“STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” (1977) Review

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” (1977) Review

Long ago (forty-one years and five months, to be exact) and in a galaxy far, far away, producer-director-writer George Lucas made film history with the release of his movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. Only, during the summer of 1977, it was simply known as “STAR WARS”. And this science-fiction/fantasy homage to Saturday morning serials and mythology was something that moviegoers had never seen before. 

Now considered as the fourth film chapter of Lucas’ six-movie STAR WARS saga, “A NEW HOPE” chronicled the adventures of a space-aged farmboy named Luke Skywalker, who finds himself swept up in a galactic conflict between a tyrannical empire and a band of rebel fighters determined to return freedom to the galaxy. Not only did the film introduced the concept of the summer blockbuster and created a movie/television/literary franchise that made billions for its creator, it also became the second highest grossing film in Hollywood history (as of 2012) and ushered in a new age for movie special effects. This movie has made such a major impact upon Hollywood that its effects are still being felt to this day.

“A NEW HOPE” began with an opening crawl describing a galaxy in a state of civil war. Spies for the Rebel Alliance have stolen the plans for the Galactic Empire’s new weapon – a heavily armed and armored space station capable of destroying an entire planet called the Death Star. One of the Rebel Alliance leaders, Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, is in possession of the Death Star plans when her ship is attacked by Imperial forces under the leadership of the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Before she could be captured, Princess Leia hides the plans and a holographic recording into the memory of an astromech droid called R2-D2. The small droid and its companion, a protocol droid named C-3PO flee to the surface of the desert planet Tatooine. While Darth Vader sends a contingent of stormtroopers to look for the droids, R2 and 3PO find themselves captured by Jawa traders, who sell them to a moisture farmer and his nephew named Owen Lars and Luke Skywalker.

Luke, who is an orphan, yearns to leave his uncle’s farm and find adventure in the stars. He finds it when he releases Princess Leia’s holographic recording, while cleaning R2-D2. The recording is for a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi. Surmising that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ben Kenobi, who is a neighbor of his Uncle Owen, are one and the same; Luke delivers the droids and the message to the aging hermit. The young man also discovers that Kenobi is a former Jedi Master, who knew his father Anakin Skywalker, who used to be a Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan suggests that Luke help him deliver the Death Star plans to Princess Leia’s father on Alderaan. At first, Luke rejects the offer. But when his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are found murdered by Imperial stormtroopers looking for the droids, Luke decides to join Obi-Wan on the latter’s new adventure. They recruit the services of two smugglers – Han Solo and Chewbacca – to convey them to Alderaan. The journey proves to be a new beginning not only for Luke, but also his new companions.

I have a confession to make. When I first saw “A NEW HOPE” during the summer of 1977, I did not like it at all. Looking back, I realize that my hostile feelings toward the movie stemmed from a sense of being overwhelmed by something I found mind blowing and completely new. The release of “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “RETURN OF THE JEDI”eventually eased the impact of Lucas’ saga upon my psyche. But it took several years for me to first warm up and eventually embrace “A NEW HOPE”. Despite my eventual love for the movie, I have never viewed it as my favorite of the saga (so far) . . . or as one of my top favorites. But I can honestly say that after thirty-five years, it still has quite a punch. In fact, I believe that it is probably the most entertaining of the six STAR WARS films produced by George Lucas.

It is easy to see why “A NEW HOPE” is so beloved by many fans of the saga. The plot, written by Lucas, has the hallmarks of a first-rate adventure filled with space battles, escapes, daring-dos, a lightsaber duel, snarky dialogue, a roguish smuggler, a villain in black, a royal damsel-in-distress (who becomes a protagonist herself), a wise mentor and an innocent boy who answers the call to adventure. I suspect that another major reason why “A NEW HOPE” is so appealing to many of the saga’s fans is the “good-vs-evil” aspect of both its tale and its characters. It must have been very easy for moviegoers to identify with the movie’s protagonists and their fight against the tyranny of the “evil” Empire. For me, the movie’s pièce de résistance proved to be the entire sequence aboard the Empire’s Death Star. From the moment the heroes’ ship the Millennium Falcon found itself forced into the depths of the large battle station, to the moment when they escape some 20 to 30 minutes later, the entire Death Star sequence seemed to be one major fun fest that crackled with humor and action.

With the exceptions of Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, the cast of “A NEW HOPE” was filled with unknowns. I do not recall any well-known movie that Mark Hamill had appeared in before he became famous as Luke Skywalker. But Carrie Fisher, who portrayed the sharp-tongued Princess Leia, had already appeared in 1975’s “SHAMPOO”. And Harrison Ford, who would become a bigger star than either of his co-stars, had worked for Lucas before in the latter’s 1973 classic, “AMERICAN GRAFFITI”. But all three actors were really unknowns at the time, and created an excellent screen team. Actors such as Peter Mayhew, who portrayed Han Solo’s first mate Chewbacca; along with Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker, who appeared in all six movies as the droids C-3PO and R2-D2; added their magic to the mix. Many people have made a big deal over David Prowse’s physical and James Earl Jones’ vocal portrayals of Sith Lord Darth Vader. And they were quite right to do so. Both actors contributed a great deal to the character. But I have rarely come across any comments about Peter Cushing’s performance as the cold-blooded and arrogant military commander of the Death Star, Grand Moff Tarkin. I find that a shame, because I thought he made a very effective villain . . . even more so than Vader. And of course, there is Alec Guinness, who portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi. Guinness earned an Academy Award for his portrayal of the iconic Jedi Master. And I believe it was well earned. He did an excellent job as Luke’s wise and patient mentor, who was haunted not only by his past, but past deeds.

I was not kidding when I had stated that “A NEW HOPE” was not one of my top favorite STAR WARS movies. I believe that it has its flaws. While I found the movie’s innocent air and joie de vivre approach to its story very appealing, I feel that the movie lacked a complexity that I believe gave an edge to the other five movies. I am not stating that the story and its characters lacked an emotional depth. There is some depth to both the story and the characters. But aside from the Han Solo character, the other characters seemed to be a bit one-dimensional in comparison. They were either good or evil. I can even say this about the Darth Vader character, who was given an opportunity for a bit of complexity in a scene in which he tried to explain the Force to the Death Star’s senior officers staff. While there are many who have no problems with a lack of moral ambiguity, I do. And I have to say that I was more than relieved when Lucas finally injected some moral ambiguity into his characters, in the franchise’s later films.

If there is one movie that initiated my dislike of Tatooine, it is “A NEW HOPE”. From the moment the camera focused upon 3PO and R2 trekking across the planet’s desert, I found myself struggling to maintain my interest on the movie. It is possible that Tatooine has a talent for putting me to sleep. Only something really exciting has to happen – like Luke and Obi-Wan’s first meeting with Han Solo and Chewbacca, along with their subsequent escape from the planet – could keep my interest sharply focused. I also have to admit that I am not a fan of the Battle of Yavin sequence that marked the destruction of the Death Star. It smacked too much of a World War II aerial dog fight, straight out of a 1940s movie. Speaking of that particular decade, I was not that impressed by Harrison Ford’s attempt to sound like a 40s tough guy, during Han’s argument with Leia following the escape from the Death Star in the following scene:

LEIA: That doesn’t sound too hard. Besides, they let us go. It’s the
only explanation for the ease of our escape.

HAN: Easy…you call that easy?

LEIA: Their tracking us!

HAN: Not this ship, sister.

Frustrated, Leia shakes her head.

LEIA: At least the information in Artoo is still intact.

HAN: What’s so important? What’s he carrying?

LEIA: The technical readouts of that battle station. I only hope that
when the data is analyzed, a weakness can be found. It’s not over yet!

HAN: It is for me, sister! Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution,
and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in
it for the money!

I know, I know. It does not seem like much. But hearing Ford spew those lines still make me wince after so many years. I was also disappointed by how Lucas handled the Princess Leia character in this film. I can already see heads spinning over this complaint. Superficially, Leia seemed like the perfect embodiment of a fictional female character of the late 20th century. Her intelligence, courage and razor-sharp wit practically screamed “I am woman, hear me roar!” And yet . . . Lucas dropped the ball with her character in one very significant moment in the film. His screenplay never revealed Leia’s reaction to Tarkin’s use of the Death Star to destroy her home planet, Alderaan. Not once. The moment Alderaan blew to smithereens, the movie cut back to the occupants of the Millennium Falcon and Obi-Wan’s reaction. Audiences saw Leia’s reaction to Tarkin’s order to destroy the planet. But we never saw the aftermath. We never saw Leia mourn over the deaths of millions of Alderaaneans – including her parents. Instead, Lucas allowed audiences a look at Luke’s reaction and grief over Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death at the hands of Lord Vader. Even worse, Leia seemed so focused over comforting Luke that she seemed to have forgotten about Alderaan’s destruction.

The production values for “A NEW HOPE” still holds up today after so many years. However, I suspect that one can attribute this to Lucas’ decision to utilize CGI to make the special effects for the 1977 movie and the other two from the Original Trilogy more effective and less dated. I realize there are many veteran fans of the saga who claim that Lucas’ CGI retouches were unnecessary. They have also expressed their dislike of the revamped movies. All I can say is that they are entitled to their opinions. I simply do not share them. However, John Williams’ score remains as stirring and iconic as ever. John Mollo did an excellent job for his simple and elegant designs for the movie’s costumes. However, I am a little peeved that he managed to snag an Academy Award for his work on this film; whereas the Motion Picture Academy failed to give Trisha Biggar even a nomination for her outstanding work in the Prequel Trilogy.

In conclusion, I can happily state that STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” stands up very well after thirty-five years. The movie and the five other films of the STAR WARS franchise remain among the best adventure films ever made in Hollywood, as far as I am concerned. And I can only wonder if George Lucas and 20th Century Fox Studios ever released what it had unleashed upon the world when the movie was first released in theaters back in May 1977.

 

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“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” (2017) Review

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” (2017) Review

I have a confession to make. When the Disney Studios had released the fourth movie in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN”franchise, I wished they had never done it. I wished that a fourth film had never been made. I also believed that the franchise was fine after three movies. Then I learned that a fifth film was scheduled to be released this summer and . . . yeah, I was not pleased by the news. But considering that I can be such a whore for summer blockbusters, I knew that I would be watching it. 

Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” seemed to be a story about the search for the trident of the sea god Poseidon. Two years after the post-credit scene from 2007’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”, Henry Turner, the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann Turner boards the Flying Dutchman to inform his father of his discovery that the mythical Trident of Poseidon is able to break the Flying Dutchman’s curse and free him from his ship. Henry plans to seek Jack Sparrow’s help to find it. Will does not believe the Trident exists and orders Henry to leave his ship and stay away from Jack. Nine years later, Henry finds himself serving aboard a British Royal Navy warship as a seaman. He realizes the ship is sailing into the Devil’s Triangle. The captain dismisses his concerns and has Henry locked up for attempting a mutiny. Upon entering the Triangle, the ship’s crew discovers a shipwreck that belongs to a Spanish Navy officer named Captain Armando Salazar and his crew, who had become part of the undead after being lured into the Triangle. Salazar and his crew slaughter everyone on board the warship, except for Henry. Discovering that Henry is searching for Jack, Salazar instructs Henry to tell Jack that death is coming his way. Some twenty to thirty years earlier, Salazar was a notorious pirate hunter who had been lured into the Triangle and killed by Jack, who was the young captain of the Wicked Wench at the time. Due to the Triangle’s magic, Salazar and his crew became part of the undead.

Years later, a young woman named Carina Smyth is about to be executed for witchcraft on the British-held island of Saint Martin, due to her knowledge of astronomy and horology. She is also interested in finding the Trident, for she sees it as a clue to her parentage. During a prison break, she gets caught up in an attempt by Jack and his small crew, which includes Joshamee Gibbs and Scrum (from the fourth film), to steal a bank vault on the island of Saint Martin. Jack is abandoned by his crew when the vault turns up empty. Desolate, he gives up his magical compass for a drink at a tavern and unexpectedly frees Salazar and his crew from the Triangle. He is also captured by the British Army. Carina meets Henry, who is awaiting execution for what happened aboard his ship. Both realize that for different reasons, they are searching for Poseidon’s Trident. Henry escapes, but Carina finds herself a prisoner again. Henry arranges both hers and Jack’s escape from execution. Jack also becomes interested in finding the Trident, for he hopes to use it free himself from Salazar’s wrath.

I once came upon an article that complained about the lack of consistency in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise. When I first heard about this movie, I must admit that I was annoyed to learn that Will Turner would still be entrapped by the Flying Dutchman curse after the post-credit scene from “AT WORLD’S END”. I realize that the Disney suits had believed that Will was permanently trapped by the Flying Dutchman curse, but I thought that Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott’s claim – that Elizabeth’s ten year wait – had broken the curse. Apparently I was wrong . . . and annoyed at the same time. But Will’s situation was a mere annoyance for me. The situation regarding Jack’s compass – you know, the one that directs a person to one’s heart desire – really annoyed me. According to the 2006 movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST”, Jack had first acquired the compass from Vodou priestess Tia Dalma aka the goddess Calypso. Yet, according to a flashback in this movie, Jack was given the compass from his dying captain, during the Wicked Wench’s encounter with Captain Salazar. What else is there to say, but . . . blooper.

Another matter that annoyed me was the setting for the protagonists’ final battle against Captain Salazar and his crew. I wish I could explain it. I believe that the setting was located . . . underwater, thanks to the mysterious stone that Carina Smyth had inherited from her parents. I simply found it murky and unsatisfying. And I wish that final conflict had been set elsewhere. I have one last complaint. The movie’s post-credit scene featured a character’s dream of former antagonist Captain Davy Jones in shadow form. The character had awaken, but the scene’s last shot focused on puddles of water and a few bits of tentacles. Was this the franchise’s way of hinting the return of Davy Jones? I hope not. Captain Jones was a great villain, but two movies featuring his character were enough. The last thing I want to see in another film is the return of the Flying Dutchman curse or Jones.

Yes, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” has its flaws. But it also had plenty of virtues that made me enjoy the film. One of the aspects of the film that I enjoyed was the story written by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio. Old “ghosts” from the past have always played a role in the plots from the franchise’s past four films. But the past played a major, major role in this film for not only Jack Sparrow, but also four other characters – Henry Turner, Carina Smyth, Hector Barbossa and even Captain Armando Salazar. I found the story between Jack and Captain Salazar rather ironic, considering that the latter proved to be the franchise’s first villain to seek personal revenge against the former. For the other three, I found their stories rather poignant in the end. And because of this, I found “DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” to be the most emotionally satisfying entry in the franchise. This proved to be the only PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film in which I broke into tears at least three times.

Poignant or not, the franchise’s trademark humor and action were on full display in this movie. In fact, I can think of at least three major scenes that I believe effectively displayed both traits. One of them involved Jack and the Dying Gull (appropriate name for Jack’s latest ship) crew’s attempt to rob the new bank on Saint Martin. Not only did it lead to Carina’s first escape from a hangman’s noose, but also a merry chase that involved the Dying Gull’s crew, the British Army, along with Jack and the banker’s wife inside of a stolen vault. The second scene that had me both laughing and on edge involved Henry and the Dying Gull’s successful rescue of Jack and Carina from being hanged. The third scene had me more on edge than laughing for it involved Jack, Henry and Carina’s attempt to survive Salazar’s attack upon their rowboat (ghost shark anyone?) as they headed for shore.

“DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” featured the fourth major location for the movie franchise – Australia. Although I found it a pity that the movie did not use any of the Caribbean islands for filming locations, I must admit that production designer Nigel Phelps made great use of the Australian locale, especially in his creation of the Saint Martin town and the Turners’ home. On the other hand, I found Paul Cameron’s photography rather beautiful, colorful and sharp. I thought Roger Barton and Leigh Folsom Boyd’s film editing was first-rate, especially in the action sequences that featured the bank vault chase, the rescue of Jack and Carina, and the shark attack. I wish I could say the same about the final action sequence, but I must admit that I was not that impressed.

I was impressed by the performances featured in “DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES”. The movie possessed a first-rate supporting cast that featured the return of Kevin R. McNally as Joshamee Gibbs, Stephen Graham as Scrum, Martin Klebba as Marty, Angus Barnett as Mullroy and Giles New as Murtogg. Scrum, who was last seen as part of Hector Barbossa’s Queen Anne’s Revenge crew, had decided to join Jack Sparrow’s crew aboard the Dying Gull. And the presence of Marty, Mullroy and Murtogg revealed that Barbossa was not the only who had escaped Blackbeard’s capture of the Black Pearl. The movie also revealed the return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as Will Turner and Elizabeth. Their final reunion near the end of the film proved to be one of the most emotionally satisfying and poignant moments in the entire franchise.

There were other great supporting performances that caught my eye. One came from David Wenham, who was in fine, villainous form as Lieutenant John Scarfield, a very bigoted Royal Navy officer who was after Jack, Henry Turner and Carina Smyth. Golshifteh Farahani gave a rather interesting and strange performance as a witch named Shansa, whom many seafarers sought for advice. Adam Brown (from “THE HOBBIT” Trilogy) and Delroy Atkinson proved to be entertaining additions to Jack’s crew and the franchise. Juan Carlos Vellido gave a rather intense performance as Captain Salazar’s first officer, Lieutenant Lesaro. Since Keith Richards was unable to return as Jack’s father, Captain Edward Teague, producer Jerry Brockheimer managed to cast former Beatles Paul McCartney as the former’s brother and Jack’s uncle, Jack Teague. And I did not know that McCartney was not only a first-rate actor, but one with great comic timing.

I had been familiar with Brenton Thwaites’ previous work in movies like “MALEFICENT” and “GODS OF EGYPT”. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his portrayal of Will and Elizabeth’s son, Henry Turner. Thwaites did an excellent job in combining the traits of Henry’s parents, while making the character a complete individual on his own. Kaya Scodelario was equally effective as science enthusiast, Carina Smyth. Thanks to Scodelario’s skillful performance, Carina was an intelligent and charismatic woman. The actress also had a strong screen chemistry with her co-star, Thwaites.

But the three performances that stood above the others came from Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem and of course, Johnny Depp. It is hard to believe that Rush first portrayed Hector Barbossa as a slightly crude, yet cunning, cold-blooded and ambitious pirate. Thanks to Rush’s superb portrayal, Barbossa still possessed those traits, but the latter had developed into a successful man, who also possessed a heartbreaking secret that he managed to keep close to his chest. I must admit that I did not particular care for Javier Bardem’s portrayal as a Bond villain in 2012’s “SKYFALL”. I found it too hammy. Thankfully, Bardem’s portrayal of the villainous Captain Armando Salazar seemed a great deal more skillful to me. Bardem’s Armando Salazar was no mere over-the-top villain, but a vengeful wraith willing to use any method and form of manipulation to capture his prey. Someone once complained that Depp’s Jack Sparrow seemed different or a ghost of his former self. I could not agree. Depp’s Sparrow was just as selfish, manipulative, horny and humorous as ever. Yet, this Jack Sparrow was at least nineteen years older than he was in “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”. Despite having a miniaturized Black Pearl in his possession for several years, Jack has been forced to settle for a creaking tub called the Dying Gull and a small crew. Worse, he and his men have experienced a series of failures in their attempt to make that great score. If Jack seemed a bit different in this film, it is because he is older and not as successful as he would like to be. And Depp, being the superb actor that he is, did an excellent job in conveying Jack’s current failures in his performance.

Would I regard “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” as my favorite film in the Disney franchise? Hmmm . . . no. The movie possessed one or two bloopers in regard to the franchise’s main narrative. I was not that impressed by the watery setting for Jack and Salazar’s final confrontation. And I did not care for the hint of a past villain’s return in the film’s post-credit scene. But I really enjoyed the excellent performances by a cast led by the always talented Johnny Depp and the first-rate direction of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. And I especially story created by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio. Not only did it feature the usual hallmarks of a first-rate PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film, for me it made “DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” the most poignant and emotionally satisfying movie in the entire franchise.

 

“Croque-Monsieur Sandwich”

Below is an article on the dish known as the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich

“CROQUE-MONSIEUR SANDWICH”

My familiarity with the French dish known as the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich originated with an American version called the Monte Cristo Sandwich. You see, I first experienced the latter during a visit to the Disneyland Resort about a decade ago. It took another four or five years before I first stumbled across the Croque-Monsieur at a cafe in downtown Los Angeles.

The Croque-Monsieur Sandwich is originally a popular dish served at cafes and smaller eateries in Paris, France. Basically, it is a ham and cheese sandwich that is either baked or fried. The sandwich was originally created for the French working-class. At least two origin stories are associated with the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich. The first origin tale claimed that the sandwich was created entirely by accident when French workers left their lunch pails too close to a hot radiator. The heat toasted the bread and melted the cheese in their sandwich. Personally, this origin tale seems a bit far-fetched and no particular date or year is associated with this tale. The second version seemed to have more merit.

In 1901, a chef at a local Parisian brasserie on the Boulevard des Capucines had ran out of baguettes for the restaurant’s sandwich of the day. The chef cut slices from a loaf of Pain de Mie bread (similar to American sandwich bread) placed ham and cheese between them and baked the entire sandwich until it was crisp. The name of the sandwich came from the French verb croquer (“to bite”) and from a casual comment from the chef, when asked about the ham’s origin. The chef pointed at another customer and claimed that the ham came from “C’est la viande de monsieur (It’s that guy’s meat)”.

The sandwich first appeared on the menu of a Parisian cafe in 1910. Unfortunately, no one seems to know which cafe. It was also mentioned in the second volume of Marcel Proust’s novel, “In Search of Lost Time”, in 1918. Over the years, variations of the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich had been added. Some brasseries and cafes eventually added Béchamel sauce. A Croque-Monsieur Sandwich with a poached or lightly fried egg became known as Croque-Madame. In the United States, a ham and cheese sandwich dipped in an egg batter and deep fried was called the Monte Cristo Sandwich. And in Great Britain, a hot ham and cheese sandwich became known as a “toastie”.

Below is a modern, yet traditional recipe for the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich from the Bon Appétit website:

Croque-Monsieur Sandwich

Ingredients:

Béchamel Sauce (One Day Ahead)
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ¼ ground nutmeg
Kosher salt

Sandwich
8 slices ½”-thick country-style bread
6 oz. ham, preferably Paris ham (about 8 slices)
3 oz. Gruyère, grated (about 1½ cups)
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence

Preparation:

Béchamel Sauce (One Day Ahead)
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foamy. Add flour and cook, stirring, until mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk, stirring until mixture is smooth. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and somewhat elastic, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in mustard and nutmeg; season with salt.
DO AHEAD: Béchamel can be made 1 day ahead. Let cool; press plastic wrap directly onto surface and chill.

Sandwich
Preheat oven to 425°. Spread bread slices with béchamel, dividing evenly and extending all the way to the edges. Place 4 slices of bread, béchamel side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet; top with ham and half of cheese. Top with remaining slices of bread, béchamel side up, then top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with herbes de Provence. Bake until cheese is brown and bubbling, 10–15 minutes.

“JASON BOURNE” (2016) Review

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“JASON BOURNE” (2016) Review

When I first learned that Universal Studios had a fifth movie planned for their BOURNE movie franchise, I was pleased. I figured that this new movie would continue the story where both the 2007 film, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” and 2012’s “THE BOURNE LEGACY” left off. 

I suspect that some might be wondering to what I am referring. Let me explain. Both movies hinted, especially “THE BOURNE LEGACY” that C.I.A. Deputy Director Pamela Landy might be facing trouble for assisting Jason Bourne aka David Webb in the 2007. In fact, one of the reasons that Deputy Director Noah Vosen and Director Ezra Cramer had chosen her to help track down Bourne in the 2007 movie in the first place . . . to set her up to take a fall in case their efforts to find and kill Bourne go south. Well, it did go south . . . for them. And in the 2012 movie, Vosen accused Landy of committing treason in order to deflect his legal problems from himself and Cramer. So I figured that this fifth movie would pick up the tale. I even considered the possibility of Bourne and fellow C.I.A. fugitives Aaron Cross from the 2012 movie, working together to help Landry. Well, that did not happen. As it turned out, star Matt Damon and screenwriter/director Tony Gilroy had a falling out over the screenplay for the 2007 movie. Jeremy Renner starred in the 2012 movie and Gilroy did not participate in this new film’s production.

So, what was “JASON BOURNE” about? Written by Christopher Rouse and Paul Greengrass, who served as director of this film, the 2007 movie and 2004’s “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”; the movie centered around Jason Bourne’s attempts to discover more about his past with the C.I.A. and especially Treadstone. This all began when former Treadstone colleague Nicky Parsons, who has joined a hackvist group, hacks into the CIA’s mainframe server in order to expose the CIA’s black ops programs. Parsons finds documents that concern Bourne’s recruitment into the Treadstone program and his father’s role in the program. Both Bourne and Parsons meet at Syntagma Square during a violent anti-government protest in Athens, Greece; where she informs him with this new information. At the same time, Parsons’ hack alerts Cyber Ops Division Head Heather Lee and CIA Director Robert Dewey. Dewey sends a black ops team and a former Blackbriar assassin nicknamed “The Asset” to kill Parsons and Bourne. More importantly, Dewey wants to shut down any loose ends regarding the C.I.A.’s black ops programs, including the latest one, “Iron Hand” (a collection of the previous ones – Treadstone, Blackbriar, Outcome and LARX). That means destroying the hackvist group to which Parsons belonged; killing Bourne; Parsons; CEO social media site Deep Dream Aaron Kalloor, with whom he had become estranged; or anyone else who might be a threat. He also wants to use Kalloor’s Deep Dream site for real-time mass surveillance of the public.

Eventually I realized that “JASON BOURNE” was not going to continue the narratives of “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” and “THE BOURNE LEGACY” and set about enjoying this latest entry in the franchise. And there was a good deal to enjoy about this movie. First of all, “JASON BOURNE” featured some top notch performances. Matt Damon gave a pretty solid performance as an older and more world weary Jason Bourne aka David Webb, who seemed to have resigned himself to an existence of wandering, participating in illegal fight rings and loneliness. Tommy Lee Jones was also excellent as Robert Dewey, the current and ruthless C.I.A. Director who feels threatened not only by outside forces like Bourne, Nicky Parsons, a hackvist group and an angry social media CEO, but especially from the likes of his ambitious colleague, Heather Lee. Julia Stiles returned with another excellent performance as Nicky Parsons, an ex-C.I.A. operative-turned-hackvist. Vincent Cassel gave a very intense performance as former Blackbriar assassin, “The Asset”, who harbors a grudge against Bourne, whose exposure of the black ops program led to him being captured and tortured. The movie also featured pretty good performances from Ato Essandoh, Riz Ahmed, Scott Shepherd, Bill Camp, Vinzenz Kiefer and Gregg Henry (who portrayed Bourne’s late father in flashbacks). But for me, the most interesting performance came from Alicia Vikander, who portrayed C.I.A. Cyber Ops Division head, Heather Lee. Vikander’s Lee was a curious mixture of raging ambition, an introverted personality and a ruthless talent for manipulation.

The movie also featured some excellent action sequences. Yes, I realize that it signaled a return to Paul Greengrass’ shaky camstyle. But to be honest, different movie industries have been utilizing this style for about a decade. Personally, I wish they would get over it. But despite this, I still enjoyed this movie’s action sequences. I found the Athens sequence rather exciting. Greengrass and Rouse upped the scale by allowing it to take place during an anti-government protest . . . at night. Another action sequence that impressed me occurred in London, where Bourne contacted a former Treadstone surveillance operative named Malcolm Smith for information about his father. But if I had to choose my favorite action sequence in Las Vegas, where Bourne attempted to prevent Dewey from getting rid of his increasingly troublesome former ally, CEO Aaron Kallor during a technology convention and Lee.

Despite these cinematic virtues, I had walked away from “JASON BOURNE” feeling disappointed. What was my main problem? Quite frankly, Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse’s screenplay. I found it contrived, unoriginal and filled with some questionable plot holes. A closer look at this movie made me realized that it strongly reminded me of the plot for “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”. In both movies, Bourne found himself drawn into the story by an individual bent upon exposing the C.I.A.’s black ops programs. In this movie, it was former agent Nicky Parsons. In the 2007 film, it was a British journalist. Both ended up murdered within the movie’s first thirty-to-forty minutes. That is correct. Poor Nicky shared the same fate as Marie Kreutz – fridged for the sake of the main character. I tolerated it once, but not this time. In both movies, the main villain decides to go after Bourne because he feared the former assassin might expose his current schemes. And once again, this movie exposed another disturbing secret regarding Bourne’s past.

Speaking of the latter, this one aspect of the movie’s plot really annoyed me. What was the secret in Bourne’s past? Apparently his father – a C.I.A. official named Richard Webb – was the true creator of the Treadstone program. When I first heard this, I was . . . well to be honest, I simply did not care. But when I heard that Webb Senior was murdered because he tried to stop his son’s recruitment into Treadstone, my apathy transformed into contempt. And when the movie revealed that it was Dewey who had ordered Webb Senior’s assassination, I shook my head in disbelief. How was that possible? Were audiences really supposed to believe that Dewey was an official part of the Treadstone program? Since when? To make matters worse, Greengrass and Rouse had marked “The Asset”, a former Blackbriar agent, as the one who committed the murder. I found this revelation to be ridiculously contrived and I officially washed my hands of this movie.

Yes, I realize that I found the performances and action sequences something to admire about “JASON BOURNE”, thanks to director Paul Greengrass and a cast led by Matt Damon. Many fans had cheered that Damon had resumed as lead in the BOURNEfilm franchise. Yes, it was nice to see him again. But to be honest, I never had a problem with Jeremy Renner or the actual movie he had starred in – namely “THE BOURNE LEGACY”. Hollywood legend Darryl F. Zanuck had once pointed out – the backbone of a good movie is the story. Yet, despite the virtues in “JASON BOURNE”, I found its main narrative unoriginal, contrived and questionable. And in the end, the movie eventually disappointed the hell out of me.

The AMERICAN REVOLUTION in Television

Below is a selection of television productions (listed in chronological order) about or featured the American Revolution: 

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN TELEVISION

1. “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” (NBC; 1963) – Patrick McGoohan starred in this three-episode Disney adaptation of Russell Thorndike’s 1915 novel, “Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Mars”. James Neilson directed.

2. “The Bastard” (Syndication; 1978) – Andrew Stevens and Kim Cattrall starred in this adaptation of the 1974 novel, the first in John Jakes’ “Kent Family Chronicles” literary series. Lee H. Katzin directed.

3. “The Rebels” (Syndication; 1979) – Andrew Stevens, Don Johnson and Doug McClure starred in this adaptation of the 1975 novel, the second in John Jakes’ “Kent Family Chronicles” literary series. Russ Mayberry directed.

4. “George Washington” (CBS; 1984) – Barry Bostwick starred as George Washington, first U.S. President of the United States – from his childhood to his experiences during the American Revolution. Directed by Buzz Kulik, the miniseries starred Patty Duke, Jaclyn Smith and David Dukes.

5. “April Morning” (Hallmark; 1988) – Chad Lowe, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Urich starred in this adaptation of Howard Fast’s 1961 novel about the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The television movie was directed by Delbert Mann.

6. “Mary Silliman’s War” (Syndication; 1994) – Nancy Palk starred in this Canadian-produced television movie about the experiences of a Connecticut matriarch during the American Revolution. Stephen Surjik directed.

7. “The Crossing” (A&E; 2000) – Jeff Daniels starred as George Washington in this adaptation of Howard Fast’s 1971 novel about the Battle of Trenton campaign in December 1776. Robert Harmon directed.

8. “John Adams” (HBO; 2008) – Emmy winners Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney starred as John and Abigail Adams in this award winning HBO miniseries about the second U.S. President from his years as a Boston lawyer to his death.

9. “Turn: Washington’s Spies” (AMC; 2014-2017) – Jamie Bell starred in this television series that is an adaptation of Alexander Rose’s 2006 book, “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring”. The series was created by Craig Silverstein.

10. “The Book of Negroes” (BET; 2015) – Aunjanue Ellis, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Louis Gossett Jr. starred in this television adaptation of Lawrence Hill’s 2007 novel about the experiences of an African woman who was kidnapped into slavery.