Friday, June 28, 2013
"ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE" (2007) Review
Nine years after the release of 1998's "ELIZABETH", director Shekhar Kapur returned to direct a sequel called,"ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE". Like the 1998 movie, it stars Cate Blanchett as England's "Virgin Queen" and Geoffrey Rush as the sovereign's most trusted spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. The movie covers a period during Elizabeth I's reign in which she had faced the double threat of Philip II of Spain (Jordi Mollà) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). The movie also features a romantic triangle for Elizabeth that features Clive Owen as Walter Raleigh, famous poet and explorer (and the Queen's object of desire) and Abbie Cornish as one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waitng and Raleigh's future wife, Bess Throckmorton.
Despite having the same director and star as the previous film, "ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE" seems like a different kettle of fish from its predecessor. Michael Hirst and new writer, William Nicholson's screenplay seem more somber and less violent than the 1998 film. The most graphic violence shown in the movie is actually heard as Mary Stuart's neck is severed by a sword (or axe). And its sensuality almost seem subdued in compared to the earlier film. The most titillating scene seemed to be Cate Blanchett's backside after she disrobes in one scene.
The movie covers a period in Elizabethan history that has been featured many times in the past - namely Elizabeth Tudor's decision to execute Mary Stuart for plotting treason. It also covers the consequences of this act - namely Spain's decision to send an armada to England. Although I found this mildly interesting, I wish that one day in the future, some filmaker would focus upon a period in Elizabeth's reign that did not cover her early years as queen, Mary Stuart's death or the Spanish Armada. Unfortunately, these incidents seem to define her reign in history. Perhaps that is why I found the story's main conflict anti-climatic. At least the royal triangle between Elizabeth, Raleigh and Throckmorton managed to provide some spark in the story . . . even if this actually played out in the early 1590s, instead of the 1580s as shown in the film.
The performances are basically first-rate - especially by Rush, Owen and Cornish. Although I must confess that I found Owen's presence in the movie to be almost irrevelant. Aside from participating in the defense of England against Spain, he had no serious role in the movie's main story - namely Elizabeth's conflict with Mary and Philip.
I really do not know what to make of Jordi Mollà's portrayal of Philip II. I guess I found it rather odd. I think he had tried to portray the Spanish sovereign as someone more eccentric than he actually was. And quite frankly, screenwriters Hirst and Nicholson did not serve him well by dumping some rather pedantic dialogue upon him that seemed focused around insulting Elizabeth's character. I do not know what he had called English queen more - 'whore', 'bastard' or simply'darkness'. Quite frankly, he had made a much better villain in "BAD BOYS II".
As for Blanchett, I really enjoyed her performance in the movie's first half. She seemed more self-assured, mature and perhaps manipulative than she was in the 1998 movie. Yet, once when affairs of both the state and the heart began to sour for her, she engaged in more over-the-top mannerisms than Bette Davis did during her entire 17 years at Warner Brothers. Before one starts thinking that I was more impressed by Blanchett's performance in "ELIZABETH", let me assure you that I was not. If anything, her twitchiness in the movie's second half only reminded me of the same mannerisms that I almost found annoying in the first movie. Yet . . . she still managed to turn in an excellent performance.
Like its 1998 predecessor, "ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE" is not perfect. It lacks the previous movie's colorful panache, despite the lavish costumes and sets. In fact, those very traits nearly threaten to overwhelm both the story and its characters. Thankfully, Kapur manages to prevent this from actually happening. And although it is historically incorrect, at least it is not marred by an unforgivable revision of history as was the case with the Elizabeth/Dudley storyline in the first film. Despite its imperfections, I suggest you watch "ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE" any chance you can. Especially if you enjoy lavish costumes in a historical setting.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Here is a look at a series of episodes about the history of food, mainly in Britain:
Following the success of "THE SUPERSIZERS GO . . .", the BBC commissioned a second series of episodes featuring Coren and Perkins called "THE SUPERSIZERS EAT . . .".
Here is the list of episodes from that series:
"The Supersizers Eat . . ."
"The French Revolution"
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Here are some images from this gallery of "JANE EYRE", the 1997 television adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel. Directed by Robert Young, the movie starred Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds:
"JANE EYRE" (1997) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
"STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE" (1977) Review
Long ago (thirty-five years and seven months, to be exact) and in a galaxy far, far away, producer-director-writer George Lucas made film history with the release of his movie, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE". Only, during the summer of 1977, it was simply known as "STAR WARS". And this science-fiction/fantasy homage to Saturday morning serials and mythology was something that moviegoers had never seen before.
Now considered as the fourth film installment of Lucas' STAR WARS saga, "A NEW HOPE" chronicled the adventures of a space-aged farmboy named Luke Skywalker, who finds himself swept up in a galactic conflict between a tyrannical empire and a band of rebel fighters determined to return freedom to the galaxy. Not only did the film introduced the concept of the summer blockbuster and created a movie/television/literary franchise that made billions for its creator, it also became the second highest grossing film in Hollywood history (as of 2012) and ushered in a new age for movie special effects. This movie has made such a major impact upon Hollywood that its effects are still being felt to this day.
"A NEW HOPE" began with an opening crawl describing a galaxy in a state of civil war. Spies for the Rebel Alliance have stolen the plans for the Galactic Empire's new weapon - a heavily armed and armored space station capable of destroying an entire planet called the Death Star. One of the Rebel Alliance leaders, Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, is in possession of the Death Star plans when her ship is attacked by Imperial forces under the leadership of the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Before she could be captured, Princess Leia hides the plans and a holographic recording into the memory of an astromech droid called R2-D2. The small droid and its companion, a protocol droid named C-3PO flee to the surface of the desert planet Tatooine. While Darth Vader sends a contingent of stormtroopers to look for the droids, R2 and 3PO find themselves captured by Jawa traders, who sell them to a moisture farmer and his nephew named Owen Lars and Luke Skywalker.
Luke, who is an orphan, yearns to leave his uncle's farm and find adventure in the stars. He finds it when he releases Princess Leia's holographic recording, while cleaning R2-D2. The recording is for a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi. Surmising that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ben Kenobi, who is a neighbor of his Uncle Owen, are one and the same; Luke delivers the droids and the message to the aging hermit. The young man also discovers that Kenobi is a former Jedi Master, who knew his father Anakin Skywalker, who used to be a Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan suggests that Luke help him deliver the Death Star plans to Princess Leia's father on Alderaan. At first, Luke rejects the offer. But when his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are found murdered by Imperial stormtroopers looking for the droids, Luke decides to join Obi-Wan on the latter's new adventure. They recruit the services of two smugglers - Han Solo and Chewbacca - to convey them to Alderaan. The journey proves to be a new beginning not only for Luke, but also his new companions.
I have a confession to make. When I first saw "A NEW HOPE" during the summer of 1977, I did not like it at all. Looking back, I realize that my hostile feelings toward the movie stemmed from a sense of being overwhelmed by something I found mind blowing and completely new. The release of "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK" and "RETURN OF THE JEDI" eventually eased the impact of Lucas' saga upon my psyche. But it took several years for me to first warm up and eventually embrace "A NEW HOPE". Despite my eventual love for the movie, I have never viewed it as my favorite of the saga (so far) . . . or as one of my top favorites. But I can honestly say that after thirty-five years, it still has quite a punch. In fact, I believe that it is probably the most entertaining of the six STAR WARS films produced by George Lucas.
It is easy to see why "A NEW HOPE" is so beloved by many fans of the saga. The plot, written by Lucas, has the hallmarks of a first-rate adventure filled with space battles, escapes, daring-dos, a lightsaber duel, snarky dialogue, a roguish smuggler, a villain in black, a royal damsel-in-distress (who becomes a protagonist herself), a wise mentor and an innocent boy who answers the call to adventure. I suspect that another major reason why "A NEW HOPE" is so appealing to many of the saga's fans is the "good-vs-evil" aspect of both its tale and its characters. It must have been very easy for moviegoers to identify with the movie's protagonists and their fight against the tyranny of the "evil" Empire. For me, the movie's pièce de résistance proved to be the entire sequence aboard the Empire's Death Star. From the moment the heroes' ship the Millennium Falcon found itself forced into the depths of the large battle station, to the moment when they escape some 20 to 30 minutes later, the entire Death Star sequence seemed to be one major fun fest that crackled with humor and action.
With the exceptions of Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, the cast of "A NEW HOPE" was filled with unknowns. I do not recall any well-known movie that Mark Hamill had appeared in before he became famous as Luke Skywalker. But Carrie Fisher, who portrayed the sharp-tongued Princess Leia, had already appeared in 1975's "SHAMPOO". And Harrison Ford, who would become a bigger star than either of his co-stars, had worked for Lucas before in the latter's 1973 classic, "AMERICAN GRAFFITI". But all three actors created an excellent screen team. Actors such as Peter Mayhew, who portrayed Han Solo's first mate Chewbacca; along with Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker, who appeared in all six movies as the droids C-3PO and R2-D2; added their magic to the mix. Many people have made a big deal over David Prowse's physical and James Earl Jones' vocal portrayals of Sith Lord Darth Vader. And they were quite right to do so. Both actors contributed a great deal to the character. But I have rarely come across any comments about Peter Cushing's performance as the cold-blooded and arrogant military commander of the Death Star, Grand Moff Tarkin. I find that a shame, because I thought he made a very effective villain . . . even more so than Vader. And of course, there is Alec Guinness, who portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi. Guinness earned an Academy Award for his portrayal of the iconic Jedi Master. And I believe it was well earned. He did an excellent job as Luke's wise and patient mentor, who was haunted not only by his past, but past deeds.
I was not kidding when I had stated that "A NEW HOPE" was not one of my top favorite STAR WARS movies. I believe that it has its flaws. While I found the movie's innocent air and joie de vivre approach to its story very appealing, I feel that the movie lacked a complexity that I believe gave an edge to the other five movies. I am not stating that the story and its characters lacked an emotional depth. There is some depth to both the story and the characters. But aside from the Han Solo character, the other characters seemed to be a bit one-dimensional in comparison. They were either good or evil. I can even say this about the Darth Vader character, who was given an opportunity for a bit of complexity in a scene in which he tried to explain the Force to the Death Star's senior officers staff. While there are many who have no problems with a lack of moral ambiguity, I do. And I have to say that I was more than relieved when Lucas finally injected some moral ambiguity into his characters, in the franchise's later films.
If there is one movie that initiated my dislike of Tatooine, it is "A NEW HOPE". From the moment the camera focused upon 3PO and R2 trekking across the planet's desert, I found myself struggling to maintain my interest on the movie. It is possible that Tatooine has a talent for putting me to sleep. Only something really exciting has to happen - like Luke and Obi-Wan's first meeting with Han Solo and Chewbacca, along with their subsequent escape from the planet - could keep my interest sharply focused. I also have to admit that I am not a fan of the Battle of Yavin sequence that marked the destruction of the Death Star. It smacked too much of a World War II aerial dog fight, straight out of a 1940s movie. Speaking of that particular decade, I was not that impressed by Harrison Ford's attempt to sound like a 40s tough guy, during Han's argument with Leia following the escape from the Death Star in the following scene:
LEIA: That doesn't sound too hard. Besides, they let us go. It's the
only explanation for the ease of our escape.
HAN: Easy...you call that easy?
LEIA: Their tracking us!
HAN: Not this ship, sister.
Frustrated, Leia shakes her head.
LEIA: At least the information in Artoo is still intact.
HAN: What's so important? What's he carrying?
LEIA: The technical readouts of that battle station. I only hope that
when the data is analyzed, a weakness can be found. It's not over yet!
HAN: It is for me, sister! Look, I ain't in this for your revolution,
and I'm not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in
it for the money!
I know, I know. It does not seem like much. But hearing Ford spew those lines still make me wince after so many years. I was also disappointed by how Lucas handled the Princess Leia character in this film. I can already see heads spinning over this complaint. Superficially, Leia seemed like the perfect embodiment of a fictional female character of the late 20th century. Her intelligence, courage and razor-sharp wit practically screamed "I am woman, hear me roar!" And yet . . . Lucas dropped the ball with her character in one very significant moment in the film. His screenplay never revealed Leia's reaction to Tarkin's use of the Death Star to destroy her home planet, Alderaan. Not once. The moment Alderaan blew to smithereens, the movie cut back to the occupants of the Millennium Falcon and Obi-Wan's reaction. Audiences saw Leia's reaction to Tarkin's order to destroy the planet. But we never saw the aftermath. We never saw Leia mourn over the deaths of millions of Alderaaneans - including her parents. Instead, Lucas allowed audiences a look at Luke's reaction and grief over Obi-Wan Kenobi's death at the hands of Lord Vader. Even worse, Leia seemed so focused over comforting Luke that she seemed to have forgotten about Alderaan's destruction.
The production values for "A NEW HOPE" still holds up today after so many years. However, I suspect that one can attribute this to Lucas' decision to utilize CGI to make the special effects for the 1977 movie and the other two from the Original Trilogy more effective and less dated. I realize there are many veteran fans of the saga who claim that Lucas' CGI retouches were unnecessary. They have also expressed their dislike of the revamped movies. All I can say is that they are entitled to their opinions. I simply do not share them. However, John Williams' score remains as stirring and iconic as ever. John Mollo did an excellent job for his simple and elegant designs for the movie's costumes. However, I am a little peeved that he managed to snag an Academy Award for his work on this film; whereas the Motion Picture Academy failed to give Trisha Biggar even a nomination for her outstanding work in the Prequel Trilogy.
In conclusion, I can happily state that STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE" stands up very well after thirty-five years. The movie and the five other films of the STAR WARS franchise remain among the best adventure films ever made in Hollywood, as far as I am concerned. And I can only wonder if George Lucas and 20th Century Fox Studios ever released what it had unleashed upon the world when the movie was first released in theaters back in May 1977.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Below is Part Three to my article about Hollywood's depiction about the westward migration via wagon trains in 19th century United States. It focuses upon "", the third episode of the 1978-79 television miniseries, "CENTENNIAL":
"WESTWARD HO!": Part Three - "CENTENNIAL" (1978-79)
Between the fall of 1978 and the winter of 1979, NBC aired an adaptation of James Michner's 1973 novel, "Centennial". The twelve-part miniseries spanned 180 years in the history of a fictional town in Northern Colorado called Centennial. Episode Three, titled "The Wagon and the Elephant", revealed the experiences of a Pennsylvania Mennonite from Lancaster named Levi Zendt and his bride, Elly, during their overland journey to the west.
In the early spring of 1845 (1844 in the novel), Levi found himself shunned by his conservative family after being falsely accused of attempted rape by a local Mennonite girl named . Apparently, Miss Stoltzfus did not want the community to know about her attempts to tease Levi. Only two other people knew the truth, two 17 year-olds at the local orphanage - Elly Zahm and Laura Lou Booker. Levi eventually befriends Elly. And when he decides to leave Lancaster, he asks Elly to accompany him to Oregon as his bride.
Since "CENTENNIAL" was about the history of a Northern Colorado town, one would easily assume that Levi and Elly never made it to Oregon. Instead, a few mishaps that included Elly nearly being raped by their wagon master named Sam Purchas and a bad wagon wheel, convinced the Zendts to turn around and return to Fort Laramie. There, they teamed with former mountain man Alexander McKeag and his family to head toward Northern Colorado and establish a trading post.
"The Wagon and the Elephant" is my favorite episode of "CENTENNIAL". One of the reasons I love it so much is well . . . I love the story. And aside from one of two quibbles, I believe the episode gave a very effective portrayal of life for an emigrant traveling by wagon train.
II. History vs. Hollywood
From a historical perspective, I believe producer John Wilder made only one major blooper in the production. The fault may have originated with writer James Michner's novel. Before leaving Lancaster, Levi Zendt purchased a large Conestoga wagon from a teamster named Amos Boemer. As I have stated in the Introduction, a Conestoga wagon was a heavy, large wagon used for hauling freight along the East Coast. It was considered too big for mules or oxen to be hauling across the continent. Which meant that the Zendts' Conestoga was too heavy for their journey to Oregon.
The wagon eventually proved to be troublesome for Levi and Elly. Yet, according to the episode's transcript and Michner's novel, the fault laid with a faulty left wheel, not the wagon's impact upon the animals hauling it. In St. Louis, both Army captain Maxwell Mercy and wagonmaster Sam Purchas had advised Levi to get rid of his teams of gray horses, claiming they would not survive the journey west. Levi refused to heed their warning and Purchase swapped the horses for oxen behind his back. This was a smart move by Purchas. Unfortunately, neither the wagonmaster or Captain Mercy bothered to suggest that Levi rid himself of the Conestoga wagon. Since the miniseries said nothing about the size of the Zendts' wagon, it did not comment on the amount of contents carried by the couple and other emigrants in the wagon party.
But I must congratulate both Michner and the episode's writer, Jerry Ziegman, for at least pointing out the disadvantages of using horses to pull a wagon across the continent. "The Wagon and the Elephant" also made it clear that the Zendts were traveling along the Oregon Trail, by allowing their wagon party to stop at Fort Laramie. The miniseries called it Fort John, which was another name for the establishment. Before it became a military outpost, the fort was known officially as "Fort John on the Laramie".
The miniseries' depiction of the emigrants' encounter with Native Americans was not exaggerated for the sake of Hollywood drama . . . thank goodness. The Zendts, Oliver Seccombe and other emigrants encountered a small band of Arapahos led by the mixed-blood sons of a French-Canadian trapper named Pasquinel. Levi, who was on guard at the time, became aware of Jacques and Michel Pasquinel's presence and immediately alerted his fellow emigrants. A great deal about this encounter reeked with realism. The emigrants were obviously well armed. The Pasquinels and the other Arapaho only consisted of a small band of riders. More importantly, no violence erupted between the two parties, despite Sam Purchas' obvious hostility. Due to Paul Krasny's direction, the entire encounter was tense, brief and polite. The miniseries also conveyed a realistic depiction of whites like Purchas to randomly murder an individual brave or two out of sheer spite or hatred.
Thanks to the episode, "The Wagon and the Elephant", "CENTENNIAL" provided a brief, yet realistic portrait of westward emigration in the mid 19th century. The miniseries was historically inaccurate in one regard - the Conestoga wagon that Levi and Elly Zendt used for their journey west. But in the end, this episode provided a injection of history, without allowing Hollywood exaggeration to get in the way.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
"THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION"
The young boy had first spotted his mark leaving one of the spaceport's hangars, earlier this afternoon. Han Solo usually avoided robbing pilots, but he was desperate today. His "benefactor", one Garris Shrike, had insisted that the eleven year-old collect at least 1,000 credits by the end of the day. Five hundred credits more than his usual quota. Apparently, Shrike had not forgiven him for breaking a favorite landspeeder. For the umpteenth time, Han found himself wishing he could go back to being a beggar. It seemed to be an easier way to rob the public.
The target's tall and lean frame had made it easy for Han to follow him through Coronet's crowded streets. But when the man paused before the Golden Flame restaurant, the young boy gained a closer look at his mark. Despite his youth, the man possessed a hard-edged aura and eyes that scanned the crowd like a hunter. An odd feeling came to Han that he had ceased to be the hunter and became the hunted. The young boy decided to find another target and leave the pilot alone.
Over an hour had passed and Han found himself unable to find another mark. Then he spotted the pilot again - leaving the Torvian Blue Hotel. Only this time, the man looked despondent. Distracted. Han saw a perfect opportunity to pick the man's pocket. He made the attempt . . . and failed.
"Ow!" the young Corellian cried out in pain, as the man twisted his hand. "That hurts! Lemme go!"
The pilot retorted, "Let go of my credit chip and I will." He gave Han's wrist a twist. The boy finally released the small credit into the pilot's other hand. "Thank you."
Before Han could recover from his humiliation, a uniformed security officer from the Corellian Security Force (CorSec) appeared before the pair. "What's going on, here?" He frowned at the young boy. "Solo! Were you . . .?" Then he glanced at the pilot. "Is this boy giving you any trouble, sir?"
Intense, blue eyes stared at Han. The pilot answered, "No, everything's fine." Han nearly sagged with relief. "The boy was simply giving me some directions to Kembel Avenue."
Suspicion remained fixed in the CorSec officer's eyes. "If you say so, Mister." He glared at Han. "However, I would suggest that you be careful around this boy, sir. Solo . . ." He nodded sharply at Han. ". . . belongs to a gang of thieves and pickpockets, operated by a notorious gangster."
"Really?" The pilot smiled politely at the security officer. "Mr. Solo seemed very helpful to me. If he and his . . . associates are as dangerous as you claim, why aren't they in a detention cell?"
The CorSec officer shot another glare at Han. "We haven't been able to catch any of them in the act. Yet."
"I see. Meanwhile," the pilot placed himself between Han and the officer, "thank you for your assistance. And don't worry. Everything is fine."
A cross between a polite smile and a grimace touched the CorSec officer's lips. "If you insist . . . sir. Excuse me." Once more, he glared at Han and walked away.
Astonished that the pilot had not turned him in, the eleven year-old stared at his benefactor. "Why didn't you tell him the truth?"
"What for?" the pilot asked. "You gave me my money back." He smiled sardonically at Han. "Nice meeting you . . .?"
"Han. Han Solo." The eleven year-old immediately clamped his mouth shut. Now why did he give the pilot his real name?
A genuine smile curved the man's lips. "I'm . . ." He sighed heavily. "I'm Set Horus. It was nice meeting you . . . Han." The smile disappeared. "Good day." He turned away.
Han watched the man's tall frame merge into the crowd. For some unexplainable reason, he felt an urge to follow the man. Despite catching him at attempted theft, Set Horus had shown more compassion toward him in the past five minutes than anyone else has - aside from Dewlanna. Once the pilot's figure disappeared, Han heaved a sigh. Time to return to Shrike. He dreaded how the gangster would react to him being 500 credits short.
Laughter filled one of the Aldera Royal Palace's smaller dining rooms. Inside, Her Majesty Queen Breha and His Highness Prince Bail Organa shared their day's experiences with each other during supper. Bail had just related a humorous meeting he had experienced with a regional councilman, who wanted to discuss Aldera's growing problems with the pleasure industry developing in the Spacer Quarter - a section of the city that accommodated the needs of off-worlders and refugees.
"Honestly Breha," Bail concluded between chuckles, "I'm beginning to wonder if the man ever had intimate relations. Despite being the father of four children."
Breha's smile curved wider. "Considering what I have heard about Lahrus Vornac, you might be right."
At that moment, Raymus Antilles, one of Bail's aides and Breha's cousin, strode into the dining room. He bowed before the royal couple. "Pardon me for the interruption, Your Majesty, but . . ." He took a deep breath. "His Highness has just received a message. An encrypted message from his private holo projector."
The couple exchanged long-suffering glances. Then Bail heaved a sigh and stood up. "Pardon me, Breha. I'll be back." He bowed to his wife and strode out of the dining room, with Raymus close at his heels. The pair made their way to Bail's private study. Raymus bowed at the older man and walked away. Bail entered the study and headed straight for his holo projector. He used it for private and unofficial messages. The flashing red light at the projector's base indicated that someone awaited his response.
Bail pressed a button. The surprising image of Solipo Yeb materialized. "Bail!" the Andalian senator cried in relief. "Thank goodness! I'm finally able to contact you."
"Solipo, where are?" Bail demanded.
The now former senator glanced around uneasily. "Corellia. My sister and I are in Coronet. We need to reach Averam. I have . . . property there. "
"Surely, you can hire a pilot to take you there," Bail said.
The other man sighed. "Unfortunately, I cannot afford the fees these Corellians are demanding for passage. They're scavengers, all of them. When I left Andalia, I was forced to leave behind most of my assets." He sighed. "I was in a hurry."
After a few seconds of contemplation, Bail said, "I suppose I could lend you a sufficient amount of credits for you to hire a pilot. But I suggest that you do not stay there, Solipo. It is still part of the Core World, and too close to Coruscant."
"Where can I go?"
Bail shook his head. "I don't know. Right now, I'm trying to find a place for a close . . . relative of mine. I'll meet you in Averam and we can discuss the matter."
"I don't know if that is a good idea, Bail."
A sigh left the Alderaanian's mouth. "It's either that or you remain on Averam in false security."
A long pause followed before Solipo gave his consent. "I will await for the funds. And I will see you on Averam within a few days. If all goes well. Until later, my friend."
Bail heaved one last heartfelt sigh. He had the oddest feeling that his conversation with Solipo Yeb might result in dire consequences for a good number of people.
Anakin swallowed the last of his Corellian ale and placed his glass on the table. The Burning Musk did not possess a reputation for fine dining. The café, located in the city's Blue Sector, merely served dishes for the average citizen who only required a hearty meal at low prices. And yet, Anakin considered it the best restaurant in all of Coronet. Even exclusive restaurants like those inside the Torvian Blue Hotel, could not match the Burning Musk's superb cooking, as far as he was concerned. In his opinion, the only other restaurant that could match the Musk in quality was Dexter Jettster's diner on Coruscant.
After he pushed his plate aside, Anakin signaled his waitress. A red-haired woman appeared by his table and smiled. "Will there be anything else, Captain Horus? A dessert, perhaps?"
"Another time," Anakin replied politely. "I would like the bill, please."
"Here you go." The waitress handed over a data pad. It listed his order and the price - fifteen credits.
Anakin slipped his credit chip into the data pad. He included a tip for the waitress. "Thank you, Freya."
"My pleasure." The redhead's smile broadened, as she practically cooed the words. Anakin ignored the obvious attempt at flirtation and politely returned Freya's smile. Then he left the restaurant.
As he weaved his way through the crowded Treasure Ship Row, a large bazaar located just inside Blue Sector, Anakin became aware of two men following him. Upon emerging from the bazaar, he paused before a tailor's stand and glanced at the window's reflection. Just as he had thought . . . Orlan Remar's thugs. Anakin whirled upon the men, taking them by surprise. "May I assume that your employer is looking for me?" he asked in a sarcastic tone.
One of the thugs, a tall blond man with pale green eyes and pockmarked skin stared at Anakin in his most intimidating manner . . . affecting Anakin not one bit. "Mr. Remar had left you a message to meet him at the hangar. Two hours ago."
"I didn't receive the message," Anakin coolly replied. "I was busy. Eating."
The blond man took a step toward Anakin. "I hope you're not trying to cheat Mr. Remar of his cargo."
Anakin regarded the thug with cold eyes. The man stepped back. "Say that again?" he murmured in a menacing voice.
The thug shivered. "I . . ."
"Mr. Remar is waiting for you," the shorter thug added. "In the hangar."
A sigh left Anakin's mouth. "Let's go." He continued walking along the street. The two men followed. Anakin had considered using a speeder taxi to reach the spaceport. But he took a perverse pleasure in testing the two men's physical endurance. By the time they reached the spaceport, Remar's thugs were panting from exertion.
They found a tall, red-haired man in his early forties, impatiently pacing back and forth in front of the Javian Hawk. A deep green robe covered his expensive outfit. Orlan Remar regarded Anakin with sharp, greenish-blue eyes. "Captain Horus," he greeted in a soft voice, "I see that you've finally arrived."
Anakin approached his client with a raised eyebrow. "Finally? I've been here since this afternoon, Mr. Remar."
"And yet . . . I didn't receive a message that you had arrived."
Coolly, Anakin shot back, "You should have. Unless the hotel had been remiss in attending to its duty. How did you find out that I was here?"
A pause followed before Remar heaved an exasperated sigh. "I had received a bill . . . from the Customs Office. I had also left a message at your usual hotel, instructing you to meet me here over an hour ago."
"I never received the message," Anakin retorted. "Now that we've learned about the hotel's inability to pass on messages, I suggest that we tend to business."
Again, Remar sighed. "Fine. I believe I owe you four thousand credits."
Anakin glared at the older man. "You owe me five thousand. That was the price we had agreed upon."
"Let's just say that I'm deducting a thousand for the inconvenience. I do not like to be kept waiting, Captain Horus."
Anakin took a step forward. "It's either five thousand or I leave and take your precious cargo elsewhere. I'm sure there are others interested in Carsunum."
The merchant stiffened slightly. Then he turned to his men. "Boys, I think that the good captain needs to learn a little lesson on how business transactions are conducted."
Remar's two thugs regarded Anakin in a menacing manner. For several seconds, the former Jedi felt a deep desire to kill the pair, along with Remar. He no longer possessed a lightsaber, but there were other ways to kill them. All he had to do was squeeze Remar's . . . He took a deep breath. This would not do. He did not want to return to that young Sith Lord he had discarded back on Mustafar. Anakin directed a fierce gaze at the merchant. "I suggest that you call off your thugs, Remar," he hissed. "Even if they shoot me down, they won't be fast enough to save your life."
The Corellian's eyes widened in fear. Anakin sensed the man's heartbeat increase rapidly. Seconds passed before a nervous chuckle escaped Remar's lips. "Really, Captain! Such melodrama is unnecessary. Of course I will pay the fee we had agreed upon. Five thousand credits." He inhaled sharply. "Your credit chip, please."
Anakin handed over his credit chip to the merchant. Who inserted it into a data pad and handed it back to the pilot. "Thank you." Anakin inserted his chip into his own data pad to verify the payment. Sure enough, his account had increased by five thousand credits. He boarded the Javian Hawk and unlocked the ship's cargo hold. Then he returned to the top of the ramp. "It's all yours."
While Remar's men began to unload the Carsunum, Anakin stood near the cargo hold and watched them. "Hey," the blond man said, "aren't you going to help?"
"What for? I did all the hard work between here and Servacos II."
The two men grumbled and continued their task. Once they had loaded the entire cargo into Remar's land shuttle, Anakin joined them and Remar at the bottom of the boarding ramp. "Okay, that's it," he said. "Our business is over." He stared directly at Remar. "Good night. Unless there is something else you need."
"I doubt it," the merchant retorted. He and the other two men boarded the shuttle and sped away.
Once alone, Anakin secured the Javian Hawk and left the hangar. He had only walked less than a block away from the spaceport, when he sensed another presence. One that seemed both scared and desperate. Anakin turned into the nearest alley and paused. He waited for a few seconds, until that same presence approached the alley. Then he reached out and grabbed an arm. He dragged the robed body attached to the arm, deep into the alley. Anakin jerked the robe's hood and found himself staring into the face of a woman with light-brown skin, high cheekbones and dark eyes. For some reason, the woman reminded him of Anjuli Nab. "Who are you and why are you following me?" he growled.
"I . . . I need a pilot," the woman replied nervously. "I need a pilot to convey me and my brother from here."
Anakin glanced around. "Where is your brother?"
"Back at our hotel room," the woman replied nervously. "He . . . he doesn't know that I'm here. He's asleep." Then she began to ramble. "Listen, I would have approached you in better circumstances, but I need to get my brother off of this planet as soon as possible. We now have the resources to pay for passage and I had spotted you heading for the spaceport. I was desperate and took a chance."
Maintaining a grip on the woman's arm, Anakin demanded, "Why do you need to leave so soon?"
A sigh left the woman's mouth. "My brother . . . He's wanted by the Empire. He's exhausted and I don't know if I'll have the chance to find another pilot after tonight."
"Okay," Anakin said with a nod. "I might consider the job."
Relief flooded the woman's dark eyes. "Oh thank you! You don't know how much this means to me."
"I said I might consider the job," Anakin insisted in a hard voice. "After I meet your brother and we discuss . . . certain terms. I'll follow you back to your room." He released the woman.
She hesitated. "Look, I know that I said that time was of the essence, but my brother . . . well, he's fast asleep. The past week has been very busy for him and for the first time, he has been able to get some sleep. Could you meet us at our hotel room, tomorrow morning? We're at the Selonia Hotel. Ask for Thalia Kor." She turned away.
"Wait a minute!" Anakin cried, as he grabbed her arm. "You don't even know my name."
Miss Kor smiled briefly. "Of course I do. I overheard what that man called you - Captain Horus, I believe?"
"Set Horus," Anakin added. "I . . ."
With a firm nod, Miss Kor said, "I'll see you tomorrow morning, Captain. Good night." She freed herself from Anakin's grip and disappeared into the night.
Anakin chuckled lightly to himself and shook his head in disbelief. It seemed that his meeting with his last client had led to another meeting with a new one. He wondered if meeting Thalia Kor and her brother would prove to be just as dangerous as smuggling Carsunum spice out of Sevarcos II.
The glittering lights of Coruscant twinkled outside of the Emperor's private gymnasium. The two men inside the room barely noticed. They were busily engaged in an intense lightsaber duel.
Clutching his weapon, Darth Rasche exerted as much energy as he possibly could to overcome his Sith master. Despite his use of the Shien Form, he seemed incapable of defeating his opponent. Lord Sidious managed to parry every thrust he made. Rasche then decided to change tactics and express an exhaustion he did not fee. Sidious took that moment to execute a 180-degree turn and strike the Sith apprentice in the mid-section. Before the older man could strike, Rasche dropped to one knee and blocked the strike. Then he took advantage of his master's surprise and knocked the latter's lightsaber to the floor. Rasche proceeded to attack the unarmed man, but Sidious snatched up his weapon, using the Force, and parried Rasche's attack just in time.
"Good!" the Sith Lord declared enthusiastically. "Excellent! Very clever of you to lure me into attacking you, Lord Rasche. May I assume that you have used similar tactics to defeat your recent opponent?" He smiled broadly, causing his deformed countenance to look even more hideous. When Rasche failed to disarm his weapon, Sidious added in a more sinister tone, "I suggest that you disarm your weapon, my Lord Rasche. Before you live to regret it."
A hot flush crept into Rasche's cheeks, as he switched off his lightsaber blade. "If you must know, I had used such a tactic to defeat Anjuli Nab. Nor do I see why I should have disarmed my weapon. I was simply tapping into my anger . . . as you have instructed me, time and again."
"Your problem, my young apprentice, is that you allow your anger to get the best of you!" Sidious snapped. He turned away. "Yes, anger is the best way to tap into the Force. But it should be used as a tool. A weapon. A weapon kept in control by you. However, I have no need for you to indulge in your anger like some petulant and temperamental child. You were in danger of doing just that, Lord Rasche. Pray that it does not happen, again."
The Sith Lord's words burned into Rasche's psyche. He wanted to re-activate his lightsaber and cut down his master. Let the old fool know that he had learned to use the Dark Side . . . and was ready to face Skywalker. But his earlier refusal to disarm his weapon had alerted Sidious. Rasche could sense the older man's wariness. His anger barely under control, the young apprentice grumbled, "Will that be all, my Master?"
"Yes, you may be excused." Sidious strode toward a single chair, where his robe laid.
Before he reached the double doors, a thought came to Rasche. He paused and whirled around. "I have one question, Master. When you talked of using anger as a weapon . . . is that what you had done with me? Used my anger to kill Jaren Tagge, last year?"
Sidious turned to give Rasche a subtle smile. "I see that you're now beginning to finally understand, Lord Rasche. I commend you. Yes, I did exploit your anger. Senator Tagge had tried to take advantage of the newly formed Empire, through his family corporation. I needed your help to keep his family in check."
His anger threatening to reassert itself, Rasche growled, "So, is that all I am to you? Merely a weapon and nothing else?"
"Yes . . . and no," the Emperor murmured. "On one hand, you are a weapon, Lord Rasche. I will not deny it. After all, I needed a powerful apprentice to help me maintain order throughout the Empire. But you are also more than just a tool to me. You're a comrade-in-arms. Together, we can bring about a new world. Ensure that the Sith will last for more than just a mere millennia." The Sith Lord paused, while Rasche continued to regard him with a stony expression. Then he added with subtle malice, "May I remind you, my young apprentice, that you also regard me as a mere tool? After all, do you not require my help and the Empire's resources to hunt down Skywalker? To exact vengeance upon him?"
Rasche stiffened. "Touche, Master. You have made your point. Now, if you will excuse me?" Again, he started toward the double doors. As it slid open, he nearly bumped into his master's Umbrian aid, Sly Moore.
The Umbrian woman stopped short and bowed at Rasche before bowing even lower at the Emperor. "Pardon me, Your Highness."
"Do you have news for me?" Palpatine demanded.
Sly Moore replied, "Actually . . ." She turned to Rasche. ". . . I have news for Lord Rasche. It is from Inquisitor Malorum." She handed a data pad to the Sith apprentice.
Rasche scanned the pad. "Interesting," he commented. "Apparently, over two weeks ago, Senator Solipo Yeb's sister had booked passage aboard a space freighter bound for Corellia. And nearly an hour ago, the Inquisitorium had intercepted an encrypted message from Corellia . . ." He paused dramatically. ". . . to Alderaan."
"Alderaan?" Palpatine frowned. "Bail Organa? That's impossible. He has been one of my most loyal supporters."
Rasche continued, "But he and Yeb were close colleagues in the Senate, Master. And there is the matter of Senator Organa's presence at the Jedi Temple, last year. If Senator Yeb has reached his sister on Corellia, it is possible that he would contact Prince Organa."
The Emperor took a deep breath. Rasche sensed that the older man seemed disturbed by the possibility that Organa might be a possible traitor. "Then you shall go to Alderaan, Lord Rasche. Question Organa about the message. And if you learn that he might be involved with Senator Yeb's escape, then Alderaan shall share Andalia's fate."
"What about Yeb?" Rasche demanded. "Shall I search for him on Corellia?"
With a wave of his hand, Palpatine dismissed the idea. "No. Searching for some former senator amongst that piratical den on Corellia should not concern you. As my right hand, it is more befitting that you deal with Alderaan."
Rasche bowed respectfully. "Yes, my Master."
END OF CHAPTER TWO
Friday, June 7, 2013
Below are images from the 1980 miniseries, "BEULAH LAND". Based upon Lonnie Coleman's novels, "Beulah Land" and "Look Away, Beulah Land", the miniseries starred Lesley Ann Warren, Paul Rudd, Dorian Harewood and Michael Sarrazin:
"BEULAH LAND" (1980) Image Gallery
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
"NORTHANGER ABBEY" (1986) Review
Most movie and television adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels are either highly acclaimed or perhaps even liked by fans and critics alike. I can only think of two or three adaptations that have been dismissed them. And one of them happened to be the 1986 A&E Network/BBC adaptation of Austen’s 1817 novel, "Northanger Abbey".
Adapted by Maggie Wadey, "NORTHANGER ABBEY" follows the experiences of seventeen-year-old Gothic novel aficionado, Catherine Morland, who is invited by her parents’ friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, to accompany them on a visit to Bath, England. This is Catherine’s first visit to Bath and there she makes new acquaintances such as Isabella Thorpe and the latter’s crude brother, John. She also becomes friends with the charming and quick-witted clergyman Henry Tilney and his sweet-tempered sister, Eleanor. While Catherine’s brother James courts Isabella, she finds herself becoming the romantic target of the ill-mannered John. Fortunately for Catherine, she becomes romantically captivated by Henry Tilney, who seemed to have fallen for her, as well . . . much to the displeasure of the Thorpes. Eventually, Henry and Eleanor’s father, General Tilney, invites Catherine to visit their estate, Northanger Abbey. Because of her penchant for Ann Radcliffe's gothic novel,"The Mysteries of Udolpho", Catherine expects the Tilney estate to be filled with Gothic horrors and family mysteries. Instead, Catherine ends up learning a few lessons about life.
Personally, I do not consider the 1817 novel to be one of Austen’s best. It has always seemed . . . not fully complete to me. I never understood why the Thorpes actually believed that the Morlands were wealthy, considering John’s longer acquaintance with Catherine’s brother, James. And why did John tell General Tilney that Cathrine’s family was wealthy in the first place? For revenge? His actions only encouraged the general to invite Catherine to Northanger Abbey. But I digress. This article is not a criticism of Austen’s novel, but my view on this first movie adaptation. And how do I feel about "NORTHANGER ABBEY"? Well . . . it was interesting.
There are aspects of "NORTHANGER ABBEY" that I liked. First of all, director Giles Foster had a first rate cast to work with. I cannot deny that the movie featured some top-notch and solid performances. Both Katharine Schlesinger and Peter Firth gave first-rate performances as the two leads, Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney. Now, I realize that many Austen fans had a problem with Firth’s characterization of Henry. And they are not alone. But I cannot deny that he did a great job with the material given to him. Best of all, not only did Schlesinger and Firth have great screen chemistry, but also exchanged one of the best kisses I have ever seen in an Austen adaptation. But if I must be honest, there was not a performance that failed to impress me. The entire cast were excellent, especially Robert Hardy as Henry’s perfidious father, General Tilney; Cassie Stuart as Isabella Thorpe; Ingrid Lacey as Eleanor Tilney; and Jonathan Coy as the vulgar John Thorpe.
Watching "NORTHANGER ABBEY", it occurred to me that its production values were superb. Truly. I noticed that the movie seemed to be set in the late 1790s – the period in which Austen first wrote the novel, instead of the late Regency era (when it was officially published). Cecilia Brereton really did justice in re-creating Bath in the late 1790s. My two favorite scenes – from an ascetic point-of-view – featured Catherine’s meetings with the Thorpes and Eleanor Tilney at the city’s Roman Baths; and the two assembly balls. Nicholas Rocker did a superb job in designing the movie’s colorful costumes. In fact, I adored them. The costumes, the hairstyles and even the makeup designed by Joan Stribling beautifully reflected the movie’s setting.
Now that I have waxed lyrical over "NORTHANGER ABBEY", it is time for me to tear it down. Despite some of the movie’s more positive aspects, I can honestly say that I do not like this film. I almost dislike it. There were too much about it that turned me off. Surprisingly, one of those aspects was the characterization of Henry Tilney. The novel had hinted a witty and playful man with a wicked sense of humor. The sense of humor remained, but Henry’s condescending manner toward Catherine and penchant for lectures really turned me off. I cannot blame Peter Firth. I do blame Maggie Wadey for transforming Henry from a man with a wicked sense of humor, to a slightly humorous, yet ponderous character. And why did Wadey transform the vulgar John Thorpe into a borderline stalker? Honestly, the way he eyed Catherine whenever Henry was in her midst made me believe he would be a first-class serial killer. I also believe that Wadey went too far in her characterization of General Tilney. Instead of being a stern and rigid tyrant, the general became an aging and mercenary Lothario, whose dissipation depleted the family’s income. Artistic close-ups of Robert Hardy’s face wearing a salacious expression did not help matters. To reinforce General Tilney’s dissipation, Wadey included a character called the Marchioness, an aristocratic refugee of the French Revolution who has become his mistress. Personally, I found her addition to the cast of characters to be irrelevant.
And the problems continued to roll. The main house of the Tilneys’ estate is supposed to be an abbey, not a castle. Why on earth did the production designer and the producers choose Bodiam Castle as the location for the fictional Northanger Abbey? The scenes featuring Catherine’s vivid and "Gothic" imagination struck me as unnecessarily long and rather off-putting. I felt as if I had stumbled across a horror movie, instead of a Jane Austen adaptation. Also, Catherine’s friendship with Isabella seemed to have been given the short-shrift. Quite frankly, I do not think it was developed very well. Wadey had a chance to clean up some of the flaws in Austen’s novel – namely the Thorpes’ interest in Catherine and the trick that John Thorpe played on General Tilney about the Morelands’ wealth or lack of it. And why did Wadey include that minor sequence featuring the Tilneys’ young black slave? All the kid did was lure Catherine outside to the estate’s lawn in order to impress her with his gymnastic skills. And for what? I am trying to think of a witty comment to express my contempt for this scene. All I can do is shake my head and wonder what the hell was Wadey thinking.
Who was responsible for hiring Ilona Sekacz to compose the movie’s score? I wish I could compliment Ms. Sekacz’s work. I would if it had served as the score for an episode of "MIAMI VICE", a soft porn movie, or some other television series or movie from the 1980s. Sofia Coppola used early 1980s pop music to serve as the score for her 2006 movie, "MARIE ANTOINETTE". Surprisingly, it worked. I think it worked because Coppola utilized the right song for the right scene. But Sekacz’s score, which featured a strange mixture of new age and period music, night club jazz, and synthesizers, was never utilized properly. Or perhaps I simply found the music too strange or off-putting for me to appreciate it. It certainly did not blend well with the actual movie released on American and British television.
"NORTHANGER ABBEY" has some aspects that prevents me to viewing it as a total write-off. It does feature some first-rate performances – especially from leads Katharine Schlesinger and Peter Firth – and I adore both Cecilia Brereton’s production designs and Nicholas Rocker’s costumes. But the movie has too many flaws, including an unpalatable score and some very questionable characterizations, for me to consider it a first-class, let alone a decent adaptation of Austen’s novel. This is one movie that I will not be watching with any regularity.