no lines. At least Sommers managed to effectively direct him into expressing his character via body language. The other cast members, on the other hand, had speaking lines. The movie featured solid performances from the likes of Bruce Byron, Joe Dixon and Tom Fisher as the three thugs hired by the cultists to assist them. Alun Armstrong gave a surprisingly effective performance as Mr. Hafez, the leader of the Egyptian cultists. Unlike most Western actors, Armstrong managed to portray a non-Western villain without resorting to theatrical acting. My favorite performance came from Shaun Parkes, who was both hysterically witty as O’Connell’s old friend, Izzy Buttons. I usually have mixed feelings about child actors. But I must admit that I enjoyed Freddie Boath’s engaging performance as Rick and Evelyn’s boisterous son, Alex. “THE MUMMY RETURNS” was the first movie or television production I had noticed Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. And his performance as Mr. Hafez’s chief enforcer, Lock-Nah, was . . . well, magnificent. In fact, I could say the same about his screen presence.

Patricia Velásquez may not have been the world’s greatest actress. And there were times I found her verbal performance as femme fatale Meela Nais and ancient Egyptian courtesan Anck-Su-Namun a bit limited. She more than made up this flaw with a strong ability for silent acting and a very impressive screen presence. Again, she proved to have a great screen chemistry with Arnold Vasloo, who returned as the Egyptian high priest, Imohtep. What can I say about Vasloo’s performance? The man is Imohtep – both in presence and performance. He did a marvelous job in conveying both the frightening aspects of his character and the latter’s passionate love for Anck-Su-Namun. Happily, Oded Fehr reprised his role as Medjai warrior Ardeth Bey. And not only was he great, as always. For the first time, I became aware of Fehr’s talent for comedic acting. John Hannah was as funny as ever as Evelyn’s ne’er do well older brother, Jonathan Carnahan. I found him especially funny in his scenes with Boath and Parkes.

Rachel Weisz reprised her role as Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan O’Connell and I was surprised by the level of development in her character. Weisz did an excellent job in conveying the mature development of Evie and maintaining the character’s familiar quirks at the same. Weisz was also excellent as the Princess Nefertiri, who was not only fervently protective of her father, but also suspicious of Anck-Su-Namun. The character of Rick O’Connell also struck me as surprisingly different in this movie. Like Evelyn, marriage and parenthood had developed him into a more mature personality. And like Evelyn, he also maintained some of his personality quirks. And Brendan Fraser did an excellent job in conveying both the familiar and different aspects of Rick’s character.

“THE MUMMY RETURNS” effectively continued the exciting adventure and horror of the 1999 film, thanks to Stephen Sommers’ writing and direction. And I enjoyed it very much, along with the entertaining performances of the cast led by Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. But as much as I continue to enjoy it, there is a part of me that wished Sommers had not been so over-the-top with some of his direction and the special effects featured in the movie. It seemed as if he was trying to outdo his work in the first film. And sometimes, that is not a good thing.

Coronation Chicken


Below is a small article about a dish that was created in the early 1950s called Coronation Chicken. I first learned about the recipe while watching a “SUPERSIZERS” episode about the 1950s:



Sixty years ago last June, the citizens of the United Kingdom and the remaining British Empire celebrated the coronation of their new monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. She had ascended the British throne upon the death of her father, King George VI on February 6, 1952. A year and four months later on June 2, 1953; the Queen was crowned in a ceremony called a coronation.

Among the events scheduled in celebration of the event was a coronation luncheon hosted by the Queen. A chef named Rosemary Hume and a food writer/flower arranger named Constance Spry, who were both associated with the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London, were commissioned to prepare the food for the luncheon. When the two women set about preparing the food, Spry suggested the idea of a recipe that featured cold chicken, curry cream sauce and dressing that would later become known as coronation chicken.

Many believe that the Coronation Chicken recipe may have been inspired by another recipe called Jubilee Chicken, which had been specifically created for Silver Jubilee of the present Queen’s grandfather, King George V, in 1935. And for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in 2012, guests at the Royal Garden Party were served “Diamond Jubilee Chicken”, a variation of Coronation Chicken created by Heston Blumenthal.

Below is the recipe for “Coronation Chicken”, from “The Constance Spry Cookery Book”, written by Rosemary Hume and Constance Spry:

Coronation Chicken

Ingredients for Chicken
2 Young chickens
Wwater and a little wine to cover
1 Carrot
1 Bouquet garni
3-4 Peppercorns
Cream of Curry Sauce

Ingredients for Cream of Curry Sauce
1 Tablespoon oil
2 oz. Onion, finely chopped
1 dessert spoon Curry Powder
1 Good Teaspoon Tomato Purée
1 Wineglass red wine
¾ Wineglass water
1 Bay-leaf
Salt, sugar, a touch of pepper
1 Slice or 2 of lemon
1 Squeeze of lemon juice, possibly more
1-2 Tablespoons Apricot Purée
¾ Pint mayonnaise
2-3 Tablespoons lightly whipped cream
A little extra whipped cream


Poach the chickens, with carrot, bouquet, salt and peppercorns, in water and a little wine, enough barely to cover, for about 40 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool in the liquid. Joint the birds, remove the bones with care. Prepare the sauce given below. Mix the chicken and the sauce together, arrange on a dish, coat with the extra sauce. For convenience, in serving on the occasion mentioned, the chicken was arranged at one end of an oblong dish, and a rice salad as given below was arranged at the other.

Cream of curry sauce: Heat the oil, add the onion, cook gently 3-4 minutes, add curry-powder. Cook again 1-2 minutes. Add purée, wine, water, and bay-leaf. Bring to boil, add salt, sugar to taste, pepper, and the lemon and lemon juice. Simmer with the pan uncovered 5-10 minutes. Strain and cool. Add by degrees to the mayonnaise with the apricot purée to taste. Adjust seasoning, adding a little more lemon juice if necessary. Finish with the whipped cream. Take a small amount of sauce (enough to coat the chicken) and mix with a little extra cream and seasoning. This is an admirable sauce to serve with iced lobster.

Rice Salad: The rice salad which accompanied the chicken was carefully cooked rice, cooked peas, diced raw cucumber, and finely chopped mixed herbs, all mixed in a well-seasoned French dressing.


“A Family Affair” [PG-13] – 3/8




Paige smiled at the handsome, middle-aged man who sat next to her. She sunk her fork into the quivering slice of quiche on her plate. “So,” she began, “you’re really Cole’s uncle?”

“Marbus.” The daemon smiled back. “I’m his mother’s older brother.”

“When we first met you at the Mortons’, you had introduced yourself to Mark Giovanni as Miles Farrell.” Paige paused. “Are you really the same Miles Farrell, who had written “SO FAR AWAY”? I had read it in college.”

Marbus nodded. “Yes, I’m that same Miles Farrell. I use that name, while I’m amongst mortals.”

“How old are you?”

Olivia could not believe what she had just heard. “Paige!” Did the woman ever heard of tact?

Another smile graced Marbus’ lips, eerily reminding Olivia of Cole. “Don’t worry. I don’t mind.” He added, “I’m 243 years-old. I was born in 1760. In Dublin, believe it or not. My mother was residing in the mortal world, when she gave birth to me.”

Phoebe frowned. “So that makes you at least . . . what? One hundred and twenty-five years older than Cole?”

“That’s right.”

Olivia heaved a sigh, as she scooped a forkful of Eggs Florentine from her plate. “Was Cole’s mother also born in the mortal world?” she asked.

Again, Marbus nodded. “Same place. Dublin. She was born in 1788. Our mother was rather fond of Ireland.”

“No wonder,” Paige wryly commented. “Who could stand the Underworld, with all those rocks and caverns? Must be depressing, down there.”

Marbus chuckled. “Trust me. There are places within the Source’s Realm that is more pleasing to the eye.” He paused, as he took a sip of his juice. “Mind if I ask you a question, Paige? Why do you use the word – Underworld – to describe the Source’s Realm?”

“Huh?” The youngest Charmed One blinked.

Piper spoke up. “Isn’t that where all of the demons come from? The Underworld?”

“Actually Piper, the Underworld is considered by many as a place for the dead,” Olivia’s mother explained. “Where the spirits of the dead reside temporarily before they ascend to another dimension or are reborn into other bodies. I believe that the Wasteland is one place in the Underworld where certain daemons end up.” Gwen smiled politely at Piper. “Of course, some of the newer religions view the Underworld as Hell. I think it has something to do with a fear of death. Many are so afraid of it, they consider it evil.”

Cole added, “Like Prue.”

The Halliwells stared at the half-daemon. “Excuse me?” Piper demanded.

Unfazed by the oldest Charmed One’s hostility, Cole continued, “Remember when Prue had that encounter with Death? It was around the time those two Seekers were after me. Prue thought Death was evil.”

Piper’s hostility faded. “Oh. Oh yeah. Now I remember.” She then gazed at Marbus. “By the way, have you ever known a witch named Lucia . . .?”

“When did you first join the Gimle Order?” Paige asked, interrupting her older sister. Olivia noticed how she ignored Piper’s dark look.

Marbus stared at the two sisters. “I had joined in 1861.” He paused. “So, you know about the Gimle Order. I gathered that our host and hostess must have told you. Not many outside the supernatural world know about it.”

“It’s mentioned in our Book of Shadows,” Piper coolly remarked. “I guess a lot of mortals find the idea of a ‘good demon’ hard to accept.”

Gran added, “Not in Wiccan circles, dear. In fact, we don’t believe in demons. Daemons, but not demons.” She frowned. “I thought Olivia had given you all a lesson on this.”

Piper rolled her eyes. “Oh. Yeah.”

“If you must know . . . Piper? Is that your name?” Marbus asked. The Charmed One nodded. “If you must know, I was a top assassin for the Source for nearly eight decades, before I gave it up and joined the Gimle Order.”

“So, you did know . . .”

Again, Paige interrupted, “I’m surprised that you were able to maintain contact with Cole and his mom all this time. Considering that you were all on different sides of the fence.”

“Well, we’re family,” Marbus simply stated. “What can I say? Blood is blood. Not even the Source and his advisors could come between us. Although they did try.”

Jack nodded. “You’re talking about the Source’s contract on your life, right?”

Cole grunted. “Are you kidding? The zoltars were after him for over a century, before they finally caught up with him. But I was the one assigned to kill him.” He shrugged his shoulders. “But I couldn’t go through with it. He was family. So Mother helped me fake his death.”

Phoebe asked the older daemon, “So what are you doing here?”

Olivia noticed the brief exchange shared between the two daemons. “To see Beltha . . . uh, Cole,” Marbus finally answered. “I haven’t seen him since his return from the Wasteland. But with this trouble he’s having with his client, I might just stick around for a while. Help him out.”

“That’s it?”

Marbus shrugged casually. “What other reason can there be?” Olivia regarded him with thoughtful eyes.


“You have no intention of telling them.” Olivia said to Marbus, later that afternoon. She, Cole and the older daemon had returned to Cole’s penthouse, following the brunch. “Do you?”

Marbus stared at Cole, who added, “I told her everything.”

“I figured as much. Especially, after Jack and I had a little discussion about the matter.”

Olivia continued, “What about Leo and the girls? Are you going to keep them in the dark? About the whitelighters’ desire to get rid of Cole?”

Coolly, Marbus brushed a piece of lint or two from his jacket. “I’m sure that they’re well aware of what the Whitelighter Council want.” He paused, “Of course, if you find it hard to believe . . .”

“Who said I did?” Olivia allowed herself a mirthless chuckle. “In fact, I’m not really surprised. That would explain Leo’s constant nagging that I end my relationship with Cole. But what can he do? Other than strip Cole of his powers? As far as we know, no one’s that strong.”

Cole added in a low voice, “Except for Dako.”

“Who?” Marbus demanded with a frown.

Olivia told the older daemon about their encounter with the spirit of an 18th century Vodoun sorcerer, last December. “Even though he had possessed the body of a friend of mine, Cole wasn’t able to kill him or do any major harm. And it was the same for Dako.”

“Bloody hell!” Marbus looked upset. “You mean to say there is some bokor, running about just as strong as Belthazor?”

“Don’t worry,” Olivia replied. “He’s gone. A friend of mine, who’s a Vodoun priestess, managed to send his spirit back to the Underworld.”

Looking somewhat alarmed, Marbus demanded, “Is there anyone else who knows about this Dako?”

“Phoebe and her sisters,” Cole said. “The McNeills and Leo. And before your mind starts forming scenarios, Dako had nearly killed Paige in an attack and tried to rip Piper’s baby out of her womb. I really don’t see the Charmed Ones bringing his spirit back from the Underworld.”

Olivia added, “Or the Whitelighters Council, for that matter.” She paused. “Do you?”

“No,” Marbus answered. “I don’t see them going that far. Besides . . . the two whitelighters who had warned me, weren’t sure that the entire Council was plotting against Cole . . . uh, Belthazor. It’s possible that one or several Elders want him dead as an excuse to assume leadership of the Realm.”

Both Cole and Olivia stared at the older daemon. “What?” the former demanded.

Marbus looked embarrassed. “I forgot to tell you that, didn’t I?”


The older daemon took a deep breath. “Now, let me get my facts straight.” He paused for another minute or two. “According to Ms. DeVilliers and Ms. Stepanova, they had accidentally stumbled across a research project going on. One that involved methods on how to kill you, Belthazor. Although they had questioned the whitelighters involved in the research, no one seemed willing to talk. However, the Elders Council has been forthright about their fears that you will reorganize the Source’s Realm. Ms. DeVilliers believes that someone – possibly one or more of the Elders – is being mum about this research. She thinks that even the Council is in the dark.”

“Cole’s death would be quite a coup for whomever arranges it,” Olivia said. A thought came to her. “Why are these two particular whitelighters so against Cole being vanquished?”

“Because they don’t consider him a threat, but a valuable ally,” Marbus answered. “And they feel that the Source’s death was a big mistake. Like the rest of us, they feel that the chaos in the Source’s Realm would spread to other magical realms. And it has.”

Olivia shook her head. “But it’s not like Paige and her sisters had deliberately went after the Source.” Cole gave her a long look. “Okay, except that one time when Cole was possessed. But other than one incident, they really had no choice but to kill the Source. I mean, the guy wouldn’t stop coming after them.”

Cole sighed. “She’s got a point, Marbus.”

“I understand,” Marbus said with a nod. “All the same lad, I suggest you keep a steady eye out for any trouble. If you want to tell Fran . . . uh, Phoebe and her sisters about the Elders, fine. But I don’t think they will believe you.”

A long-suffering expression appeared on Cole’s face. Olivia reached over to give his arm a reassuring squeeze. “Poor baby. You really have a lot to deal with right now, don’t you?”

“No kidding!” Cole shot back. “Some Elder wants me dead.” He snorted with derision. “No surprise there. And I also have this Magan Corporation to deal with.”

Olivia frowned. “You know, that name sounds familiar. I just can’t put my finger on it. What’s the CEO’s name?”

Cole replied, “Arthur Winslow. I’ve discovered a few things about him.”

“Of course!” Olivia exclaimed. “San Francisco’s mystery man!”


Olivia continued, “Now I remember. Arthur Winslow had arrived in San Francisco about . . . oh, six or seven years ago, I think. He had appeared once at a party. Don’t ask me what he looks like. No one from the family had attended the party. Bruce, Harry and I didn’t care less about attending. Gran had been visiting her sister in Virginia, at the time. And Mom and Dad were out of the country. But all of society was talking about him. He made one appearance and was never seen again. Like Howard Hughes. What do you know about him?”

“Well, he was born in Pittsburgh,” Cole finished. “Around May 1951. He had attended Northwestern University and received his Bachelor’s in 1973. He received his Master’s in Business from Harvard in ’75.” Cole went on to explain that Winslow had worked at various corporations, before starting his own business consultant firm in 1985. The CEO eventually switched from consultant to corporate raider within a few years. “Around ’92 or ’93, he eventually formed Magan Corporation and moved the firm to San Francisco about four years later. Oh, uh he married a Lydia Black in 1989 and became a widow, three years later. No children.”

Pure admiration hummed in Olivia’s voice. “Impressive! You really did your homework, did you?”

“Of course. I didn’t become one of the Source’s top assassins for nothing. You know what they say – ‘Information is power’.

Olivia rolled her eyes. “That’s great, Cole. But what if all that information you had gathered is fake? Were you able to find Winslow’s private address?”

Cole hesitated. “No. Nor any photographs of him, since his arrival to this city. Like you said, quite the mystery man.”

“Or the daemon,” Marbus commented. “He sounds a little too mysterious to be true. And sending a daemon to kill your client was a mistake. It exposed this Winslow. Or whoever in his organization had connections to Cassandra. It’s possible that one of Mr. Winslow’s employees is pulling the company’s strings behind his back.”

Cole added, “Or pulling Mr. Winslow’s strings.”

Olivia gave a little shiver. “Don’t you just love a mystery?”

The half-daemon retorted, “No, I don’t. And what’s even worse is that I now have two to deal with.” He paused. “What about Paige and the others? Are you going to tell them about the two whitelighters?”

“I don’t know,” Olivia said with a shrug. “Perhaps I’ll tell Paige. I don’t think this is something I should keep to myself. Do you?”

Cole shot back, “Yes, but I know you’re not going to listen to me, and tell her, anyway.” A large sigh escaped from his mouth. “I should have known my good luck wasn’t going to last long. What other kinds of shit are the fates going to dump in my path?”


A slender, feminine figure with short, curly pale-blond hair and dark-blue eyes that matched her dress, appeared before Artemus in a cloud of smoke. She smiled at the daemon. “Artemus. It’s good to finally meet you. I believe that you had summoned me?”

Artemus rose from his chair to greet the darklighter. “So, you’re Nina Ziegler, I believe. Have a seat.”

“Thank you.” The darklighter gracefully eased into a blue Chippendale chair that faced Artemus’ desk. Her eyes examined the rich furnishings inside the daemon’s library. “Exquisite,” she commented. “You have excellent tastes. I hope to acquire something similar for my home, in the future.”

The daemon walked over to the liquor cabinet. “Perhaps I can help you. Would you like a drink?”

“Scotch whiskey, please.”

Artemus poured a glass of malt Scotch whiskey into a glass and handed it to Nina. “How long have you been a darklighter, by the way?”

Nina took a sip of her Scotch. “Fifteen months. Why?”

“For one who hasn’t been a darklighter very long, you’ve become quite accomplished.”

A long silence followed. The glass hovered at Nina’s lips, while she gave the daemon a hard stare. “Pardon me for asking, but what do you want, Artemus?”

The daemon finally answered, “I need a fellow daemon killed.”

“Hire one to do it.”

“I need this daemon to be killed by witches.”

“You’ve got the wrong woman,” Nina shot back. “I haven’t been a whitelighter for over a year and no longer have any contact with my former charges.”

Artemus sighed. “Yes, I realize that, Miss Ziegler. But what I need is information. Have you ever heard of Marbus?”

Nina took another sip of whiskey, while she contemplated Artemus’ question. “Wasn’t he a high-level daemon? One of the old Source’s top assassins? I heard that a relative of his had killed him.”

“I’m afraid that you’re behind the times.” Artemus walked over to the leather chair behind his desk and sat down. “Marbus had betrayed the Source over 140 years ago, and joined the Gimle Order.” He paused. “Have you heard of them?”

A sneer marred Nina’s pretty face. “Of course, I have. Unlike a number of my former colleagues in the Whitelighters Realm, I’ve been aware of the Gimle Order’s true calling. Are you saying that you want this Marbus killed by witches? But how? He was killed by another daemon, nearly 40 years ago.”

“Marbus is still alive,” Artemus declaring, relishing in the darklighter’s surprise. “His nephew, Belthazor, was supposed to kill him. Apparently, Belthazor decided to spare him and fake his death, instead.”

Nina frowned. “Is this the same Belthazor who had married one of the Charmed Ones? Who had been the Source?”

“Now, you’re on the right track,” Artemus said with a smile. “Only Belthazor had been possessed by the Source’s spirit, at the time. Because of that, the Charmed Ones eventually killed him, and . . .”

“. . . he returned from the Wasteland, more powerful than ever,” Nina finished. “Yes, I know all about that. But why do you wantwitches to kill Belthazor’s uncle?”

Artemus sighed. “I’m interested in a certain piece of property in Santa Rosa County. Unfortunately, Belthazor stands in my way. Like his uncle, he has defected to the other side of the fence. He now practices law in this city and one of his clients owns that particular piece of property. I want this client out of the way, in order to get my hands on said property. And in order for me to do this, I need Belthazor out of the way. Or distracted. Or even alienated by his new loved ones.”

A smirk curved Nina’s pink lips. “Oh, I see. If you kill Marbus, you’ll have a pissed-off Belthazor on your trail. But if witches were to kill Marbus, he would go after them. And become distracted from protecting his client.” Nina finished the rest of her drink. “The only witches I know who are powerful and clever enough to kill this Marbus are either the Charmed Ones or the McNeill coven. Both are here in San Francisco. And all of them, save the McNeill elders, are charges of a former colleague of mine. Leo Wyatt.”

“So, who would you recommend?” Artemus asked.

The darklighter hesitated for a minute. “Hmmm, the Charmed Ones.” Artemus smiled. “The only way to get those witches to kill your Marbus is to frame him for the death of another witch or a mortal. The McNeills are known for being a suspicious and careful bunch. They can smell a rat at ten paces. The Charmed Ones, on the other hand . . .”

“. . . are powerful and smart enough to kill Marbus,” Artemus finished. “But, they have this little tendency to act before thinking.”

Nina added, “Plus, Belthazor already has a grudge against them. They had killed him with extreme prejudice, when he had been possessed by the So . . .” Her voice drifted into silence. Artemus frowned at her. “I just remembered. One of the Charmed Ones – Belthazor’s former mate – has the power of precognition. She’s a seer . . . although not a very good one, in my opinion. All you have to do is arrange for her to receive a vision of Marbus killing an innocent . . .”

Artemus interjected, “Mark Giovanni.”

“Of course.” Nina nodded. “Once the Halliwell witch receives this vision, she and her sisters will go after Marbus with a vengeance.”

“And how do you plan to arrange this?”

Nina blinked. “Me?”

Smiling, Artemus added, “You thought up this plan, not me. Besides, I would consider it a favor . . . that will be handsomely rewarded upon its success.”

The darklighter stared at her host. “Well . . . uh, there’s this warlock . . .”

Prax entered the office, interrupting Nina. “Pardon me, Artemus, but I have received a message from Kelson.”

Artemus explained to his guest, “A warlock I had installed as a spy within Giovanni’s organization. Go on, Prax.”

“According to Kelson, Giovanni has just hired a new bodyguard for his home. Kelson has recognized her.”


Nodding, Prax continued, “Yes, Kelson gave me a description. Her name is Andrea – a half-daemon with the Gimle Order.”

Artemus dismissed his assistant. “Thank you, Prax. Tell Kelson to refrain from any action, at this moment.” Prax left the office, as Artemus returned his attention to the darklighter. “Before we set this plan of yours into action, I suggest we have a test run. What exactly does this warlock of yours, do?”

Nina hesitated. “He’s a telepath. And one of my former charges. He had defected with me to the other side. I can hire him to give visions of Marbus killing an innocent to Belthazor’s former mate.”

“Before you do, why don’t we start with Mr. Giovanni’s new bodyguard, first?”

Nina responded with an unpleasant smile. “If you insist.”






I can think of only three previous times in which one of director Martin Scorsese’s films has courted controversy. The first time the director courted real controversy was the release of his 1976 film, “TAXI DRIVER”. He also encountered controversy from two other movies – “THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST” (1988) and 1997’s “KUNDUN”. Scorsese and controversy have met once again . . . this time in the form of his latest release, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”.

As the world now knows, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” is a film adaptation of the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who ran a firm that engaged in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s. The movie begins when Belfort lands a job as a stockbroker at a Wall Street firm. His boss, Mark Hanna, advises him to adopt a lifestyle of sex and cocaine in order to succeed. Unfortunately for Belfort, the firm fails after the stock market crash of Black Monday within a few months. Now unemployed, Belfort is pushed by his wife Teresa to take a job with a Long Island boiler room which deals in penny stocks. Belfort’s aggressive pitching style soon earns him a small fortune and he also befriends Donnie Azoff, a salesman who lives in the same apartment building. The pair decides to start their own firm together and name it Stratton Oakmont. They recruit some of Belfort’s friends – among them, experienced marijuana dealers, colleagues from the boiler room and his parents as accountants. Despite the respectable name, the firm is basically a pump and dump scam. The movie depicts the decadent lifestyle enjoyed by Belfort and his employees, the break-up of his marriage to Teresa and his second marriage to lover Naomi Lapaglia. However, due to an exposé inForbes magazine, Stratton Oakmont attracts more enthusiastic employees and the attention of F.B.I. Agent Patrick Denham.

What can I say about “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”? I thought it was one of the most outlandish and crazy movies I have seen in years. Out . . . landish! And I loved every moment of it. Well, most of it. Who would have thought that after forty years as a director and producer, Martin Scorsese could still astonish moviegoers? Or even piss them off? I had first heard about the negative reactions to “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”, when I read about veteran actress Hope Holiday’s angry post on her Facebook page about the Motion Picture Academy’s screening of the film. But her reaction was not the first. I have come across a good number of negative reactions to “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” since learning about Holiday’s reaction. Curious over the hullabaloo, I found myself becoming very eager to see the film. And it did not fail.

It is possible that some might assume that I enjoyed the film simply for the characters’ excess – the sex and drug use that could have easily turn this film into one with a NC-17 rating. Actually, I did not feel one way or the other about the characters’ exercises in degeneracy. I simply accepted it, due to the fact that his excesses had been a part of his life during those years as head of Stratton Oakmont. And from what I have learned about the financial world of the super rich, such excesses were and still are very common. Some have claimed Scorsese had not only glorified Belfort’s lifestyle and crimes, but also allowed the character to get away with the latter with very little punishment – less than two years in a “Club Fed” prison, before becoming a motivational speaker. The U.S. government is responsible for Belfort’s scant punishment, not Martin Scorsese. And I cannot accept that the director glorified Belfort’s lifestyle. All I saw on the movie screen were a bunch of silly men behaving like a bunch of overindulged adolescents with too much money and too many “toys” (namely women, drugs and other expenses) on their hands. Thanks to Scorsese’s direction and Terence Winter’s screenplay, Belfort and his cronies merely struck me as pathetic and infantile.

More importantly, Scorsese’s movie frightened me. Belfort’s willingness to exploit the desires of ordinary men and women to satisfy his own greed struck me as off-putting. Scorsese emphasized this negative aspect of Belfort’s profession by conveying the latter’s lack of remorse toward his victims. I am not lacking in compassionate when I say that I did not need to see the effects of Belfort’s machinations toward his clients. The amoral attitudes of the stock broker and his employees seemed more than enough for me to get an idea on how much those clients suffered. I still have memories of that bizarre scene in which Belfort and the Stratton Oakmont staff treated shoe designer Steve Madden with great contempt, as Belfort expressed his intent to invest in Madden’s company . . . a scene that almost left me shaking my head in disbelief. But if there is one scene that scared me senseless was the one that featured the business luncheon between Belfort and his boss at L.F. Rothschild, Mark Hanna. In this scene, Hanna gave the newly hired Belfort tips on how to become a successful stockbroker. A good deal of those tips involved the use of drugs and sex. But the one tip that really comes to mind was Hanna’s instructions that Belfort prevent clients from cashing out their investments for the profit of the firm and the stockbroker. Hanna’s advice reminded me of how Las Vegas casinos try to keep even winners playing so the latter would eventually lose what they had gained – something I learned from Scorsese’s 1995 film, “CASINO”. That was some scary shit. One other scene proved to be just as scary . . . the last one that found post-prison Belfort hosting a sales technique seminar in Auckland, New Zealand. That last shot of the audience drinking in Belfort’s words they believe will make them rich struck me as a sure symbol of the greed in human nature that really never dies – even if humanity would rather pretend otherwise.

I certainly cannot complain about the movie’s production values. “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” proved to be a sharp and colorful looking film, thanks to the crew that contributed to the movie’s visual style. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto is the man mainly responsible for that sharp and colorful look that I had commented upon. But I also have to commend both Bob Shaw’s production designs and Chris Shriver’s art direction for taking movie audiences back to the excessive greed era of New York during the 1980s and 1990s. Legendary costume designer Sandy Powell contributed to this look by basing many of the men’s costumes on Giorgio Armani’s archives from the 1990s. I also enjoyed her costumes for the female cast members, especially those for actress Margot Robbie. Long-time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker took a movie with a four-hour running time and managed to trim it into a movie one-minute short of three hours. She did an excellent job, although I believe the movie could have benefited with another twenty minutes or so trimmed from its running time. In fact, the extended running time is my one major complaint about the film – especially the sequence that featured Belfort’s downfall.

Other than the frank portrayal of Jordan Belfort’s career as a stockbroker and the financial world of the 1990s and Martin Scorsese’s excellent direction, the one other major asset of “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” was its talented cast. Once again, the man of the hour is Leonardo Di Caprio, who gives one of the best performances of his career as the charismatic and corrupt Jordan Belfort. When I say it is one of his performances, I damn well mean it. Not only did he give an excellent performance throughout the movie, he gave one of the funniest and probably the best acting moment during the entire year of 2013 – namely a sequence in which Belfort, high on Quaaludes, struggle to get into his car and drive home in order to prevent his partner Donnie Azoff from revealing too much during a telephone conversation bugged by the F.B.I. My God! It was hilarious.

Portraying Donnie Azoff (who is based on Danny Porush) was comedy actor Jonah Hill, who proved he could mix both comedy and drama with great ease and hold his own with the talented Di Caprio. His portrayal of Azoff’s forays into excess and egotistical behavior was a marvel to behold. Margot Robbie, who I remembered from the ABC series, “PAN AM”, portrayed Belfort’s second wife, Naomi Lapaglia (based on Nadine Caridi). She really did an excellent job in portraying the sexy, yet very tough Naomi – especially in one difficult scene in which her character had to deal with marital rape before she put an end to their marriage. The always impressive Kyle Chandler portrayed F.B.I. Special Agent Patrick Denham (based on Special Agent Gregory Coleman), the man responsible for Belfort’s arrest. Superficially, Chandler’s Denham seemed like a quiet, straight-laced type whose dogged investigation brings Belfort to his knees. But Winter’s screenplay and Chandler’s subtle performance allows a peek into the possibility that Denham, who had harbored ambitions to become a stock broker, envies the lifestyle that Belfort managed to achieve, despite the corruption that surrounds the latter.

The movie also featured outstanding performances from Jon Bernthal, who portrayed Belfort’s muscle-flexing Quaaludes dealer. I was amazed at how much Bernthal resembled a younger and better-looking Danny Trejo. Joanna Lumley gave a charming performance as Belfort’s British in-law, Aunt Emma. I especially enjoyed one scene in which Belfort asked her to engage in money laundering on his behalf and both ended up wondering about the other’s attraction. Jean Dujardin gave a sly and funny performance as Swiss banker, Jean-Jacques Saurel, whom Belfort used to hide his money from the Federal authorities. The movie also featured solid performances from Cristin Milioti (“The Mother” from “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER”), Kenneth Choi (from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”), P.J. Byrne, Jon Farveau, Rob Reiner (who was especially funny as Belfort’s accountant father), Shea Whigham and Christine Ebersole. But the one supporting performance that really had me rolling with laughter came from Matthew McConaughey, who portrayed Belfort’s L.F. Rothschild boss, Mark Hanna. Despite the scary content of Hanna’s advice, I must admit that McConaughey really did a great job in making the most in what almost proved to be a cameo role.

“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” proved to be appreciative enough for the Academy of Motion Arts and Pictures to give it several nominations, including Best Picture. And there seemed to be a good number of people who seemed to understand what this movie is really about. But I get the feeling that too many are determined to write off this film as nothing more than a glorification of Jordan Belfort’s excessive lifestyle and corruption. I cannot share this feeling. I believe that Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter and the first-rate cast led by Leonardo Di Caprio gave us a movie that many should view as a cautionary tale. I mean, honestly . . . if I ever consider investing my money in stocks, I will whip out a copy of this film to remind me there are plenty of people like Jordan Belfort in this world – even in reputable investment firms – who would not blink an eye to separate me from my money for their benefit. I once read an article that compared stock investments to casino gambling, to the detriment of the latter. After viewing “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”, I cannot help but wonder if both means of “gambling” are a lot more similar than we would like to believe.

“AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” (2007) Review



“AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” (2007) Review

Not long ago, I had written a review of an Agatha Christie television movie called “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL”. It was a 1987 adaptation of the writer’s 1965 novel. Twenty years later, ITV aired its own version that starred Geraldin McEwan as Miss Jane Marple.

But I am not interested in comparing the two adaptations. Instead, I want to discuss only one of them – the recent 2007 televised film. The movie began with a flashback to the early 1890s in which a young Jane Marple stayed at the fashionable London hotel, Bertram’s, with a relative. Sixty years later, the elderly resident of St. Mary Mead’s pay another visit to the hotel and discovers that its interior has not really changed over the years. Miss Marple is there She is there to meet an old friend named Lady Selina Hazy, who is visiting for the reading of a will of her millionaire second cousin, who had been declared dead after being missing for seven years and owned Bertram’s. Also there for the reading of the hotel owner’s will are his ex-wife Bess, Lady Sedgwick; and daughter Elvira Blake. Bertram’s Hotel also seemed to be used as a center to smuggle Nazi war criminals and their stolen treasure; and for jewel thieves.

Christie’s 1965 novel is not considered one of her stronger ones and I can see why. The story’s murder mystery is rather weak and easy to solve. They mystery behind the hotel proved to be more interesting. The 1987 television movie with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple closely followed the novel. Despite a sluggish pacing, it still proved to be entertaining. Screenwriter Tom McRae decided to “solve” the matter of Christie’s narration by “improving” it with major changes. And you know what? It sucked. Big time. Without a doubt, “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” – at least this 2007 version – is one of the worst Christie adaptations I have ever seen. Period.

One of the first sentences that Miss Marple observes when she arrives at Bertam’s after many years is that the hotel had not changed . . . even after sixty years. And yet that was NOT the impression I encountered. In Christie’s novel and the 1987 film, the elderly sleuth noticed that the hotel’s quiet and elegant atmosphere had remained intact after many years. I NEVER got that impression in this 2007 film . . . certainly not with the noisy bustling going on upon her arrival. To make matters worse, McRae’s script had Louis Armstrong and his band break out into a jam session in one of the hotel’s ballroom. He is joined by one of the writer’s fictional characters, an American-born black jazz singer Amelia Walker.WTF????? I cannot image Louis Armstrong staying at some quaint little London hotel like Bertram’s. The screenplay also had the Lady Sedgwick character receiving clumsily written death threats, Nazi war criminals and their hunters disguised as hotel guests. The screenplay even featured an extra murder victim – a hotel maid named Tilly Rice. It also made the actual murder of Bertram’s commissionaire a lot more complicated than necessary. And to make matters even more worse, McRae added another maid character named Jane Cooper, who becomes a younger version of Miss Marple – another talented amateur sleuth. And she acquired a love interest of her own – an Inspector Larry Byrd, a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress. He also replaced the much older Chief Inspector Fred Davy character, as the story’s main police investigator. The screenplay allowed the young Miss Cooper to reveal most of the hotel’s mysteries before Miss Marple exposed the actual killer.

I do not mind if changes were made to Christie’s story. I can think of a good number of Christie adaptations in which changes were made to her original novels and ended up being well-made movies. But I feel that those changes needed to be well-written or be necessary as an improvement to the author’s original tale. “At Bertram’s Hotel” was not a perfect or near-perfect novel. But the changes made for this particular adaptation did not improve the story. On the contrary, the changes made for “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” transformed Christie’s rather eccentric tale into one big convoluted mess. The only positive change that emerged in this adaptation was a shorter running time of ninety-three (93) minutes. Thanks to this shorter running time, “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” managed to avoid the occasionally sluggish pacing of the 1987 movie.

The performances in “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” proved to be a mixed bag. I had nothing against Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of the quiet, yet intelligent Miss Jane Marple. She was her usual more than competent self. I enjoyed her performance so much that I wish that the screenplay had not seen fit to saddle her with the Jane Cooper character. Yes, I hated the idea of another amateur sleuth in this tale. But I must admit that Martine McCutcheon gave a very good performance as Jane. But the producers of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MISS MARPLE” want another amateur sleuth that badly, create another series for her . . . or him. Francesca Annis managed to rise above the material given to her and gave a very funny and entertaining performance as Miss Marple’s old friend, Lady Selina Hazy. However, why do most or all of Miss Marple friends tend to look more glamorous . . . and older than her? Stephen Mangan gave a solid and intense performance as Inspector Larry Byrd. More importantly, he managed to portray a post-traumatic stress victim without engaging in excessive acting. I was not particularly thrilled by McRae and director Dan Zeff’s changes to the Lady Sedgwick character. They replaced Christie’s vivacious and elegant socialite/adventuress into a hard-nosed and somewhat cold businesswoman. However, I cannot deny that actress Polly Walker gave a more than competent performance as Lady Sedgwick, despite the changes to the character.

Naturally, there were the performances that either failed to impress me, or I found troubling. I was not that impressed by Emily Beecham’s portrayal of the young Elvira Blake. I simply found it unmemorable. I can say the same for Mary Nighy’s portrayal of Elvira’s friend, Brigit Milford; Vincent Regan’s performance as hotel commissionaire Mickey Gorman; Nicholas Burns’ portrayal of twin brothers Jack and Joel Britten; and Charles Kay as one Canon Pennyfather, who struck me as a dull and stuffy character. Ed Stoppard portrays a Polish race car driver named Malinowski, who is suspected by many of being a former Nazi. He gave a pretty good performance, although there were a few moments when he dangerously veered into hammy acting. The role of Amelia Walker proved to be singer Mica Paris’ second and (so far) last dramatic role. Mind you, she gave a pretty good performance, but the moment she opened her mouth, I immediately knew she was not an American. I found her accent rather exaggerated at times. I have always been impressed by Peter Davidson in the past. But I must admit that I did not care much for his portrayal of hotel employee Hubert Curtain. I found it unnecessarily exaggerated . . . especially in one scene.

What else can I say? “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” does featured a good deal of atmosphere. Unfortunately, it struck me as the wrong kind of atmosphere for this particular story. And some of the good performances featured in this movie – especially by Geraldine McEwan, Francesca Annis and Polly Walker – could not save the movie from the shabby screenplay written by Tom MacRae. Honestly, I found the whole thing a mess. I only hope that there will be a better written adaptation some time in the future.