“TOMORROWLAND” (2015) Review

“TOMORROWLAND” (2015) Review

Back in May 2015, the Disney Studios released a movie that did not proved to be successful at the box office. Directed by Brad Bird, the movie got its title – “TOMORROWLAND” – from futuristic themed land found at Disney theme parks.

It is a pity that “TOMORROWLAND” did not prove to be as successful as the Disney Studios had hoped. It struck me as a very unusual film. Superficially, it is a family friendly movie about a disillusioned genius inventor and a teenage science enthusiast, who embark upon a journey to an ambiguous dimension known as “Tomorrowland”, where they believe their actions can directly affect both the world and themselves. On another level, “TOMORROWLAND” produced an emotional reaction within me that truly took a cynical person like myself, by surprise.

The story begins with the adult Frank Walker telling an off-screen audience about when he had attended the 1964-1965 New York Fair as a child, and his attempt to present the jet pack he had invented to be used as an exhibit at the Fair. When his jet pack is rejected by a man named David Nix, young Frank is approached by a girl named Athena, who sees great potential within him. Athena gives Frank a pin with a “T” symbol and instructs him to follow her aboard the new It’s a Small World” attraction, created by Walt Disney’s engineers for his Disneyland theme park. Frank follows Athena, Nix and a group of other people and ends up transported to the futuristic cityscape, “Tomorrowland”, when his pin is scanned.

At this point, the narration shifts to the adolescent Casey Newton, the daughter of a Cape Canaveral engineer, who tries to sabotage the machines that are dismantling the NASA launch pad in order to save her dad’s job. at who sneaks into a decommissioned NASA launch pad in Cape Canaveral, where her father Eddie is an engineer. After one attempt at sabotage, Casey returns home, where Athena sneaks another “T” pin that is programmed to Casey’s DNA into the latter’s motorcycle helmet. The next night, Casey attempts to break into the NASA compound again, but is arrested. At the police station, Casey not only discovers the pin among her personal items, she also discovers that upon contact, the pin instantly shows her a view of “Tomorrowland”. Determined to find the origin of the pin, Casey traces it to a Houston memorabilia store that is owned by a couple that proves to be robots, who attack her. Athena, who also proves to be an Audio-Animatronic robot, rescues Casey and takes her to Frank’s farm in New York. She also tells Casey that the latter and Frank are needed to save the world. And the only way to do that is to head for Tomorrowland.

From a technical point-of-view, “TOMORROWLAND” is a very attractive looking movie. First of all, I have to applaud Scott Chambliss’ production designs for the film. His re-creation of the 1964-1965 New York New York’s World Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York really impressed me. It must have been difficult to re-create not only the event’s physical look, but also the mid-1960s. Then Chambliss went a step further and created the sleek, futuristic look of “Tomorrowland”. If his work does not earn an Academy Award nomination, I will be very surprised. And yes, other members of the crew contributed to Miranda’s production designs. I thought the work of the art direction team, Lin MacDonald’s set decorations, Jeffrey Kurland’s costume designs and especially Claudio Miranda’s sharp and colorful photography truly enhanced the movie’s style and look. I only have one problem – namely Michael Giacchino’s score. Quite honestly, I did not find it memorable.

The movie can also boast some excellent performances. George Clooney was at top form as the adult Frank Walker, who had become weary and cynical after being rejected from “Tomorrowland”. I cannot recall the last time I saw Hugh Laurie in a motion picture. But he was superb as the cool and judgmental leader of “Tomorrowland”, David Nix. I especially enjoyed his performance in the scene in which his character went into a rant over humanity’s foibles. I was surprised to learn that Britt Robertson is 25 years-old. She did an excellent job in portraying a character who seemed to be at least a decade younger. More importantly, she managed to develop a strong screen chemistry with both Clooney and the young actress who portrayed Athena, namely Raffey Cassidy. The latter gave a first-rate performance as the long-living android, who managed to develop some kind of affection toward both Casey and especially Frank. Thomas Robinson was superb as the young Frank. Not only did he have great chemistry with Cassidy, he managed to give an intelligent performance without coming off as an adult in a boy’s body. I also enjoyed the performances of Keegan-Michael Key (of “KEY AND PEELE”) and Kathryn Hahn as the pair of android managers of the Houston memorabilia store, who proved to be both funny and rather scary.

For the likes of me, I tried to understand why this movie had produced so much hostility from the critics and from some moviegoers. In the end, I decided it would be a waste of my time. I cannot control the opinions of others. And quite frankly, I have no desire to do so. I find such efforts rather frustrating and exhausting. All I can do is express my feelings of the movie. Personally? I rather liked it.  “TOMORROWLAND” is such an oddball of a film. Superficially, it struck me as one of those solid Disney family actions films that the studio had been making for the past 60 years or so. But once Frank and Casey reached “Tomorrowland”, the film shifted into a tone that made it quite unique and in the end, I found rather touching. How touching did I find it? Let me put it this way . . . I found myself crying when the movie ended.

I am certain that many who did not like the film would say that I cried over how much of a mess it turned out to be. Perhaps these same fans and critics did not like the shift of tone in the movie’s last half hour or so. I must confess . . . I had a bit of trouble with that shift, myself. Or perhaps they disliked Nix’s rant . . . or the fact that it revealed a great deal of truth about humanity. Nix’s rant made me acknowledge the negative aspects of humanity, something that I tend to complain about to this day. But as George Clooney’s character managed to point out, not all is negative about humanity. Sometimes, we humans can surprise each other in a positive way. Did other moviegoers and critics come to this conclusion? Or did they expect some kind of one-dimensional “good-vs.-evil” conflict that can usually be found in many summer films? Perhaps I should not dwell upon what the audience wanted and focus on my reaction of“TOMORROWLAND”. After all, my opinion should count . . . at least to me.

There is another aspect of the film that I had carried away with me upon leaving the movie theater. I noticed that following Frank’s expulsion by the character Nix and the latter’s intent to ensure the cityscape’s separation from Earth, the dimension known as “Tomorrowland” declined as a community. This outcome reminded me of what seems to me is the decline of today’s culture and originality. Many societies today seem so bent upon either remembering the past (through rose-colored glasses) or rejecting anything remotely original that I find myself wondering if the same happened to “Tomorrowland”, when Nix had decided to close itself off from Earth and the innovations of humans when he discovered the possibility of a worldwide catastrophe. Perhaps that last scene of Frank and Casey entrusting “Tomorrowland” androids (to whom they had been narrating this story) to recruit new “dreamers” from Earth and bring them to “Tomorrowland” is what drove me to tears when I left the theater.

Once again, I found myself encountering another original film that very few seem capable of appreciating or enjoying. I only hope that director Brad Bird and co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof are aware there are some people – including myself – who truly appreciated their creation of “TOMORROWLAND”, along with the cast and crew who worked on this film.

“Defense of the Realm” [PG-13] – 13/14




The other Elders, including Gideon, stared at the robed figures in shock. “Who are these beings?” the headmaster demanded.

Johann smiled rather nastily. “Darklighters. Like myself.” A gasp left Mathilda’s mouth. “That’s right, Fraulein Everhard. Your devoted protégée for the past five years has been a darklighter. So has Belinda.” His dark-haired companion stood up and moved away from her chair.

“How . . .?” Mathilda began. She shook her head in confusion. “I don’t understand. How did you managed to escape our notice? How did you get up here in the first place?”

The Austrian removed his medallion from underneath his tunic. “Recognize this from your old books, Fraulein? One of the nine medallions of Erebor. Created by the dominion for a daemon named Kiros.”

Mathilda stared at the object in shock, unaware of Belinda moving toward her. “Oh my God!” she whispered. “That’s how . . . How . . . Where did you find them?”

“A very capable sorceress had been hired by my real mentor to search for them. It took her seven years to find all nine medallions.” Johann became smug. “Not only does this medallion give me the ability to orb in and out of the Realm without any assistance from any whitelighter, it also enabled me to assume the power of one. And since you were so kind to initiate me as an Elder . . .”

William finished, “You now have the powers of an Elder, as well. My God!”

“I do not believe he will be able to help you, William.” Johann turned to his former mentor. “By the way ladies and gentlemen, I thought you would like to know that the idea of removing the old members of the Council was my idea.” A hard smile appeared on his lips. “But it was Fraulien Everard, who authorized me to carry out the murders. Apparently, she had grown impatient by the old Council’s refusal to deal openly with the threat of Belthazor.”

The other Elders stared at Mathilda. Serafina literally glared at the older female. “I knew it!” she cried. “I knew that the old Council had been right to dismiss you in the first place. You stupid fanatic! Do you realize what you have done?”

“I . . .” Mathilda began, but she seemed to be at a loss for words.

Johann chuckled. “Do not worry, Fraulein Villabos. I’m sure that she now realizes.” Then he barked an order to his darklighter colleagues. “Kill them all! Now!”

Council members cried out in alarm, as arrows zipped toward them en masse. Belinda revealed an arrow from underneath robe. Grabbing Mathilda from behind, she plunged the arrow into the other woman’s chest. Johann’s smile widened.


Six figures materialized into the middle of a gleaming white corridor. “Well, this looks familiar,” Piper commented in a dry voice. “Where’s Cole?”

Olivia and the others glanced around. There seemed to be no sign of the half-daemon. “I guess that super-power of his wasn’t able to get him here.” She asked Natalia, “Where’s the Elders’ chamber?”

“Follow me,” the Russian-born whitelighter ordered. The three witches and the other two whitelighters followed her down a long hall. They eventually came upon a pair of white marble doors. “Here we are.” She swung open the doors and screams of terror filled the corridor. “My God!”

A horror-stricken Leo cried out, “What the hell is going on?”

Olivia grimly replied, “Looks like Mr. Bauer and his colleagues have started their attack.”

“We have to help them!” Phoebe cried, as she and Piper rushed past Natalia and into the chamber.

“Phoebe! Piper . . . wait!”

But the Charmed Ones had not heard Olivia. She heaved a sigh and followed them inside. Just in time to witness Piper fling her hands at a robed figure training a bow-and-arrow at a tall man dressed in a gold-lame toga. The robed figure – or the darklighter – immediately dissipated . . . and reconstructed back into his original state. Piper frowned. “What the hell?”

“The darklighter now has whitelighter powers!” Olivia immediately reminded the two sisters. “The medallion. Remember?”

An anxious-looking Phoebe demanded, “But how can we . . .?”

Olivia stretched out her hand and the darklighter’s weapon flew out of his hand and into hers. She quickly aimed the weapon at him and pulled the trigger. The arrow embedded into the darklighter’s chest. The latter fell to the ground, screaming in pain.

One of the Elders in a gold toga rushed toward his rescuers. “Oh my God! Natalia! Leo?” The distraught-looking man expressed relief at the sight of his colleagues.

“William, what’s going on?” Natalia demanded.

The Elder cried out, “Darklighters! They’re wearing these medallions . . .”

Olivia interjected, “The Erebor medallions. Yeah, we know. Come on ladies!” She and the two Charmed Ones rushed toward the fray.

It all seemed to be a matter of removing the medallions first. Olivia removed one from a darklighter standing over the dead body of an Elder, using her telekinesis. The darklighter whirled around in shock. She unsheathed a dagger and threw it at Olivia. Who sent the dagger back – deep into the darklighter’s chest.

Phoebe levitated above another darklighter and ripped the medallion from his neck. Piper immediately blew him up.

Olivia removed an arrow from another dead Elder, whom Natalia was leaning over – a handsome-looking Latino woman – and shoved it into the chest of a darklighter threatening Leo and Chris. Phoebe grabbed the weapon of the darklighter that Piper had killed, loaded it with an arrow and shot another. The three witches managed to each kill one more darklighter, until they came upon the surviving two.

“Impressive,” a dark-haired man with an Austrian accent declared. He held an Elder in his grip, with an arrow pointed at the latter’s throat. “Very impressive. You have managed to kill most of my colleagues.” Olivia realized they were facing Johann Bauer, the instigator of the attack.

Piper shot back, “Yeah, I guess you won’t be able to rule this place with only the two of you. And we have your medallions.”

The other darklighter, a dark-haired beauty with delicate features, waved one hand and the medallions held by the three witches, ended up in hers. “My my, Johann,” she said with a sneer. “We seemed to have our medallions back.”

“Thank you, Belinda. Now, as for my old friend, Gideon here . . .” Bauer struck at the Elder with the arrow. Before he could plunge it into the latter’s neck, Olivia used her telekinesis to whisk it from his hand. The Elder immediately orbed out of Bauer’s grip and reappeared next to Leo, Natalia and Chris.

Bauer angrily growled, “You stupid, interfering bitch!” He sent bolts of electricity toward the three witches. They immediately flew backward, hitting the floor with great force. Every nerve in Olivia’s body throbbed with pain. She heard Leo call out Piper’s name and wanted to warn him to stay back. Unfortunately, she was too paralyzed with pain to say anything.

The dark-haired woman sent another bolt of electricity at them. Before it could hit them, Cole materialized between the darklighters and the three witches. The lightning struck his body . . . and bounced off with no effect.

“Belthazor!” Bauer seemed horrified . . . and surprised by the half-daemon’s sudden appearance.

Cole responded with a sinister smile. “Johann. It’s been a while. Seventeen years, I believe.”

“How did you get up here without . . .?” In a fit of panic, the darklighter broke off and sent a bolt of lightning toward the half-daemon’s direction.

Cole easily blocked the darklighter’s attack, before he added, “Good-bye Johann.” He flung a large energy ball at Bauer and the latter exploded into a ball of fire. Only the medallion that had been around the darklighter’s neck, survived.

“Johann!” the female darklighter cried out. She glared at the half-daemon with hate-filled eyes. “You . . .” A bolt of electricity streamed out of one hand. Cole effortless blocked it before killing her with an energy ball. As she disintegrated, several medallions clattered to the floor.

Silence filled the chamber. Everyone – sans Olivia – stared at the half-daemon in shock. Olivia struggled to her feet and turned to her former boyfriend. “Uh Cole, it’s not that I’m ungrateful, but couldn’t you have waited until she told us who was the head of Magan Corporation, before killing her?”

The half-daemon’s fell open. “Oh. Sorry.”

Olivia sighed. “Never mind.” She flashed him a sardonic look. “By the way, what the hell took you so long?”


“Yes. What did take you so long?” Natalia asked Cole. She and the others had retired to William’s private chamber, while her friend, Barbara DeVilliers, supervised the removal of bodies from the Council chambers. “Did you have difficulty teleporting up here?”

Cole sighed. “Yeah, but it’s not what you think. I think my insecurity was the real problem. I didn’t think I could make it, so I tried certain . . . shortcuts to get up here. In the end, I just said, ‘Fuck . . .’

Phoebe coughed. “Cole, we’re in the Whitelighter Realm. Remember?”

“Huh? Oh.” The half-daemon shook his head, while Natalia giggled. “Uh, I guess I decided to try the direct route.” He chuckled. “A half-daemon in the Whitelighter Realm. How rare is that?”

“Very rare,” Gideon snapped. He regarded Cole with suspicious eyes.

William sighed. “No less rare than a warlock, three witches and nine darklighters. I must admit that Bel . . . uh, Mr. Turner’s appearance was quite fortunate.”

Olivia added, “It’s a shame that we didn’t get to find out who was behind the attack.”

Cole rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Look! I’m sorry. It’s hard to overcome survival instincts, when you see someone shooting lethal bolts of electricity at you. Okay?” Olivia merely sighed.

The oldest Halliwell – Piper – spoke up. “May I remind you all that Cole didn’t do all of the work?” she said rather peevishly. “Phoebe, Olivia and I did.”

“Of course, my dear,” Natalia said graciously. “And we’re all grateful.”

Olivia quietly added, “What about the medallions? What are you going to do with them?”

“Keep them here, of course,” Gideon coolly replied. “Where they will be safe.”

The green-eyed witch snorted with derision. “Are you sure about that?”

Gideon frowned. “What do you mean? Of course I am!”

“Have we forgotten Nina Kreigler?” Olivia continued. “And the numerous other whitelighters who have become darklighters over the past year or so? What if another disenchanted whitelighter decide to defect?” She paused. “After getting his or her hands on the medallions?”

“How dare . . .?”

Natalia said, “Olivia is right. Those medallions should be sent back to where they belong.”

Gideon looked down his nose at the Russian female. “That is a matter for the Council to decide, and not a troublemaking whitelighter!”

Olivia continued, “She’s right. I suggest that someone send those medallions back to the dimension where they were made. Where the dominion, Erebor resides.”

“The Belegost dimension,” Cole added.

“Precisely. And Cole, since you happen to know where this dimension is, why don’t you return the medallions?”

Eyes flashing, Gideon stood up. “I’m sorry, but I cannot allow this!” William gave him a pointed stare. “I mean, William and I,” he corrected. “This is Belthazor you’re talking about! A powerful demon . . .”

“. . . who had just saved your ass!” Phoebe snapped. “In fact, he saved all of us!”

Olivia added, “Phoebe’s right. I see no reason not to trust Cole. I mean, if he had wanted us all dead, he certainly wouldn’t need the medallions. Nor would we be here, discussing the matter. After all, he doesn’t seemed to be affected by Elders’ powers . . . as we’ve seen.” She gave Gideon a shrewd stare. “Or does that bother you?”

The Elder shot Olivia a dark look. “I see that you’re just as impertinent as your brother.”

Natalia spoke up. “If it would make you feel better, Gideon, perhaps you should accompany Mr. Tur . . . uh, Cole to the Belegost dimension. To ease your fears.”

Gideon glared at the Russian. “Elder Gideon, if you please, Miss Stepanova. That fact alone should tell you that I do not require your permission to accompany Belthazor.”

Pompass ass! Natalia would have told him to kiss a certain part of his anatomy, if it were not for the delicious little secret she had yet to reveal. Narrow-minded fools like Gideon and the late Mathilda Everard seemed incapable of realizing that such self-righteous attitudes had endangered the Realm.

“Actually Gideon,” William began, “you no longer have any authority over Natalia. Neither do I.”

“What do you mean?” the magic school’s headmaster demanded.

William shot a quick glance at Natalia before he continued, “You see, Natalia is now an Elder. It seemed that Serafina Villabos had passed her powers to Natalia, while she lay dying. Natalia is now a member of the Elders Council.”

Disbelief shone in Gideon’s eyes. “Wha . . . Are you serious, William? Have you forgotten that she had defied the Council’s author . . .”

“She has only expressed disapproval of the some of the old Council’s policies.” William’s eyes focused on the table in front of him. “But she has not led any insurrection. Besides, we need new Elders desperately. There are only three of us.”

Natalia spoke up. “While we are considering new members of the Council, may I suggest Barbara deVilliers, as well?”

“I concur,” William quickly added.

Looking slightly resentful, Gideon let out a gust of breath. “I suppose I have no say in the matter of Natalia. As for Mademoiselle deVilliers . . . I suppose I can consider her as a future Elder.” He glared at his two colleagues. “But after . . . Belthazor get rid of these medallions.”

William beamed at Natalia, who heaved a sigh of relief. “Of course.”

Natalia turned to Leo Wyatt and the new whitelighter, Chris Perry. “Leo, Mr. Perry, we would like to speak to you for a minute before you leave.”


Favorite Films Set in the 1830s


Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1830s:



1. “The Adventures of Huck Finn” (1993) – Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance starred in this excellent Disney adaptaion of Mark Twain’s 1885 novel about a young Missouri boy who joines a runaway slave on a journey along the Mississippi River toward the free states in antebellum America. Stephen Sommers directed.


1- The Count of Monte Cristo 2002

2. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (2002) – James Caviezel starred as the vengeful Edmond Dantès in Disney’s 2002 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas, père’s 1844 novel. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the movie co-starred Guy Pearce and Dagmara Dominczyk.


2 - Pride and Prejudice 1940

3. “Pride and Prejudice” (1940) – Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier starred in this entertaining adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. Robert Z. Leonard directed.


3 - The Count of Monte Cristo 1975

4. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1975) – Richard Chamberlain gave an intense performance in the 1975 television adaptation of Dumas’ novel. Tony Curtis and Kate Nelligan co-starred.


4 - Impromptu

5. “Impromptu” (1991) – Judy Davis and Hugh Grant starred in this comedic tale about author George Sand’s pursuit of composer Frédéric Chopin in 1830s France. James Lapine directed.


5 - Amistad

6. “Armistad” (1997) – Steven Spielberg directed this account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad and the trials of the Mendes tribesmen/mutineers, led by Sengbe Pieh. The movie starred Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConnaughey, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins.


6 - Wide Sargasso Sea 2006

7. “Wide Sargasso Sea” (2006) – Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall starred in this 2006 television adaptation of Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel, which is a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. It focused upon the early marriage of Antoinette Cosway (Bertha Mason) and Edward Rochester.


7 - My Cousin Rachel

8. “My Cousin Rachel” (1952) – Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton starred in this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel about a young Englishman’s obsession with his late cousin’s widow. Henry Koster directed.


8 - The Alamo 2004

9. “The Alamo” (2004) – John Lee Hancock directed this account of the Battle of the Alamo, the only production about the Texas Revolution that I actually managed to enjoy. The movie starred Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Wilson and Jason Patric.


9 - The Big Sky

10. “The Big Sky” (1952) – Howard Hawks directed this adaptation of A.B. Guthrie’s 1947 novel about a fur trader’s expedition up the Missouri River. Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin starred.

“SHINING THROUGH” (1992) Review

“SHINING THROUGH” (1992) Review

Many years have passed since I saw “SHINING THROUGH”. Many years. But after reading several reviews of the film over the years, I found myself wondering why I had enjoyed it in the first place. Why? Not many people really liked it.

Based upon Susan Isaac’s 1988 novel, “SHINING THROUGH” told the story of a woman of Irish and German-Jewish ancestry named Linda Voss and her experiences during World War II. The story begins when Linda applies for a job as a secretary at at prestigious Manhattan law firm. Linda is initially rejected, due to not being a graduate of a prestigious women’s college. But when she reveals her knowledge of German, she is hired on the spot. Linda serves as a translator to an attorney named Ed Leland, who is revealed to be an O.S.S. officer after the United States enter World War II. They also become lovers. Despite personal conflicts and separations, Linda and Ed resume their working relationship, until she volunteers to replace a murdered agent in Berlin on short notice. Much to Ed’s reluctance, Linda heads to Berlin and eventually becomes the governess to the children of a high-ranking Nazi officer named Franz-Otto Dietrich.

I eventually learned that “SHINING THROUGH” has developed quite a bad reputation over the years. Many consider it inferior to Isaac’s novel. It is even part of the “100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made” list by Golden Raspberry Award founder, John Wilson. This low opinion of “SHINING THROUGH” has led me to avoid it for years after I had first saw it. In fact, I became even more determined to avoid it after reading Isaac’s novel. Then I recently watched the movie again after so many years and wondered what was the big deal. I am not saying that “SHINING THROUGH” was a great movie. It was not. But I found it difficult to accept this prevailing view that it was one of the worst movies ever made. More importantly, my opinion of the novel is not as highly regarded as it is by many others. Basically, I have mixed feelings about the novel and the film.

The technical crew for “SHINING THROUGH” did a first-rate job. Production designer Anthony Pratt did an excellent job in re-creating both the eastern United States and Germany during the early 1940s. He was ably assisted by cinematographer Jan de Bont, whose photography struck me as particularly rich, sharp and colorful. I found Peter Howitt’s set decorations particularly effective in the Berlin sequences. I especially enjoyed the late Marit Allen’s costume designs for the film. I thought she did an excellent job in ensuring that the costumes effectively reflected the characters’ nationalities, gender, class and positions.

Before I discuss the movie’s virtues and flaws, I have to do the same for Isaac’s novel. I was very impressed by how the writer handled Linda Voss’ relationships with attorney John Berringer, his wife Nan Leland and the latter’s father, Ed Leland rather well. I found Isaac’s handling of Linda’s private life very romantic, complex, detailed, rather messy and very realistic. In fact, I remember being so caught up by Linda’s personal life that by the time the story jumped to the Berlin sequences, I realized that this segment had taken up over half of the novel. But once Isaac’s moved to the story to Linda’s wartime experiences as a spy in Berlin, I found myself feeling very disappointment. It seemed so rushed and unfulfilling. I was also surprised by how my feelings for the novel seemed to be the complete opposite of my feelings toward the movie.

Unlike Isaac’s portrayal of Linda’s private life, I was not impressed by how David Seltzer handled the character’s romance in the movie’s first half. I had no problems with Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas. They had a decent chemistry, if not particularly spectacular. But the Linda/Ed romance lacked the detailed complexity and realism of the literary romance. Instead, I found it turgid, somewhat simple-minded and a bad rehash of clichéd World War II romances found in many past movies. I even had to endure a rendition of the old wartime standby, “I’ll Be Seeing You”, while Linda and Ed hash over his disappearance during the war’s first six months. I also noticed that Seltzer eliminated the John Berringer and Nan Leland characters, which reduced Linda and Ed’s romance into a one-note cliché. All I can is . . . thank God the movie shifted to Linda’s experiences in Berlin. I realize that many fans of Isaac’s novel would disagree with me, but I feel that Seltzer handled the story’s second half – both as the movie’s director and screenwriter – a lot better than Isaac. I realize that this revelation might seem sacrilege to many of the novel’s fans, but I stand by my opinion. Seltzer’s screenplay seemed to go into more detail regarding Linda’s mission in Germany – from the moment when the elderly, German-born Allied spy called “Sunflower” escorts her from Switzerland to Berlin; to Linda’s search for her Jewish relations; and finally to when Linda and Ed’s attempt to cross back into Switzerland. This entire sequence was filled with exciting action, drama, surprising pathos and some first-rate suspense – especially between Linda and two particular characters. My three favorites scenes from this entire sequence were the development of Linda’s friendship with Sunflower’s niece, Margrete von Eberstein; her outing to Berlin’s zoo with the Dietrich children; and her showdown with a Nazi spy after escape from Dietrich’s home. I found Linda’s developing friendship with Margrete fun to watch. The entire sequences regarding both the visit to the zoo and Linda’s showdown with a spy two very suspenseful, yet fascinating sequences.

As I had earlier stated, Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas did not exactly burn the movie screen as a romantic couple. But I thought they managed to create a solid romance . . . enough to rise above Selzer’s turgid writing that seemed to mar the movie’s first forty minutes or so. Griffith did a first-rate job as Linda Voss by conveying both the character’s passion and clumsy skills as a spy. My only problem with Griffith’s performance is that she did not seem to make an effective narrator. Her voice was too soft and Seltzer’s words struck me as over-the-top. Michael Douglas portrayed Ed Leland – Linda’s boss and eventual lover – and gave a very good performance. I thought he was very effective in conveying Ed’s no-nonsense personality. But in my opinion, the best performance came from Liam Neeson, who portrayed Linda’s second employer – Franz-Otto Dietrich. First of all, I have to give kudos to Neeson for portraying Dietrich without the usual negative overtones usually associated with on-screen Nazi officers. Neeson portrayed Dietrich as a soft-spoken and charming man, who also seemed to be a devoted father and very observant man. At the same time, Neeson took care to convey to audiences that Dietrich could also be very ruthless with great skill and subtlety.

“SHINING THROUGH” was the second time I had become acquainted with Joely Richardson. I was very impressed by her portrayal of Linda’s only Berlin friend, Margrete von Eberstein, who happened to be Sunflower’s niece and also a spy for the Allies. Richardson gave a particularly effervescent performance as the very charming Margrete. She also clicked very well with Griffith on screen. John Gielgud probably gave the most crowd pleasing performance in the film as Sunflower, the German aristocrat-turned-Allied spy. Gielgud provided some memorable zingers, while his character delivered scathing criticism of Linda’s skills as a spy. The movie also featured brief appearances of veteran character actors Wolf Kahler and Thomas Kretschmann, who later became a rather busy character actor in the U.S. It also featured solid performances by Patrick Winczewski, Ronald Nitschke, Sheila Allen, Sylvia Sims, Francis Guinan; along with Anthony Walters and Victoria Shalet as the Dietrich children.

Do I believe that “SHINING THROUGH” deserved the movie critics’ contempt, along with the numerous Razzies awards it acquired? No. Not really. It is not the greatest World War II melodrama I have ever seen. And I certainly would not have placed it on a “best movies” list of any kind. “SHINING THROUGH” is basically a mixed bag, much like the Susan Isaac novel upon which it is based. Like the novel, the movie is a study in contradiction. Writer-director David Seltzer’s handling of the Linda Voss-Ed Leland romance could be called a cinematic embarrassment. It is only a miracle that Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas’ performances were not marred by such bad writing. On the other hand, Seltzer did an excellent job in writing and directing the sequences featuring Linda’s adventures in Germany. If you are not expecting a cinematic masterpiece, I would suggest watching it . . . even if it means enduring the movie’s first forty minutes or so.

Ten Favorite Movies Set in TEXAS


Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Texas aka “the Lone Star State”:


1 - The Big Country

1. “The Big Country” (1958) – William Wyler directed this big scale adaptation of Donald Hamilton’s 1958 novel, “Ambush at Blanco Canyon”. The movie starred Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker and Charlton Heston.

2 - Written on the Wind

2. “Written on the Wind” (1956) – Douglas Sirk directed this adaptation of Robert Wilder’s 1954 novel about a East Coast secretary who married into a wealthy Texas family. The movie starred Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Oscar nominee Robert Stack and Oscar winner Dorothy Malone.

3 - The Shadow Riders

3. “The Shadow Riders” (1982) – Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot starred in this television adaptation of Louis L’Amour’s novel about brothers who search for their kidnapped siblings at the end of the Civil War. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, the movie co-starred Jeff Osterhage, Katherine Ross and Ben Johnson.

4 - Giant

4. “Giant” (1956) – Oscar nominee George Stevens produced and directed this adaptation of Edna Ferber’s 1952 about a wealthy Texas family. The movie starred Elizabeth Taylor, and Oscar nominees Rock Hudson and James Dean.

5 - 2 Guns

5. “2 Guns” (2013) – Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg starred in this adaptation of a comic book series about two undercover agents and their search for missing C.I.A. money. The movie was directed by Baltasar Kormákur.

6 - No Country For Old Men

6. “No Country For Old Men” (2007) – The Coen Brothers directed this Oscar winning film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel. The movie starred Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald, Woody Harrelson and Oscar winner Jarvier Bardem.

7 - Parkland

7. “Parkland” (2013) – Peter Landesman wrote and directed this film about the immediate aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The cast includes Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston and James Badge Dale.

8 - Dallas Buyers Club

8. “Dallas Buyers’ Club” (2013) – Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey starred in this biopic about A.I.D.S. activist Ron Woodruff. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the movie co-starred Jennifer Garner and Oscar winner Jared Leto.

9 - The Searchers

9. “The Searchers” (1956) – John Ford directed this epic adaptation of Alan Le May’s 1954 novel about the search for a missing girl taken by Commanches. The movie starred John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter.

10 - Extreme Prejudice

10. “Extreme Prejudice” (1987) – Walter Hill directed this action packed tale about a conflict between a Texas Ranger, his former boyhood friend-turned-drug kingpin and a team of Army Intelligence agents. Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe starred.

“Defense of the Realm” [PG-13] – 12/14




Once the five chosen whitelighters were initiated into the positions of Elders, the newly completed Council decided to proceed to their first topic – namely filling the position of Head Elder. Not surprisingly, Gideon was the first to make a suggestion. “I nominate,” he declared, “Elder Mathilda Everard.”

Johann allowed himself an amused smile, as Serafina shot up from her seat. “I mean no disrespect to Elder . . . Everard, but this is becoming absurd. Not long ago, the old Council had dismissed her for flagrantly disregarding the rules. Then most of the old Elders are brutally murdered. Elder Davis then suggests that we reinstate her back on the Council and once we accomplish that, he nominates her as the Council’s new leader.” The Costa Rican regarded the veteran Elder with narrowed eyes. “I do not know about the rest of you, but this is all becoming very suspicious.”

“Exactly what are you insinuating, Serafina?” Mathilda coolly demanded.

Serafina’s dark eyes blazed with righteousness. “I am saying . . . no, I am accusing you of manipulating the entire situation. Of being complicit in the murders of the Elders.”

An unpleasant smile curled Mathilda’s lips. Johann could not help but feel a surge of admiration for the old warhorse. “May I remind you that I’m a whitelighter? And an Elder? I have served the forces of good for nearly four hundred years. How dare you suggest that I would take a life? Especially that of a fellow whitelighter!”

“Of course not!” Serafina retorted. “However, you are in the habit of getting others to do your dirty work. Your dealings with Leo Wyatt, for instance! Did you not used him to get a witch to . . .”

Mathilda shot to her feet. “Enough! I do not have to listen to such nonsense! Frankly Serafina, I find it distasteful that you would resort to wild accusations in order to maneuver your way into position of Head Elder!”

“I am not interested in that position!” Serafina shot back. “However, I do find it suspicious that not long after you were dismissed from the Council . . .”

“Oh yes! I see that we have to endure that little spiel, again!”

Johann watched the entire confrontation between the two alpha females with repressed glee. So much for the angelic reputation of whitelighters. Apparently, they could be just as petty and temperamental as humans, darklighters, daemons and other so-called lesser beings. Artemus had been right. The Austrian also realized that it was time to end the pissing contest that now raged.

“Pardon frauleins,” he said. When the two continued to argue, he shouted, “Ladies!” Both Mathilda and Serafina fell silent and stared at him. So did the other Council members. “Thank you. Now, before we all decide upon the new Head Elder, I have my own candidate to nominate.”

Gideon stared at him. “And who might that be?”

Johann smiled. “Me.” The others, with the exception of Belinda, regarded him with shock and surprise. Especially Mathilda.

“Johann, what are you . . .?” the latter demanded.

The Austrian continued, “What am I doing? Deviating from our plan, of course.”

“What do you mean by that?” Serafina demanded. “And why should we nominate you?”

Still smiling, Johann stood up and walked around the Council’s table, until he ended up facing his fellow Elders. “Oh, you won’t be the ones to choose me,” he said. “They will.” He pointed at seven robed figures that had entered the Council chambers. Gasps escaped from the others’ mouths, as the strangers threw back their hoods and pointed bow-and-arrows – darklighter weapons – at the Council members.


“What in the hell is going on?” Cole demanded for the second time. He did not know whether to be surprised, angry or happy at the sight of Olivia. Or worried by the bruises on her face. He decided to settle for surprise and anger. “Natalia,” he said to the Russian-born whitelighter, “when I had given you refuge, I didn’t mean for you to invite others without my permission.”

Natalia stood up. “Forgive me, Cole. I had encountered Miss McNeill and Mr. Morris in the garage, downstairs. We had a . . . near miss. I thought they were agents for the Council and orbed up here. Miss McNeill and Mr. Morris had followed me. And since she is a relation of one of my former charges, I had invited them inside. You do not mind, do you?” Her dark eyes widened with innocence. Then she frowned. “Forgive me, but why are you here?”

Before Cole could answer, Chris spoke up. “Hi. We haven’t formally met. My name is Chris Perry. I’m . . .”

“Yes, I know who you are. I’ve seen you in the Realm. The whitelighter from the future.” Natalia coolly nodded. “I assume you are here to take me back to the Elders.” She shot an accusing glance at Cole.

Leo replied, “It’s not what you think, Natalia. We . . . I mean, Phoebe had a vision of who was behind the Elders’ deaths.”

“It’s Mathilda,” Phoebe added.

Natalia did not look particularly fazed by the news. She snorted with derision. “Huh, why am I not surprised?”

Olivia added, “Wait a minute! You mean the Elder who had arranged the whole thing between me, Cole and Paul, is also behind the murders in the Whitelighter Realm?”

“Yes,” Chris replied.

The Russian said to him and Leo, “Have you informed the Council?”

Leo glanced uneasily at Chris. “We . . . uh . . .”

“I was about to, but the Council chambers are off-limits to other whitelighters. I believe they might be forming a new Council. I ran into Leo and told him.”

“When we found out that you were here,” Leo continued.

Chris finished, “We decided to let you inform them.”

A sigh left Natalia’s mouth. “I see.” She paused. “By the way, we have another problem.”

Cole noticed the book in Olivia’s lap. “Uh, what’s going on? What are you doing with my book?”

Olivia and Darryl told the others about a murder/robbery case they were investigating. And their encounters with Gerry Gallagher and Lin Bryant. “Is that why your face looks like that?” Piper asked.

“Unfortunately yes. I know it looks pretty bad,” Olivia said. “Personally, I feel like I had just went ten rounds with Michelle Yeoh.” She sighed. Cole wanted to reach out and stroke her face.

Piper added, “Maybe you should ask Leo to heal those bruises.”

Olivia shook her head. “No. We had left . . . or maybe I should say that I had left Ms. Bryant on the floor, dead. These bruises are proof that I had a good reason for kicking her ass.” She added, “Anyway, our case had led to this.” She pointed at the book on her lap. Cole recognized it as a book on inter-dimensional mythology. “Someone from the Magan Corporation had hired Lin Bryant to find the Erebor medallions, in order to reach the Whitelighter Realm.”

“Yeah,” Darryl added. “According to one of Ms. Bryant’s men, someone named Johann Bauer.”

“Who?” Chris demanded.

Both Natalia and Leo’s faces turned pale. “Oh my God!” the latter cried.

Cole grunted. “Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in years.”

Leo stared at the half-daemon. “What do mean? Where have you met Johann, before?” Then he turned to Olivia and Darryl. “And why would a whitelighter be involved with a company that might be demonic?”

“This Johann Whatshismane,” Piper began, “he’s a whitelighter?”

“Yes!” Both Leo and Natalia answered at the same time.

Cole replied coolly, “No, he’s not. He’s a darklighter.”

“That’s impossible!” Leo declared. “No darklighter or any other entity can access the Whitelighter Realm, without being accompanied by a whitelighter.”

“Leo, I’ve had dealings with this guy, before. He has connections with the Khorne Order.”

Darryl frowned. “The what?”

With a sigh, Cole explained that the Brotherhood of the Khorne was among the many demonic orders in the old Source’s realm. An upper-level daemon named Artemus used to be its leader. “But the Source had banished him to the Stygian Abyss in the 1970s, after he had failed to destroy the Gimle Order.”

“What’s this Stygian Abyss?” Piper asked.

Olivia indicated the book in her lap. “It’s a supernatural maximum-security prison to where many beings of magical abilities are banished. My family has sent a good number of daemons there. The thing about the Stygian Abyss is that no one can escape from it. It’s like Alcatraz. Well, maybe worse. As for this Johann Bauer, if he is a darklighter . . .”

“He’s been a whitelighter for the past five or six years!” Natalia exclaimed.

Nodding, Olivia said, “Interesting. He became one around the same time Lin Bryant had began her search for the Erebor medallions. Perhaps this Mr. Bauer was among the first to use one . . . if what Cole says about him is true.”

“Oh great!” Piper retorted. “And this guy is now an Elder?”

Anxiety whirled in Leo’s eyes. “We have to stop him!” he insisted. “Expose him to the Council, before he kills again.”

“Wait a minute!” Chris demanded. “If two of these medallions have fallen into Johann Bauer’s hands, and he’s probably wearing a third; what about the other six? Do the darklighters now have all nine of them?”

Phoebe commented, “If they do, they can get rid of the entire Whitelighter Council. And after that . . .”

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “Oh God! This means that all of us will have to go to the Whitelighter Realm.” Darryl coughed slightly. “Well, except for Darryl.”

“And Cole,” Piper added. “Considering he’s a demon.”

The redhead’s green eyes swept over the half-daemon in a manner that left him feeling slightly aroused. “Oh, I don’t know. Considering that Cole had managed to return from the dead on his own, he might be able to teleport to the Realm. After all, we’re going to need his help. Especially if Bauer is an Elder, as Leo claimed.”

Cole stared back at Olivia. “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” he murmured.

“My pleasure.” Olivia smiled.

“And what about Paige?” Phoebe asked. She seemed slightly uneasy by Cole’s exchange with Olivia. “We might need the Power of Three.”

Olivia added, “All we have to do is make sure that we remove the medallions from the darklighters, before we attack them. So, are we all ready?”

Chris frowned at the redhead. “Are you always this bossy?”

She smiled at him. “Yes. Considering that you’re from the future, you should know that.” Then Olivia stood up and turned to the Russian whitelighter. “Natalia? Ready for that lift.” The whitelighter stood up – much to Cole’s disappointment. The two females joined hands and disappeared in a swirl of blue lights.

Leo heaved an exasperated sigh and orbed with Piper. Chris turned to Phoebe. “Maybe you should come with me. In case Cole can’t reach . . . uh, up there.” Phoebe stared at Cole, who shrugged. She pecked his cheek, and grabbed Chris’ hand before disappearing.

Cole sighed. He glanced at Darryl, who regarded him with sympathetic eyes. “You mind locking up, before you leave?”

“I don’t mind,” the detective replied.

Then Cole gave a small nod, as he beamed out of his living room.


“DANIEL DERONDA” (2002) Review



“DANIEL DERONDA” (2002) Review

With the exception of the 1994 miniseries, “MIDDLEMARCH”, I am not that familiar with any movie or television adaptations of George Eliot’s works. I finally decided to overlook my earlier lack of interest in Eliot’s final novel, “Daniel Deronda” and watch the television version that aired back in 2002.

This adaptation of Eliot’s 1876 novel was set during the same decade of its publication, although the literary version was set a decade earlier – during the 1860s. Adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Hooper, “DANIEL DERONDA” contained two major plot arcs, united by the story’s title character. In fact, Davies followed Eliot’s narrative structure by starting its tale mid-way. The miniseries began in the fictional town of Leubronn, Germany with the meeting of Daniel Deronda, the ward of a wealthy landowner; and the oldest daughter of an impoverished, yet respectable family, Gwendolen Harleth. The two meet inside a casino, where Gwendolen manages to lose a good deal of money at roulette. When she learns that her family has become financially ruined, Gwendolen pawns her necklace and considers another round of gambling to make her fortune. However, Daniel, who became attracted to her, redeemed the necklace for her. The story then flashes back several months to the pair’s back stories.

Following the death of her stepfather, Gwendolen and her family moves to a new neighborhood, where she meets Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt, a taciturn and calculating man who proposes marriage safter their first meeting. Although originally tempted to be courted by Grandcourt, Gwendolen eventually flees to Germany after learning about Grandcourt’s mistress, Lydia Glasher and their children. Meanwhile, Daniel is in the process of wondering what to do with his life, when he prevents a beautiful Jewish singer named Milah Lapidoth from committing suicide. Kidnapped by her father as a child and forced into an acting troupe, Milah finally fled from him when she discovered his plans to sell her into prostitution. Daniel undertakes to help Milah find her mother and brother in London’s Jewish community before he departs for Germany with his guardian, Sir Hugo Mallinger. Although Daniel and Gwendolen are attracted to each other, she eventually marries the emotionally abusive Grandcourt out of desperation, and he continues his search for Milah’s family and becomes further acquainted with London’s Jewish community. Because Grandcourt is Sir Hugo’s heir presumptive, Daniel and Gwendolen’s paths cross on several occasions.

There are times when I find myself wondering if there is any true description of Eliot’s tale. On one hand, it seemed to be an exploration of Jewish culture through the eyes of the Daniel Deronda character. On the other hand, it seemed like an exploration of an abusive marriage between a previously spoiled young woman who finds herself out of her depth and a cold and manipulative man. Most critics and viewers seemed more interested in the plotline regarding Gwendolen’s marriage to Henleigh Grandcourt. At the same time, these same critics and viewers have criticized Eliot’s exploration of Jewish culture through Daniel’s eyes, judging it as dull and a millstone around the production’s neck. When I first saw “DANIEL DERONDA”, I had felt the same. But after this second viewing, I am not so sure if I would completely agree with them.

Do not get me wrong. I thought Andrew Davies, Tom Hopper and the cast did an excellent job of translating Gwendolen’s story arc to the screen. I was especially transfixed in watching how the arrogant and spoiled found herself drawn into a marriage with a controlling and sadistic man like Henleigh Grandcourt. However by the first half of Episode Three, I found myself growing rather weary of watching Hugh Bonneville stare icily into the camera, while Romola Garai trembled before him. Only Gwendolen’s pathetic attempts to rattle her husband and Grandcourt’s jealousy of Daniel provided any relief from the constant mental sadism between the pair. In contrast, Daniel’s interest in Milah, her Jewish ancestry and especially his confusion over his own identity struck me as surprisingly interesting. I also found the conflict between Daniel’s growing interest in Judaism and his godfather’s determination to mold him into an “English gentleman” also fascinating. When I first saw “DANIEL DERONDA”, I thought it could have benefited from a fourth episode. Or . . . the producers could have stretched the second and third episodes to at least 75 or 90 minutes each. But you know what? Upon my second viewing, I realized I had no problems with the production’s running time. Besides, I do not think I could have endured another episode of the Grandcourts’ marriage.

I have to give George Eliot for creating an interesting novel about self-discovery . . . especially for the two main characters, Daniel Deronda and Gwendolen Harleth. And I want to also credit screenwriter Andrew Davies for his first-rate translation of Eliot’s novel to the television screen. I would not say that Davies’ work was perfect, but then neither was Eliot’s novel. I have to praise both the novelist and the screenwriter for effectively conveying Daniel’s confusion over his own identity and his fascination toward a new culture and how both will eventually converge as one by the end of the story. Although Gwendolen plays a part in Daniel’s inner culture clash, she has her own struggles. I do not simply refer to her struggles to endure Grandcourt’s emotional control over her. I also refer to Gwendolen’s moral conflict – one in which she had earlier lost when she had agreed to marry Grandcourt. But a trip to Italy will eventually give her a second chance to resolve her conflict. On the other hand, I do have some quibbles about Davies’ screenplay. Daniel was not the only character who had developed feelings for Milah. So did his close friend, Hans Meyrick. Unfortunately, Davies’ screenplay did little to explore Hans’ feelings for Milah and toward her relationship with Daniel. Speaking of Milah, I could not help but feel fascinated by her backstory regarding her relationship with her father. In many ways, it struck me as a lot more traumatic than Gwendolen’s marriage to Grandcourt. A part of me wishes that Eliot had explored this part of Milah’s life in her novel. Speaking of Milah, Episode Two ended on an interesting note in which she finally became aware of the emotional connection between Daniel and Gwendolen. And yet, the story never followed through on this emotional and character development. Which I feel is a damn shame.

Some fans and critics have expressed regret that Daniel ends up marrying Milah, instead of Gwendolen. After all, Eliot allowed two other characters to form a mixed marriage – the Jewish musician Herr Klesmer and one of Gwendolen’s friends, Catherine Arrowpoint. Surely, she could have allowed Daniel and Gwendolen to marry. I do believe that they had a point. I feel that Daniel and Gwendolen would have made emotionally satisfying partners for each other. But if I must be honest, I can say the same about Daniel and Milah. I believe the two women represented choices in lifestyles for Daniel. Gwendolen represented the lifestyle that both Sir Hugo and Daniel’s mother wanted him to pursue – namely that of an upper-class English gentleman. Milah represented a lifestyle closer to his true self. In the end, Eliot wanted Daniel to choose his “true self”.

I cannot deny that the production values for “DANIEL DERONDA” struck me as outstanding. Don Taylor’s production designs for the miniseries did a beautiful job in re-creating Victorian England and Europe during the 1870s. The crew who helped him bring this era to life also did exceptional jobs, especially art director Grant Montgomery and set decorator Nicola Barnes. However, there were technical aspects that truly stood out. Simon Starling’s colorful and sharp photography of Great Britain and Malta (which served as Italy) truly took my breath away. I could also say the same for Caroline Noble, who did an excellent job of re-creating the hairstyles of the early and mid-1870s. As for Mike O’Neill’s costume designs for the production . . . in some cases, pictures can speak louder than words:

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Truly outstanding and beautiful. I was especially impressed by Romola Garai’s wardrobe.

“DANIEL DERONDA” also featured a good deal of outstanding performances. If I must be honest, I cannot find a single performance that struck me as below par or even mediocre. The miniseries featured solid performances from the likes of Celia Imrie, Anna Popplewell, Anna Steel, Jamie Bamber and Daniel Marks. “DANIEL DERONDA” also included some interested supporting performances, especially Allan Corduner’s skillful portrayal of the blunt-speaking musician Herr Klesmer; David Bamber as Grandcourt’s slimy sycophant, Lush; Edward Fox as Sir Hugo Mallinger, Daniel’s loving benefactor; Amanda Root’s interesting portrayal of Gwendolen’s rather timid mother; Daniel Evan’s intense performance as Miriam’s long lost brother; and Greta Scacchi’s very complex portrayal of Grandcourt’s former mistress, Lydia Glasher.

Superficially, the character of Miriam Lapidoth seemed like the type that would usually bore me – the “nice girl” with whom the hero usually ended. But actress Jodhi May projected a great deal of depth in her portrayal of Miriam, reflecting the character’s haunted past in a very subtle and skillful manner. Barbara Hershey more or less made a cameo appearance in “DANIEL DERONDA” that lasted a good five to ten minutes. However, being an excellent actress, Hershey gave a superb performance as Daniel’s long lost mother, a former opera singer named Contessa Maria Alcharisi, who gave him up to Sir Hugo in order to pursue a singing career. Perhaps I should have been horrified by her decision to give up motherhood for a career. But Hershey beautifully conveyed the contessa’s frustration over her father’s determination that she adhere to society’s rules by limiting her life to being a wife and mother. And I found myself sympathizing her situation.

Like Miriam Lapidoth, the Daniel Deronda character seemed like the type of character I would find boring. Superficially, he seemed too upright and not particularly complex. However, I was surprised and very pleased by how Hugh Dancy injected a great deal of complexity in his portrayal of Daniel. He did an effective job in portraying Daniel’s conflict between the lifestyle both Sir Hugo and his mother had mapped out for him and the one represented by Miriam, her brother Mordecai, and their friends, the Cohens. Romola Garai was equally superb as the complex Gwendolen Harleth. She did such an excellent job in conveying Gwendolen’s growth from a spoiled and ambitious young woman, to the matured and more compassionate woman who had survived an emotionally traumatic marriage that I cannot help but wonder how she failed to earn an action nomination, let alone award, for her performance. Hugh Bonneville also gave an excellent job as Gwendolen’s emotionally abusive husband, Henleigh Grandcourt. I read somewhere that the role helped Bonneville break out of his usual staple of good-natured buffoons that he had portrayed in movies like 1999’s “MANSFIELD PARK” and“NOTTING HILL”. I can see how. I found his Grandcourt rather chilly and intimidating.

“DANIEL DERONDA” may have a few flaws. But overall, it is a prime example of the British period dramas at its zenith during the fifteen-year period between 1995 and 2010. It is a superb production and adaptation of George Eliot’s novel, thanks to Tom Hooper’s direction, Andrew Davies’ writing, the excellent work by its crew and the first-rate cast led by Hugh Dancy and Romola Garai. It is something not to be missed.

Becoming “the Dark One”



I have a confession to make. I am a little disappointed at how Emma Swan became the new “Dark One”. She did so by committing a noble act. And I find that . . . unsatisfying.

The Season One episode, (1.08) “Desperate Soul” revealed that Rumpelstiltskin had originally become “the Dark One” when he was recruited by the title’s previous holder, Zoso, to find the dagger that would either allow the former to control him or acquire magical power by killing him. Zoso goaded Rumpelstiltskin into anger by questioning the paternity of latter’s son, Baelfire/Neal Cassidy, and the latter killed him. Rumpelstiltskin became the new “Dark One” and remained so for several centuries.

But nothing similar happened to Emma. Instead, she recently became “the Dark One” in the series’ Season Four finale, (4.23) “Operation Mongoose, Part II” by saving Regina Mills from an entity that would allow the latter to assume that title. She did so by allowing herself to become possessed by said entity. Before coming possessed, Emma told Regina that she wanted prevent Regina’s moral progress from being disrupted. Well, I am glad that Regina was prevented from becoming “the Dark One”. But . . . pardon me for saying this, but Emma’s reasoning struck me as a bit patronizing. And it seemed that Horowitz and Kitsis may have taken the whole “savior complex” a bit too far. At least to me.

Emma was worried about the regression of Regina’s moral compass? She should have been worried about her own. Despite the Sorcerer Apprentice’s spell that had allegedly transferred Emma’s inner evil to the daughter of Maleficent, Lily Page in a (4.17) “Best Laid Plans” flashback, I personally suspect that his spell went no where. After all, Emma’s moral compass was already questionable by the she first had arrived in Storybrooke. She had spent most of her adolescent as a thief. Both she and former boyfriend, Neal, had stolen a yellow Volkswagen . . . which was never returned by Neal or Emma. When she told Regina that her car was stolen in (4.13) “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, she seemed to be lacking in any remorse over her crime. She had also committed a series of petty crimes – including destruction of private property, and breaking and entering – that should have landed her behind bars in Storybrooke or fired as the town’s sheriff back in Season One. Her rescue of son Henry Mills from the clutches of Cruella de Vil in (4.19) “Sympathy for the De Vil” nearly endangered his life. Yet . . . very few people have commented on this. Her decision to save Maid Marian from being executed by Regina in (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home”, literally ended in disaster. And if viewers are really to believe that the Apprentice had removed all signs of Emma’s inner evil before she was born; why did the Chernabog demon, which allegedly only sought out one with the heart with the greatest potential for evil in order to devour said heart, went after Emma, instead of the former Evil Queen in “Darkness on the Edge of Town”? What did that say about Emma’s true nature – spell or no spell?

Unfortunately, the series’ reluctance to openly acknowledge Emma’s unpleasant side has not done her character any credit. Sometimes, I get the feeling that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis are afraid of really exploring how low Emma can sink on her own. Or when they are willing to do so, they are very vague about it. Why, I do not know. To this day, no one seems willing to criticize Emma for keeping a stolen vehicle. No one bothered to point out that her decision to act as Marian’s savior had led to disaster. No one. Not a single character on the show (aside from an angry Regina in early Season Four) or any of the series’ viewers. No one had questioned Emma’s method of killing Cruella de Vil in “Sympathy for the De Vil” . . . especially since she could have saved Henry without ending Cruella’s life and nearly endangering his. Well, I take that back. Horowitz and Kitsis claimed that Emma had “stepped over the line” by killing Cruella. The problem is that they never made the effort to clarify their comment – not to the fans or on the show. I have noticed in the past that the only times Emma’s actions were really criticized happened during late Season Three when she was determined to upset the Charming family dynamics by returning to New York City with Henry.

And now, Emma has become “the Dark One”. Through an act of noble sacrifice. UGH! Kitsis and Horowitz spent most of Season Four building up to how unpleasant Emma could be . . . and ended it all in a nice bow tie with forgiveness toward her parents’ perfidy. And what did they do next? Allowed Emma to become “the Dark One” through an act of sacrifice. This whole story arc would have been more interesting if Emma’s Season Four descent into evil could have ended with her falling under “the Dark One” curse. But noooooo! Once again, the possibility in revealing how low Emma can sink winds up being pushed aside or in this case,sugar coated.

When will “ONCE UPON A TIME” be willing to expose Emma’s true potential for evil without resorting to vague or evasive storytelling, or possession by magical entity? They managed to do so with her parents, Snow White and David, Prince Charming. I think Emma could become a more interesting character if Horowitz and Kitsis would allow this to eventually happen. But I have a deep suspicion that the series will end before the two showrunners would be willing to do so.

Top Five Favorite “TOUR OF DUTY” Season One (1987-1988) Episodes

Several years ago, my family and I became hooked on an old series that aired on TNT about a platoon of Army soldiers during the Vietnam War called “TOUR OF DUTY”. The series starred Terence Knox and Stephen Caffrey and originally aired on CBS between 1987 and 1990.

Recently, my interest in “TOUR OF DUTY” was renewed and I decided to rent the Season One episodes from my Netflix account. Below is a list of five episodes from that first season that I consider to be my favorites:

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “TOUR OF DUTY” Season One (1987-1988) Episodes

1.  (1.07) “Brothers, Fathers, and Sons” – The mixture of humor and tragedy is strangely effective in this tale in which Anderson, Baker, and Johnson attempt to return to base after being shot down behind enemy lines, while catching a ride in a helicopter. While being hunted by a VC leader named Trang, whose son Anderson had killed; the trio comes across a pregnant woman who had died after giving birth. Johnson and Baker insist that they take the baby with them, despite Anderson’s protests. The writing and performances (especially Terence Knox) in this episode were so impressive that I consider it one of the best in the entire series.


2.  (1.15) “Soldiers” – In this episode, Purcell learns that his father had suffered a heart attack and is given furlough to visit the latter in Honolulu. He is later joined by Taylor and Ruiz and the three men are exposed to the “real” world of the late 1960s and the negative attitudes and consequences about the war. Excellent view of the homefront during the Vietnam War and great performances by Tony Becker, Miguel Nunez Jr., Ramon Franco and guest stars Robert Fuller and Robert Ito.


3.  (1.16) “Gray-Brown Odyssey” – Goldman, Horn and a third soldier are attacked when they are returning to base in a jeep. The third soldier is killed and Goldman, blinded. Goldman and Horn managed to capture the surviving VC solider in the attack – a woman. While Horn goes for help, Goldman is forced to leave the scene with his prisoner after she manages to send a signal of help to other villagers. Both Stephen Caffrey and guest star Joan Chen gave superb performances as the temporarily blinded Lieutenant Goldman and the female Vietcong soldier who debate and learn a great deal about each other’s ideologies. This is something one would hardly see in a Vietnam War movie.


4.  (1.14) “Under Siege” – In this episode, the men of Bravo Company endure a series of artillery fire and attacks by the Vietcong at Firebase Ladybird. Even worse, the men are forced to deal with an arrogant and fanatic new commander, who is determined to defend the base despite Anderson’s warnings that they are in danger of being overrun by the enemy. A harrowing episode that ends in tragedy.


5.  (1.13) “U.S.O. Down” – A USO band that includes three female dancers, a sax players, and a singer complete a performance at an outlying base, and are rushed to a helicopter to be flown to their next destination. None of them get a chance to even change their costumes when the helicopter is shot down and the entire crew is killed. Bravo Company eventually finds them while on recon and the U.S.O band members are forced to make the transition to “soldier” since Goldman is unable to call for help due to dead radio batteries. A strange and very complex episode in which certain characters turned out to be different that one expected.

“Defense of the Realm” [PG-13] – 11/14



“As the sisters’ whitelighter, it’s my job to inform the Elders about what they had discovered!” Chris shouted at Leo. “Not yours!”

Upon their return from Sausalito, Chris had orbed to the Whitelighter Realm to inform the Council about Mathilda Everard’s part in the Elders’ murders. Only Chris never received the chance, due to the Council being in closed session. Instead, Chris encountered Leo. The latter tried to get inside the Council, but like Chris before him – failed. The two whitelighters returned to the Halliwell manor, arguing over who should approach the remaining Elders.

His face red with anger, Leo shot back, “This isn’t the time to be arguing over who has jurisdiction, Chris! We have important news for the Elders. And since they are probably more inclined to listen . . .”

The doorbell rang, interrupting the whitelighters’ quarrel. “Who’s that?” Piper asked.

Paige marched to the front door and opened it. Cole stood on the stoop, outside. “Hey,” he greeted. “Is Phoebe here?”


Phoebe joined her younger sister at the door. “Cole! What are you doing here?”

“I had called your office for a lunch date,” the half-demon replied. “But you weren’t there. In fact,” he glanced at his watch, “weren’t you due back nearly a half-hour ago?” Paige allowed him inside the house.

A gasp left Phoebe’s mouth. “Oh my God! I forgot!” She rushed toward the telephone. “I better call in sick.”

Paige shrugged. “I don’t think that argument is going to get me anywhere. I better get back to work. I hope Barbara isn’t pissed.”

“Surely she would understand what’s going on?” Piper added.

“Maybe. But it’s been very busy at the store, lately. Inventory.”

Cole glanced at the others. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Leo immediately replied.

Paige said at the same time, “We found out who’s been killing the Elders.”

“Paige!” The blond whitelighter looked upset.

The youngest Charmed One stared at her brother-in-law. “What? Cole knows about the murders!” She turned to the half-demon. “It’s Mathilda.”

Cole’s blue eyes expressed surprise. “Really? The Elder who had tried to get me killed?”

“That’s the one. Blood thirsty lady, isn’t she? Chris and Leo have been arguing over who gets to tell the Whitelighter Council.”

Now it was Piper’s turn to protest. “Paige! Don’t you have to get back to work?”

“So, Natalia is no longer the main suspect?” Cole asked. Everyone, including Phoebe who had hung up, stared at him.

Leo’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you so concerned about Natalia?”

Cole hesitated. Then he sighed. “Since you’ve discovered the real culprit, I might as well tell you. Natalia Stepanova is at my place. She has been, since yesterday evening.”

“What?” Leo cried.

Phoebe exclaimed at the same time, “Cole! Why didn’t you tell me? Tell us?”

“I should have known,” Piper added sarcastically.

The half-demon held up his hand to silence the others. “If you must know, Natalia had asked the Gimle Order to give her sanctuary from your Council. Marbus brought her to me. He figured that I would be powerful enough to protect her from your Elders. But since you found out that my old buddy, Mathilda is responsible, I might as well tell her.”

“We . . . might as well tell her,” Chris added. “We’re going with you.”

Cole seared the younger whitelighter with a cold glare. “I don’t recall inviting you to my apartment. And what makes you think I’ll allow you inside?”

Chris nearly wilted under the half-demon’s intimidating stare. Paige came to his rescue. “Because it would mean a big favor for us,” she added in a conciliatory tone. “Please?”

“All right,” Cole said with a nod. “Let’s go.”

Paige grabbed her purse. “I’d like to join you, but I’ve got to get going. See you guys later.” And she orbed out of the manor.


Serafina Villabos reacted with shock at Gideon’s suggestion for a new Council member. “Are you serious? Mathilda?” she cried. “Our predecessors had removed her for a reason!”

“For trying to get rid of Belthazor?” Gideon retorted. “At least she tried. Which is more than I can say for the rest of my former colleagues.”

The Costa Rica-born Elder shot back, “She had gone behind the Council’s back! Furthermore, she had convinced a whitelighter to coerce a witch into committing the deed!”

“Certain situations called for difficult . . . acts! I say that we invite Mathilda to the Council.” When William and Serafina failed to respond, Gideon added, “The Realm’s leadership is in dire straits! Mathilda happens to be one of our oldest and more experienced whitelighters now surviving. Both Johann and I believe it would be a grave error not to invite her back on the Council.”

Johann spoke up. “Gideon is right.”

A sigh left William’s mouth. “All right. I’m convinced.”

Serafina let out a small huff. “I suppose that we can give her another chance,” she said morosely.

“Good!” Gideon smiled brightly, much to Johann’s amusement. “Why don’t we summon the candidates? Now?”

The four Elders closed their eyes. Seconds later, five whitelighters materialized before the Council. Among them, Mathilda Everard and Johann’s fellow darklighter, Belinda. Gideon explained the circumstances surrounding their summons. Johann noted that while the other candidates seemed surprised, a smug smile appeared on Belinda’s lips. As for Mathilda . . . she literally radiated with triumphant.


Just before Cole’s arrival at the Halliwell manor, Darryl’s sedan entered the underground parking lot, below Olivia’s apartment building. “Are you sure it’s okay to park here?” he asked his partner.

“Don’t worry, Darryl. You can use my space,” Olivia reassured him. She pointed at the aforementioned spot. “Right over there.”

After Darryl parked the car, the two police officers climbed out. They had left Scott Yi behind to deal with the cleanup at the Bryant auction house. As they approached the elevator, Olivia spotted a woman struggling to dump a large plastic bag into one of the building’s garbage cans. The latter turned away from garbage can and started toward the elevator. Olivia’s eyes narrowed. At five-feet-five and dark-haired, the woman looked very familiar.

“Good evening,” Olivia greeted politely. “Have we met before?”

The woman, who now stood before the other two, let out a gasp. Then she began to disappear before a cluster of blue lights. Olivia grabbed Darryl’s hand, much to the latter’s surprise, before grabbing hold of the woman’s arm. All three ended up in front of Cole’s penthouse.

“What are you . . . what are you doing?” the woman cried. She spoke in a thick Russian accent. “Let go of me!”

Olivia stared at the double doors leading to Cole’s penthouse. “What is a whitelighter doing here?” she asked.

“I . . .” Again, the woman’s body began to break into a cluster of blue lights. She cried, “Get me inside that penthouse! Quick!”

Olivia forced the doors open, using her telekinesis. Then she forced both the woman and Darryl inside, before following them. Once she closed the doors, she frowned at the woman. “I know you, don’t I?” Then she took in the high cheekbones, the oval-shaped face and dark brown eyes. “Wait a minute! You’re Cousin Keith’s whitelighter! Or you used to be!”

Darryl tapped Olivia’s shoulder. “What the hell is going on?”

“That’s what I like to know.” Olivia continued to stare at the woman. “Well?”

The woman blinked. “You’re a McNeill?”

“Olivia McNeill.” The redhead held out her hand. “One of the American cousins.”

“And I’m Natalia Stepanova. Of course you must know that, by now.” The whitelighter stared at Darryl. “And you are . . .?”

The police lieutenant answered, “Darryl Morris. Olivia’s partner on the police force.” He offered his hand to the whitelighter, who shook it.

Natalia nodded. “Of course! I have heard of you. A friend of Leo’s and the Charmed Ones. No?”

“Uh . . . yeah. By the way, what the hell was that about?”

Olivia added, “I’d like to know.”

Confusion lit up Natalia’s dark eyes. “Have you not heard what is going on in the Whitelighter Realm? The Elders are being murdered, one by one.”

“What?” Both Olivia and Darryl stared at the whitelighter. The former added, “What are you talking about? What does this have to do with Cole?”

After the two partners sat down on the sofa, they listened to Natalia’s tale of death and evasion. When she finished, Darryl said, “So, Cole is giving you refuge?”

The whitelighter replied, “Yes.”

“Then why are you . . .?”

Looking slightly embarrassed, Natalia answered, “Uh . . . the garbage. Bel-, I mean, Cole forgot to remove it, this morning. I became worried about the odor and decided to remove it myself. When you two approached me, I panicked and orbed here. Obviously, the Council or someone in the Realm must have detected me when I used my power.” She paused. “Would you two like a drink? Some tea, perhaps? I just prepared some.”

Darryl shrugged. “Sounds great to me.” Olivia glared at him. “What?”

Olivia sighed. Ever since stepping foot inside the penthouse, she had been feeling slightly uncomfortable. “We really need to get going. Darryl and I have some research to do.”

“Oh, you mean the medallions?”

Natalia frowned. “What medallions?”

Darryl told the whitelighter about their present case – the deaths of the shop owner and the art dealer and their connection to a petty thief and auction house in the city.”

“Perhaps there is something about them in one of Cole’s books.” Natalia pointed at the bookshelf opposite the fireplace. “Why don’t you look, while I prepare your tea?” She headed toward the kitchen.

Olivia glanced at Darryl, who nodded. Then she stood up and walked over to the bookcase. As she perused each shelf, a book on the third shelf attracted her attention – “HISTORY OF INTERDIMENSIONAL LEGENDS AND LORE” by Aubrey deMariposa. “This looks interesting,” she murmured. “Never seen a copy of it, before.” She removed the book from the shelf and opened it. The copyright date read 1911 – 73rd edition. “Goddess! How old is this book?”

“What did you find?” Darryl asked.

Olivia joined him on the sofa. “A book that I’ve never heard of, before.” She opened the book. One page featured a familiar item. “Well, well. If it isn’t the Staff of Aingeal.”

“Isn’t that the staff you had brought back from Scotland, last summer?” Darryl commented.

“It certainly is.”

Natalia returned with a tray containing a teapot, three cups, a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar. She placed it on the coffee table, before sitting next to Olivia, and glanced at the book. “Ah! Keith’s staff. The last time I saw it was four years ago, when he helped my charge and I deal with a powerful wizard. Unpleasant fellow. I understand that you now have it, Miss McNeill. Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Olivia murmured, not knowing how to take the compliment. The witch continued her examination of the book. She finally came upon a page that featured a drawing of . . .

“The medallion!” Darryl cried. Natalia handed him a cup of tea. “Or maybe I should say, medallions? There seemed to be nine of them.”

Olivia read from the book. “The medallions of Erebor. Two thousand years ago, a powerful daemon named Kiro had asked a deity or a dominion named Erebor to create nine medallions for him and his order. Erebor was willing to create the medallions, in exchange for services from Kiro’s order. It doesn’t really go into details in what deeds Kiro and his followers had to commit for Erebor. But the medallions were forged and given to the daemon. Before he and his order could use it, a wizard named Caedmon had snatched the medallions and hid them throughout Europe, Asia and Northern Africa.”

“What did this Kiro plan to do with the medallions?” Natalia asked.

After further reading, Olivia gasped aloud. “Oh my God,” she murmured. “Those medallions would allow anyone who is not a whitelighter into their Realm – without the assistance of said whitelighter.”

“So, one of these medallions could get me into the Whitelighter Realm without Leo or Paige?” Darryl asked.

Olivia nodded. “Not only that, but each medallion would also give the bearer whitelighter powers.

Anxiety filled Natalia’s eyes. “My God! And two of those medallions have already been found!”

“Who knows how many of those medallions have been found or are in use?” Olivia added. “Don’t forget . . . according to one of Lin Bryant’s men, she had been hired by the Magan Corporation to search for them, some five or six years ago. She may have . . .”

At that moment, five people materialized in the middle of the living room, causing Olivia to break off. She gawked at the newcomers. Her heart twisted at the sight of Cole . . . and of Phoebe clutching his arm.

Cole regarded the whitelighter and two police officers with a mixture of surprise and a little hostility. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded in an angry voice.