Saturday, November 11, 2017

"THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" (1986) Review

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"THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" (1986) Review

The year 1920 witnessed the beginning of Agatha Christie's career as a mystery novel with the release of her first novel, "The Mysterious Affairs at Styles". The novel also introduced a new sleuth to the literary world, Belgian-born Hercule Poirot. Another seven years passed before Christie introduced her second most famous character, Miss Jane Marple, in a few short stories. But in 1930, Miss Marple appeared in her first full-length novel called "The Murder at the Vicarage"

Fifty-six years later saw the first adaptation of the 1930 novel - a 102 minutes television movie that starred Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" featured the elderly sleuth's investigation of the murder of a wealthy magistrate and former Army colonel in Miss Marple's town of St. Mary Mead. The magistrate, Colonel Protheroe is so disliked by most of the citizens of St. Mary Mead that even the local vicar, the Reverend Leonard Clement believes his death would be a great service to the village. Reverend Clements ends up eating his words when Colonel Protheroe's murdered body is found inside the vicar's study. While investigating Colonel Protheroe's murder, Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack unearth a good number of suspects; including the Colonel's new widow Anne Protheroe, her lover Lawrence Redding, the Colonel's only child Lettice Protheroe, the high-strung curate Christopher Hawes, St. Mary Mead's mysterious new citizen Mrs. Lestrange, small time poacher Bill Archer and even the good Reverend Clement himself. Anne Protheroe and Lawrence Redding each confess to the crime, convinced that the other was guilty. However, both Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack realize that both are innocent and continue their investigation of the murder.

When I first read Christie's 1930 novel, I must admit that it did not particularly move me. The plot seemed like a typical murder mystery set in a small village. There was nothing extraordinary about it, aside from Miss Marple's continuous relationship with Inspector Slack. Mind you, I have seen mediocre or bad adaptation of some first-rate Christie novels. And I have seen some excellent adaptations of her mediocre novels. The 1986 adaptation of "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" proved to be one of those productions in which my opinion of it matches the original novel. How can I say this? I found it a bore.

The best I can say about "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" is that it is a close - but not completely accurate - adaptation of Christie's novel. Unfortunately, T.R. Bowen did nothing with the screenplay to improve on the story. And Julian Amyes' direction of the movie nearly put me to sleep. It was so boring and slow. Amyes tried hard to make the killer's revelation interesting. But not even that worked. Between John Walker's dim lighting of the scene and Amyes' snail like direction, I fell asleep and had to rewind back to the scene in order to learn the killer's identity. When a person falls asleep during a scene featuring the killer's revelation, it is time to go back to the drawing board - so to speak.

Also, the movie was not served well by most of the bland characters that populated the story. Most of them - aside from a few - struck me as dull and one-dimensional. Some of the best characters in a murder mystery tend to be the original victim. Unfortunately, Colonel Protheroe turned out to be one of those rare cases in which the main victim proved to be uninteresting. I found his character so one-dimensional. Not even Robert Lang's energetic performance could make it work. The character of Reverend Clement had been down-sized by the story's translation from the novel to the screen. Apparently, Bowen could not find a way to make his character a major part of the investigation . . . which occurred in Christie's novel. Only a handful of characters seemed interesting to me. And I have the performers to thank. Cheryl Campbell managed to inject some real energy into her portrayal of the vicar's younger and sexy wife, Griselda Clement. David Horovitch was at his sardonic best as the police inspector who tries his best to dismiss Miss Marple's sleuthing skills. Joan Hickson earned a BAFTA nomination for her performance as Jane Marple in this movie. I do not know if she truly deserved that nomination. But I must admit that I enjoyed her subtle, yet sly performance as the brilliant, amateur sleuth. I especially enjoyed her scenes with Horovitch's Slack.

I guess there is nothing else I can say about "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE". It is not one of my favorite Miss Marple productions. Actually, I feel it is one of my least favorites featuring the elderly sleuth. The original story simply did not strike me as interesting and screenwriter T.R. Bowen did very little to enliven it. Also Julian Amyes' slow-paced direction did not help matters. The only pleasures I managed to derive from this movie were the first-rate performances of Joan Hickson, David Horovitch and Cheryl Campbell.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (6.11) "Witchstock"

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"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (6.11) "Witchstock"

During its eight season run, the fantasy-drama "CHARMED" has occasionally featured an episode dealing with the topic of time travel. These time travel episodes usually prove to be well-written or exceptional. However, there comes a time when the series produced a time travel episode that end up being a dud. The series' Season Six episode, (6.11) "Witchstock" proved to be the latter. 

Directed by James A. Contner and written by Daniel Cerone, "Witchstock" begins at least a month or two following the first-rate (6.10) "Chris-Crossed". At the end of the previous episode, oldest sister Piper Halliwell had suggested that younger sister Phoebe and even younger half-sister Paige Matthews leave the family's manor to pursue their romantic desires. Phoebe left San Francisco to live with her boyfriend, the very wealthy Jason Dean, in Hong Kong. And Paige left the manor to live with her own wealthy boyfriend, a male witch named Richard Montana. However, the sisters' separation proves to be a little problematic, since they have to deal with a magic-sucking slime found inside a local warehouse. Their new whitelighter from the future Chris Perry (in reality Halliwell) manages to bring Phoebe back from Hong Kong to vanquish the slime, but was not able to find Paige. Piper and Phoebe achieve their mission . . . somewhat. A piece of the slime manages to attach itself to Chris, and the latter inadvertently transport it back to the Manor.

When Paige shows up, she explains that she tried to leave Richard's manor without teleporting, due to his addiction to magic. During this conversation, Piper finds a pair of red go-go boots that once belonged to their grandmother, Penelope Johnson Halliwell. She gives them to Paige, who tries them on. Seconds later, Paige finds herself transported back to January 1967, due to the spell her grandmother had put on the boots. She also discovers that both her grandmother and grandfather (Jack or Allen Halliwell) were peace-loving hippies on a crusade to rid the world of evil through the magical power of love. They had also transformed the manor into a "magical be-in", unaware that one of their guests is a warlock. Meanwhile, Piper and Phoebe summon the ghost of their now dead grandmother to explain what happened. Grams informs them about her past as a hippie and the tragic circumstances that led to her first husband's death at the hands of a warlock. Piper and Phoebe realize they have to travel back to 1967 and prevent Paige from inadvertently changing the past. Meanwhile, Grams helps Chris and Piper's ex, former whitelighter-turned-Elder Leo Wyatt deal with the demonic slime that threatens to take over the manor.

Sounds exciting, right? I wish I could say that "Witchstock" was exciting. In the end, the episode proved to be a piece of crap. First of all, screenwriter Daniel Cerone failed to make any real connection between the demonic slime first introduced in the pre-titled sequence and Paige's initial trip back to the Age of Aquarius. The main villains of the episode - two warlocks portrayed by Jake Busey and Kam Heskin - proved to be rather lame. The demonic sponge featured in the early 21st century scenes proved to be even more lame. In fact, the demonic sponge reminded me of the lame electrical demon that the sisters had vanquished in Season Four's (4.07) "A Knight to Remember". Talk about lack of originality. 

Cerone also failed to create any real emotional connection between the sisters - especially newbie Paige - and their grandparents. The sisters seemed flabbergasted by Penny Halliwell's hippie persona, which was a far cry from the militant demon hunter who raised Piper, Phoebe and the now dead Prue. The episode had a chance for Paige to really get to know her grandparents - especially her grandmother - and it failed on all counts. Piper turned out to be the only sister who witnessed their grandfather's death. Yet, she reacted with very little or hardly any emotion. I realize that she had never met her grandfather during her lifetime. But the man was blood. The family carried his surname. Holly Marie Combs could have expressed some emotion . . . some sadness over the passing of her character's flesh-and-blood. Unfortunately, that never happened. Cerone's script was too busy treating the hippie personas of Penny, husband Allen (or Jack), and whitelighter Leo as jokes. Watching 1967 Leo act high and hit on Paige was embarrassing to watch. I felt sorry for Brian Krause in these scenes. I also felt sorry for Dorian Gregory, who was forced to portray Black Panther Luther Morris, who not only found himself in the same jail cell as Piper and Phoebe in a very cringe worthy scene; but also turned out to be the father of the Halliwells' police detective friend, Darryl Morris. 

The worst aspect of "Witchstock" proved to be the mistakes that heavily tainted this episode. In one early scene; Phoebe, who had become fascinated with Chinese astrology, informed younger sister Paige that the latter was born in the year of the Ox. WRONG! Paige was born in early August 1977, which meant she was born in the year of the Snake. The screenwriter could have easily looked this up . . . or else he failed to remember that Paige was born in 1977, not 1973. Also, Grams should have been portrayed by an actress old enough to pass for a woman in her mid-30s. This episode was set in January 1967. Which meant that Grams should have been 35 or 36 at the time. After all, her daughter Patty was born in 1950. And the episode was set three to four years before the birth of the latter's oldest daughter, Prue. Actress Kara Zediker, who portrayed the younger Grams, barely looked 30 years old. And I find the idea of a mid-30s Grams and her slightly older husband as hippies. Perhaps there were hippies from their generation. But their fellow witches all seemed to be five to fifteen years younger. Worse, you can hear Rare Earth's version of "Get Ready" being played in the background in one of the earlier 1967 scenes. This should be difficult, considering that Rare Earth's version of the song was released in 1969 . . . over two years after the setting of this episode. The latter should have featured the Temptations' 1966 version . . . or another song from 1966/67.

Was there anything about "Witchstock" that I liked? Well . . . thanks to Rose McGowan, I found Paige's initial reaction to the "Manor of Love" rather amusing and managed to chuckle at her handling of a womanizing Leo. Despite my dislike of the Penelope Halliwell character, Jennifer Rhodes injected a breath of fresh air into the episode. She also managed to create a nice chemistry with both Brian Krause and Drew Fuller; as Grams, Leo and Chris dealt with the demonic sponge. And Holly Marie Combs had a nice moment of personal angst for Piper, who silently lamented over her sisters' departure and her new-founded loneliness.

But despite these positive little moments, "Witchstock" was a disaster to me. Was it the worse "CHARMED" episode I have ever seen? Fortunately for director James A. Contner and screenwriter Daniel Cerone, my answer is no. I have seen worse from earlier seasons. And all I have to do is watch the series' Season Eight. There were plenty of horrors from that season to form a list of the series' worst episodes. But "Witchstock" was not a pleasure to watch. Not by a long shot.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"Crossroads of the Force" [PG-13] - Chapter One




"CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE"

CHAPTER ONE

8BBY - CORUSCANT

The announciator inside her private office distracted Senator Zoebeida Dahlma from her work. She glanced up and said, "Enter."

Seconds later, a petite, dark-haired woman dressed in royal blue entered the Maldarian senator's office. "Pardon me, Senator Dahlma, but you have a communiqué from Senator Mon Mothma." 

Returning her gaze to the data pad in her hand, Senator Dahlma replied, "Upload it into my computer."

The younger woman hesitated. "It's a . . . private communiqué." 

Zoebeida glanced up. She noticed the small holoemitter in her aide's open palm. A sigh left her mouth. "I see. Give it to me." The aide, Igraine Colbert, handed the holoemitter over to the senator. "Thank you, Igraine. You may go."

Igraine nodded and left the office. Although the twenty-six year-old aide knew about Zoebeida's activities with the barely formed Rebel Alliance, the senator made sure that she remained ignorant of any details . . . in case the Empire ever learned of Zoebeida's secret activities.

Now alone, the senator placed the holoemitter on her desk and switched it on. Mon Mothma's statuesque figure illuminated above the device. "Greetings Zoebeida," the Chandrilian began. "A special conference will be held at the Hotel Grand in Worlport, on Ord Mantell, to discuss the Alliance's future agenda. Because this is a special meeting, Bail Organa, Garm Iblis and I have decided it would be best not to hold this meeting here on Coruscant. If you plan to participate, please respond to either Bail or myself within the next twenty-four hours. I hope to hear from you soon." The hologram disappeared.

Zoebeida leaned back into her chair and sighed. A special meeting for the Rebel Alliance? In reality, no such alliance really existed. At least not yet. The Maldarian senator had originally been amongst the Delegation of 2000 - a group of senators who had opposed Palpatine's growing power around the end of the Clone Wars. The Delagation had presented a petition to the former Chancellor that demanded he find a peaceful resolution to the war and give up his emergency powers. Instead, a conflict with the Jedi led Palpatine to declare himself emperor and order the destruction of the Jedi Order. Many who had signed the petition ended up either killed, imprisoned or forced into exile. Of course, there were those senators like herself, Organa and Mothma, who managed to elude Palpatine's retribution by removing their names from the petition and continuing their opposition against Palpatine, as a secret.

Padme Amidala, along with other senators like Solipo Yeb and Garm Bel Iblis had ended up in exile. Zoebeida recalled that the discovery of a fugitive Jedi Knight on Andalia had led to the Imperial annexation of Solipo's homeworld. And poor Garm had nearly been killed by Palpatine's troops - a fate that his family had failed to avoid - because of the Corellian's past open opposition against the former Chancellor-turned-Emperor. But Zoebeida could not fathom Padme Amidala's reason for evading the Empire. The former Naboo senator had once been Palpatine's protégée. And Naboo's ties to the Empire seemed free of any conflict with its former Emperor - despite the mysterious death of Queen Apiliana, some nine years ago. What exactly had led Amidala to fake her own death?

If this meeting on Ord Mantell proved to be a major one for the Alliance, then it seemed possible that Organa, Mothma and Iblis had finally discovered a way to unite many individual factions and resistance cells now fighting against the Empire. Zoebeida wondered if Amidala and Yeb will be present. Both former senators possessed connections to various resistance cells in the Outer Rim Territories.

Zoebeida finally erased Mothma's message from the holoemitter. Then she replaced it with one of her own: "Greetings Mon. I am more than happy to accept the invitation to attend this conference. Please provide me with the details, so that I can make arrangements. Thank you." She ended the recording and summoned Igraine. The younger woman entered the office and Zoebeida handed over the holoemitter. "Return this to Senator Mothma. And if you're unable to find her, give it to Senator Organa of Alderaan. Make sure that you give it to either one of those two . . . personally."

"Yes, Senator Dahlma," the pretty young woman dutifully replied with a nod, before leaving the office. Zoebeida remained behind her desk and contemplated upon the upcoming conference. Has the day for an organized resistance against the Empire finally arrived? The Maldarian senator sincerely hoped so.

------- 

LE YER, ABREGADO-RAE


"Happy Birthday!"

The handsome, 21 year-old Corellian broke into a wide grin, as his partner, along with several friends and acquaintances sang to him inside a private room at the Triple Nova Casino. As the singing continued, an attractive, blue-skinned Twi'lek placed a Pyollian cake with 21-lit candles in front of him. Once the singing ceased, everyone broke into applause.

"Congratulations, Han. Today, you are a man." The 33 year-old Anakin Skywalker also grinned, as his younger partner shot him a disbelieving stare. "What did I say?"

Han grumbled, "Nothing." He blew out the candles and more applause followed.

The Twi'let, a fellow pilot and smuggler by the name of Vi'dal Mira, leaned down to plant a light kiss on the Corellian's cheek. "So, what did you wish for?" she asked.

"I believe that my wish had already been granted," Han replied slyly. "About two years ago, on Ord Montell." He shot a meaningful glance at Vi'dal, who smirked.

Anakin understood the meaning behind Han's words. Nearly two years ago, Han had suffered a setback from a serious romance and turned to Vi'dal for one night with the Twi'lek smuggler. Fortunately, nothing serious had evolved from the brief affair. With a straight face and his tongue firmly tucked in his cheek, Anakin commented, "Was that the extent of your birthday wish? Vi'dal?"

Han nearly snickered out loud. Vi'dal glared at the wide-eyed Anakin. "And what did you mean by that, Captain Horus? Don't you feel that one night with me would make a worthy birthday wish?" Set Horus happened to be the name that Anakin used as an alias to avoid Imperial detection.

"Well . . ." Anakin began, as he allowed his eyes to sweep appreciatively over the Twi'lek's voluptuous figure. ". . . I have yet to experience such a night to make that kind of judgment."

Vi'dal eased next to Anakin with hands on her hips. "I would be happy to make arrangements for such an experience. Believe me, you will not be unsatisfied." 

"My birthday had passed two months ago."

"Irrevelant."

Anakin allowed one of his brows to arch. "I beg your pardon?"

Vi'dal continued in a seductive voice, "I don't care whether it's your birthday or not. Why should you?"

Both the human and the Twi'lek regarded each other for what seemed like a very long moment to Anakin. He almost sensed an electrical charge between himself and the female smuggler. Aside from his brief period as a Sith Lord, Anakin has always tried to be honest regarding his personal character. He could not deny his attraction toward the beautiful Vi'dal. But he found it difficult to become romantically involved with other females - despite being a widower for the past eleven years. The memory of Padme and what he had done to her became a stumbling block to any possible relationship with another woman - whether serious or not.

Anakin inhaled deeply and gave Vi'dal his most charming smile. "To be honest, I don't . . ." He paused briefly. Then, "How about another time? When the time is right?"

Disappointment flashed briefly in Vi'dal's large brown eyes before she returned his smile. "I look forward to that moment, Set Horus."

"If you find it hard to wait for Set," a fourth voice began, "there's always me." Anakin suppressed an urge to roll his eyes in disgust. The voice belonged to Mako Spence, a fellow smuggler from Corellia.

Vi'dal shot a contemptuous glance at the handsome, bearded pilot. "I'm not that desperate," she retorted bitingly. "If you're longing for company tonight, I suggest that you pay a visit to the Blue Orchid. I'm sure that Umekei Sun would be more than happy to see you." Vi'dal spoke of Mako's regular patronage of the spaceport's most prosperous pleasure house. The older Corellian's face turned scarlet.

Anakin smirked at Mako's discomfort. He never really liked the Corellian. Nor did he see any reason to pretend otherwise and be a hypocrite. Besides, even Han - who happened to be friends with Mako - smirked. "Anyone for a piece of cake?" the younger Corellian asked. "I'm starved."

-------- 

Nearly a half hour later, the two partners strolled out of the private room and made their way across the casino's floor. "Not a bad haul, huh?" Han indicated the bag filled with birthday presents. "Even Bascko gave me power converters. And I didn't think that he liked me."

"Of course he does," Anakin reassured the younger man. "Bascko likes those who don't bother to agree to everything he says." Bascko happened to be a local merchant and a Verpine from the Roche asteroid belt. Both Han and Anakin were amongst his regular clients.

A brief silence followed before Han surreptiously added, "Are you referring to Mako?"

Contempt flickered in Anakin's blue eyes. "I don't recall Bascko ever giving him a birthday present."

Han remained silent. He viewed Mako Spince as a very close friend. Scion of a prominent senator from Corellia, Mako had ended up expelled from the Imperial Academy due to a dangerous prank he had pulled. Disgraced and estranged from his family, Mako used his trust fund and a few connections from the Academy to become a smuggler. With Mako, Han had someone with whom he could enjoy nights at popular establishments like the Triple Nova Casino. Anakin might be a brother and mentor to him, but the former Jedi had never developed the habit of frequenting the galaxy's many pleasure spots on a regular basis. And although Anakin never protested against his friendship with Mako, his partner never did warm up to the older Corellian.

In an attempt to change the subject, Han asked, "Why didn't you take up Vi'dal's offer?"

"What?" Anakin looked startled by Han's sudden change of the subject.

"Vi'dal," Han repeated. "Why didn't you take up her offer? She likes you. And you obviously like her."

One of Anakin's brows arched. "Obviously?"

Han rolled his eyes. "I'm not blind, Anakin. I saw the way you two were staring at each other, tonight. I mean . . . why deny yourself?"

A long, suffering sigh left Anakin's mouth. "Look, I'm just not that interested in Vi'dal . . . in that way. Yes, she's a beautiful woman, but I only think of her as a friend. Nothing else."

"Uh-huh." The two men passed one of the gaming tables, where they spotted a Rodian yelling with glee. Han added, "So, what you're trying to tell me is that your devotion to your old hokey religion has nothing to do with this decision to act like a monk."

Anakin shot a dark look at the younger man. "Since when did my Jedi beliefs become 'a hokey religion'? Since Ylesia?"

The mention of Ylesia brought back painful memories for Han. While Anakin was on Dantooine for a retreat, two years ago, Han did a private smuggling job for the Tatooine gangster, Jabba the Hutt that led him to a tropical planet called Ylesia. There, he discovered that a fellow Corellian had escaped an arranged engagement to join a religious cult operated by the Besadii clan. Han promptly fell in love with the beautiful, red-haired Bria Tharen. After exposing the Besadii's cult as a hoax to Bria, he helped her escape from Ylesia with guns blazing and a sack full of precious antiquities that belonged to one of the cult's high priests. The pair eventually made their way to Coruscant via stops at Corellia and Togoria. There, Bria eventually abandoned the love-struck Han before the latter eventually made his way to Dantooine . . . and Anakin.

"My trip to Ylesia has nothing to do with my opinion of your old order," Han firmly retorted. He added in a mumbling voice, "I've just never been the religious type. That's all." Then his voice reasserted itself. "Besides, I only wanted to know why you won't consider the time of day with Vi . . ."

Anakin interrupted, "Because I'm not ready for another relationship, Han. At least one with the opposite sex. And I don't think I'll ever be. I'm ju . . ." He sighed, as a faraway look gleamed in his eyes. "Maybe I'm not one for casual relationships."

It never ceased to amaze Han that despite being a good twelve years younger than Anakin, his experience with women has been more extensive. "Okay," the Corellian said, "I can accept . . ." Han broke off, as a third figure rushed toward the pair.

"Han! Set!" Mako Spince halted before the two men, breathing heavily. The casino's fluorescent lights highlighted his light-brown hair. "I need to speak to both of you."

Han shrugged his shoulders. "So speak."

"Not here." Mako glanced around the casino, as if expecting to be overheard by an eavesdropper. "Outside." He led the two partners outside, until he halted next to a marble balustrade that overlooked a wide, blue canal filled with boats of all kinds. Le Yer boasted a series of water canals that made the entire city very popular with tourists and other visitors.

Anakin brusquely added, "Okay, we're alone. What do you want?"

Mako took a deep breath. "I have a business proposition. This business . . ." He paused dramatically. "Actually, he's a Quarren named Sekka Verdu. It turns out that he's a . . . representative of Garulla the Hutt and he needs pilots to fly a large shipment of Glitterstim from Kessel to Maldore."

"Glitterstim?" Anakin frowned.

An exasperated sigh left Mako's mouth. "C'mon Horus! Don't tell me that a successful smuggler like you has something against shipping spice! Haven't you done it before?"

"Of course I have!" Anakin retorted. "But you're talking about the Kessel Run! It's heavily patrolled by Imperial ships and the Empire has grown less tolerant of spice during the last few years."

Mako nodded. "I understand. That's what I had said to Verdu. But we're talking about a large shipment of spice worth at least two million credits. Verdu is willing to pay one hundred thousand credits to fly it to Maldore. That's fifty thousand for me and fifty thousand for the both of you."

Han frowned at his friend. He and Anakin would have to split one-half of the fee? Not if he could help it. "Why can't we split the one hundred thousand in three ways?" he demanded.

"Because three starships won't be involved," Mako coolly replied. "Fifty thousand per ship. It's only fair. I would have made the run myself, but my cargo hold isn't big enough for the entire shipment. I need another starship to conclude the deal."

Han saw the word "no" form on Anakin's lips. Fifty thousand credits would greatly make up for the money they had recently spent on repairs for the Javian Hawk. "Just a minute," he said, taking Anakin by surprise. "Uh . . . Set and me need to discuss this." He drew the older man aside.

"You're not serious about this, are you?" Anakin immediately demanded in a low voice.

Han shot back under his breath, "C'mon Anakin! We need the money. Those repairs for the Hawk took a lot out of our account. Besides, what do you have against this deal?"

"Simple. It was proposed by Mako. He's part of the deal."

The younger man shot back, "Look, I realize that you don't like the guy - why, I don't know - but this is a sweet deal. And Mako hasn't done nothing . . ."

"Anything," Anakin immediately corrected.

With a sigh, Han re-phrased his last word. “Like I said, he hasn’t done anything to give us a reason to distrust him.” He paused. “Unless you know something . . .”

“No, I didn’t,” Anakin snapped. Looking defeated, he shook his head. “I know I’m going to regret this, but okay. I’m willing to accept Spince’s offer.”

Relief filled Han’s mind. “Great!” he crowed. Then he returned to Mako. “We’ll do it. As for the fee . . . that hundred thousand credits have to be divided three ways. We’ll all be taking the risk, no matter how many ships are involved.”

Mako looked slightly taken aback. “Wait a minute. I mean . . . I’m the one who had approached you about this deal. I think . . .”

“Take it,” Han insisted. “Or find yourself a new partner.”

The older Corellian sighed. Han deduced from that sigh that Mako had been unable to find another pilot to accompany him on this venture. “All right. We’ll split the money three ways. By the way, I suggest that we all leave for Kessel, tomorrow morning.”

“See you tomorrow, then.” Han watched his friend walk back into the casino. Then he approached Anakin. “The deal is on.”

Doubt flickered in the older man’s eyes. “I only hope that we won’t end up regretting this.”


END OF CHAPTER ONE

Friday, October 20, 2017

"ARGO" (2012) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "ARGO", the new political thriller about the 1979-81 Iran Hostage Crisis, starring Ben Affleck. Also directed by him, the movie co-stars Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin: 


"ARGO" (2012) Photo Gallery

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1995) Review




"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1995) Review

The year 1995 saw the beginning of an onslaught of Britain and the United States’ love affair with British author, Jane Austen. A love affair that has not abated after fourteen (14) years. In 1995, the BBC aired Andrew Davies’ miniseries adaptation of Austen’s most famous novel, ”Pride and Prejudice”. And later that year, Hollywood released its adaptation of another Austen, ”Sense and Sensibility” - which I had just recently watched. 

Directed by Ang Lee, ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”, starred Emma Thompson (who also wrote the screenplay), Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant. The story centered around Elinor (Thompson) and Marianne (Winslet), two daughters of Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) by his second wife (Gemma Jones). They have a younger sister, Margaret (Emilie François), and an older half-brother named John (James Fleet). When their father dies, the family estate passes to John, and the Dashwood women are left in reduced circumstances. The story follows the Dashwood sisters to their new home, a cottage on a distant relative's property (Robert Hardy), where they experience both romance and heartbreak. The contrast between the quiet and sensible Elinor and the extroverted and occasionally impetuous Marianne is eventually resolved as each sister finds love and lasting happiness. This leads some to believe that the story’s title described how Elinor and Marianne find a balance between sense and sensibility in life and love.

Producer Lindsay Doran made an excellent choice in selecting Lee to direct the film. First of all, he drew some excellent performances from his cast - especially from Thompson, Winslet, and Rickman. Lee also effectively drew filmgoers back into Regency England without allowing the film to resemble some kind of stiff painting or a museum piece. Although he initially had trouble with dealing with Western-style of filmmaking – especially in dealing with British cast members who questioned his direction and made suggestions regarding shots. He could be rather authoritarian with the cast, especially with Hugh Grant. The actor ended up calling him ”the Brute” behind his back. But Lee and the cast eventually got used to each other. Lee was also responsible for insisting that Thompson play the oldest Dashwood sister. And he Lee ordered Winslet to read poetry and novels from the late 18th century and early 19th century in order to get her to connect to Marianne’s romantic nature. And to give the movie its emotional core, he asked both Thompson and Winslet to room together during production. The two actresses remain close friends to this day. 

Not only was Lee ably assisted by his superb cast, but also by crew members such as costume designers Jenny Beavan and John Bright, production designer Luciana Arrighi, set decorator Ian Whittaker, art directors Philip Elton and Andrew Sanders; and cinematographer Michael Coulter, whose photography beautifully captured the English countryside in all of its glory. I especially have to give kudos to Coulter’s photography and Arrighi’s production design for a beautiful re-creation of Regency London. I also enjoyed composer Patrick Doyle’s score for the film. His use of John Dowland’s song, "Weep You No More Sad Fountains" as Marianne’s own theme song struck me as very impressive. But I have to especially give kudos to Emma Thompson for her marvelous adaptation of Austen’s novel. It may not have adhered exactly to the novel, but I found it well written, lively and paced just right. 

With the exception of two performances, I felt more than impressed with the cast. When Ang Lee had signed on as the movie’s director, he immediately suggested that Emma Thompson portray the oldest Dashwood sister, Elinor. Thompson considered herself too old for the role, considering that Elinor was at least 19-20 years old in the novel. But Lee suggested that she increase Elinor’s age to 27 in the screenplay, which would also make her distress at being a spinster easier for contemporary audiences to understand. Frankly, I feel that Lee made a good choice. Emma Thompson gave a superb performance as Elinor Dashwood, whose practical mind led her to act as the family’s de facto leader, following her father’s death. She also brilliantly conveyed Elinor’s emotional nature behind a mask of reticence via her eyes and various expressions. Kate Winslet had no need to be subtle as the more openly emotional Marianne Dashwood. Winslet was at least 20 years old when she filmed ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY’. Yet, even at that tender age, Winslet proved that she had the talent and acting chops to portray the very complex Marianne. And yet, she managed to convey all aspects of Marianne’s personality – romantic, willful, emotional and sometimes a bit self-involved - with surprising subtlety.

I found Alan Rickman impressive as one of the Dashwoods’ new neighbors, the quiet and dependable Colonel Christopher Brandon. I enjoyed the subtle manner in which Rickman expressed Brandon’s reluctance in expressing his love for Marianne, due to her feelings for another man. That other man proved to Greg Wise, who gave a surprisingly effective performance as the dashing, yet rakish John Willoughby. Wise has never struck me as an exceptional actor, but I must admit that I consider Willoughby to be one of his three best performances. The movie’s supporting cast also included Robert Hardy and the late Elizabeth Spriggs, who gave amusing performances as Sir John Middleton, the Dashwoods’ cousin and benefactor; and Mrs. Jennings, Sir John’s mother-in-law. Gemma Jones was excellent as the emotional and sometimes girlish mother of the Dashwood sisters. I was also impressed by Harriet Walter, who portrayed the sisters’ shrewish sister-in-law, Fanny Dashwood. And Hugh Laurie gave a hilarious performance as the sardonic and long-suffering Mr. Palmer, Mrs. Jennings’ other son-in-law. And I must say that Imogen Stubbs also impressed me by her subtle performance as the cunning and manipulative Lucy Steele, who seemed to have a claim for the same man that Elinor Dashwood longs for.

Speaking of Elinor Dashwood’s love, I finally come to the two performances that had failed to impress me. One of them belonged to Hugh Grant. He portrayed Edward Ferrars, one of Fanny Dashwood’s brothers that happened to be in love with Elinor and is claimed by the manipulative Lucy Steele as her fiancé. Remember his charming, yet modest performance in the hit 1994 comedy, "FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL"? Well, his Edward Ferrars turned out to be an early 19th century version of that particular role. Grant simply gave the same performance, but with more stuttering and well . . . the same charm. What had been fresh and original in 1994, ended up as old news a year later in "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY". Fortunately, he managed to create strong chemistry with both Thompson and Emilie François, who portrayed the young Margaret Dashwood. And he managed to inject a good deal of subtle wit into his portrayal of the low-key Edward. But the one performance that really did nothing for me belonged to Imelda Staunton. She portrayed Charlotte Jennings Palmer, Mrs. Jennings’ daughter and Mr. Palmer’s wife. Now I am a fan of Stauton, but I cannot say the same about her portrayal of Charlotte Palmer. I realize that the character was supposed to be annoying, but one could say the same about Sir John and Mrs. Middleton. But whereas I found Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs’ performances amusing and rather funny at times, Staunton’s slightly over-the-top portrayal of Charlotte Palmer ended up irritating the hell out of me. 

I understand that Andrew Davies had produced his own version of the Austen novel back in 2008. I cannot deny that the three-part miniseries is first rate. There are two other adaptations of Austen's 1811 novel that I have enjoyed. However, I still believe that this particular version is superior. It came as no surprise to me that it earned seven (7) Academy Award nominations and won one (1) for Thompson’s Adapted Screenplay. ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” is one movie I could watch over again without ever getting tired of it.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - Episode Six "March-April 1865" Commentary

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"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - EPISODE SIX "March-April 1865" Commentary

I hate to say this, but whenever I watch "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II", I usually heave a sigh of relief after the last episode fades away. I have never done this with the other two miniseries - "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" and "HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III". But with the 1986 production, I usually do. There is something about watching this particular production usually ends up as hard work for me. 

Episode Six of "BOOK II" began at least a month after Episode Five ended. This episode began with Orry Main hiring a former Pinkerton detective to find his missing wife, Madeline Fabray LaMotte Main. The latter continues her efforts to feed Charleston's poor by appealing to Union general William Tecumseh Sherman. With nothing else to do, Orry has no choice but to help the Confederacy defend Richmond, Virginia; which is under siege from the Army of the Potomoc under Ulysses S. Grant. The episode eventually leads into the Battle of Fort Stedman, in which Orry, his cousin Charles, George and Billy Hazard all participate. The Union victory at Fort Stedman eventually lead to another military victory for the Army of Potomoc and Confederate General Robert E. Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House. Once the episode puts these series of historical events behind, Episode Six refocuses on the main characters' personal lives. 

Episode Six closes more story arcs that began in Episode One than the previous episode did. The consequences of Charles Main and Augusta Barclay concludes in one stage and begins in another that will continue in 1994's "HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III". The war's end leads to a final romantic reunion for Billy and Brett Hazard. In fact, the Charles/Augusta and Billy/Brett relationships were not the only ones that came to fruition in this episode. Episode Six also resolved the romance between Semiramis and Ezra, with the former finally acknowledging her love for the latter. And yes, Orry finally finds Madeline and their son with the help of George and Madeline's attorney, Miles Colbert. With war, there is always the chance for tragedy. While tragedy of one kind marked John Jakes' 1984 novel, another kind of tragedy ends Virgilia Hazard's relationship with Congressman Sam Greene and her character arc, which began in "BOOK I". Tragedy also occurred during the attack upon Mont Royal near the end of the episode. Irony also seemed to be hallmark of this attack, for it was led by an alliance between former Mont Royal slave Cuffey and former overseer Salem Jones. I found it ironic that a black man and a white man, former enemies due to their positions as slave and overseer, should form an alliance against the very family that had controlled their lives in one form or another. Non-elites of two different races uniting against the elite. Talk about a rich man's worst nightmare. 

There was a good deal about Episode Six for me to praise. One of the miniseries’ strengths has always been its battle scenes. And this particular episode featured an exciting interpretation of the Battle at Fort Stedman. As I had earlier noted, this episode also featured a poignant recreation of the Surrender at Appomattox. There were some dramatic scenes that I found very satisfying. One of them included George and Orry's emotional reunion following the Appomattox surrender and Charles' return to Barclay's Farm. A part of me realizes this might be wrong, but I felt a great sense of satisfaction in the way Virgilia dealt with her situation with Congressman Sam Greene. However, her act landed her in serious legal trouble and a very tearful reconciliation with her brother George. Last, but not least was Cuffey and Salem Jones' action-packed assault on Mont Royal.

I have to give credit to several people for the manner in which both the action and dramatic sequences in this episode. One of them is Kevin Connor, who I must admit did a pretty solid job in helming this six-part, 540-minutes juggernaut for television from a script filled with plot holes. I also have to comment upon the work of cinematographer Jacques R. Marquette, whose excellent photography of the miniseries added a great deal of pathos to a story about one of the United States' most traumatic periods in its history. I was especially impressed by how he handled the Fort Stedman sequence. Bill Conti's score contributed a great deal to the production's narrative. And I was also impressed by the work of the six men who served as the miniseries' film editing team, especially for the Fort Stedman and Mont Royal attack sequences. And as usual, Robert Fletcher knocked it out of the ballpark with his costume designs . . . especially for the outfits shown in the images below: 

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Judging from Fletcher's filmography, I suspect that "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" was his best work on screen - movies or television.

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" also featured some fine performances. Aside from one particular scene that I found particularly hammy, I was satisfied with the performances featured in this episode. For me, the best performances came from Patrick Swayze, Lloyd Bridges, Parker Stevenson, Forest Whitaker, Tony Frank, David Ogden Stiers, Jean Simmons, Inga Swanson, John Nixon. I was especially impressed by James Read and Kirstie Alley's performances in the scene that featured George and Virgilia's emotional reconciliation and discovery of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. And the poignancy in the Appomattox surrender sequence greatly benefited from Anthony Zerbe and William Schallert's portrayal of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. On a minor note, if you look carefully during the miniseries' last half hour, you might spot future star Bryan Cranston as a Union officer whom George questions about Orry whereabouts, following the Fort Stedman battle.

Although there seemed to be a good about Episode Six that strikes me as praiseworthy . . . and there is, I found a good deal that I found problematic. Which strikes me as a pity, for the emotional levity featured in this episode could have made Episode Six my favorite in the entire miniseries. Alas . . . I have too much to complain about. Three of my problems centered around the Charles Main character. First of all, two months after he last saw Augusta Barclay in Episode Five, Charles discovered that he was the father of an infant boy. Apparently Augusta had died while giving birth to their son. Unfortunately . . . Augusta DID NOT look pregnant during her last meeting with Charles. And considering that they had made love in the previous episode, her pregnancy should not have come as a surprise to him. To make matters worse, young Augustus Charles Main looked as if he had been conceived nearly two years ago. Honestly. The kid looked at least one year old. And Charles and Augusta had started their affair eleven months before the end of the war. Unlike Jakes' novel, Charles found his son being cared for by Augusta's South Carolina relatives in Charleston. Really? Was that necessary? I found it ridiculously convee-ee-ee-ient that Augusta had Charleston relatives, who managed to be in Virginia at the time she gave birth to her son. My second problem with Charles is the fact that it took him less than a week to travel from Spotsylvania County, Virginia to Charleston, South Carolina. Less than a week? On horseback? Charles' journey should have taken him longer. This seemed like an extreme reversal of Brett and Semiramis' ludicrous four-month journey from Washington D.C. to Mont Royal. 

Quite frankly, I felt a bit put out that the screenwriters (which include John Jakes) dumped a tragic ending to Virgilia Hazard's story arc. Unlike the miniseries, Virgilia survived her affair with Congressman Greene and ended up marrying another black man - the same man who had befriend George, Constance and Brett in the novel. Apparently, Wolper Productions felt that since Virgilia's five-year marriage had ended in tragedy, it seemed proper to give her a tragic ending, as well. Or perhaps many of the trilogy's fans had found Virgilia's radical politics and marriage to Grady so off-putting that David Wolper and the screenwriters had decided to appease them by giving her a tragic ending. Regardless their reason, I found Virgilia's tragic ending very annoying and clichéd. As much as Patrick Swayze's portrayal of Orry Main had impressed me in this episode, there is one scene in which his acting skills failed to impress. I hate to say this, but I cannot hold it back. I refer to the scene in which Orry finds the body of his mother Clarissa Main, following the attack upon Mont Royal and expresses his grief. Can I say . . . OVER-THE-TOP? Seriously. I found it to be one of the hammiest moments in the entire television trilogy.

But the episode's real problems were made obvious during the Fort Stedman battle sequence. Granted, I was impressed by the visual style of this segment. But I noticed the screenwriters went out of their way to ensure that the major four military characters - George, Billy, Orry and Charles - all participated in this battle. In ensuring this, the screenwriters committed a great deal of inconsistencies and bloopers. Orry led a group of infantry troops into battle for the first time, since the Battle of Churubusco, nearly eighteen years earlier. Personally, I never saw the need for him to be put into the field. The Army of Northern Virginia still had enough commanders to lead men into battle. One of the officers under his command proved to be Charles. Charles? Charles, who spent the entire war as a cavalry officer and scout under Wade Hampton III? I am aware that Charles had led infantry troops during the Battle Antietam, during Episode Three. And I had pointed that this was a major blooper. Yet, the screenwriters repeated this same blooper by allowing him to lead infantry troops again during the Battle at Fort Stedman . . . this time, under Orry's command. Also leading infantry troops for the Union was George Hazard. Now, I am baffled. George had command of Artillery troops during the Battle of Gettysburg in Episode Three and when he was captured during Episode Four. Could someone explain why the screenwriters had decided to have him lead Infantry troops in this episode? Among the troops under George's command proved to be his brother Billy, who continued to serve with the Sharpshooters. It was bad enough that the writers had Charles serving under Orry during this battle. But they had Billy serving under George, as well? There is more, folks. Not only did Billy continued to serve with the Sharpshooters, he also seemed to be in command of them. For, I saw no other officers during this scene. I am aware that Hiram Burdan was no longer in command of this regiment by the end of the war. But what happened to the other officers in the regiment? What happened to Rudy Bodford and Stephen Kent? They seemed to have disappeared. And how did Billy end up in this position, considering that he had spent nearly 10 months AWOL between the summer of 1863 and the spring of 1864? What the hell, guys? Come on!

Do not get me wrong. There is still plenty to admire about "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II". Like its predecessor, "NORTH AND SOUTH"; it has its share of good acting, exciting sequences, drama, superb production values, and probably the best costume design in the entire trilogy, thanks to Robert Fletcher’s work. Unfortunately, the 1986 miniseries has its share of major flaws that included clunky dialogue and probably some of the worst writing in the entire trilogy. And when I say the entire trilogy, I am including the much reviled "NORTH AND SOUTH III: HEAVEN AND HELL""NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" might be my least favorite chapter in the television trilogy, thanks to a great deal of plot holes and historical inaccuracies . . . I still managed to enjoyed it anyway.