Saturday, February 25, 2017

"FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD" (1967) Photo Gallery


Below are images from "FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD", the 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1874 novel. Directed by John Schlesinger, the movie starred Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch and Alan Bates: 

"FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD" (1967) Photo Gallery

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Double Emnity" (R) - Chapter 1



Chapter 1

San Francisco, California

Inside one of San Francisco's police precincts, Olivia McNeill Turner sat behind her desk, as she faced the Department of Motor Vehicle website on her computer screen. Two days ago, the body of a local dentist had been found inside his office, stabbed through the heart. A building custodian had spotted a car driving away, several minutes after the dentist's death. Fortunately, the custodian managed a glimpse of the car's license plate. 

A slight cough interrupted Olivia from her work. To her surprise, she found the Halliwells' whitelighter, Chris Perry, hovering near her desk. She frowned. "Chris? What are you doing here?"

"I came to see you," the young man replied. Last November, the Halliwells and the McNeills had discovered that Chris happened to be half-whitelighter and half-mortal. His mortal parent also happened to be a witch. "I . . . uh, have a problem."

Olivia instructed Chris to sit down. Once he settled in the chair next to her desk, she asked, "So, what is on your mind?"

"I need a favor," Chris continued. "You see . . . Phoebe is becoming . . . well, actually she's already found out."

One of Olivia's red eyebrows formed a questioning arch. "Found out about what?"

A sigh left Chris' mouth. "Phoebe found out the truth about my background. And I need her memory erased."

Olivia shrugged. "Why don't you use some of that memory dust that the Halliwells have?"


"And what exactly do you consider reliable?"

Chris hesitated, as he glanced uneasily around him. Then he leaned forward and murmured, "Cole. Or more accurately, his telepathic suggestion power."

Oh God. Olivia leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes. She could easily imagine the emotional fallout if the Halliwells ever learned that Cole had manipulated Phoebe's memories. Nor could she see her husband ever agreeing to such an act. She sighed. "Chris, I hate to tell you but I believe you might have to deal with Phoebe knowing about your identity." She frowned. "I'm curious. Since Cole and I know that you're Piper and Leo's son, do you have similar plans for us?"

Deep blue eyes that reminded Olivia of her former whitelighter blinked several times. Then Chris stared at Olivia in shock. "How did you . . . I mean . . . how did you know about . . . my secret?"

"One only has to look at you," Olivia answered. "You've got the Halliwells' looks, which made me suspect that one of the sisters might be your mother. But you also have Leo's eyes." Olivia shrugged. "After that it was not difficult for Cole and me to guess that Piper was your mom."

This time it became Chris' turn to sigh. "Great! Now three of you know. What am I going to do?"

"Tell the truth," Olivia suggested. "If Phoebe knows, your secret won't remain one."

A despairing moan left Chris' mouth. "I suppose you're right."

Olivia glanced at the clock on the precinct wall. "Listen, it's almost time for lunch. And I'm supposed to meet Barbara at Morgan's. Why don't you join us?"

Chris frowned. "What about Cole? Don't you usually have lunch with him?"

"Are you kidding? Every day?" Olivia scoffed at the idea. "Get serious, Chris. Cole and I usually have breakfast and dinner together, every day. We need some time apart from each other. Besides, I believe he's having lunch with a client, today."

"Okay, but I'm a vegan."

Olivia replied, "Don't worry. Morgan's should have something on their menu for you." She stood up and removed her suede jacket from the coat rack. "Let's go."

Minutes later, the pair left the precinct.


Phoebe Halliwell regarded the Greek salad in front of her with a jaundice eye. "I don't know why I had let you talk me into coming here," she said to her lunch companion. "The food here is awful."

"Really?" The auburn-haired Samantha Ratner frowned at her dish - a pair of Maryland-style crab cakes with Peppercorn Sauce. "My food is pretty good. Perhaps this place doesn't make good Greek salads."

With a grunt, Phoebe muttered, "It would if Piper had still been managing this place." Her eyes scanned Quake's dining room. In the four-and-a-half years since Piper's departure, Quake had experienced many changes. The menu had changed . . . of course. The waiters wore more formal uniforms that included a tight black jacket. And the dining room's decor seemed to have lost its subtle elegance. It now seemed more formal. And pretentious. It seemed to Phoebe that Quake's current owner seemed bent upon aping some of the city's more prestigious restaurants.

Samantha, a fellow columnist at THE BAY-MIRROR, had invited Phoebe for lunch at Quake. Although the Charmed One had a good deal of work to finish, her curiosity over Quake's present appearance led her to accept Samantha's invitation.

"Why don't you ask the waiter to take back the salad?" Samantha suggestion.

Phoebe sighed. I would still have to pay for it," she bemoaned. Another sigh left her mouth. "Never mind. I'll just go ahead and finish it. Just remind me never to order a Greek salad if we ever come here, again."

Three figures entered the restaurant. Phoebe recognized two of them - Harry McNeill's former girlfriend, Janet Hui . . . and Cole. The dark-haired woman who accompanied them looked very familiar. "Sam," she said to her companion, "who is that woman? She looks familiar."

Samantha turned to stare at the newcomers. "I see two women with your ex . . . oh."


Samantha continued, "The dark-haired woman. The one who isn't Asian-American. That's Toby Macmillan's widow. Holly Macmillan. You know, the one who was recently charged with his murder."

Stunned by Samantha's revelation, Phoebe continued to stare at Cole and Janet's companion. "Oh my God! Of course!" She had met the McMillans on several occasions, while dating Jason Dean. Phoebe also recalled that Tobias Macmillan had been one of San Francisco's biggest philanthropists. Five weeks ago, someone had slipped a rare poison into Macmillan's morning coffee. Four hours later, the billionaire died of a massive heart attack in the middle of an afternoon business meeting. "Why is that woman having lunch with Cole?"

Samantha rolled her eyes. "Phoebe, your ex-husband is an attorney. Do the math!"

Phoebe opened her eyes to retort, when the realization of Samantha's words hit her. "Oh my God!" she softly exclaimed. "I can't believe that Cole . . ."

"Would do what? Defend Holly McMillan?" Samantha shrugged her shoulders. "Why not? She can afford him."

"Tobias Macmillan was a good man!" Phoebe declared emotionally. "He was practically San Francisco's own Mother Teresa. As far as I'm concerned, the person who killed him should spend the rest of her life behind bars!"

Both of Samantha's brows rose questioningly. "Her? Don't you mean 'his or her' life behind bars, Phoebe? You know the old saying – 'innocent unless proven guilty'."

Phoebe stared grimly at Cole's dark-haired new client. "Holly Macmillan? Innocent?" She snorted derisively. "Please!"


Chris and Olivia returned to the police station, following their lunch at Morgan's. Barbara, who had joined them, followed the pair inside. "Thanks for the lunch," the young whiteligher said, as the trio strode down the second-floor corridor. "But about that favor . . ."

"What favor?" Barbara asked.

Wearing a sardonic smile, Olivia shook her head. "You don't give up, do you Chris? I swear you're just as stubborn as your dad."

Again, Barbara asked, "What favor? And who exactly is Chris' dad?"

Both Chris and Olivia paused, before the former murmured, "Leo. And Piper is my mother."

"WHAT?" Barbara's eyes grew wide.

"Chris is Piper and Leo's second son," Olivia explained. "And Wyatt's younger brother. That's why he's here in the past. To save his family." She turned to Chris. "And as for your favor, the answer is still no." She paused in front of a water fountain. "Look Chris, we all realize that you're here to change the future. But you won't be able to do it without your family's help. And since Phoebe, Cole, myself and now Barbara already know your true identity . . ."

Barbara muttered, "Oh my god."

Olivia continued, ". . . you might as well tell Piper, Paige and Leo."

Resentment flared within Chris at the mention of his father's name. "I'll tell Paige and Pi . . . I mean, Mom."

Both Olivia and Barbara stared at him. "Why not your dad?" the latter asked.

Chris sighed. Loudly. "I don't see why I have to tell him. Besides, the only ones who can help me are the Charmed Ones. Dad will just . . ."

Olivia commented, "You don't like him, do you?"

"Hardly anyone does these days," Barbara sardonically added. Olivia glared at her. "What? Am I lying? Hell, Leo has been in your personal doghouse for half a year."

Olivia's question took Chris by surprise. Shifting into instant denial, he replied, "How did you . . . I mean, what makes you think . . .?"

"Chris, everyone knows you can't stand him," Olivia retorted. "I think even Leo is aware of your constant hostility toward him. It's not hard to miss. What had he done to piss you off?"

The half-mortal heaved another sigh, realizing that he could no longer avoid the subject. "You have to understand. Dad and I . . ."

Another masculine voice interrupted. "Turner! Is it true?"

The two witches and the whitelighter whirled around and found a burly man around Chris' height standing behind them. The young whitelighter could not tell what bristled more - his crew cut or the expression on his craggy face. "Is what true?" Olivia shot back.

The man shook his head in mild disgust. "C'mon Turner. Just admit it. Is it true that your husband is representing Holly Macmillan?"

"What concern is it of yours, Synder?"

Inspector Synder's countenance darkened. "I'm one of the investigating officers of the Macmillan case. Now, is your husband defending her or not?"

Olivia rolled her eyes and sighed. "Of course he is. Cole is an attorney. Do the math." She turned her back on the other police officer.

But Synder refused to leave. "Your husband is going to let a killer back on the street?"

The man's question seemed to annoy Olivia. Her green eyes glittered like polished stones. "What in the . . .? What's the matter, Synder? Afraid that Cole might win the case? You know, I'm curious. Just how strong is your case against Holly Macmillan, anyway?"

Self-doubt crept into Synder's dark eyes. A predatory smile curved Olivia's lips, causing Chris to shiver. At that moment, he realized that he would never want to make an enemy out of the redhead. Synder opened his mouth to speak. Instead, the only words that came out were, "Excuse me." Then he walked away.

"Self-righteous asshole," Olivia muttered.

Barbara replied, "More like poor bastard. You really got under his skin, Livy."

"Serves him right. He never gave a shit about Toby Macmillan," Olivia continued. "The bastard is simply concerned that he might be wrong. He already has more false arrests on his record than anyone in this precinct." Her gaze returned to Chris. "Now, what were you going to say about your dad?"

Chris hesitated. "Um . . . it's nothing. Just . . . just bad vibes between the two of us. That's all."

The two witches regarded Chris with shrewd eyes. Then Olivia gave him a tight smile. "If you say so."


San Francisco, CA; Alternate Dimension

Olivia McNeill stood in the center of a dirt path at Golden Gate Park. The warlock glanced around to ensure that no one noticed her. She had taken a chance by returning to San Francisco. There was the danger that her family or former friend, Barbara Bowen, might spot her. Not that they would do anything to her . . . as long as she refrained from harming anyone. But Olivia suspected that if any of them ever discovered her return, they would move heaven and earth to learn of her intentions.

With her tote bag in hand, Olivia strode toward a clearing situated between several trees. She removed an amulet from her bag. It once belonged to a 6th century sorcerer who had created the amulet to open portals to alternate dimensions. Olivia held the amulet in front her. She muttered an incantation in Persian. Seconds later, a white glowing tunnel appeared between two trees. Gripping her amulet and tote bag, Olivia took a deep breath and strode into the tunnel.

Seconds later, she emerged from the portal and found herself . . . in Golden Gate Park. Nothing seemed to have cha . . .

"Whoa!" A deep voice caught the red-haired warlock by surprise. Olivia whirled around and found herself facing a wide-eyed derelict. "How in the hell did you appear like that?"

Olivia sighed. Great! A witness. She smiled at the hobo before sending a stream of fire toward him. The hobo incinerated into a pile of ash within seconds. Olivia then placed the amulet inside her bag, situated it on her shoulder and made her way along one of the park's pathways.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"THE FAR PAVILIONS" (1984) Review


"THE FAR PAVILIONS" (1984) Review

Thirty-four years ago saw the publication of an international best seller about a young British Army officer during the British Raj in 19th century India. The novel's success not brought about a not-so-successful musical stage play in 2005, but also a six-part television miniseries, twenty-one years earlier. 

Directed by Peter Duffell for HBO, "THE FAR PAVILIONS" tells the story of Ashton "Ash" Pelham-Martyn, the only son of prominent British botanist Hillary Pelham-Martyn and his wife in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in 1853. After his mother dies of childbirth, Ashton is mainly raised by his ayah (nurse) Sita, who is a part of his father's retinue. Cholera takes the lives of all members of the Pelham-Martyn camp some four years later, with the exception of Ash and Sita. The latter tries to deliver Ash to his mother's family in Mardan, but the uprising of the Sepoy Rebellion leads her to adopt the slightly dark-skinned Ash as her son. Both eventually take refuge in the kingdom of Gulkote. While Ash forgets about his British ancestry, he becomes the servant for Crown Prince Lalji and befriends the neglected Princess Anjuli, Master of Stables Koda Dad, and his son Zarin. Ashton eventually leaves Gulkote after learning from the dying Sita about his true ancestry. After reaching his relatives in Mardan, Ash is sent back to Great Britain to live with his Pelham-Martyn relations. Within less than a decade, he returns to India as a newly commissioned British Army. Not only does he make new acquaintances, but also renews old ones - including the Princess Anjuli.

British costume dramas have always been popular with American television and movie audiences for decades. But aside from the Jane Austen phenomenon between 1995 and 2008, there seemed to be an even bigger demand for period pieces from the U.K. during the 1980s . . . a major consequence from the popular royal wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. HBO and Peter Duffell took M.M. Kaye's 1978 bestseller and transformed it into a miniseries filled with six one-hour episodes. Aside from a few changes, "THE FAR PAVILIONS" was more or less a television hit. And in many ways, it was easy to see why.

First of all, Kaye's story about a forbidden love story between a British Army officer viewed as an outsider by most of his fellow Britons and an Indian princess with a touch of European blood (Russian) was bound to appeal to the most romantic. Add an epic trek across the Indian subcontinent (in the form of a royal wedding party), action on the North West frontier and a historical event - namely the start of the Second Anglo-Afghan War - and one is faced with a costumed epic of the most romantic kind. And I am flabbergasted at how the story managed to criticize the British presence in both India and Afghanistan, and at the same time, glorify the military aspect of the British Empire. If I must be honest, M.M. Kaye not only wrote a pretty damn good story, but she and screenwriter Julian Bond did a solid job in adapting the novel for television.

Now, I said solid, not excellent. Even the most first-rate miniseries is not perfect, but I feel that "THE FAR PAVILIONS" possessed flaws that prevented it from being the superb production it could have been. The miniseries' main problem seemed to be its look. I had no problems with Robert W. Laing's production designs. His work, along with George Richardson's art direction, Jack Cardiff's superb cinematography, and Hugh Scaife's set decorations superbly brought mid-to-late 19th century British India to life. I was especially impressed by the crew's re-creation of the Rana of Bhithor's palace, the cantonments for the Corps of Guides regiment and the royal wedding procession for the Rana of Bhitor's brides - Princess Shushila and Princess Anjuli of Karidkote (formerly Gulkote). For a miniseries that cost $12 million dollars to produce, why shoot it on such poor quality film, whose color seemed to have faded over the past two or three decades? It seemed criminal that such a lush production was shot on film of bad quality. 

As much as I admired Bond and Kaye's adaptation of the latter's novel, there were two aspects of their script that annoyed me. One, the screenplay skipped one of the novel's best parts - namely Ash's childhood in Gulkote. Instead, the story of his birth, early travels with Sita and his time in Gulkote were revealed in a montage that served as backdrop for the opening credits. And I was not that impressed at how the script handled Ash's early romance with a young English debutante named Belinda Harlowe. I found it rushed and unsatisfying. More importantly, the entire sequence seemed like a waste of Felicity Dean and Rupert Everett's (who played Ash's doomed rival George Garforth) time. And some of the dialogue for the romantic scenes between Ash and Juli struck me as so wince inducing that it took me a while to unclench my teeth after the scenes ended.

I had other problems with "THE FAR PAVILIONS". The casting of American actress Amy Irving as the adult Princess Anjli ("Juli") produced a "what the hell?" response from me when I first saw the miniseries. That startled feeling remained after my last viewing. Irving simply seemed miscast in the role, despite a decent performance from her and her solid chemistry with lead actor Ben Cross. Another role that failed to match with the performer was that of British military administrator, Sir Louis Cavagnari, portrayed by John Gielgud. Cavagnari was 39 years old, when he met his death at the British mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. Gielgud was 79 to 80 years old when he portrayed the military officer . . . naturally too old for the role. The makeup department tried to take years off the actor with hair dye and make-up. Let us just say that Amy Irving was more convincing as an Indian princess than Gielgud was as a character 40 years his junior. However, I will give Gielgud plenty of credit for his excellent portrayal of a British Imperial diplomat at his most arrogant.

Aside from my quibbles about the casting of Amy Irving and John Gielgud, I have no complaints about the rest of the cast. Ben Cross did a superb job in his portrayal of the hot tempered and impatient Ashton Pelham-Martyn. Ash has always been a frustrating character for me. Although I sympathized with his feelings and beliefs, his occasional bursts of impatience and naiveté irritated me. And Cross perfectly captured all of these aspects of Ash's nature. Despite my strong belief that she was miscast, I cannot deny that Amy Irving gave a subtle and well acted performance as Princess Anjuli. But I could never accuse Omar Sharif of being miscast. He did a superb job in his portrayal of the wise and very witty horsemaster of Gulkote/Karidkote, Koda Dad. Sharif made it easy to see why Ash came to regard Koda Dad as more of a father figure than any other older male. Although I believe that Irving was miscast as Princess Anjuli, I was surprised at how impressed I was by Christopher Lee's portrayal of Anjuli's uncle, Prince Kaka-ji Rao. The Anglo-Spanish actor did an excellent job of portraying a character from a completely different race. I suspect the secret to Lee's performance was that he did not try so hard to sell the idea of him being an Indian prince. And Saeed Jaffrey was superb as the effeminate, yet manipulate and murderous courtier, Biju Ram. It seemed a pity that the miniseries did not explore Ash's childhood. Audiences would have been able to enjoy more of Jaffrey's performance.

Sneh Gupta was excellent as childishly imperious and self-absorbed Princess Shushila, Juli's younger sister. She did a first-rate job of transforming Shushila from a sympathetic character to a childishly imperious villainess. Robert Hardy gave a solid performance as the Commandant of the Guides. Benedict Taylor was charming and outgoing as Ash's only military friend, Walter "Wally" Hamilton. I really do not know how to describe Rosanno Brazzi's performance as the Rana of Bhithor. I feel that too much makeup made it difficult for me to get a grip on his character. I was surprised to see Art Malik as Koda Dad's son, Zarin. But his role did not seem big enough to produce a comment from me. Rupert Everett was excellent as George Garforth, the British civil servant with a secret to hide. Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the miniseries' portrayal of the story line in which he played a part. 

I realize that "THE FAR PAVILIONS" has a good number of strikes against it. But its virtues outweighed its flaws. And in the end, it proved to be an entertaining miniseries, thanks to the lush production and the first-rate cast led by Ben Cross.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2016

Below is a list of my ten favorite movies of 2016. (List subject to change in near future): 



1. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” - Zack Synder directed this excellent and vastly underrated second installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) about supervillain Lex Luthor’s efforts to manipulate veteran vigilante Batman into a preemptive battle with Superman, whom Luthor is obsessed with defeating. Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill starred as Bruce Wayne aka Batman and Clark Kent aka Superman. 


2. “Suicide Squad” - David Ayer wrote and directed this very entertaining adaptation of the DC Comics series about a group of anti-heroes and villains forced by the government to battle a supernatural sorceress bent upon world conquest. Will Smith and Margot Robbie starred in this third DCEU installment. 


3. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” - Eddie Redmayne starred in this excellent spin-off of the Harry Potter series about the adventures of a British wizard in the wizarding community of 1926 New York City. David Yates directed. 


4. “Hidden Figures” - Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe starred in this Oscar nominated biopic about the true story of African-American women who provided NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. Theodore Melfi directed. 


5. “The Magnificent Seven” - Antoine Fuqua starred in this second remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 movie, “The Seven Samauri”, set in the Old West. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke starred. 


6. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” - Gareth Edwards directed this stand alone film in the Star Wars saga about a group of Rebels who learn about the Imperial Galaxy’s new weapon, the Death Star, and set about stealing the plans. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna starred. 


7. “The Nice Guys” - Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling starred in this comedy mystery about an enforcer and private detective in 1977 Los Angeles investigating the connection between a missing girl, the porn industry and the automobile industry. Shane Black directed. 


8. “Ghostbusters” - Paul Feig wrote and directed this funny reboot of Ivan Reitman’s 1980s supernatural comedy about ghost chasers in New York City. Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon starred. 


9. “Love & Friendship” - Kate Beckinsale starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1794 novel, “Lady Susan”, about a wry and calculating widow who pursues wealthy husbands for both herself and her daughter. Whit Stillman wrote and directed the movie. 


10. “Zootopia” - Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman starred in this excellent Oscar nominated Disney animated film about a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy. Byron Howard and Rich Moore directed.