Tuesday, June 30, 2015
"X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" (2011) Review
Recently, I came across a comment that the last "X-MEN" movie, 2009's "X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE", had been a failure. I found this opinion surprising, considering that it actually made a profit at the box office. Failure or not, Marvel Studios decided to continue the movie franchise with a fifth entry called "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS".
Directed by Matthew Vaughn, "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" is, like the 2009 movie, another origins tale. Only it traced the beginnings of the two friends-turned-adversaries, Charles "Professor X" Xavier and Erik "Magneto" Lensherr. The movie began in a scene straight out of 2000's "X-MEN" - at a concentration camp in 1944 Poland. While young Erik Lensherr was being separated from his parents by Nazi guards, he displayed an ability for magnetism manipulation by tearing at one of the camp's gates. This ability attracted the attention of the camp's scientist, Dr. Klaus Schmidt, who tried to coerce Erik into using his ability again by threatening his mother with death. Unfortunately, Erik failed and Dr. Schmidt killed Mrs. Lensherr. At an estate in Westchester, New York of the same year, young Charles Xavier awakened from a deep sleep by a noise from the kitchen. He investigated and found his mother searching for something to eat. However, being a telepath, Charles was able to discover that he was facing a stranger. The stranger turned out to be a young, blue-skinned shapeshifter named Raven "Mystique" Darkhölme. Charles invited the young stranger to stay at the Xavier mansion and the two became close friends.
"X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" jumped another eighteen years forward to 1962. Charles Xavier has become an instructor on genetics at Oxford University. Raven has remained his close companion in a sibling-like capacity. Erik Lensherr has spent the last decade or so, hunting down Nazis that escaped prosecution by the Allies - especially those who had served at the concentration camp where he had been imprisoned. He has especially become interested in finding and killing Dr. Schmidt out of revenge for his mother's death. The story shifted to Las Vegas, Nevada; where one Moira MacTaggart and other CIA agents are investigating the Hellfire Club, a social organization led by Sebastian Shaw (aka Dr. Schmidt). After infiltrating the club as an "escort", Moira discovered that Shaw and his mutant followers - Emma Frost, Azazel, and Riptide - are intimidating a high ranking Army officer into relocating military missiles to Turkey. Moira sought help from Charles and Raven to provide information to her CIA bosses about mutants. They also met Erik, during a trip to Miami to track down Shaw. After preventing Erik from drowning during an attempt to kill Shaw, Charles became close friends with the Holocaust survivor; as they work with Moira and the CIA to bring down Shaw.
Personally, I do not believe that "X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE" deserved its low reputation. I thought it was a pretty damn good movie - not perfect, but entertaining. However, I do believe I could say the same about "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS". I would add that it might be better than the 2009 film. Despite its flaws. In fact, "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" turned out to be a cleverly written movie that managed to weave two historical events - the Holocaust and the Cuban Missile Crisis - into its plot. Director Matthew Vaughn did an excellent job in maintaining an even pace for a movie not only filled with exciting and occasionally exaggerated action sequences and dramatic scenes. But aside from the director, the movie's main virtue proved to be its first-rate cast.
Someone once pointed out that the X-MEN movie franchise did an excellent job of using the topic of "mutation" or psychic abilities to reflect upon the themes of bigotry and tolerance in our society. This theme became even more relevant, considering the movie's setting of 1962 - a period that reflected the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I can go further and commend screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Vaughn for daring to explore all aspects of the bigotry experienced and engaged by the characters.
Some of the movie's main characters experienced intolerance at the hands of others. Holocaust survivor Erik Lensherr not only suffered under the Nazi regime as a Jew, but also endured the U.S. government's (in the form of C.I.A. officials) wariness and contempt toward mutants, as did fellow mutants such as Charles Xavier, Raven Darkhölme, Hank McCoy and the group of young mutants they had recruited. C.I.A. officials Director McCone and William Stryker Sr. (father of the villain from the second and fourth movies) were ready to imprison Charles and Raven upon discovering their mutations. Fortunately, one C.I.A. man in particular - the nameless Man in Black - prevented this from happening. The script also focused upon the two mutants regarded as "odd men out" because their mutations were reflected physically. Raven's natural blue skin led her to maintain a "human" form that allowed her to blend with other humans and mutants. And C.I.A. scientist who constantly wore shoes to hide his mutation - animal-like feet. Their desperation to blend with the others on a regular basis led Hand to create a formula that eventually backfired.
Finally, the movie also focused on those mutants that viewed their mutation as signs of their superiority over non-mutant humans. Characters such as villain Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club followers, and eventually Erik and Raven allowed their dislike toward humans to manifest into a bigotry that encouraged them to engage in plots of genocide that made the Nazis, North Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries and other bigoted societies look like amateurs. One such plot served as the background of "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS". The movie revolved around Sebastian Shaw's efforts to use his connections to the U.S. and Soviet military to start a third world war between the superpowers. Such a war would bring humanity to the brink of extinction, allowing mutants (with Shaw as the leader) to dominate the world. This plot eventually resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The producers of "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" chose the right actors to portray the younger versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. James McAvoy perfectly captured all of Charles' intelligence, talent for leadership and subtle wit. He also delved deeper into the character's idealism and occasional naivety. And McAvoy gave audiences an audacious peek into Charles' penchant for little seduction with pick-up lines that were both charming and wince-inducing. Michael Fassbender portrayed all of the intensity and anger of the vengeance-seeking Erik Lensherr. Every once in a while, an actor comes along with the ability to perfectly walk the fine line between heroism and villainy. Fassbender certainly achieved this in his portrayal of Erik. And looking at the screen chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender, it seemed a pity that they had never shared a scene when they appeared in the 2001 miniseries, "BAND OF BROTHERS". Because they were dynamite together.
The supporting cast also proved to be top-notch. The X-MEN movieverse has always provided first-rate villains. Kevin Bacon's portrayal of the villainous Sebastian Shaw/Dr. Schmidt was no exception. If I must be honest, his Shaw may prove to be my favorite "X-MEN" villain. Aside from intelligence, wit and a taste for grandiose plotting and gadgets that rivaled a Bond villain, Bacon injected a joie de vivre into Shaw's character that I found very entertaining. Some critics and fans have criticized January Jones' portrayal of Shaw's consort, Emma Frost, accusing her of being "wooden". I am sorry, but I do not agree with this opinion. Yes, Jones portrayed Emma as Miss 'Cool Hand Luke'. But she also did a first rate job of conveying the character's strong attraction to Shaw and dislike of his occasional sexist attitudes. And thanks to her subtle comic timing, she provided the movie's funniest moment in a scene that featured Emma having 'telepathic' sex with a Soviet general. Her reaction to being caught had me laughing in the aisle. Instead of Rebecca Romijn, the film's producers chose Jennifer Lawrence to portray the younger Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique. And I thought she did a pretty damn good job. I have nothing against Romijn's portrayal of Mystique, but I believe that Lawrence was given a better opportunity for a deeper exploration of the character . . . and she made the best of it. The movie also featured fine support from the likes of Rose Byrne as C.I.A. agent and ally Moira MacTaggart, Nicholas Hoult as the young Hank McCoy, Jason Flemyng as the frightening teleporter Azazel, Oliver Platt as the C.I.A. 'Man in Black', and Zoë Kravitz's subtle and passionate performance as mutant Angel Salvadore.
As I had earlier hinted, "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" is not perfect. I believe it has two major flaws that prevented it from potentially becoming the best film in the franchise. The movie's biggest flaw proved to be its lack of continuity with the other four films. "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" included the beginning of Charles Xavier's paralysis and the end of his partnership with Erik Lensherr. Yet, Charles was still walking and working with Erik in a flashback set around the beginning of the 1980s in 2006's "X-MEN: THE LAST STAND". I am aware that Raven's cells allowed her to mature very slowly. But did the same happen to Dr. Hank McCoy? He was in his early-to-mid 20s in "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS". Yet, he looked somewhere in his 40s in the third "X-MEN", which was set some 40 years later. And the Emma Frost portrayed by actress Tahyna Tozzi in "X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE" looked at least five to ten years younger than January Jones' Emma in this latest film. And "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" is supposed to be set 17 years before the 2009 film. Charles began his school for young mutants in this movie. However, he told Wolverine in 2000's "X-MEN" that Scott "Cyclops" Summers and Jean Grey were his first students. They are no where to be seen and quite frankly, I could have done without this early edition of the Xavier School of Mutants. I found it annoying.
Another major problem proved to be the film's costumes - especially for women. The movie is set mainly in 1962. Yet, Sammy Sheldon's costumes reflected the late 1960s, not the early years of that decade. Just to prove my point, look at the following photographs:
1962 Fashions For Women
January Jones in "MAD MEN" Season Two (set in 1962)
January Jones in "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" (set in 1962)
In fact, the costumes and hairstyles for other female characters DO NOT reflect the year 1962, as well:
Both actresses Rose Byrne and Zoë Kravitz are wearing knee-high boots, which WERE NOT in fashion in 1962.
Yes, "X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS" had some major flaws. But I cannot deny that I still managed to enjoy the movie very much. Screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn wrote a flawed, but very entertaining and epic story. The movie also boasted first-rate performances from a cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. And Vaughn brought all of these factors together with some fine direction. "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS"has made me an even bigger fan of the franchise and I would heartily recommend it for anyone's viewing pleasure.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Below is a small article about a dish that was created in the early 19th century called Chicken Marengo. The dish is associated with a battle fought during the Napoleonic Wars:
Chicken Marengo is a dish that is surrounded by a great deal of myth. The dish consisted of a chicken sautéed in oil with garlic and tomato, and garnished with fried eggs and crayfish. It is similar to Chicken à la Provençale, but with the addition of egg and crayfish. The latter ingredients are traditional to Chicken Marengo, but are now often omitted. The original dish was named to celebrate the Battle of Marengo, a Napoleonic victory that was fought on June 14, 1800.
According to popular myth, Chicken Marengo was first created after Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the Austrian army at the Battle of Marengo, south of Turin, Italy. His personal chef Dunand foraged in the town of Marengo for ingredients, because the supply wagons were too distant. Dunand created the dish from what he could gather. According to this story, Napoleon enjoyed the dish so much he had it served to him after every battle. When Durand received better supplies, later on; he substituted mushrooms for crayfish and added wine to the recipe. Napoleon refused to accept it, believing that a change would bring him bad luck.
This colorful story, however, has been proven to be a myth. Alan Davidson writes that there would be no access to tomatoes at that time, and the first published recipe for the dish omits them. Also, according to The Old Foodie blog, Dunand did not become Napoleon’s chef until after the event. And the dish was not mentioned in contemporary accounts or cookbooks until nearly two decades later.
Below is a recipe for "Chicken Marengo" from the Epicurious.com website:
4 (6-ounce) skinless boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large portabella mushrooms, stems and gills discarded and caps thinly sliced
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup beef or veal demi-glace*
1/2 cup water
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Pat chicken dry, then combine flour, salt, and pepper in a large sealable plastic bag and add chicken. Seal bag and shake to coat, then remove chicken, knocking off excess flour. Arrange in one layer on a plate.
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy ovenproof skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté chicken, smooth sides down, until golden, about 2 minutes. Turn over and sauté one minute more. Scatter mushrooms around chicken and transfer skillet to oven, then bake, uncovered, until chicken is just cooked through, five to ten minutes.
Transfer chicken to a plate, then add shallot, garlic, and thyme to skillet (handle will be hot) and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring, one minute. Add wine and boil, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, demi-glace, and water and simmer until mushrooms are tender and sauce is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Season with pepper.
Return chicken to skillet and simmer, turning, about one minute.
Monday, June 22, 2015
Below are images from "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO", the 1934 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas, père's 1844 novel. Directed by Rowland V. Lee, the movie starred Robert Donat and Elissa Landi:
"THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" (1934) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
"PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" (2005) Review
To my knowledge, there have been at least ten screen (film and/or television) adaptations of Jane Austen's 1813 novel,"Pride and Prejudice". I believe it has been adapted more times than her other five novels. This is not surprising. It is probably the most beloved of her six novels. I have seen four of those adaptations, myself. And one of them is director-writer Joe Wright's 2005 film adaptation.
"PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" starred Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen as Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The story focuses on Elizabeth's dealings with marriage, manners and other issues in the landed gentry society of late Georgian England. Elizabeth and her four sisters are encouraged by their mother to find a suitable husband before their father's estate is inherited by a distant male cousin. The Bennet family is heartened by the blossoming romance between Elizabeth's older sister Jane and a wealthy bachelor named Charles Bingley, who has rented a neighboring estate. But the family are unaware that Mr. Bingley's even wealthier friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, has grown attracted to the extroverted Elizabeth. However, obstacles block the path of true love. Mr. Darcy and Bingley's snobbish sister Caroline disapprove of his romance with Jane, due to the poor behavior of Mrs. Bennet and her three youngest daughters. And Elizabeth has developed a deep dislike of Mr. Darcy, due to his own distant and haughty behavior. Through a series of setbacks and misunderstandings, true love finally flourishes in the end.
Wright's adaptation of Austen's novel was a box office hit and earned numerous award nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for star Keira Knightley. But like the 1940 adaptation with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, this 2005 film has attracted a great deal of criticism from Austen fans for its failure to be closely faithful to the novel. Many have complained how Wright changed the dynamics within the Bennet family. Others have complained by the less than sterile appearance of the Bennet estate and the movie's late 18th century. As far as many readers were concerned, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" should have been set between 1811 and 1820 - Britain's Regency era, since the novel was published in 1813. So, how did I feel about Wright's take on Austen's novel?
I might as well be frank. I did have problems with "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE". I could have understood Wright's decision to portray the Bennet household with a less than pristine appearance. The Bennet manor was not the first to be portray in this style. The Western home in 1963's "TOM JONES" looked a lot messier. But Squire Western lived on the estate by himself, until the arrival of his daughter Sophie and his sister Aunt Western. Mrs. Bennet managed the family estate in Wright's movie. One would think she and the house servants would be able to keep a cleaner home. And I was not that impressed by most of the costumes worn by the Bennets. I found them rather plain and worn for an upper class family from the landed gentry. Mind you, they did not have the same amount of money as Mr. Darcy or the Bingleys. Except for the Netherfield ball sequence, their costumes seemed to hint that they barely possessed enough money to scratch out a living. Yet, at the same time, they had both house and field servants?
I was not impressed by the change of dynamics between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. They seemed a bit too affectionate in comparison to their portrayals in other movies. Wright's decision to make this change seemed to defeat the purpose of Austen's narrative. He forgot that the incompatible marriage between the well-born, yet caustic Mr. Bennet and the middle-class and boorish Mrs. Bennet was one of the major reasons that led youngest daughter Lydia to leave Brighton with the roguish George Wickham. Mrs. Bennet's shrill manners and obsession with matrimony for her daughters, and Mr. Bennet's cynical disregard for his wife and society led to their failure to discipline their youngest daughters - Lydia and Kitty. But we never see this in Wright's film. He had every right to justify Mrs. Bennet's search for future sons-in-law. But the affection between her and Mr. Bennet makes it difficult to explain their failure to discipline Lydia and Kitty.
I also had a problem with George Wickham. I felt sorry for Rupert Friend. He is a very good actor who was handed over a role that turned out to be a ghost of its former self by Wright. Friend is also a very handsome actor. But he was really not given the opportunity to display Wickham's charm and talent for emotional manipulation. Worse, the Elizabeth/Wickham scenes failed to convey any real friendship between the two, before Elizabeth's discovery of his true nature. They were simply not on screen together long enough to justify Elizabeth's outrage over Mr. Darcy's alleged treatment of Wickham. Wright's treatment of the Charles Bingley character was also a problem for me. I am aware that Mr. Bingley has always sought his friend Mr. Darcy's approval, regarding the other man as his social superior. But Mr. Bingley has also struck me as a more social and extroverted man. Wright made sure that his Mr. Bingley, portrayed by Simon Woods, was socially active. But he also transformed Bingley into a shy and reticent man. And the idea of a quiet Mr. Darcy and a shy Mr. Bingley as close friends does not quite seem right to me.
However, there is no such thing as a perfect film - at least not in my experience. Yes, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" is a flawed movie. But it is not the disaster that some Austen fans would have many to believe. Despite some changes in the characterization and the 129 minutes running time, Austen's tale remained intact under Wright's direction and Deborah Moggach's pen. And a few of the changes made by Wright and Moggach did not bother me one bit. In fact, I found them rather interesting. One change in the movie involved the Elizabeth Bennet character. This "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE"delved more into the impact of the Bennet family's shenanigans upon her psyche with scenes that featured Elizabeth's brief flight from the crowds of the Netherfield ball, her penchant of keeping personal secrets from her closest sister Jane, and occasional bursts of temper. Many also complained about the film's late 18th century setting, claiming that Austen's novel was a Regency tale. I said this in my review of the 1940 adaptation and I will state it again. There was no law that "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" had to be set in the 1810s because of its final publishing date. Austen's tale is not a historical drama, merely a comedy of manners and a romantic tale. Besides, her novel was originally completed some time in the late 1790s - the same time frame as this movie.
Despite my complaints about the plain wardrobe for the Bennet family, I must admit that I was impressed by most of Jacqueline Durran's costumes - especially for the Netherfield Ball sequence. I felt that the most interesting costume was worn by Kelly Reilly (as Caroline Bingley in the aforementioned sequence:
Some fans felt that Durran made a misfire in the creation of this particular costume, which they believed evoked the high-waisted fashions of the first two decades of the 19th century. They especially took umbrage at her gown's lack of sleeves. What they failed to realize was that women's fashion was in a stage of transition between the late 18th and early 19th century. Older women like Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh wore the older 18th century fashions, while younger females began wearing dresses and gown with a higher waistline. It made sense that Caroline Bingley, being familiar with the more sophisticated London society, would wear such a gown. There is a 1798-99 painting called "Madame Raymond de Verninac" in which the subject wore a similar looking gown:
Other technical aspects of the movie that proved to be a lot less controversial. Roman Osin's photography proved to be one of the movie's biggest assets. I found it lush, yet sharp and rich in color. And it certainly did justice to Sarah Greenwood's production designs and Katie Spencer's set decorations, which captured the look of Britain at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century beautifully. I especially enjoyed the photography featured in Elizabeth's journey with her Gardiner relations to Derbyshire. Another segment that displayed Osin's photography and Greenwood's work beautifully was the Netherfield Ball. I especially enjoyed the tracking shot that touched upon the behaviors and emotional states of the major characters, before finally settling upon a secluded Elizabeth, heaving a sigh of relief.
Wright had the good luck to find himself with a first-rate cast for his movie. Jena Malone's Lydia Bennet struck me as more of a show boater or poseur than any other interpretation of the role. Carey Mulligan gave ample support as her slightly older sister and emotional pet, Kitty. Talulah Riley did a very good job in capturing Mary Bennet's self-righteous nature. Yet, at the same, she was surprisingly poignant - especially during the Netherfield ball sequence. Despite Moggach and Wright's attempts to paint Mrs. Bennet's determination to marry off her daughters in a more positive light, Brenda Blethyn still managed to capture the character's gauche manners and silliness. And for that I am grateful to the actress. Donald Sutherland's take on Mr. Bennet seemed less cynical than Austen's take on the character. Thanks to Moggach's script, Sutherland's Mr. Bennet almost loses his bite. But not completely. Sutherland managed to retain some of the character's sardonic humor. And I really enjoyed his performance in the scene that featured Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth's discussion about her feelings for Mr. Darcy.
Despite my complaints about the characterizations of Charles Bingley and George Wickham, I cannot deny that both Simon Woods and Rupert Friend gave first-rate performances. However, I suspect that Woods was given more to work with, even if Moggach's portrayal of his character struck a wrong note within me. There is an interesting post-script regarding Woods' casting - he was Rosamund Pike's (Jane Bennet) ex-boyfriend, when they filmed "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" together. The movie featured only one of Mr. Bingley's sisters - namely the gold-digging Caroline Bingley. Kelly Reilly's take on the role strongly reminds me of Frieda Inescort's performance in the 1940 movie - cool and sarcastic. Reilly had some choice lines, my favorite being her comment about her brother's guests at the Netherfield Ball:
"I can't help thinking that at some point someone is going to produce a piglet and we'll all have to chase it."
Yes, I realize that Jane Austen did not write it. But who cares? It is such a droll line, even if it was spoken by the unspeakable Caroline. I read somewhere that Joe Wright had convinced Judi Dench to portray Lady Catherine de Bourgh, claiming that he loved it when she "played a bitch". And yes . . . Dench's Lady Catherine was deliciously bitchy. On the other hand, Claudie Blakely gave a nice performance as Elizabeth's best friend, Charlotte Lucas. She also had one memorable moment in which her character tried to explain her decision to marry William Collins, Elizabeth's unpalatable cousin. "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" marked the first time Keira Knightley worked with Tom Hollander. His Mr. Collins did not strike me as obsequious as previous versions. For some reason, Hollander reminded me of a socially awkward geek. The scene featuring Mr. Collins' attempt to get Mr. Darcy's attention struck me as particularly funny. Penelope Wilton and Peter Wight gave solid performances as Elizabeth's aunt and uncle, the Gardiners. But I did not find them particularly memorable. Rosamund Pike made a very beautiful and charming Jane Bennet. She perfectly conveyed the character's shyness and penchant for thinking too good of others.
Matthew MacFadyen was not that well known to U.S. audiences when he was cast in the role of Mr. Darcy. I realize that I am going to attract a good deal of flak for this, but I am glad that MacFadyen did not try to recapture Colin Firth's take on the role. An actor or actress should never try to copy another's performance. Frankly, I thought MacFadyen did a fine job on his own. He is the only actor to openly convey Mr. Darcy's inability to easily socialize before the story's second half, due to some silent acting on his part. I especially enjoyed his performance with Knightley featuring Elizabeth's rejection of Mr. Darcy's first marriage proposal. But Keira Knightley, as Elizabeth Bennet, contributed just as much to the scene as he did. For some reason, the actress has attracted a great deal of bashing from moviegoers. I will not try to determine the reason behind their behavior. But I will compliment Knightley for her performance. Like the other actresses who have portrayed Elizabeth, she conveyed all of the character's wit, prejudices and exuberant nature. But thanks to Moggach's screenplay, Knightley was given a chance to put a new spin on Elizabeth's character. Due to the Bennet family's behavior, Knightley was able to convey Elizabeth's increasing emotional distance from them. Many critics did not care for this new spin on the character. I, on the other hand, found it fascinating and new.
Joe Wright's "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" has its flaws. There is no denying it. But I can say the same for the other three adaptations of Jane Austen's novel that I have seen. For me, the movie's virtues outweighed its flaws. And its biggest virtues were Roman Osin's photography and a memorable cast led by the talented Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen. This was Joe Wright's first film and so far, my favorite he has done during his seven years as a director.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
"THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION"
The Lars' landspeeder sped toward the edge of one of Tatooine's oldest settlements, Anchorhead. It came to a halt near a square structure that served as the centerpiece of Tosche Station, the city's main power and distribution station. Owen climbed out of the landspeeder before he offered Padme a lending arm. "Thank you Owen," the former Nabooan senator said. "And thank you for bringing me here to Anchorhead. I realize that you had intended to come here on your own, but I needed to find another holoemitter. Or at least a new power source for my old one."
"It's no problem, Padme. Believe me." Owen gave his guest a reassuring smile. "Besides, I realize that you need a working holoemitter. And I did promise Beru that I would get a new moisture trap for the kitchen."
The pair slowly proceeded into Anchorhead's city limits. They entered one of the local pourstone stores, where Padme purchase a new power cell for her emitter. They found the equipment for Beru's moisture trap at a nearby junk dealer's shop. After leaving the second shop, Owen suggested they treat themselves to a light, midday meal at a local cantina. "I know the perfect place," he said. "The Weary Traveler. You'll find less of the local scum than you would at some cantina in Mos . . ."
"Good heavens! Owen?" A hooded figure approached the pair. Then he threw back the hood, revealing a frowning Obi-Wan Kenobi. "Padme? What in the blazes are you doing here?"
Owen nodded at the former Jedi Master. "Master Kenobi. I haven't seen you in several months. Not since you had recovered our vaporators from the Tusken Raiders."
To Padme's surprise, Obi-Wan's demeanor stiffened momentarily. "Ah . . . yes, well . . . I . . ." Obi-Wan hesitated. Then he took a deep breath. "Yes, well it had been a difficult time for us all."
A deep silence fell between the trio. Padme said, "Owen, you had spoken of a certain cantina. Why don't you take us there?"
Several minutes later found the trio seated at a table, inside the Weary Traveler. The décor looked simple and clean - typical of a Tatooine cantina. Padme only spotted at least three or four men that would usually be viewed as riff-raff. A waitress took their order. Padme asked for Cream of Womprat's Soup, Owen ordered Jerked Dewback and Obi-Wan, Lamta. Once the waitress walked away, Obi-Wan turned on the former senator. "Padme, what are you doing here on Tatooine? Where are the children?"
"Back at the farm with Beru," Padme quietly replied. "Owen and I are here on a shopping trip."
"Shopping . . ." Obi-Wan shook his head with an exasperated sigh. "But why are you here on this planet? Why did you leave Alderaan?" A silent moment passed before realization dawned in his eyes. "Oh. I see. The Empire had learned of your whereabouts. I don't mean to sound smug, Padme, but perhaps you should have accepted Master Yoda's advice and separate the child . . ."
Padme coldly interrupted. "The Empire was not searching for me. The Emperor doesn't know that I had been on Alderaan."
Obi-Wan's frown deepened. "I don't understand."
Owen spoke up. "The whole matter had to do with that Jedi Knight found and killed on Andalia. And some senator from that planet called Solipo Yeb."
"If you must know," Padme continued, "Bail had received a message from Solipo Yeb and the Empire managed to trace it. I'm sure you're aware that he is now a wanted fugitive. Apparently, Palpatine wanted to find out if anyone on Alderaan has been in contact with Solipo. In case some new resistance against the Empire flared up."
Obi-Wan nodded. "I see. My apologies if I had jumped to conclusions."
Padme coolly retorted, "That seems to be a habit of the Jedi."
"I beg your pardon?" Obi-Wan's eyes reflected shock at Padme's cold retort. "Is there something wrong, Padme? You seem rather . . . distant."
From the corner of her eye, Padme saw the cantina's barkeeper switch on the dining room's HoloNet receiver. She exchanged a brief, knowing look with Owen before she answered. "I'm . . . I mean . . ." She broke off with a sigh. Might as well tell the truth, she decided. "After my arrival at Alderaan, last year . . ." she began.
The waitress returned with their food. She also served Corellian ale to the two men and Blue milk to Padme. After she left, Obi-Wan said to Padme, "I'm sorry. What were you about to say?"
Padme took a deep breath and picked up her spoon. "On Alderaan, Bail had . . ."
A voice in the cantina cried out, "Hey barkeep! Turn up the volume! I can't hear the news! It's about the Wookies!"
All eyes inside the cantina focused upon the HoloNet receiver's screen. The newscaster continued, ". . . reliable sources have stated that the Wookies had allowed a band of rogue Jedi to use Kashyyyk as a base for Rebel strikes against the Empire. The police action is believed to have begun with a demand to surrender the Jedi. Instead, the Wookies resisted, and the resulting battle left tens of thousands dead, including the Jedi insurgents, and perhaps hundreds of thousands imprisoned. On Coruscant, Kashyyyk Senator Yarua and the members of his delegation were placed under house arrest before . . .”
Recalling the Imperial ship that had stopped the Alberforce, Padme inhaled sharply. "So, that's where they were headed," she murmured.
Both Owen and Obi-Wan frowned at her. "What are you talking about?" Owen demanded.
"The Empire has killed more Jedi?" Obi-Wan asked at the same time.
Instead of answering, Padme returned her attention to the news. The newscaster added, "But on the minds of many just now is the identity of this person, captured by holocan on a landing platform normally reserved for the Emperor himself." The monitor projected the image of a tall, dark-haired man in his early twenties. He wore a black tunic and cape. And his eyes reflected cold intensity. “HoloNet News has learned that he is known in the highest circles as Darth Rasche. Beyond that, almost nothing is known, save for the fact that he led the action on Kashyyyk.”
"Good heavens!" Obi-Wan exclaimed, drawing curious stares from Padme and Owen.
Owen asked, "Do you know him? This Darth Rasche?"
Obi-Wan continued, "Yes! That's . . . that's Romulus Wort! He's a Jedi Knight. Or he used to be. He was the apprentice of Master Wo-Chen Puri." The former Jedi Master's stunned eyes remained fixed upon the screen. "How in the blazes did he become a Sith Lord?"
"Sith Lord?" Owen continued.
Obi-Wan shook his head in disbelief. "I don't understand! Romulus Wort? I never thought he would turn to evil. I thought . . ." He broke off, as his face turned red. His eyes became glued to his plate of food.
Padme had a good idea what . . . or whom was on Obi-Wan's mind. And she felt her anger slowly returning. "You thought that Anakin had returned to the Emperor," she finished in a cold voice. "Didn't you?"
Guilt flashed in Obi-Wan's eyes. "Really Padme, why would you . . .?"
"Don't lie to me, Obi-Wan," Padme interrupted coldly. "I know that Anakin is alive. Bail had told me when I first arrived on Alderaan."
A long-suffering sigh escaped from Obi-Wan's mouth. "Padme," he began in a weary voice, "I'm sorry that I had lied to you, but you must understand. Both Master Yoda and I thought it would be best . . ."
". . . if I didn't go wandering all over the galaxy in search for Anakin," Padme finished bitterly. "Dragging the children along. Thank you for your confidence in my intelligence, Master Kenobi."
Anger now flickered in the former Jedi's eyes. "I'm sorry, but we did what we thought was right!" he snapped. "What is your excuse?"
"You and Anakin had managed to wed behind everyone's backs and keep the marriage a secret for three years," Obi-Wan coldly retorted. "What is your excuse?"
Rage nearly engulfed Padme's body. She shot out of her chair and raised her hand to strike Obi-Wan. "Padme!" Owen hissed, as he glanced anxiously around the cantina's taproom. "Not here. Please!"
Padme glanced around and noticed a few pairs of eyes staring at her. Slowly, she returned to her seat. Then she took a deep breath to calm herself. "Of course. You're right. Thank you, Owen." She flashed a brief smile at the moisture farmer before allowing her gaze to return to the Jedi Master's face. "Perhaps Anakin and I were wrong to marry in secret, Obi-Wan," she continued in a soft and chilly voice. "But that does not excuse your lie about Anakin. One of the problems I've always had with the Jedi is your assumption that you knew what was right for the Republic." She paused dramatically. "Even when you were wrong."
The former Jedi Master's face trembled with suppressed emotion. His usually bright blue eyes became flat and lifeless. Padme wondered if she had gone too far. Obi-Wan answered her silent question, when he deliberately placed his fork on his plate and stood up. "Perhaps it would be best for me to allow you two to dine alone," he said in a cold and polite voice. "As you had originally intended."
"Perhaps that would be best," Padme murmured, as she stared at her bowl of soup.
Obi-Wan placed a few coins on the table. "For the meal. Good day, Padme. Lars." He nodded briefly at the moisture farmer and walked away.
A heavy sigh left Owen's mouth. "I wonder long it will be before either of us will see him again?"
"I don't know," Padme answered. "And to be honest, I don't think I really care." She resumed eating her soup. Although she felt justified in her words, a small part of her regret severing her one last link to her old life with Anakin.
KHOONDA PLAINS, DANTOOINE
The Javian Hawk stood on a patch of thick, lavender grass, not far from a sturdy spiky blba tree. Underneath the tree sat Anakin with his legs crossed beneath him and his wrists resting on his thighs. In the far distance, young Han scampered through the tall grass in pursuit of a fabool, one of the animals native to Dantooine.
Anakin inhaled deeply. He had not experienced such upheavals in his life, since those last days of the Clone Wars. In the past week, he had learned about the death of an old friend, nearly became a victim of theft - twice, escorted an important fugitive across the galaxy, destroyed an Imperial warship and acquired a new companion - the eleven year-old thief that was now in pursuit of a fabool.
After delivering Solipo and Thalia Yeb to Averam, Anakin and Han had purchased supplies for the Javian Hawk's repairs. Anakin also learned the identity of the Emperor's new apprentice, while watching a news report about the Kashyyyk police action, inside a cantina. He still found it difficult to belief that the highly-esteemed Romulus Wort had replaced him as the Emperor's new apprentice. What could have led someone like Romulus to succumb to the Dark Side? Anakin figured he should be relieved that someone other than himself now served Palpatine. But all he felt was sadness and regret for Romulus' fate . . . and a slight sense of guilt that his actions at the Jedi Temple may have led the other man into Palpatine's grip.
The Javian Hawk's crew had also acquired a new client. Before the starship's departure from Averam, a representative from the Tagge Corporation hired Anakin to ship a supply of Chandrilan brandy and Mandalorian wine to Dantooine for the planet's wealthy ranchers. The Empire finally caught up with the Hawk during a fuel stop on Toprawa. Anakin found himself being question by a pompous Imperial official investigating the Agamemnon's disappearance. With the evidence of the Hawk's firefight with Agamemnon repaired and the ship's logs changed, Anakin managed to avoid any kind of disclosure and arrest.
The pair had eventually delivered their cargo to another Tagge representative upon their arrival on Dantooine. As an antidote to the past week's tumultuous events, Anakin suggested a picnic on the outskirts of Khoonda settlement. After finishing a meal of Alderaan Stew and Bribb juice, Han engaged in his pursuit of the fabool. And for the first time in over a year, Anakin decided to meditate.
At first, it had seemed difficult for Anakin to calm his mind - to shut out his surroundings. Eventually, he finally managed to attune his senses to the Force. This went on for quite some time, until a familiar voice caught his attention. "Hello Anakin," a soft, masculine voice greeted. "I wondered if we would ever meet again."
Slowly, Anakin opened his eyes. He found a tall, bearded man smiling kindly at him. "Master Qui-Gon?" Anakin exclaimed with confusion. Sure enough, the late Jedi Master who had discovered him on Tatooine sat opposite him, surrounded by a blue, ghostly light. "H-how did you . . .?"
"Oh, don't worry," Qui-Gon Jinn declared. "I assure you that I am quite dead."
Anakin shook his head in disbelief. "I don't understand. How did you . . .? I mean, Obi-Wan told me that once a Jedi dies, his or her identity becomes one with the Force, forever erasing the Jedi's consciousness."
"Yes, it does happen like that," Qui-Gon replied. "But I have learned to retain my consciousness beyond death. Thanks to the Ancient Order of the Whills Scrolls. I had hoped to teach them to you, one day. Alas . . ." He broke off with a regretful sigh. "Well, better late than never."
A frown creased Anakin's forehead. "Are you suggesting that you teach me this path to immortality? Why would you . . .? I mean . . . well, after all I had done, I would think no one would consider me worthy of such teachings."
"What you've done?"
Anakin glanced away. "Please, Master Qui-Gon. If you are now one with the Force, surely you must know about what I had done to those Tusken Raiders following my mother's death. And my participation in the Jedi Purge." He paused, as his Sith predecessor came to mind. "And what I had done to Dooku. I have a great deal of blood on my hands."
"Yes, you do, Ani," Qui-Gon gravely replied. "And your actions are something that will remain with you for all time. We all have to face the consequences of our actions. You, me, Obi-Wan, Yoda . . ." He paused briefly. "Even your wife, Padme."
The mention of his late wife caused Anakin to glance sharply at his former mentor. "Padme? She's never . . ."
"If I recall," Qui-Gon said, interrupting Anakin, "when she was Queen of Naboo, your Padme was the one who had proposed a vote of no confidence against Chancellor Valorum . . . paving the way for Palpatine to become the Republic's new leader. And she did so out of frustration and anger. And of course, there was her belief that she could convince Dooku to release Obi-Wan on Geonosis through diplomacy. A belief that led to the capture of you both."
Anakin inhaled sharply. "Look, I realize that Padme was not perfect, but I would prefer if we don't talk about her. At least not yet."
One of Qui-Gon's brows arched questioningly. "I see. If you insist. I can only assume that by your words, 'not yet', you are willing to become my apprentice?"
A slight grin finally touched Anakin's lips. "As you had said, Master - 'better late than never'". A thought came to him. "By the way, are you teaching Obi-Wan, as well? Is he still alive?"
Qui-Gon nodded. "Yes, Obi-Wan is still alive. And he has become my padawan. Along with Yoda."
"Master Yoda? He's still alive?"
Yes, he is." According to Qui-Gon, Yoda had survived an attack by clone troopers on Kashyyyk. The late Jedi Master continued, "After learning Palpatine's true identity, he managed to survive a duel against the Emperor. Like Obi-Wan, he is also my apprentice."
Anakin frowned. "But the Emperor still lives. Are you saying that both he and Yoda survived the duel?"
"Oh yes," Qui-Gon answered with a nod. "Yoda realized that his attack against the Emperor was ill-advised and decided to flee. He will have plenty of time to learn from his mistakes and overcome them. Just as you and Obi-Wan will."
Recalling the news report he had seen on Toprawa, Anakin asked, "What about Romulus Wort? I'm sure you're aware that he's the Emperor's new apprentice."
Qui-Gon shrugged. "What about him?"
"During my fight with Obi-Wan on Mustafar," Anakin continued, "I had a vision of what would have befallen me, if I had continued to serve the Emperor. Which is why I had walked away from the fight. Romulus seemed to have taken my place . . . without the black mask and missing limbs. But . . . I can't help but feel that I'm to blame. If I had not joined the Emperor and help set in motion the Jedi Purge, he would have never . . ."
Qui-Gon stated emphatically, "Romulus Wort had made his own decisions, Ani. He did not have to succumb to his own inner darkness and fear of loss. It was not set in stone that he would have remained a Jedi, if the Purge had not occurred. There would have been other opportunities for Master Wort or any other Jedi to choose the wrong path."
"So, do you feel that it's too late for him?"
A thoughtful expression appeared on the Jedi Master's face. "No," he finally said. "It's not. Remember Anakin, the future is always in motion. After all, you managed to turn your back on the Sith. Master Wort still has that opportunity. When all of you have finally learn to let go of your attachments, surrender to the will of the Force and not try to manipulate it for your own selfish gains, you can truly become one with the Force. And still maintain your individual consciousness."
At that moment, Han appeared on the horizon. He held a fabool in his arms. "Interesting young boy, your friend," Qui-Gon added. "When did he become your companion?"
Anakin hesitated. "Just recently. Han is strong with the Force." Qui-Gon stared at him, questioningly. "No, not that strong," the young man added. "But he's tough, resourceful, intelligent and has great reflexes. He might prove to be a great pilot, one day. And I'm not just projecting myself upon him."
"Hmmm. Well, it is time for me to leave you." Qui-Gon stood up. So did Anakin. "Be sure to continue your meditation, Anakin. And be mindful of the Living Force. Until the next time." His figure disappeared from view.
Anakin murmured, "Until next time, Master. May the Force be with you."
Han raced toward Anakin, still carrying the animal. "Where you talking to yourself?" he asked, frowning at Anakin.
The former Knight smiled. "No. I was just thinking about an old friend." He nodded at the fabool. "Do you plan to keep your new companion?"
"Huh?" Han glanced at the animal. "Oh. Uh, no. I just wanted to see if I could catch it. I guess I should let it go, huh?"
"I think that would be a good idea."
Han released the fangool. Which quickly scampered away. "So, when are we leaving?"
Anakin sighed. "I guess now would be a perfect time." He picked up the blanket.
"Great! I'll finally get to see Nar Shaddaa. I've heard a lot about it."
The young man and the boy strode toward the Javian Hawk's boarding ramp. "There's nothing to be excited about, Han," Anakin said. "Trust me. Nar Shaddaa is just a small-scaled version of Coruscant . . . and with no politicians. Besides, we have one last stop to make before we head for Nar Shaddaa. To a place called the Crystal Cave. It's not far from here."
"Why are we stopping there?" Han demanded.
Anakin paused. "Well . . . there's a special crystal I need to find inside the cave. A very special crystal for something I plan to construct." He smiled at the boy and ruffled the latter's hair. "Let's go." The pair marched up the ramp and boarded the starship. Minutes passed before the Javian Hawk lifted off the ground and soared into the sky above.