Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"THE SEA HAWK" (1940) Photo Gallery



Here is a gallery featuring photos from "THE SEA HAWK" - the 1940 adventure film starring Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Alan Dale and Henry Daniell:


"THE SEA HAWK" (1940) Photo Gallery














































Saturday, October 26, 2013

"FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" (1973) Book Review




"FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" (1973) Book Review

Serving as the fourth entry in George MacDonald Fraser’s The Flashman Papers, this 1973 novel continued the story of Harry Flashman, a character previously from the 1857 novel, "Tom Brown’s Schooldays" and now a British Army officer in Fraser’s novels. This particular novel, "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE", recalled Flashman’s experiences during the Crimean War (1854-1856) and Imperial Russia’s expansion into Central Asia. 

One could say that "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" could almost serve as a prequel to Fraser’s 1975 novel about the Sepoy Rebellion, "FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME". Almost. But it seemed quite obvious to me that the latter is a sequel to the 1973 novel. At least two supporting characters from this novel reappeared in "FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME". And the theme of Imperial Russia’s attempts to wrestle control of India from Great Britain in the 1975 novel, began in this novel.

The 1973 novel began with Harry Flashman enjoying the London social scene with his beautiful wife, Elspeth. With Great Britain on the brink of war against Russia on Turkey’s behalf, the cowardly Flashman believed that the only way to avoid combat was to have his Uncle Bindley secure him a post with the Board of Ordinance – the British Army’s armory. However, Flashman’s luck failed to hold (not surprisingly) and his meeting with the young German prince, William of Celle (a relation of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) led him to become a staff galloper for Lord Raglan, the British Army’s Commander-in-Chief. The new position drew Harry against his will into the chaos of the Crimean War and in becoming a participant of one of history’s most infamous cavalry engagements – the Charge of the Light Brigade. This famous military action also led him to becoming a prisoner-of-war at the estate of a Cossack nobleman named Count Pencherjevsky

At Count Pencherjevsky’s estate, Starkosk, Flashman has a reunion with a former Rugby schoolmate, Harry "Scud" East. After the two English prisoners learned of Russia’s plans to invade India and kick the British out, they decided to make their escape following a serf uprising at Starkosk. Unfortunately for Flashman, a sleigh accident led to his recapture by the Russians and a political officer named Count Nicholas Ignitieff. Flashy’s incarceration at Fort Raim led him to an acquaintance with two famous Muslim freedom fighters from the state of Kokodad, Yakub Beg and Issat Kutebar. Luck finally caught up with Flashman, when he and his two new acquaintances are rescued by Yakub Beg’s mistress, Ko Dali’s daughter, and a band of Kokodans. Following the rescue, Harry participated in one last action against the Russians against his will . . . so to speak.

I must admit that "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" turned out to be a well-structured and well-written novel. Unless I am mistaken, the novel was written into three parts – the London prelude, Flashman’s Crimean War experiences that included his time as a prisoner-of-war at the Starkosk estate, and finally his incarceration at Fort Raim and experiences with the Kokadans. Fraser began the novel on a strong note and finished it in a similar manner. My only sole complaint centered on Flashman’s journey to Starkosk and his time at the estate. In short, it seemed to me that the sequence threatened to bog down the pace. I suspect that Fraser’s in-depth look into Imperial Russian serfdom during this sequence is responsible. As much as I found it interesting, I also wondered if Fraser got caught up in his subject, which would seem ironic considering his failure to explore American slavery in the 1971 novel, "FLASH FOR FREEDOM!". As much as I had enjoyed Flashman’s time spent with Count Pencherjevsky and his family on the Starkosk estate, no one felt more relieved than me when he and "Scud" East finally escaped, thanks to a serf uprising. I had become rather weary of Flashman’s period as a prisoner-of-war.

Despite some of my problems with the novel, I cannot deny that "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" is a well-written novel. Fraser did an excellent job in recapturing London during the early and mid 1850s and Great Britain’s pro-war mood on the cusp of the Crimean War. He also expertly drew readers into the world of the British Army during the first months of the war. His description of the Army caps and hospitals at Alma just before the Battle of Balaclava literally had me cringing in my seat a bit:

"So the siege was laid, the French and ourselves sitting down on the muddy, rain-sodden gullied plateau before Sevastopol, the dismalest place on earth, with no proper quarters but a few poor huts and tents, and everything to be carted up from Balaclava on the coast eight miles away. Soon the camp, and the road to it, was a stinking quagmire; everyone looked and felt filthy, the rations were poor, the work of preparing the siege was cruel hard (for the men, anyway), and all the bounce there had been in the army after Alma evaporated in the dank, feverish rain by day and the biting cold by night. Soon half of us were lousy, as some wags said, who’d holiday at Brighton if he could come to sunny Sevastopol instead?"

Another memorable passage featured Flashman’s participation in the Light Brigade Charge. Fraser did a superb job in describing not only the Battle of Balaclava, but particularly the Light Brigade Charge. I found his description of the famous military charge filled with heady action, chaos and terror – especially from Flashman’s point-of-view:

"I had only a moment to look back – my mare was galloping like a thing demented, as I steadied, there was Cardigan, waving his sabre and standing in his stirrups; the guns were only a hundred yards away, almost hiddenin a great billowing bank of smoke, a bank which kept glaring red as though some Lucifer were opening furnace doors deep inside it. There was no turning, no holding back, and even in that deafening thunder I could hear the sudden chorus of yells behind me as the torn remnant of the Light Brigade gathered itself for the final mad charge into the battery. I dug my heels, yelling nonsense and brandishing my sabre, shot into the smoke with one final rip from my bowels and a prayer that my gallant little mare wouldn’t career headlong into a gun-muzzle, staggered at the fearful concussion of a gun exploding within a yard of me – and then we were through, into the open space behind the guns, leaping the limbers and ammunition boxes with the Russians scattering to let us through, and Cardigan a bare two yards away, reining his beast back almost on its haunches."

However, one of my favorite chapters in the novel featured Flashman and the Kokordans’ attempts to destroy the Russian gunboats filled with weapons to be used against the Kokordans and the invasion of India. Before this battle took place, Ko Dali’s daughter drugged the cowardly officer with hashish (bhang) in order to force him to overcome his fear for the operation. The scene of the cowardly Flashy acting like George Armstrong Custer on crack struck me as one of the funniest passages in the entire series:

"God, what a chaos it was! I was galloping like a dervish at Kutebar’s heels, roaring 'Hark forrard! Ha-ha, you bloody foreigners, Flashy’s here!', careering through the narrow spaces between the sheds, with the muskets banging off to our left, startled sleepers crying out, and everyone yelling like be-damned. As we burst headlong onto the last stretch of open beach, and swerved past the landward end of the pier, some stout Russian was bawling and letting fly with a pistol; I left off singing 'Rule, Britannia' to take a shot at him, but missed, and there ahead someone was waving a torch and calling, and suddenly there were dark figures all around us, clutching at our bridles, almost pulling us from the saddles towards a big go-down on the north side of the pier."

George MacDonald Fraser did take historical liberties with one particular character – the novel’s main villain, Count Nicholas Ignatieff. The author described the Russian character in the following manner:

"And as our eyes met through the cigarette smoke I thought, hollo, this is another of those momentous encounters. You didn’t have to look at this chap twice to remember him forever. It was the eyes, as it so often is – I thought in that moment of Bismarck, and Charity Spring, and Akbar Khan; it had been the eyes with them, too. But this fellow’s were different from anything yet: one was blue, but the other had a divided iris, half-blue, half-brown, and the oddly fascinating effect of this was that you didn’t know where to look, but kept shifting from one to the other.

For the rest, he had a gingerish, curling hair and square, masterful face that was no way impaired by a badly-broken nose. He looked tough, and immensely self-assured; it was in his glance, in the abrupt way he moved, in the slant of the long cigarette between his fingers, in the rakish tilt of his peaked cap, in the immaculate white tunic of the Imperial Guards. He was the kind who knew exactly what was what, where everything was, and precisely who was who – especially himself. He was probably a devil with women, admired by his superiors, hated by his rivals, and abjectly feared by his subordinates. One word summed him up: bastard."


The above passage described Flashman’s opinion of Ignatieff during their first meeting on the road to Starkosk. They met for the second time, when Flashman and "Scud" East overheard Ignatieff, Czar Nicholas I and other Russian officials discuss plans to invade India during a secret meeting at Starkosk. And their third and final encounter happened after Flashman was recaptured, following his escape from Starkosk and attempt to reach the British lines on the Crimean peninsula. It was Ignatieff who tossed Flashman into the prison at Fort Raim. From what I have read, the real Ignatieff had never been quite the villain as portrayed in"FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE". Fraser even admitted that he taken liberties with the character in order to provide the novel with a main villain. Mind you, I believe he could have done that a lot easier with a fictional character. Why he had decided to take a historical figure and change his character in order to make him an effective villain is beyond me.

After reading "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE", it is easy to see why it remains very popular with many fans of Fraser’s novels. It is a well written comic-adventure tale filled with interesting characters – fictional and historical. The novel also featured two very unique passages, namely the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and the usually cowardly Flashman behaving in a brave and aggressive man during a major battle. "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" also happened to be one of those rare Flashman novels that began and ended on a strong note. Not only does it remain popular with many Flashman fans, I personally consider it to be one of Fraser’s better works.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"AMELIA" (2009) Review



Below is my review of the new biographical film on Amelia Earhart, the famous aviatrix from the 1930s: 


"AMELIA" (2009) Review

To this day, there have been at least three biographical movies about the 1930s aviatrix, Amelia Earhart. And I have not seen the first two films – a 1943 movie that starred Rosalind Russell and a 1976 television movie that starred Susan Clark. I finally got around to seeing the latest biopic film about Earhart called ”AMELIA”. Directed by Mira Nair, the film starred two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank in the title role. 

Written by Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan, the screenplay was based upon research from sources like ”East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and ”The Sound of Wings” by Mary S. Lovell. Instead of covering Earhart’s entire life, the story focused purely on the aviatrix’s career as a pilot from her first flight over the Atlantic Ocean in 1928 (as a passenger) to her disappearance over the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. The movie also focused upon Earhart’s relationships with publishing tycoon and husband George Putnam (Richard Gere) and her lover, aviator Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor); along with her collaboration with navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) during that last flight.

I can honestly say that ”AMELIA” is not one of the greatest Hollywood biographical films I have ever seen. It is not the worst . . . but I have certainly seen better biopics. The problem with ”AMELIA” is that it is simply mediocre. I am aware that the aviatrix had accomplished a great deal during her flying career. The film began with her becoming the first female to fly over the Atlantic as commander of the flight . . . and as a passenger. Embarrassed that her fame had not been earned, Earhart finally became the first female to fly over the Atlantic as a pilot in 1932. And although I felt a little teary-eyed and a sense of satisfaction over her accomplishments, I still found the movie to be a bit mediocre. For me, the movie’s main problem seemed to focus upon its portrayal of the main character – namely Earhart. I might as well be honest. The problem could have been Hilary Swank’s portrayal of the aviatrix. Or the problem simply could have been Bass and Phelan’s portrayal of her. She was not that interesting as a personality. Mind you, Earhart was not portrayed as a saint in the film. It included her alleged affair with Gene Vidal, during her marriage to Putnam, she had an affair with pilot Gene Vidal. Yet, Earhart still managed to come off as a less than interesting personality.

But all was not lost with ”AMELIA”. It included a handful of scenes that I found memorable. These scenes featured Earhart’s clash with Wilmer “Bill” Stultz (Joe Anderson) before the 1928 trans-Atlantic flight, that particular flight, George Putnam’s jealously over Earhart’s relationship with Vidal, her 1932 solo flight across the Atlantic, and her brief disagreement with Fred Noonan during their overnight stay in Lae, Papual New Guinea. The film’s minor centerpiece focused on those last moments of communication between Earhart’s plane and a U.S. Coast Guard picket ship called the U.S.C.G.C. Itasca before she and Noonan disappeared. I found myself especially impressed with Nair’s handling of this last scene, despite the fact that everyone knew its outcome.

Hilary Swank gave a solid and understated performance as Earhart. Considering that the aviatrix’s personality was understated, I doubt that it was much of a stretch for. I am a big fan of Ewan McGregor, but I think he was basically wasted in the role of Gene Vidal. Aside from providing a few romantic moments and expressing concern for Earhart’s plans to circumnavigate the globe, he really did not do much. On the other hand, I did enjoy Christopher Eccleston’s performance as the alcoholic navigator, Fred Noonan. He did not appear in that many scenes, but I really enjoyed the tension between him and Swank as they played out Noonan’s subtle, yet drunken come-on in Lae. In the end, it was Richard Gere who gave the most interesting performance. He gave an exuberant performance as the celebrated publisher/publicist George Putnam. Gere also gave audiences a glimpse into Putnam’s jealousy over Earhart’s relationship with Vidal – a jealousy that led him to propose marriage to the aviatrix in the first place. But in the end, not even Gere’s performance could provide enough energy to rejuvenate this film.

If there is one aspect of ”AMELIA” that I truly enjoy, it was the look of the film. Thanks to Stephanie Carroll’s production designs, Nigel Churcher and Jonathan Hely-Hutchinson’s art direction, Kasia Walicka-Maimone’s costume designs, and Stuart Dryburgh’s photography; the movie managed to capture – somewhat – the sleek Art Deco look of the late 1920s and the 1930s. Mind you, not all of it was historically accurate. However, I have come to the point where I find it useless to complain about historical accuracy in a movie with a historical backdrop. I wish I could say something about Gabriel Yared’s score, but I found nothing memorable about it.

I suspect that ”AMELIA” barely made a budge in the box office return. Not surprising. It is not a memorable film. It would probably turn out to be one of those films I would not mind watching on cable television or renting it from NETFLIX. Like I had stated earlier, it is not a terrible film.  I doubt that it will go down in history as a memorable historical drama. If you want my opinion, I would suggest that you either wait until this movie is released on cable . . . or wait until it is released on DVD and rent it.


 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"MANSFIELD PARK" (1999) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "MANSFIELD PARK", the 1999 adaptation of Jane Austen's 1814 novel. Directed by Patricia Rozema, the movie starred Frances O'Connor, Jonny Lee Miller and Alessandro Nivola: 


"MANSFIELD PARK" (1999) Photo Gallery






































































Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"WESTWARD HO!": Part Five - "INTO THE WEST" (2005)




Below is Part Five to my article about Hollywood's depiction about the westward migration via wagon trains in 19th century United States. It focuses upon "Manifest Destiny", the second episode of the 2005 television miniseries, "INTO THE WEST" :

"WESTWARD HO!": Part Five - "INTO THE WEST" (2005)

I. Introduction

Steven Spielberg had served as executive producer for a miniseries about the history of the Old West, during a period that spanned from the mid-1820s to 1890-91. If this premise sounds familiar, it should. It bears a strong resemblance to the main plot for "HOW THE WEST WAS WON". Only the story for "INTO THE WEST" centered on two families - a family of wheelwrights from western Virginia and a family from the Lakota nation.

"INTO THE WEST" aired as a six-part miniseries during the summer of 2005. The second episode, "Manifest Destiny", focused on wagon journey from Independence, Missouri to California in 1841. The first episode, "Wheel to the Stars", introduced some of the saga's main characters - such as Jacob Wheeler, the son and grandson of Virginia wheelwrights; Thunder Heart Woman, the Lakota woman with whom he will fall in love and marry; his younger brother Jethro Wheeler, who was too frightened to follow Jacob on the latter's first journey to the West; and Thunder Heart Woman's three brothers, Loved By the Buffalo, Dog Star and Running Fox. This episode ended with Jacob and Thunder Heart Woman's marriage at her family's village.

"Manifest Destiny" picked up seven to eight years later with Jacob's return to Wheelerton, Virginia, with a pregnant Thunder Heart Woman and their four year-old daughter, Margaret Light Shines in two. With the exception of Jethro, the rest of the Wheeler family - including Jacob's three cousins, Naomi, Rachel and Leah - greet Thunder Heart Woman and Margaret with a chilly intolerance. After the birth of Jacob and Thunder Heart Woman's new son, Abraham High Wolf, Jacob learns of the death of the famous explorer and trapper Jedediah Smith.

Jacob realizes that Wheelerton is no longer home to him and decides to return to the West. This time, Jethro, Naomi, Rachel and Leah decide to accompany him and Thunder Heart Woman. The Wheelers spend at least three years traveling west, until they reach Independence, Missouri in the fall of 1840. The family decides to travel to California and is forced to wait until the following spring of 1841 to start their journey. The Wheelers join a wagon party led by one Stephen Moxie. The Wheelers, along with their fellow emigrants experience bad weather, accidents, Native Americans, romance and tragedy during their journey to California.



II. History vs. Hollywood

With television miniseries like "CENTENNIAL" and "THE CHISHOLMS" as examples, one would think that Hollywood had finally learned to inject as much historical accuracy in its period dramas as possible. But "INTO THE WEST" - at least as far as "Manifest Destiny" is concerned - seemed to be an exception to the rule. Screenwriters William Mastrosimone and Cyrus Nowrasteh managed to toss historical facts to the wind, when they wrote this episode.

Mind you, Mastrosimone and Nowrasteh managed to begin the journey on the right note. The first known wagon party to attempt the journey to California (the Bartleson-Bidwell Party) did leave Westport, Missouri in 1841, the same year as the Wheelers' departure. "Manifest Destiny" did an excellent job in conveying the day-to-day chores performed by the emigrants. The wagons used by the Wheelers and other members of the Moxie wagon party were, thankfully, not the lumbering Conestogas seen in old Hollywood films. The episode also included the use of buffalo meat, dangers of cholera on the trail, river crossings and an accident caused by difficult terrain like the Windlass Hill around Ash Hollow. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode's portrayal of wagon train migration proved to have very little historical accuracy.

"Manifest Destiny" marked a return of an inaccurate portrayal of emigrant life that had not been seen for a while. Although none of the wagons featured in the episode are not Conestogas, all of them are being pulled by horses, instead of mules or oxen. I found it a miracle that none of the horses had dropped dead by the end of the episode. I also noticed that the emigrants in Moxie's party had to pay at least $80.00 or provide some valuable service (in Jacob and Jethro's case, provide wheelwright service) in order to join. However, I cannot say whether this is accurate or not. I have never come across such a thing during my studies of overland wagon travel. On the other hand, such transactions may have occurred.

One glance of the terrain featured in "Manifest Destiny" immediately alerted me to the fact that the episode had not been filmed anywhere near the locations from the actual Oregon and California trails. In fact, no famous landmarks from the two trails were shown in this episode. Not even a single fort. I discovered that the miniseries was either filmed in the Alberta Province of Canada and around Santa Fe, New Mexico. This does not surprised me. The actors in this episode spent a good deal of time wearing coats or cloaks. Since the wagon journey from Missouri to California usually spanned between mid-spring and early fall, I found the presence of outer wear unrealistic.

The Lakota characters featured in the six-part miniseries proved to be just as complex as the white characters. This is not surprising. After all, some of Jacob Wheeler's in-laws were among the main characters - especially his three brothers-in-law. However, when it came to the Hoxie wagon party's encounter with members of the Cheyenne nation, historical accuracy was once again tossed into the wind.

Among the travelers that joined the Moxie wagon party was a family of free blacks from Illinois named Jones. When Mrs. Jones died from cholera, they were forced to remain behind, until they could be certain that no one else in their party had contracted the disease. The Wheelers - with the exception of Naomi, who was traveling with her new husband - were forced to remain with the Jones, due to being the closest with the family. Soon, Jethro came down with cholera. But he managed to overcome his illness. After his recovery, Jacob rode ahead to find the wagon party. He discovered that the entire wagon train - except for Naomi, who was taken - had been killed by Native Americans. Jacob returned to the Wheeler and Jones wagons, which found themselves under attack by Cheyenne dog soldiers, the very party that wiped out the Moxie wagon train. In other words, the viewers were expected to believe that a band of Cheyenne dog soldiers were able to wipe out a fairly-sized and well-armed wagon party. Yet, the only damage they were able to inflict upon the Wheeler and Jones families was a lance through Jacob Wheeler's shoulder. Ri-i-ii-i-ight! This was one the most ludicrous piece of historical inaccuracy I had ever encountered in a period drama.

There were other minor historical inaccuracies, which had nothing to do with the Moxie wagon party that I found in "Manifest Destiny". One, Jedediah Smith did not die around 1836-37. He was killed in 1831. And according to Jacob, there were no battles or any real violence in California during the Mexican-American War. Wrong! A few months after the Americans had taken over the province, the Californios took up arms against their new rulers, resulting in a few battles mainly fought in Southern California.

It seems ironic that "Manifest Destiny" turned out to be the least historically accurate episode of "INTO THE WEST". I say that it is ironic, because this episode happens to be my favorite from the entire miniseries. "Manifest Destiny" gave a fairly accurate picture of the daily activities of emigrants on the overland trails. But it turned out to be like many films from the past - more Hollywood than history.


III. Conclusion

This marks the end of my look at Hollywood's depiction of emigrant wagon trains. The two movies and three miniseries were not the only productions to feature this setting. And if these articles have increased your interest in this subject, you might want to consider other movie and television productions about it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" (1991) Review




"THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" (1991) Review

The late Joan Hickson starred as Miss Jane Marple in her 11th movie that featured the elderly sleuth, created by Agatha Christie. The movie in question was "THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS", an adaptation of Christie's 1952 novel.

While paying a visit to her old friend, the American-born Ruth Van Rydock, Miss Jane Marple is asked to visit the other woman's younger sister, Carrie Louise Serrocold. All three women were friends at the same school in Italy when they were girls. Ruth is worried that something is very wrong at Stonygates, the Victorian mansion where Carrie Louise lives with her husband Lewis Serrocold. She fears that Carrie Louise may be in danger of some kind. Ruth asks Miss Marple to find out what is going on. Miss Marple learns that Stonygates has been converted into a home for delinquent boys by Serrocold, who is devoted to the idea of reforming these boys. Christian Gulbrandsen, Carrie Louise's stepson from her first marriage and a member of the Stonygates Board of Trustees, everyone assumes he is there for a business meeting with Serrocold. The latter finally admits to Miss Marple that Later that evening, the visiting Ruth decides to show an old film of her, Carrie Louise and Miss Marple in Italy; when one of Stonybrook's boys, an uber-nervous type named Edgar Lawson interrupts the festivities to accuse Serrocold of being his real father. While they quarreled in another room, the fuse to the house blows out. Within minutes, Gulbrandsen's visit takes a tragic turn when he is found dead - shot in the head - inside his bedroom. Miss Marple, along with Chief Inspector Slack, scramble to find Gulbrandsen's murderer.

From the articles I have read on the Web, "THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" seemed to be highly regarded by many of Christie's fans. I wish I could share their sentiments, but I cannot. I am not saying that the movie was terrible. It seemed pretty decent to me. But it did not exactly rock my boat. At the moment, I cannot put my finger on it. There is something . . . weak about the plot. One, I did not find the setting of a Victorian manor converted into a home for delinquent boys that intriguing. I suppose one has to blame Christie for creating this setting in the first place. I suspect that she was out of her league. And two, the mystery itself - the murder of Christian Gulbrandsen - did not seem particularly complicated. Judging from the title and the details that led to his murder, I did not find it particularly difficult to guess the murderer's identity. And three, I thought the movie finished on a slightly weak note. After a murder attempt was made on another character, my attention to the movie gradually began to fade. I was not sleepy. My interest simply began to fade.

I also had a few problems with the cast. The characters of Carrie Louise Serrocold and Ruth van Rycock were portrayed by actresses Jean Simmons and Faith Brook. I had no problems with their performances. I thought both were first rate - especially Simmons, who captured Carrie Louise's vague and slightly fey personality just right. But both actresses were at least a good twenty years younger than Joan Hickson. And I found the idea of their characters coming from the same generation as Miss Marple rather ludicrous. I also had a problem with Todd Boyce's portrayal of Walter Rudd, Carrie Louise's American-born grandson-in-law. At first, I thought he was English born, because I found his American accent rather questionable. I was surprised to learn that he was born in Toledo, Ohio. His family had moved to Australia when he was 16. I think what really annoyed me was that whenever he opened his mouth to speak, I heard a few bars of Western music - to indicate that the character in question was an American. (Pardon me, while I indulge in an eye roll) Thankfully, the music ceased about halfway into the film and I found Boyce's performance a lot more enjoyable from then on.

"THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" also had its virtues. I must admit that the cast was first rate. Joss Ackland gave one of his more sympathetic performances as the well-meaning philanthropist who fears for his wife's safety. I have already commented upon Simmons, Brooks and Boyce. I was also impressed by Christopher and Jay Villiers, who gave enjoyable performances as the Restarick brothers - Carrie Louise's stepsons from her second marriage. I could say the same about Holly Aird, who portrayed Carrie Louise's granddaughter, Gina Rudd. And for the first time, I actually enjoyed David Horovitch's performance as recurring police sleuth, Chief Inspector Slack. However, I never understood the need to bring him back. I do not recall his character appearing in the novel. As for Joan Hickson, she was perfect as Jane Marple . . . as usual. In fact, she was a real class act in this film.

Personally, I feel that "THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" is somewhat overrated by today's Christie's fans. I found the plot rather unoriginal and a bit weak in the last thirty minutes. But it had a first-rate cast and decent production values. If you want a pleasant movie for a rainy Sunday afternoon, it might be the ticket for you.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"Guilty Until Proven Innocent" [PG-13] - 2/3




"GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT"

PART 2

A disturbing image from that last hour on the Bridge replayed in B'Elanna's mind, while she headed for Engineering. Had she just witnessed the impossible? At least what her mind and emotions considered the impossible. The idea of those two as a couple . . . Impossible! He was Maquis and she was Starfleet. There was no way that two people of such disparate backgrounds could form a successful relationship. At least B'Elanna hoped. 

"Hey B'Elanna!" Ensign Hogan greeted the half-Klingon after she entered Engineering. Like her, Hogan was a former member of Chakotay's Maquis cell. His intense face lit up with excitement. "Did you hear?"

She growled back, "Hear what?"

Hogan followed B'Elanna to her office. "About Seska and Paris. They had a fight in the Mess Hall."

"What?" B'Elanna stared at her subordinate. "Kahless! How in the hell . . . what happened?" Before Hogan could respond, B'Elanna spotted her close friend walking toward one of the consoles near the warp core. "Seska!" She rushed out of her office with Hogan right behind her. Both caught up with the Bajoran engineer. "Seska! What's this I hear about you and Paris?"

Anger illuminated Seska's blue eyes. "It's nothing. We had a little spat in the Mess Hall." By now, two other crewmen had joined the small group - another former Maquis named Mike Jonas and an attractive dark-haired Starfleeter named Sue Nicoletti.

"About what?" B'Elanna demanded. If Paris had insulted any former Maquis . . .

Seska heaved a large sigh. B'Elanna almost rolled her eyes. The former could be overdramatic at times. "It's nothing," the Bajoran insisted. "Just . . . well, Paris had made some comment about my time in the Maquis and I lost my temper."

"Why would he do that?" Nicoletti asked, earning a glare from Seska.

B'Elanna, who was very familiar with her friend's traits, added, "C'mon Seska. Give. I may detest Paris, but I also know you. You must have said something to piss him off."

"All right," Seska admitted. She punched a few sequences into the console. "I may have said something about what happened to him on the Banean homeworld." B'Elanna responded with a shake of the head. "What? Don't tell me that you sympathize with that scum?"

"I don't," B'Elanna replied shortly. "But you did start the fight, didn't you?"

Seska opened her mouth to reply, but remained silent. Jonas added, "If you ask me, I don't see why Janeway allows that murderer to roam free on the ship." A scowl appeared on his usually placid face.

"He's Starfleet," Hogan brutally explained. "What else is there to say?"

Hogan's remark spurred a spirited response from Nicoletti. Her pretty face twisted with distaste. "Tom Paris is notStarfleet," she said with great emphasis. "Not as far as we're concerned."

"What about his father?"

Sue shot back, "What about him? He washed his hands of Paris a long time ago."

"Then how do you explain Janeway giving him the Conn? And letting him roam the ship, despite being convicted of murder? I even hear that Tuvok was ordered to exonerate him."

It was B'Elanna who answered Hogan's question. "Lieutenant Tuvok was ordered to investigate the murder, not clear Paris. And the Baneans have already planted memory engrams, forcing him to relive the entire murder from the victim's point of view every fourteen hours. According to Harry, those engrams are frying Paris' brains."

A low whistle emitted from Hogan's lips. "I guess Paris is getting a little payback, after all."

"Huh!" Jonas grunted. "I still think he needs his ass kicked. Maybe some of us should do it, ourselves."

"Hear, hear!" Seska cried. A smile curled her lips. "Maybe a little Maquis operation is in order." She glanced at Nicoletti. The latter squirmed with discomfort. "Something wrong, Nicoletti? I would think you Starfleeters wouldn't mind getting into the action, considering how much you detest Paris."

Nicoletti looked away and returned to her duties. Seska sniffed. B'Elanna, as head of Engineering, decided it was time to nip Jonas' idea in the bud. Even if she liked it. "There isn't going to be any Maquis or Starfleet operation against Paris. So why don't we all end this conversation now? I'm not ready to find myself in Chakatoy or Janeway's bad graces. And I think neither are you."

"What's the matter, Lieutenant?" A smirk formed on Seska's lips. "Afraid of losing your precious position as Chief Engineer?" Both Hogan and Jonas chuckled.

B'Elanna coolly replied, "Let me put it this way. Do any of you want to serve under Carey or another Fleeter?"

The idea seemed to have cooled the other ex-Maquis' ideas of any "operations" against Tom Paris. Hogan and Jonas returned to their duties. Seska turned away from her task to face B'Elanna. "What was going on while you were gone? I thought I felt Voyager encounter phaser fire."

B'Elanna told the Bajoran about Voyager's encounter with several Numeri ships. "They tried to board us. I guess they didn't care for any of us visiting the Banean homeworld. Chakotay . . . he had suggested we use an old Maquis trick to drive them off." Her lips quirked into a small smile. "You know, the one we used against the Cardies."

Seska returned her attention to the console. "I'll bet Janeway snipped that idea in the bud."

"Actually, she didn't. She told . . ." B'Elanna paused, recalling the conversation between the red-haired captain and the First Officer. And the electricity that seemed to flow between the two. And electricity that hinted a future B'Elanna personally found unappealing.

"What did Janeway say?" Seska insisted. 

The half-Klingon snapped out of her reverie, aware of a pair of narrowed eyes staring at her. She let out a gust of breath. "Nothing. Just . . . Janeway said that the trick was very old."

Seska grunted. "I'll bet that pissed off Chakotay."

"Not really," B'Elanna replied in a soft voice, recalling Chakotay's expression. "In fact, he seemed . . . amused."

The look on Seska's face told B'Elanna that the former did not care for that description anymore than she did. "Hmmmph," the Bajoran commented before turning away from B'Elanna. "Does that mean we'll be encountering the Numeri again?"

Thankful for the change of subject, B'Elanna replied, "I suppose so. Especially if Lieutenant Tuvok and Janeway have to return to the Banea to clear up this matter with Paris."

"Personally, I think Tuvok's investigation is a waste of time," Seska added in a sardonic voice. "Even if he wanted to, there is nothing he can find that will exonerate Paris. The man is a liar and a murderer. I say Janeway should wash her hands of him and toss him back to the Baneans."

B'Elanna remained silent. How could she argue with the truth?

* * * * 

Tuvok came to the conclusion that he had finally arrived at the truth. Lieutenant Paris did not murder Dr. Ren. In fact, the volatile pilot was nothing more than a scapegoat of a more insidious plot.

Inside his quarters, the Security Chief sat on the floor with his eyes closed. Only he was not deep in another meditation session. Instead, his mind raced over the details and revelations he had unearthed during his investigation of Dr. Ren's murder.

The widow of the murder victim entered his thoughts. Lidell Ren. One would say she was a very attractive woman, fully aware of her charms and ability to seduce. Lieutenant Paris seemed the obvious type who would find her attractive and act upon his feelings. However, Tuvok could not see the volatile pilot kill for her. Even Mister Paris was intelligent enough not to take such a woman like Mrs. Ren seriously.

A mind meld Tuvok had conducted with the pilot had revealed the latter's belief in his innocence. Despite the engrams. And although the meld clearly painted Mister Paris as the perputrator, Tuvok found a few details questionable. First, the pilot had allegedly plunged the knife into Dr. Ren's heart, which was located in the same spot as the Human stomach. Tuvok found it illogical that an offworlder like Mister Paris know the exact location of the Banean heart. He also noticed that both the pilot and the widow seemed to be the exact height in the memory engrams. Yet, after meeting Mrs. Ren, Tuvok noticed that he was taller than the Banean widow and Lieutenant Paris was taller than both of them. And there was the matter of the mysterious inscriptions included in the ex-convict's memories. What did they mean and why were they included?

One last detail concerned Tuvok. To prove a theory, he had asked Captain Janeway to send Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim to the Banean homeworld in one of Voyager's shuttles. The Numeri ships, to everyone's surprise, went after the shuttle, instead of Voyager. Their actions not only confirmed Mister Paris' innocence, but the identity and motive of the true murderer.

Tuvok's eyes flew open. He tapped his combadge and suggested to the Captain that they make another trip to the Banean homeworld. And that Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim should join them.

* * * * 

STARDATE 48606.41

"What was that you said to Tuvok in the Mess Hall?" Harry asked Tom. The two friends sat inside Sandrine's, each enjoying an after-duty drink.

Tom took a sip of his bourbon and grimaced. Synthehol. Someday, he would have to find a way to replicate genuine alcohol. "I merely thanked him for helping me and told him he had a friend."

"A friend?" Harry snorted. "Lieutenant Tuvok was just doing his job, Tom. I doubt he really believed you were innocent."

"Maybe. But he didn't naturally assume I was guilty, either." Tom forced himself to take another sip. "Unlike many others on this ship. You know, when we first went to Banea, I had no idea I would end up as a courier for spies." 

Harry shook his head and swallowed a mouthful of brandy. Unlike Tom, he seemed to enjoy his drink. "Or have a dog exonerate you for murder. You were very lucky, buddy! Very lucky. Maybe this will teach you to be a little more circumspect about the fair sex."

Tom gave his friend a hard stare. "Is this your way of getting back at me for that remark I made inside the shuttle, Harry?"

Dark eyes shined with innocence. Not very convincingly, as far as Tom was concerned. "What remark?" the younger man asked.

"You know. The one about you never finding romance with the wrong woman." Tom's eyes narrowed. "I was serious, Harry. It could happen to you. You're only human and I wouldn't dismiss the possibility if I were you."

Harry responded with a knowing smile. "Knowing you Tom, you just might set me up with a woman like Lidell Ren. Just to make your point."

Poor Harry. Tom shook his head. He valued the young ensign as a good friend and decent guy. But the latter also possessed an unshakable arrogance regarding his sense of morality. Just like any good little Starfleet officer. Tom also realized that many of the Maquis shared a similar sense of self-righteousness. How long would this morality last under decades in the Delta Quadrant?

Two crewmen passed their table. Starfleet, judging by the pips on their collars. They gave Harry a polite nod. And ignored Tom. "I can't believe this!" Harry protested. "Tuvok had cleared you of murder and they still treat you like a pariah!"

Tom shrugged in an attempt to mask the slight hurt. "Forget it, Harry. The crew has other reasons to dislike me. Like my prison sentence and getting cashiered out of Starfleet."

"How long are they going to hold that against you?"

A bitter smile touched Tom's lips. "Forever? Hell, the Maquis practically hate my guts! I'm sure everyone is disappointed that I haven't been executed. Or had my brains fried by now."

The tavern's wooden doors swung open, revealing B'Elanna Torres. "Oh great!" Tom muttered. "Look who's here!"

The two friends watched the half-Klingon sauntered toward their table. She took one look at Tom and hesitated. Hostility filled her eyes.

"B'Elanna!" Harry cried, waving at the Chief Engineer to join them. "Over here!" Tom suppressed his disappointment, as B'Elanna walked over to the table and slid into the booth, next to Harry.

She flashed a quick smile at the young ensign. "Hey Starfleet." A frown creased her ridged brow as she faced Tom. "Paris." After ordering a glass of scotch from Sandrine, she asked, "You didn't show up in the Mess Hall for dinner. Where were you?"

"Here," Harry replied. "We decided to replicate dinner here at Sandrines. It was pleeka rind casserole night. What can you say?"

Tom added in a low voice, "I can think of a few choice words. But I don't think they will make Neelix happy."

His comment was met with an amused grin from Harry and a stony glare from Torres. Tom wondered if the half-Klingon had a sense of humor. Or maybe she had been under Chakotay's influence too long. "Something bothering you, Torres?" he asked.

Her eyes glittering, the engineer shot back, "Yeah, the company."

"That's funny. As I recall, I was here first." Tom gave B'Elanna an acid smile.

A wall of silence surrounded the trio. Then B'Elanna slid out of the booth, signaling her departure. Harry stopped her before she could leave. "Wait a minute!" he cried. "Where are you going, Maquis?"

"To find better company," she growled, glaring at Tom.

"C'mon! Stay with us. This is suppose to be a celebration for Tom. For his exoneration."

B'Elanna sniffed. "That's not a reason for me to celebrate."

"B'Elanna!"

Tom added in a curt voice, "Let her go, Harry. The last thing I need is to spend my free time with another one of Chakotay's noble warriors. Especially one who still thinks I'm guilty."

"I never said you were guilty!" B'Elanna shot back.

"Of course you did," Tom retorted. "You just never said it to my face. I'll bet you even told Harry." The two engineers exchanged uneasy glances. Tom noticed. "Oh. I see you have."

Harry turned to the pilot. "Look Tom, I'm sorry about that. I was talking with B'Elanna and Seska and it just came . . ."

"What are you apologizing for, Starfleet?" B'Elanna growled. She slid back into the booth. "At least you didn't screw some married woman! Or get your best friend behind bars for two days!"

Tom added, "You forgot to mention it was for accessory to murder."

Fierce brown eyes turned on the Chief Helmsman. "Everything's a joke to you, isn't it Paris? Someone always has to pay for your irresponsibility! Harry almost died after the Baneans interrogated him and yet, you laugh over the entire matter!"

"Hey! B'Elanna!" Harry protested. "Tom has already apo . . ."

However, the Chief Engineer's tongue seemed to be on a roll. Tom noticed that Sandrine's other inhabitants seemed interested in what she had to say. "Tell me Paris, did you laugh after you crashed that shuttle at Caldik Prime? Or when you sold the Maquis to the Federation?"

Caldik Prime. Torres' comment brought up guilty memories of that infamous moment in his life. It also sparked a growing anger within Tom. Anger and resentment over her assumption that he had felt no remorse toward the deaths of his late friends. Like nearly every person he has encountered in his life, Torres made assumptions about his character without bothering to learn anything about him.

His body grew tense. A low, deep anger resonated in Tom's voice. "As far as I'm concerned, Torres," he growled, "the topic of Caldik Prime is off limits." The half-Klingon's face paled suddenly. Harry stared at Tom, his mouth gaped open. "And as for your precious Maquis," Tom continued heatedly, "I joined because I needed money."

"Mercenary!" B'Elanna spat out in disgust.

Coldly, Tom replied, "If you say so. However, that didn't stop the good Commander from recruiting me. And yet, from the moment I joined his cell, Chakotay and the others made it quite clear that I was nothing more than a mercenary and treated me like one. They never gave me a chance to prove otherwise."

"What did you expect?" B'Elanna shot back. 

"What's the matter, Torres?" Tom snarled. "You don't believe in giving someone a second chance? Isn't that what the Captain and Chakotay did for you? Hey, I may not be the straight arrow type around Harry, Kes or the Captain. At least they gave me a chance to prove I was more than some good-for-nothing who was not worth their time. I can't say the same for your precious Maquis. And if you expect me to feel guilty for how I came aboard Voyager, you'll be holding your breath." Tom slid out of the booth. "For a long time. Now if you'll excuse me, this place has gotten a little too crowded for me." Tom glared at B'Elanna before he marched out of the holodeck.

* * * *

The chatter inside Sandrine's ceased to exist following Tom's departure. Barely a soul made a sound, aside from one crewman who coughed. Too embarrassed to speak himself, Harry finished his brandy in two gulps. Then the chatter returned, much to his relief.

A familiar figure, Sue Nicoletti, approached Harry and B'Elanna's table, carrying a glass of wine. "What was that about?" she asked, nodding toward the tavern's doors.

"Nothing," Harry replied. "Nothing at all." He signaled Sandrine. The tavern owner appeared and Harry ordered another glass of brandy.

A trembling B'Elanna finally recovered from her bout of silence. "Just Paris deluding himself that he has something to be righteous about." Her response produced a chuckle from Sue.

Harry remained silent, staring at the table's wooden surface. "Maybe he does," he mumbled darkly. The two women stared at him. "Let's face it, Tom has made mistakes in his life, but he's no murderer." He glanced up. "And he's not cold-blooded, despite what others may think."

Nicoletti quickly returned to her other companions. A deep flush colored B'Elanna's olive-skinned face. "Okay, maybe I was a little out of hand abut him being cold-blooded. But you can't deny that he had no business messing around with that Banean woman."

"He apologized about that, B'Elanna," Harry retorted.

B'Elanna added, "And the Maquis? Can you blame us for hating him, after he sold us to Janeway?"

"What are you talking about? Tom had been in prison for nearly a year before the Captain recruited him! How would he have known your last position?"

Persistent to the end, B'Elanna retorted, "That didn't stop him from accepting Janeway's offer to help her find us!"

Harry immediately replied, "B'Elanna, in a way, Tom had no choice. The Captain had insisted upon bringing him along; even after he told her that using him to track you down would be useless."

"Yeah, right," B'Elanna mumbled. "I suppose Paris told you this."

Harry stared at his friend through narrowed eyes. "It was the Captain who told me, B'Elanna. We were talking about how a Starfleet officer can utilize any resource. She realized that bringing Tom aboard may have been a shot in the dark, but she did it anyway. And that it all worked out in the end, with Voyager being stuck in the Delta Quadrant with a top-notch pilot like Tom."

The half-Klingon opened her mouth to respond, but as before, was rendered speechless. Sandrine returned with Harry's second brandy. He took a sip. "Look Maquis, Tom may not be the easiest person to deal with, but who is? You certainly aren't. And I know I can be very irritating sometimes. Yet, look at us. We managed to become friends. So when are you going to give Tom a chance to become your friend?"

Dark brown eyes belonging to the chief engineer blinked. Harry looked away and returned his attention to his drink. For once, B'Elanna had no ready answer on the tip of her tongue. Perhaps his words had finally penetrated her stubborn brain. Make her realize that Tom Paris might be a worthy friend to have. Harry hoped so. Because he had no idea how long he can endure being torn between his two best friends.

END OF PART 2