Friday, March 30, 2012

"CRANFORD" (2007) Review




"CRANFORD" (2007) Review

Three years ago, the BBC aired a five-part miniseries adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s series of stories about a small town in North West England. After viewing the 2004 miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH", my curiosity regarding the 2007 miniseries became piqued and I turned my attention toward it.

Created by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, directed by Simon Curtis and Steve Hudson, and adapted by Heidi Thomas; "CRANFORD" is based upon three of Gaskell’s novellas published between 1849 and 1858 - "Cranford", "My Lady Ludlow", and "Mr Harrison's Confessions". Birtwistle, Conklin and Thomas took aspects of Gaskell’s stories, re-shuffled them and added some of their own plotlines to create the five-episode miniseries. "CRANFORD" mainly focused upon the small English village between 1842-1843, during the early years of the Victorian Age. On the surface, Cranford seemed like an idyllic community in which time remained stuck in the late Georgian Age. However, progress – both technological and social – began its intrusion upon the community for better or worse. The arrival of a young doctor named Frank Harrison with modern new ideas about medical practices, and a railway construction crew on the town’s outskirts that meant the arrival of the railway, change and possibly unwelcomed citizens; seemed to be the prime symbols of the encroaching Industrial Age.

Many humorous and tragic incidents shown as minor plotlines are scattered throughout "CRANFORD". But the main stories seemed to focus upon the following characters:

*Miss Matilda “Matty” Jenkyns – the younger of two elderly sisters who had to endure a series of travails that included the death of a loved one, the reunion with an old love and the loss of her income.

*Dr. Frank Harrison – Cranford’s new young doctor who has to struggle to win the trust of Cranford’s citizens and the love of the vicar’s oldest daughter, Sophy Hutton.

*Lady Ludlow – the Lady of Hanbury Court who struggles to maintain funds for her spendthrift son and heir living in Italy.

*Mr. Edmund Carter – Lady Ludlow’s land agent, who views Lady Ludlow’s attempts to raise funds for her dissolute son with a leery eye and clashes with his employer over the fate of the young son of a poacher.

*Harry Gregson – the very son of the poacher, whom Mr. Carter views as promising and whom Lady Ludlow views as someone who should remain in his station.

*Octavia Pole – a spinster and Cranford’s town gossip who proves to be the subject of a series of hilarious events.


I realize that ”CRANFORD” is a highly acclaimed program. And I also understand why it became so popular. The production team for "CRANFORD" did an excellent job in conveying television viewers back in time to the early Victorian Age. The miniseries possessed some very whimsical moments that I found particularly funny. These moments included Miss Deborah Jenkyns’ assistance in helping Miss Jessie Brown and Major Gordon stay in beat during their rendition of ”Loch Lomond” with a spoon and a teacup; Miss Pole’s hysteria over a thief in Cranford; Caroline Tomkinson’ infatuation with Dr. Harrison; and especially the incident regarding the cat that swallowed Mrs. Forrester’s valuable lace.

Yet, ”CRANFORD” had its poignant moments. Dr. Harrison’s futile efforts to save young Walter Hutton from the croup, along with Miss Deborah Jenkyns’ death allowed Episode 2 to end on a sober note. And the doctor's more successful efforts to save Sophy Hutton from typhoid gave the last episode a great deal of drama and angst. I found it almost difficult to watch Miss Matty endure one crisis after another – until she finally prevailed with the establishment of her own tea shop, with the help of the ladies of Cranford and her reunion with her long lost brother. My heartstrings also tugged when the conflict between Mr. Carter and Lady Ludlow over Harry Gregson ended on a tragic, yet poignant note. But the one scene that left me in tears turned out to be the series’ final shot of Cranford’s citizens bidding good-bye to the recently married Dr. Harrison and Sophy. The miniseries closed on what seemed to be a real sense of community.

And that is what the theme of ”CRANFORD” seemed to be about – at least to me. Community. However, this theme and the Gaskell novellas that the miniseries were based upon have led me to a conclusion. There seemed to be a lack of balance or blending between the series’ format and the material. If ”CRANFORD” had been based upon one novel or a series of novels that served as a continuing saga, I would never have any problems with its tight structure of a five-episode miniseries. But ”CRANFORD” was based upon three novellas written over a period of time that were certainly not part of a continuing saga. And if I must be frank, I personally feel that the miniseries could have served its source of material a lot better as a one or two-season television series.

I realize that producing a television series that was also a period drama would have been more expensive than a miniseries or a series set in the present. But Heidi Thomas’ script seemed vague for the miniseries format. With the exception one particular storyline, ”CRANFORD” seemed to be filled with minor stories that were usually resolved within one to three episodes. For example, the Valentine card storyline that left Dr. Harrison in trouble with the ladies of Cranford stretched across three episodes. Even the railway construction storyline only appeared in three episodes and not in any particular order. Miss Matty’s financial situation only stretched into two episodes. And plots featuring the lace-swallowing cat, Miss Matty’s relationship with Mr. Thomas Holbrook, and Jem Hearne’s broken arm only appeared in one episode. The only storyline that consistently appeared in all five episodes turned out to be the conflict between Lady Ludlow and Mr. Carter over Harry Gregson’s future.

But one cannot deny that ”CRANFORD” was blessed with a first-rate cast. The cream of this cast consisted of a sterling group of veteran British actresses, whose characters dominated the series. However, only a handful of performances really caught my attention. Two of them belonged to Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins as the Jenkyns sisters – the mild-mannered Matty and the domineering Deborah. Judging from their outstanding performances, I can easily understand how one of them earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress and the other won both an Emmy and a BAFTA for Outstanding Lead Actress. Another outstanding performance from a veteran actress came from Francesca Annis, who portrayed the intensely conservative Lady Ludlow. Annis did a wonderful job in conveying her character’s rigid opposition to education for the lower classes and struggle to overcome these feelings in the face of her kindness and compassion. Philip Glenister, who made a name for himself in the 1995 miniseries ”VANITY FAIR” and in the award winning series ”LIFE ON MARS” and its sequel, "ASHES TO ASHES"; certainly proved his talents as an actor and strong screen presence in his portrayal of the intense, yet very practical Mr. Edmund Carter. I especially enjoyed Glenister’s scenes with Annis, while their characters clashed over the fate of young Harry Gregson. Providing the bulk of comic relief were actresses Imelda Staunton (from 1995’s "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" and "HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX") and Julia McKenzie (the new Miss Jane Marple for ITV). They portrayed two of Cranford’s biggest gossips, Miss Octavia Pole and Mrs. Forrester. Staunton seemed truly hilarious, while portraying Miss Pole’s terror and anxiety over becoming the victim of a thief. And not only was McKenzie funny as the finicky Mrs. Forrester, she gave a poignant soliloquy in which her character recalled a past act of kindness from Miss Matty.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed "CRANFORD". Thanks to directors Simon Curtis and Steve Hudson, along with production designer Donal Woods, screenwriter Heidi Thomas and costume designer Jenny Beavan; the miniseries gave television audiences a warm, humorous and poignant look into village life in early Victorian England. But despite the production team and the cast, I believe the miniseries has a major flaw. Its source material – three novellas written by Elizabeth Gaskell – did not mesh very well with the miniseries format. I believe that "CRANFORD" would have been better off as a television series. Such a format could have served its stories a lot better.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"THE SACKETTS" (1979) Photo Gallery



Below are some photos from the 1979 miniseries called "THE SACKETTS". Based upon two of Louis L'Amour's novels - "The Daybreakers" (1960) and "Sackett" (1961), the miniseries starred Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage:


"THE SACKETTS" (1979) Photo Gallery



































































Monday, March 26, 2012

"NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy" - Historical Inaccuracies



After reading a list of historical inaccuracies in the movie, "TITANIC", I could not help but think about the historical inaccuracies I've found in the "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy - no matter how much I loved it. So, here it is:


“NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy” Inaccuracies



1. George and Orry's journey to West Point - I could be mistaken, but I thought most cadets who traveled to West Point from New York City, did so by a steamer up the Hudson River in the mid-1800s.

2. Orry's sword duel w/Bent - I realize many of you found it exciting, but after asking around, I discovered that it is impossible for someone with Orry's difficulties in studies to be an excellent swordsman. Actually, someone like Bent should have kicked his butt.

3. Ulysses Grant did not graduate from West Point two years ahead of George and Orry (as indicated in ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”). He graduated three years before them in 1843.

4. The Mains should not be at Mont Royal during the summers of 1844, 1846 or 1854. Summertime was considered fever season in the South Carolina low country. South Carolinians planters usually vacationed in the upcountry or somewhere else - preferably at Newport Island.

****



5. When Virgilia made the "slave bordellos" reference in her speech during the abolitionist meeting in Philadelphia, she had been very close to the truth, despite Orry's reaction. Due to a Federal law that forbade the import of African slaves in 1808, prosperous slave owners like Tillet Main encouraged their slaves to breed. Female slaves were encouraged to breed by the age fourteen.

6. Fredrick Douglass never referred to God in his speeches. A bitter encounter with the clergy in Maryland had erased any religious fevor that he had.

7. Robert Guilliame was too old to be playing Fredrick Douglass in 1848. During that year, Douglass was only 30 years old. Guilliame was at least 56 or 57 years old when he appeared in ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I”.

8. The song, "Dixie", was written by a Northerner in 1859 and became popular throughout the South in 1860. When James Huntoon sung it at a rally in New Orleans, he may have sung it a year or two early.

****



9. Orry had been premature in referring to John Brown as insane in December 1859. The abolitionist was never considered insane until the 1890s, when the "Lost Cause" myth became very popular.

10. Contrary to the miniseries, Major Robert Anderson was not in his mid to late 30s – the age of actor James Rebhorn, who portrayed the officer when the miniseries was filmed - around the winter of 1860-61. He was at least 55 years old.

11. Hiram Burdan, commander of the Sharpshooters, was not the stickler as portrayed by Kurtwood Smith in the miniseries. In fact, he was not a very good commander and left the U.S. Army in January 1864. Also, the Sharpshooters were formed by November 1861, not May-June 1861.

12. Lincoln had never made a comment about suggesting his other commanders drink the same brand of whiskey as Grant.

****



13. Although he remained sober throughout most of the war, Grant did go on an alcoholic bender sometime during the Vicksburg siege – May to July 1863.

14. West Point never held a ball for its graduates during the mid-1800s. The graduating class usually went to the Astor House in New York City for a graduation supper.

15. Generals Grant and Sherman had met President Lincoln a few weeks
before the war ended, they met on a James River steamboat around City Point, Virginia. They did not meet on the field, with General Sheridan, as indicated in "BOOK II".

16. William Stills had been 34-36 years old during the winter of 1855/56. The actor who portrayed him in ”BOOK I”, the late Ron O'Neal, was at least 47 years old at the time of the miniseries’ production.


If you can find any further discrepancies, please let me know.


Monday, March 19, 2012

"Altered Lives" [PG-13] - Chapter Two




"ALTERED LIVES"

CHAPTER TWO

EXPANSION REGION

The ARC-170 starfighter raced through the dark recesses of the Derra VI system. Inside the cockpit, Romulus fiddled with the ship's communication in a vain attempt to contact the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.

The clonetroopers on Dallik had taken possession of his and Wo-Chen's Jedi fighters. This action forced Romulus to steal one of the ARC-170 fighters that belonged to a squad of clone pilots. Once he had cleared the Dallik system, Romulus picked up a signal from the Jedi Temple ordering all knights to convene on Coruscant. Unfortunately, the signal went dead somewhere between Koorivia and Bestine, the following day. Romulus had spent the last sixteen hours trying to pick up the signal, again.

For the first time in nearly forty-eight hours, he allowed his mind to replay the clone troopers' attack upon the Jedi commanders. What had happened? Who had given the clones order to kill both Wo-Chen and himself? Had other Jedi Knights in the field been targeted as well?

Romulus could only think of one person with the power to order the deaths of Jedi Knights - Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Both he and Wo-Chen had occasionally discussed the growing estrangement between the Order and the Republic's leader. One contention had been the fact that the Chancellor had managed to stay in office beyond his term. Wo-Chen once revealed that Master Ki-Mundi-Adi had spoken of an alleged connection between someone in Palpatine's inner circle and a Sith Lord named Sidious. If the Jedi were being targeted by clone troopers, Romulus surmised that the connection to the Sith Lord had to be Palpatine.

For a brief second, Romulus closed his eyes and sighed. He hoped that enough Jedi Knights had survived and gathered at the Temple to form some kind of defense against Palpatine and the clone troopers. Then his thoughts fell upon one knight in particular. Anakin Skywalker was known to be a close friend of the Chancellor's. Had the Chosen One been attacked by clone troopers, as well? Or has his friendship with Palpatine given him immunity? Romulus realized that the answer could only be found in Coruscant.

----------

POLIS MASSA

A young Alderaanian officer approached Senator Bail Organa and whispered a message in his ear. "Thank you, Raymus," the older man replied, before dismissing his cousin-in-law.

Alderaan's senator and prince consort rose from his chair inside the Tantive IV's main cabin and left. He departed from his starship and made his way to the moon's main post. The senator asked one of the exobiologists for Master Yoda's location. Several minutes passed before he found Jedi Master Yoda inside the post's observation dome - meditating.

"Pardon me, Master Yoda," Bail said, interrupting the diminutive Jedi. "Master Kenobi has made contact. He is on his way." The latter grunted slightly and nodded.

Nearly an hour later, a silver Nabooan skiff descended upon the post's main landing platform. Bail inhaled sharply at the sight of Master Kenobi carrying Senator Amidala's unconscious body down the ship's ramp. "What happened to her?" the Alderaanian senator demanded.

"Anakin had attacked her," Kenobi grimly replied. "Using the Force." Aware of the friendship between his colleague and the young Jedi Knight, Kenobi's news took Bail by surprise. Even more surprising was the obvious fact that Padme Amidala was pregnant.

Yoda also noticed Senator Amidala's bulky form. "Hmmmm. Expecting a child, the senator is."

Kenobi added, "Anakin is the father."

"Is?" One of Master Yoda's brows rose questioningly.

A sigh left the younger Jedi's mouth. "I'm afraid that I have failed, Master Yoda. Anakin . . . or Lord Vader still lives. He has escaped."

"Then failed the both of us have." Bail knew that Yoda spoke of his failed attempt to kill the new emperor.

While a pair of medical technicians led the small party toward a medical facility, Bail's mind reeled over the past recent events that left the Republic in tatters. It all seemed a blur. He found it hard to believe that two attempts on Palpatine's life, the Jedi Order's destruction, the end of the war, Palpatine's declaration as the galaxy's new emperor, and his assistance of two fugitive Jedi Knights had all occurred within the last few days. And now it seems he and these last two Jedi will have to deal with an unexpected pregnancy. Bail shook his head in disbelief. He had harbored misgivings about the Clone War when it first started. But he had no idea that it would eventually lead to the end of the Republic.

The small party entered the medical facility. The technicians placed Padme on a bed inside one of the operating theaters. A groan escaped from her mouth. The two men and Yoda exchanged grim looks. It appeared that the Nabooan ship's arrival had occurred at a fortuitous time. Not long after she had been situated, Senator Amidala went into labor.

--------

MUSTAFAR

The Imperial shuttle slowly descended into Mustafar's fiery system. Not long after it landed on solid ground, a squad of clone troopers escorted the wizened, cloaked figure down the shuttle's ramp.

Former Supreme Chancellor-now Emperor Palpatine sharply ordered the troopers to search near the lava banks for his new apprentice. Just recently, he had received a premonition that Lord Vader's life might be in danger.

While the troopers followed his order, Palpatine closed his eyes and inhaled. He saw visions of Lord Vader's confrontation with Senator Amidala and that Jedi scum, Kenobi. He also saw Vader strangle the senator and engage in a lightsaber duel with the Jedi Master. Back on Coruscant, he had foreseen his apprentice struggling to escape the burning lava after being dismembered by Kenobi. But now . . . He took another deep breath. All he saw was the past. For some reason, he could not sense Lord Vader's present state or whereabouts. He could not even sense a heartbeat or sound. It seemed as if the Force had blocked his new apprentice from his senses.

Several minutes passed. When the clone detail failed to report any sign of Vader, Palpatine joined them near the lava bank. "Report!" he sharply ordered the squad's leader.

"Lord Vader is nowhere to be found, Your Highness," the squad leader reported. "We've searched all along the riverbank."

Palpatine snapped back, "Nonsense! He was here. I had sensed him." The squad leader remained silent. Once more, the Sith Lord used the Force in an effort to find his missing apprentice. And once again, he failed. Frustration threatened to overwhelm him, until an image of a dark-haired, young man walking through the ruins of the Jedi Temple appeared before him.

"Call off the search," the new emperor barked. "We will return to Coruscant."

The squad leader nodded. "Yes, Your Highness." He summoned the other clone troopers.

Darth Sidious breathed in and out, as he led his troops back to the shuttle. He regretted losing a powerful and valuable apprentice in Vader. But the Force had shown him a suitable replacement. Hopefully, an apprentice powerful enough to stand by his side, yet malleable enough not to become a wild card - like a certain fair-haired Jedi Knight.

-----------

POLIS MASSA

A low moan escaped from Padme's mouth. She felt the baby ease slowly from her body. Her baby. Hers and Anakin's child. Padme realized that she should feel overjoyed at the idea of becoming a mother. But the feeling refused to come forth. How could she feel any joy? Especially since it had all gone wrong.

"Push," she heard the medical droid said. Padme released a series of short breaths, as she followed the droid's order. She could barely sense Obi-Wan's presence inside the operating theater. Then it finally came. The warm flesh eased further out of her body.

Where had it all gone wrong? Was she being punished for wanting too much? For marrying a Jedi Knight in secret? For marrying him in the first place? Perhaps, if she had followed her original instincts and kept her distance, Anakin's loyalty would not have been divided between her and the Jedi Order.

Padme felt pain jolt throughout her body. She winced. Then Obi-Wan grabbed hold of her hand. "Don't give up, Padme," he gently whispered.

Finally, the baby arrived. Faint cries filled the operating theater. "It's a boy," the medical droid announced.

The moment the droid announced the baby's gender, a name popped into Padme's mind. "Luke . . ." she whispered. With great difficulty, she struggled to touch the infant's forehead. She and Anakin were the parents of an infant boy named Luke. If only he were . . .

Another twinge of pain shot through her body. She felt the second child before the medical technician could announce it to the others. She had been carrying twins! Again, the droid ordered her to relax. Between the pain, the humidity that surrounded her and the infant struggling to enter this world, Padme found herself barely hanging on.

Her mind raced back to that day, thirteen years ago, when her presence in the Galactic Senate had spelled the end of Finis Valorum's rule as the Supreme Chancellor. At first, Padme had felt proud of her "no confidence" nomination against the former chancellor. The situation between Naboo and the Trade Federation led her to consider Valorum as an ineffective leader. But his successor proved to be a bigger mistake for the Republic. The latter no longer existed and had become an Empire due to her foolish naivety. Was she being punished for allowing someone like Palpatine a chance to . . .?

The second baby arrived. Finally. The medical droid announced that it was a girl. Another name popped into Padme's head. "Leia."

"You have twins, Padme," Obi-Wan said. She felt her surroundings slowly fade before her eyes. Obi-Wan continued, "Padme? They need you. Hang on."

Hang on? How could she? "I can't," Padme whispered.

She closed her eyes . . . and heard his voice. She heard Anakin. "You need to be strong, Padme. For you and the baby's future. But don't forget . . . I will always love you. Forever."

A gasp left Padme's mouth before she could stop herself. While one of her hands grabbed hold of the japor snippet that hung around her neck, the other one took hold of Obi-Wan's hand. "Save your energy," the Jedi Knight gently added.

Padme opened her mouth to speak. "Obi-Wan," she whispered, "there . . ." She paused, as she struggled to remain conscious. "There . . . is good . . . in him. I know there is . . ." Her eyelids grew heavy. Her energy continued to drain from her body. She had to tell him! "There is . . . still . . ." And everything faded to black.

---------

Stunned by Padme's sudden laspe, Obi-Wan regarded her with anxious eyes. "Is she . . .? he began.

The medical droid checked the instruments. "The patient is unconscious. She should recover after sufficient rest."

Relief sagged Obi-Wan's shoulders. He glanced at Master Yoda and Senator Organa and saw that they shared his feelings. He joined them outside the operating theater. "That was close."

"No doubt," Senator Organa replied, shooting a quick glance at his unconscious colleague. "However, I had no idea that she was with child. Is it true that Master Skywalker is the father of her twins?"

Both Obi-Wan and Master Yoda exchanged uneasy looks. "The father, Young Master Skywalker is," Yoda replied with a nod. "Or as he is now known - Lord Vader. Consumed him, the Dark Side has."

Obi-Wan shifted from one foot to the other. He realized with discomfort that he had yet to disclose what really happened on Mustafar. "I'm not quite so sure, Master Yoda."

"Hmmm?"

The older Jedi Master and the Alderaanian senator regarded Obi-Wan with curious yes. He continued, "Something happened on Mustafar. Something . . . unexpected. Before he left, Anakin left this behind." He removed his former apprentice's lightsaber from his robe and displayed it before the other two's astonished eyes.

---------

SLUIS SECTOR

Inside his starfighter's cockpit, Anakin leaned back into his seat and heaved a sigh. Within a space of two or three days, he had managed to ruin his life and the lives of those close to him. And because of this, he now found himself stuck in the middle of the Sluis Sector with no real place to go.

Anakin checked the Jedi fighter's star charts. So far, the closest star system seemed to be Melida/Daan. Over twenty-five years ago, the planet had been the site of a bloody civil war between its two main inhabitants - the Melida and the Daan. He recalled that Obi-Wan had briefly left the Jedi Order to assist a group called the Young in ending the civil war. Eventually, both groups reunited and have managed to rebuild the planet from the war's ravages.

A stopover in Zehara, Melinda/Daan's capital, would provide fuel for the starfighter and a brief respite for him. But Anakin had no plans to remain behind. He decided it would be best to head for one of the systems in the far reaches of the Outer Rim. There was Naboo, but Anakin immediately dismissed it. The planet harbored too many memories of his relationship with Padme. And he suspected that the Chancellor - now the Emperor - might assume he would settle there.

He might also consider Tatooine to be out of the question. At least as a permanent residence. Palpatine knew about his familiarity with the planet. And to be honest, it also held as much disturbing memories as Naboo. But since it rarely registered on the Senate's radar, Anakin decided he could spare a few weeks on his childhood planet. Just to raise enough credits to set up a permanent home, elsewhere.

Anakin contemplated spending some time on the Lars' moisture farm. Perhaps he could find a job in nearby Mos Eisley or Anchorhead. On second thought . . . perhaps not. The Lars homestead held very painful memories for him. And he has harbored a lot to last a lifetime. His old hometown, Mos Espa, would have to suffice. Hopefully, his former owner could use his help.

Having made his decision, Anakin allowed himself a brief sigh of relief. He continued to guide his starfighter through space and toward the Melida/Daan system.

----------

POLIS MASSA

While Padme remained unconscious, Master Yoda decided it would be wise for all of them to leave Polis Massa. Senator Organa offered the two Jedi Masters passage aboard his star cruiser, the Tantive IV. "After I deliver Senator Amidala and her children to Naboo," the senator said, "my captain will be more than happy to deliver you both to your destinations."

"Use my lifepod, I will," Master Yoda said. "To my new home, it will take me."

Senator Organa turned to the younger knight. "Master Kenobi?"

The younger man smiled politely. "Thank you, Senator, but I hope to use Padme's skiff to take me to the Outer Rim. If she will permit me. If not, I may take up your offer."

"The Outer Rim?" Yoda regarded Obi-Wan with curious eyes. "Within you, I sense a purpose, Obi-Wan. What draws you to the Outer Rim? Your former apprentice's lightsaber, does it concern?"

A sigh left Obi-Wan's mouth. "My feelings tell me that Anakin has not returned to the Emperor. I had sensed remorse from him back on Mustafar. Guilt. Possibly shame. And he did leave his lightsaber behind. Not the actions of one who plans to continue to serve the Sith."

"Hmmmm . . . certain are you, about Lord Vader?"

Obi-Wan hesitated. "Actually . . . no. That is why I want to make a few inquiries into his present whereabouts. I have an idea of where he may have gone."

Doubt crept into Master Yoda's eyes. "Find him, if you must. But do not forget - forever the Dark Side might control his destiny. Now that he has embraced it."

"You don't believe that Anakin may have turned away from the Dark Side?"

A long pause followed before Yoda finally answered. "The answer, you should soon discover."


END OF CHAPTER TWO

Friday, March 16, 2012

"WASHINGTON SQUARE" (1997) Screenshots Gallery



Below are screenshots from "WASHINGTON SQUARE", the 1997 adaptation of Henry James' 1880 novella. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, the movie starred Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney, Maggie Smith and Ben Chaplin:


"WASHINGTON SQUARE" (1997) Screenshots Gallery































Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Three "Carentan" Commentary




"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Three “Carentan” Commentary

This third episode, ”Carentan” picked up one day after where ”Day of Days” left off – Easy Company in Northern France for the Normandy invasion. ”Carentan” mainly centered around the experiences of Private Albert Blithe, portrayed by actor Marc Warren during Easy Company’s attempt take the town of Carentan.

Easy Company’s nighttime jump into Normandy seemed to have left Private Blithe in semi-shock. He barely acknowledged the comments of his fellow paratroopers. During the company’s assault upon Carentan, he suffered from temporary blindness. Conversations with officers like Easy’s Harry Welch and Dog Company’s Ronald Spiers failed to help Blithe ease his anxiety regarding the horrors of combat. Winters is finally able to spur Blithe into action, during a German counterattack, a day or two later. But Blithe’s triumph is short-lived when he is wounded by an enemy sniper after volunteering to lead a scout patrol. Also during this episode, the legend of Ronald Spiers continues when Donald Malarkey and his friends – Warren “Skip” Muck, Alex Pankala and Alton More – discuss Spiers’ alleged connection to the deaths of a group of German prisoners-of-war and a sergeant in Dog Company. Winters endured a mild wound and Sergeant Carwood Lipton endures a more serious one during the battle for Carentan.

”Carentan” became the second episode in ”BAND OF BROTHERS” with a running time longer than one hour. ”Currahee” was the first. But I must admit that I enjoyed ”Carentan” a lot more. The longer running time and broadening effects from the horrors of war gave the series’ portrayal of the Normandy campaign more of an epic feel than ”Day of Days’. It featured two harrowing combat sequences – Easy Company’s attack upon Carentan and the Germans’ counterattack that nearly left the company in a vulnerable state. And it is the first episode that featured an aspect of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I truly enjoy – namely casual conversation between the men of Easy between combat situations. Conversations such as the one about Spiers between Marlarkey, More, Muck and Penkala turned out to be bright spots that prevented the miniseries from sinking into the cliché of a typical World War II combat drama.

The main storyline for ”Carentan” happened to be about Albert Blithe’s anxieties in dealing with combat for the first time. Writer E. Max Frye did a solid job regarding the Blithe character and his troubles with hysterical blindness. But I do have a few problems with his work. One, his take on the whole ”soldier traumatized by combat” did not strike me as original. Watching Blithe’s travails on the screen left me with a feeling that I have seen numerous war dramas with similar storylines. And two, Frye got a good deal of his information wrong about Blithe. The end of the episode revealed that Blithe never recovered from his wound in the neck and died four years later in 1948. As it turned out, Blithe did recover from the wound . . . eventually. He remained in the Army, served in the 82nd Airborne during the Korean War and died in 1967. Either Fyre made this mistake intentionally . . . or had made a major blooper. There was another mistake regarding Blithe, but I will reveal it later.

One last complaint I had was the episode’s last fifteen or twenty minutes, which featured Easy Company’s return to England. Aside from the ham-fisted scene in which Malarkey found himself picking up the laundry of some of those who had been killed or wounded in Normandy, most of those scenes should have been featured in the beginning of the following episode. And they should have deleted the scene in which Lipton announced that they would be returning to France. One, he had not been announced as Easy Company’s new First Sergeant and two, they never did return to France.

The performances in ”Carentan” were solid, but a few did stand out for me. Matthew Settle continued his excellent introduction of Lieutenant Ronald Spiers in a very memorable and slightly tense scene in which he tries to give Blithe some advice on how to mentally deal with combat. Another first-rate performance came from Rick Warden, who portrayed one of Easy Company’s platoon leader and close friend of Richard Winters and Lewis Nixon – Harry Welch. I rather enjoyed Warden’s charming take on the easy-going and sardonic Welch. And finally, there was Marc Warren, whose portrayal of Blithe pretty much carried this episode. He did a very good job of conveying Blithe’s journey from a shell-shocked trooper to the more confident warrior, whose experience with Easy Company ended with a wound in the neck. My only complaint with Warren’s performance is that he portrayed Blithe with a generic Southern accent. And the real Blithe was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Why Spielberg, Hanks and director Mikael Salomon had him used a Southern accent for the character is beyond me.

”Carentan” is not my favorite episode of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. I found the on the whole ”soldier traumatized by combat” storyline for the Albert Blithe character to be slightly unoriginal. The character also spoke with the wrong regional accent and the information about his post-Easy Company years was historically inaccurate. And I could have done without the scenes with Easy Company back in England near the end of the episode. On the other hand, I do consider ”Carentan” to be one of the miniseries’ better episodes. Easy Company’s experiences in taking Carentan and enduring a German counterattack gave the episode more of an epic feel than the events featured in the last episode, ”Day of Days”. And despite portraying Blithe with the wrong accent, Marc Warren did give an exceptionally good performance.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER" (2011) Review





"CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER: (2011) Review

I have been aware of the Marvel Comics hero, Captain America, ever since I was in my early teens. And I might as well say right now that I was never a fan. Captain America? Why on earth would someone like me be interested in some uber patriotic superhero who even dressed in red, white and blue - colors of the flag? This was my reaction when I learned that Marvel Entertainment planned to release a movie based upon the comic book character.

My condescending contempt toward this new movie grew deeper when I learned that Chris Evans, of all people, had been hired to portray the title character. I have been aware of Evans ever since he portrayed another comic book hero, Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch in the 2005 movie, "THE FANTASTIC FOUR". And aside from the 2009 movie, "PUSH", I have seen Evans portray mainly flashy types with a cocky sense of humor. So, I really could not see him portraying the introverted and straight-laced Steve Rogers aka Captain America.

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby first conceived the character of Captain America sometime around 1940-41 as a deliberate political creation in response to their repulsion toward Nazi Germany. The first Captain America comic issue hit the stores in March 1941, showing the protagonist punching Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the jaw. The comic book was an immediate success and spurred a comic saga that continued to last over the next six decades - more or less. I had already seen two television movies based upon the Captain America character in my youth. Both movies starred Reb Brown and they were, quite frankly, quite awful. They were so awful that I deliberately skipped the 1990 movie that starred Matt Salinger. After those encounters with the comic book hero, I approached this new movie with great trepidation. But since it was a comic book movie and part of "THE AVENGERS" story arc, I was willing to go see it.

Directed by Joe Johnston ("THE ROCKETEER" (1991) and "JUMANJI" (1995)), "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER" was basically an origin tale about a sickly Brooklyn native name Steve Rogers, who had been making and failing attempts to sign up for the military, following the U.S. entry into World War II. While attending an exhibition of future technologies with his friend Bucky Barnes, Rogers makes another attempt to enlist. This time, he is successful due to the intervention of scientist and war refugee Dr. Abraham Erskine, who overheard Rogers' conversation with Barnes about wanting to help in the war. Erskine recruits Steve as a candidate for a "super-soldier" experiment that he co-runs with Army Colonel Chester Phillips and British MI-6 agent Peggy Carter. Phillips remains unconvinced of Erskine's claims that Rogers is the right person for the procedure, until he sees Rogers commit an act of self-sacrificing bravery.

The night before the treatment, Dr. Erskine reveals to Rogers about a former candidate of his, Nazi officer Johann Schmidt, who had underwent an imperfect version of the treatment and suffered side-effects. Unbeknownst to the good doctor, Schmidt has managed to acquire a mysterious tesseract that possesses untold powers, during an attack upon Tønsberg, Norway. Schmidt has plans to use the tesseract and the Nazi science division, H.Y.D.R.A., to assume control of the world . . . without Adolf Hitler and the Nazi High Command in the picture. Before Steve can face off Schmidt, he has to travel a long road to assume the persona of Captain America.

"CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER" really took me by surprise. I never really expected to enjoy it, but I did. Not only did I enjoy it, I loved it. Either I have become increasingly conservative as I grow older, or Joe Johnston's direction and the screenplay written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely managed to avoid the unpleasant taint of smug patriotism. Perhaps it is both . . . or simply the latter. But I certainly did enjoy the movie.

One of the aspects about "CAPTAIN AMERICA" that I truly enjoyed was its production design created by Rick Heinrichs. With the help of John Bush's set decorations, the Art Direction team and the visual effects supervised by Johann Albrecht, Heinrichs did a superb job in transforming Manchester and Liverpool, England; along with the Universal Studios backlot in Los Angeles into New York City, London, Italy and German between 1942 and 1944-45. Their efforts were enhanced by Shelly Johnson's beautiful photography and Anna B. Sheppard's gorgeous photography.

It was nice to discover that Joe Johnston still knew how to direct a first-rate movie. Okay, he had a bit of a misstep with "WOLFMAN" last year - unless you happen to be a fan. With "CAPTAIN AMERICA", he seemed to be right back on track. I knew there was a reason why I have been a fan of his work since "THE ROCKETEER". Some directors have taken a first-rate script and mess up an entire movie with some bad direction. Johnston, on the other hand, has managed through most of his career to inject his projects with a steady pace without glossing over the story. His handling of the movie's two major montages were also first-rate, especially the montage that featured Steve's experiences with various war bond drives and U.S.O. shows. And with period pieces such as this film and "THE ROCKETEER", Johnston has maintained a talent for keeping such movies fixed in the right period. He certainly did this with "CAPTAIN AMERICA", thanks to his pacing, exciting action sequences and direction of the cast.

Speaking of the cast, I was surprised to find that so many of the cast members were not only British, but veterans of a good number of costume dramas. This particular cast included Richard Armitage, J.J. Feild, Dominic Cooper, Natalie Dormer and especially Toby Jones and leading lady Hayley Atwell. In fact, it was the large number of British cast members that led me to realize that a good number of the movie was filmed in the British Isles. They performed along the likes of Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Sebastian Stan, Kenneth Choi and Bruno Ricci.

I have been a fan of Toby Jones since I saw his performances in two movies released in 2006 - "INFAMOUS" and THE PAINTED VEIL". He continued to impress me with his subtle portrayal of Joachim Schmidt's quiet and self-serving assistant and biochemist Arnim Zola. Richard Armitage was equally subtle as H.Y.D.R.A. agent Heinz Kruger, whose assassination attempt of Dr. Erskine and failed theft of the latter's formula led to an exciting chase scene through the streets of Brooklyn and a funny moment that involved him tossing a kid into New York Harbor. Trust me . . . it is funnier than you might imagine. Dominic Cooper was surprisingly effective as the young Howard Stark, scientist extraordinaire and future father of Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, J.J. Feild, Kenneth Choi and Bruno Ricci were great as members of Captain America's commando squad. One, all of the actors created a strong chemistry together. Yet, each actor was given the chance to portray an interesting character - especially Choi, who portrayed the sardonic Jim Morita. The only misstep in the cast was poor Natalie Dormer, who was forced to portray Colonel Erskine's assistant, Private Lorraine. Personally, I thought she was wasted in this film. The script only used her character as a minor plot device for the temporary setback in Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter's romance.

Samuel L. Jackson had an entertaining cameo in "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER" as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury. His appearance guaranteed the continuation of the Avengers storyline. I believe that Stanley Tucci's performance as the brains behind the Captain America formula, Dr. Abraham Erskine, was one of the best in the movie. He managed to combine warmth, compassion and a sly sense of humor in at least two scenes that he shared with leading man Chris Evans. I had never expected to see Tommy Lee Jones in a Marvel Comics movie. His Colonel Erskine struck me as so witty and hilarious that in my eyes, he unexpectedly became the movie's main comic relief. Sebastian Stan was convincingly warm and strong as Steve's childhood friend and eventual war comrade, Bucky Barnes. He and Evans managed to create a solid screen chemistry. Hugo Weaving . . . wow! He was fantastic and scary as the movie's main villain, Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull. I have not seen him in such an effective role in quite a while.

I have enjoyed Hayley Atwell's performances in past productions such as 2007's "MANSFIELD PARK" and 2008's "BRIDESHEAD REVISTED". But I was really impressed by her performance as MI-6 agent and the love of Steve Rogers' life, Peggy Carter. Atwell infused her character with a tough, no-nonsense quality that is rare in female characters these days. She also revealed Peggy's vulnerability and insecurities about being a female in what is regarded as a man's world. And she did an effective job in conveying Peggy's gradual feelings for Steve. It was easy to see why Atwell's Peggy fell in love with him. Chris Evans really surprised me with his performance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America. I was more than surprised. I was astounded. Evans has always struck me as a decent actor with a wild sense of humor. But for once, he proved . . . at least to me that he could carry a major motion picture without resorting to his usual schtick. His Steve Rogers is not perfect. Evans did a great job of conveying his character's best traits without making the latter unbearably ideal. This is because both the script and Evans' performance also conveyed Steve's insecurities with a subtlety I have never seen in any other Marvel film. Superb job, Mr. Evans! Superb job.

I have to be honest. I tried very hard to find something to complain about the movie. In the end, I could only think of one complaint . . . and I have already mentioned it. But aside from that one quibble, I really enjoyed the movie and so far, it is one of my top five favorite movies of this summer. And because of this movie, I am truly looking forward to "THE AVENGERS", later this year. I only hope that it proves to be just as first-rate as "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER".

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Altered Lives" [PG-13] - Chapter One




"ALTERED LIVES"

CHAPTER ONE

19BBY - AMARATH, DALLIK

"General Puri, a platoon of droid troops has been spotted surrounding a Separatist bunker, forty kilometers east of your position. Sensors tell us that it might be the droids' shield generator for this system." The clone trooper's voice crackled over the two Jedi Knights' comlinks.

Both Romulus Wort and Wo-Chen Puri exchanged hopeful looks. The destruction of the droid army's shield generator could spell victory for the Republic's army here on Dallik. It could also mean the capture of former Republic Senator Perdito Vedlik, now one of the Separatist leaders in this sector. The Jedi Master responded, "Hold your position, Sergeant Minos. Colonel Wort will soon link up with you to initiate an assault on the generator station."

"Roger that, General Puri."

Wo-Chen turned to his former apprentice. "Romulus, I'm sure that you know what to do. As soon as you and Telos knock out the shield generator, contact me. I will move in to arrest Vedlik at the City Administration building."

Romulus responded with a sharp nod. "Right. I should be able to contact, as soon as possible." He turned to face the clone officer nearby. "Captain, bring three platoons and follow me."

Captain Telos crisply replied, "Yes sir." The clone officer turned away to bark orders to his subordinates.

As Romulus prepared to depart, Wo-Chen spoke up. "By the way, Romulus . . ." the young Jedi Knight stared at the older man. "No mad rushes to overwhelm to the enemy. I do not want a repeat of what happened on Koorivar." Romulus' face turned hot. He knew that Master Puri spoke of an impetuous charge he had led against a company of Corporate Alliance troopers in the midst of one of the planet's lush rainforests. He had barely survived.

"I promise to be careful, Master," Romulus replied.

Wo-Chen smiled affectionately. "Good. I would hate for the Order to lose such a promising knight, such as yourself."

The comment drew a surprised stare from the young Jedi. "I never realized that you consider me promising, Wo-Chen."

The Jedi Master responded with a warm smile. "Of course I have. Yes, you can be slightly impatient, but that is only indicative of your age. With time and more experience, you can become one of the Order's most highly regarded knights. Now, enough of this. You need to take out that shield generator."

For one long moment, Romulus stared at Master Puri. A disturbing thought came to him that he and his former master might soon be permanently separated. Which seemed ridiculous, as he gave a second thought to the idea. After all, he should have no problem knocking out that shield generator. And Wo-Chen will only be forty kilometers away. Romulus flashed a bright smile at the older man and replied, "Yes, Master." Then he followed Captain Telos and the other clone troopers away from the city's administration building.

The half-ruined streets and avenues of Amarath's main business district provided a maze for Romulus and his command. They eventually found Sergeant Minos and a squad of clonetroopers gathered in a small passageway between two buildings along Avenue Caldik. The wide avenue overlooked a once spacious park now slightly damaged by combat. At the park's northwest edge stood a low bunker surrounded by trees and Trade Federation droids.

At first, Romulus wondered how he could take the droids by surprise. Then an idea came to him. He ordered one of the lieutenants from Captain Telos' company to lead a squad back into the city's streets and make their way toward Boulevard Trilak, which bordered the park's northern side. "Lieutenant, you and your squad are to make your way to the hotel over. Once you position yourself, place a few snipers on the roof and take out those droids guarding the bunker." The clone lieutenant acknowledged Romulus' orders and disappeared from view with a squad of troops.

To Romulus' relief, everything went according to plan. Lieutenant Bellon and his squad managed to position themselves at the hotel/casino on Boulevard Trilak. Minutes later, the Jedi Knight used his macrobinoculars to observe the blaster fire that eliminated the bunker's guards. Once the bunker was left vulnerable, more droid troops poured out of its left side. Romulus ordered Telos to lead the remaining company in an all out attack. During the middle of the firefight, the doors to the bunker's main entrance slid open. More droid troops appeared. Romulus lit up his lightsaber. Then he turned to his remaining men and ordered them to follow him.

Romulus took a deep breath and rushed forward. The clone troopers followed. Blaster fire exploded to the left and right of the Jedi Knight. Using his lightsaber, he deflected the droids' blaster fire and sliced several of them in half. Finally, he and Captain Telos met near the bunker's entrance. "All right, Captain," Romulus said, "I want you to prevent the droids out here from following me, while I'll take a squad inside."

"Yes sir," Telos replied with a sharp nod.

With his lightsaber still lit up, Romulus led his contingent deep inside the bunker. There, they found a handful of droid troops and a Neimodian officer, standing in front of generator, armed with blasters. The enemy fired and Romulus deflected most of the shots with his lightsaber. One of his troops ended up struck down. The Neimodian aimed his blaster at Romulus and fired. The Jedi Knight easily deflected the blasts and killed the officer. It did not take long for his command to destroy the rest of the droid troops.

"Sergeant," Romulus began, "have your men place the charges around the generator. Give yourself time to clear out."

The sergeant nodded. "Yes sir." While Romulus strode out of the generator room, Minos barked orders to the remaining troops.

Once outside of the bunker, Romulus contacted Wo-Chen. "Master, we have assumed control of the shield generator. It should be destroyed . . ." He paused, as Sergeant Minos and the other clone troopers rushed out of the bunker. Several explosions consumed the structure.

An anxious-sounding Wo-Chen cried out, "Romulus? What happened?"

From the corner of his eye, Romulus saw the remaining fighting droids come to a standstill. "My troops and I have destroyed the shield generator, Wo-Chen."

"Yes, I see," the Jedi Master commented drily. "Good job. Make sure that all other Separatist troops have been captured."

"Yes, Master."

While flames continued to engulf the bunker, Romulus strode toward Captain Telos. He had not taken five steps, when he dropped his commlink. As he bent over to pick it up, blaster fire zipped over his head. Stunned, Romulus glanced up and saw none other than Captain Telos aiming a blaster rifle . . . at him! What in the blazes? Romulus quickly straighten up and grabbed his lightsaber hilt. And just in time. He lit up his blade and managed to deflect more shots from Telos and the other clone troopers. One of the blasts he had deflected, struck the officer's chest.

More blaster fire came from troopers behind the Jedi Knight. Thankfully, the blasts missed. Romulus tossed them back, using his telekinesis. It finally occurred to the Jedi Knight that Wo-Chen might also be in danger. Using accelerated speed, he zoomed away from the burning bunker and toward the city's center.

By the time Romulus reached the city's Administration Hall, he found his former master battling clone troopers on the building's wide steps. Separatist leader, Perdito Vedlik laid dead beside Wo-Chen. The young Jedi Knight stepped forward to aid his former master, when three clone troopers emerged from the building's entrance and fired upon the Jedi Master. The latter fell forward - dead.

"Wo-Cheeeen!" Rage overwhelmed Romulus, as he lit up his lightsaber. The clone troopers spotted him and began to fire. Romulus deflected their fire with ease, killing several troopers in the process. Eventually, some semblance of common sense broke through his anger and he realized that he could not single-handedly defend himself against an entire battalion. He immediately snapped off his lightsaber and once again, fled from certain death.


--------


MUSTAFAR

Red-hot sparks upward, while two men in Jedi tunics swung back and forth from cables that hung from a metal collector tower that flowed along a river of lava. Despite their situation, the pair managed to continue a deadly lightsaber duel that had begun not long ago on more solid ground.

Anakin Skywalker, now the Sith Lord, Darth Vader, had been sent by his new master to permanently deal with the Separatist leadership. He had arrived on the fiery planet of Mustafar, met with the surviving Separatist leaders and slain every last one of them - including the troublesome Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation. Once he had completed his task, he had been surprised to learn that his very pregnant wife, Senator Padme Amidala, had followed him to Mustafar in order to confront him about what really happened at the Jedi Temple back on Coruscant. And he had his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi to thank. Surprise, however, soon turned to shock and anger when the hated Kenobi appeared on the ramp of Padme's skiff - confirming Anakin's suspicions that Padme and Obi-Wan had betrayed him.

Anakin's anger had led to his attack upon Padme. Obi-Wan stopped him before he had the chance to kill her. But that did not stop the young Sith Lord from demanding that Obi-Wan pledge allegiance to the new Emperor. When his former master refused, a fight ensued.

The brutal duel, which had begun just meters away from the Nabooan skiff, now continued on the metal tower collector, as it floated on the lava river. Anakin felt oblivious to his tenuous situation. His attention remained focused upon the bearded man, who seemed determined to end this duel with a fatal blow, as much as he did. Then a loud snap caught the young Sith Lord's attention. He glanced up. The collector's metal had begun to break apart. More snaps followed, along with a few loud groans. Not only was the contraption in danger of breaking apart, it seemed to be heading straight toward a lava fall. Anakin glanced at Obi-Wan. Apparently, the latter had also noticed the danger. The older man did a double-back flip and landed squarely on a platform floating along the river.

Panic briefly struck Anakin. He realized that not only lack a structure to land safely upon, he was in danger of sinking into the lava river, along with this tower. Then he spotted a solution to his problem. Construction droids. Anakin took a deep breath and swung back to the tower's main column. Then he climbed up the tower, made a running leap and landed on top of a chattering construction droid.

Without pressure from the two men's combined weight, the giant collector tower moved swifter along the lava's current, until it eventually disappeared over the falls. Meanwhile, both Anakin's droid and Obi-Wan's platform floated toward the lava river's bank. The moment Anakin's droid reached the platform, the young Sith Lord and the Jedi Master resumed their duel.

Balanced precariously on the droid and the platform, the two men battled away with fury. But their situation made it impossible to deliver any meaningful blows. To Anakin's surprise, Obi-Wan paused and stared at him with eyes that illuminated with disappointment and regret. "I have failed you, Anakin! I was never able to teach you to think."

The Jedi Master's words inflamed Anakin's rage. "I should have known the Jedi were plotting to take over!" he cried.

"From the Sith! Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!"

"From the Jedi point of view!" Anakin retorted. "From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!"

Disbelief now shone in Obi-Wan's eyes. "Well, then you are lost!"

But Anakin did not hear his former master's last words. Instead, he declared, "This is the end for you, my Master. I wish it were otherwise." He flipped onto Obi-Wan's platform and the fighting resumed.

As the platform eased closer toward the riverbank, Obi-Wan surprised Anakin for the second time and jumped to the safety of the lava bank's black sand. "It's over, Anakin! I have the high ground!"

Anakin's eyes scanned the lava bank. Sure enough, Obi-Wan stood on a high bank that sloped upward from the river of lava. But the younger man refused to give up. He felt certain that he could overcome his former master's advantage. "You underestimate my power!" he growled.

Obi-Wan shot back, "Don't try it!"

Before he could spring off the platform, disturbing images filled Anakin's mind. He saw himself leap from the platform in order to attack Obi-Wan. He saw the latter cut off his legs at the knees and his left arm. More disturbing images followed - his torso engulfed in flames, his body encased in a monstrous black suit, him strangling Padme with the Force and her dead body being carried throughout the streets of Theed. Anakin blinked several times. Memories of his past deeds and what laid in store for him filled him with horror. The red haze that had gripped his mind, slowly disappeared.

"Anakin?" Obi-Wan cried out.

The young Sith Lord's gaze fell downward. He saw that the platform was in danger of melting into the lava. Using the Force, Anakin levitated toward the sandy bank, opposite Obi-Wan. He turned off his lightsaber. "You're right, Obi-Wan. It's over." He sighed and shook his head. "What have I done?" he muttered to himself. Feeling a sense of failure and utter despair, Anakin turned away.

Again, Obi-Wan cried out, "Anakin!"

"You've won, my Master. Let it go."

But in another one of those rare moments, Anakin saw that even Obi-Wan had difficulty in letting go. "Let it go?" the Jedi Master exclaimed angrily. "You were the Chosen One! It was said that you who would bring balance to the Force! Not leave it in Darkness!"

Anakin opened his mouth to speak. But words failed to spill out. How could he deny Obi-Wan's accusations? Because of him, the Jedi Order no longer existed. He took a deep breath, silently shook his head and started to walk away.

Obi-Wan bellowed ominously, "Anakin! Where do you think you are going?"

The younger man murmured, "Honestly, I do not know. But definitely away from here."

"We are not finished . . ." Obi-Wan continued. But Anakin spotted a well-sized rock in the black sand. With the Force, he used it to strike Obi-Wan's left temple. The older man immediately fell to the ground, unconscious.

Anakin regarded his former master with pain and regret. Then he stared at the lightsaber in his hand and tossed it at Obi-Wan's prone body. He quickly made his way back to Padme's skiff, where he found Threepio and Artoo attempting to carry his unconscious body inside the vehicle. More waves of guilt washed over Anakin, as he again recalled his attack upon Padme.

"Threepio, I'll take her." Anakin stepped forward and the protocol droid placed Padme into his arms. He carried her aboard the ship, ignoring Threepio's chatter and Artoo's beeps. Once inside the skiff, Anakin gently placed his wife upon a narrow bunk. He leaned down and placed a light kiss on her forehead. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Padme," he murmured in a wavering voice. "I've ruined everything. I can't . . . I can no longer be with you." He inhaled deeply. "I don't deserve to be with you. You and the baby will never be safe with me. You need to be strong, Padme. For you and the baby's future. But don't forget . . . I will always love you. Forever." Then he kissed her forehead again. "May the Force be with you."

Anakin strode down the skiff's ramp with Threepio close at his heels. "Master Anakin," the droid cried, "where are you going?"

"I'm leaving, Threepio." Anakin headed toward his fighter. "Don't worry, Master Kenobi should soon join you. Meanwhile, I need you to take care of the senator."

Threepio refused to be deterred. "But sir, what shall I tell Mistress Padme? Where are you going?"

The protocol droid's question led Anakin to pause beside his fighter. He heaved a loud sigh. "Tell her . . . tell her that I love her." Then he patted the droid's golden forearm. "Good-bye Threepio. Take care of your mistress and the baby."

Threepio merely stared, as Anakin began to climb into the cockpit. A series of whistles and beeps revealed Artoo rushing toward the starfighter. Anakin waved him away. "No, Artoo. You stay with Padme. She will need you a lot more than I will."

Low whistles emitted from Artoo, indicating the droid's displeasure. Anakin settled inside the cockpit. As he glanced down at the two druids, he realized with a pang that he might never see them or his beloved wife, again. Even worse, he would never have a chance to know his child - thanks to his blind arrogance and selfishness. Anakin closed his eyes and heaved one last sigh. After donning his headset, he closed the cockpit and started the engines. Before long, his old Jedi fighter finally zoomed out of Mustafar's smoky atmosphere and into deep space.

--------

An uncomfortable, burning sensation tingled the surface of Obi-Wan's right cheek. His eyes flickered open and he realized that he lay sprawled on the black, steaming sand. Then it all came back to him - stowing aboard Padme's ship, confronting Anakin, the duel and the sensation of pain striking his left temple. Anakin.

The Jedi Master struggled to his feet. He spotted his lightsaber on the ground and picked it up. Then he saw the other object - Anakin's lightsaber. Obi-Wan regarded it with a frown. His former padawan must have tossed it aside. But why? What had led Anakin to end the duel, let alone give up his weapon? An anxious thought came to the Jedi Master. Padme. Anakin may have taken both her and the droids away from Mustafar. Hopefully, not back Coruscant . . . and Sidious.

Fighting back a sense of panic, Obi-Wan picked up the other lightsaber and rushed back to Padme and her starship. To his relief, he found the Nabooan skiff still there, along with the Skywalkers' two droids.

"Master Kenobi!" Threepio's voice rang with relief. "Oh, I am so glad to see you!"

Obi-Wan nodded curtly. "Where is Anakin? Is he with the senator?"

Threepio replied, "Oh no, Master Kenobi. Master Anakin has left. But Miss Padme is aboard the ship. He had carried her aboard before leaving."

Anakin had left? Obi-Wan glanced to his right. Sure enough, the yellow Jedi fighter had disappeared. An unexpected pang struck the Jedi Master beneath his chest. He felt as if a part of his life had suddenly been erased. Obi-Wan had not experienced such a feeling since Qui-Gon Jinn's death.

With a sigh, he ordered Threepio and Artoo to board the skiff. After he followed the pair aboard, Obi-Wan ordered the protocol droid to take off. Meanwhile, he followed Artoo to one of the bunks, where he found a semi-conscious Padme mumbling incoherently.

The senator's dark eyes fluttered open. "Obi-Wan?" Breathing heavily, she added, "Is Anakin . . . all right?"

Obi-Wan began to answer, "Yes, he . . ." Then he found himself unable to speak.

"He spoke . . . to me," Padme continued to whisper. "But he's go . . ." She broke off and became unconscious.

A heavy sadness welled within Obi-Wan's heart, as he brushed tendrils of Padme's hair from her forehead. Poor thing. He left Artoo with the unconscious senator, while he joined Threepio in the cockpit.

The protocol droid asked, "Pardon me sir, but where are we going?"

Lacking an answer, Obi-Wan merely stared ahead in pensive silence.


END OF CHAPTER ONE

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"CAPTAIN BLOOD" (1935) Photo Gallery and Video Clip



Here is a gallery featuring photos and a video clip from the 1935 swashbuckler classic - "CAPTAIN BLOOD". Directed by Michael Curtiz, it featured Errol Flynn's first starring role and his first movie with famous co-star, Olivia DeHavilland:


"CAPTAIN BLOOD" (1935) Photo Gallery and Video Clip


















































And here is the video clip:


"Captain Blood - Three Arch Bay"