“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode One “Only the Rocks Live Forever” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode One “Only the Rocks Live Forever” Commentary

Over thirty-two years ago, NBC Television aired a sprawling miniseries called “CENTENNIAL”. Produced by John Wilder, The miniseries was an adaptation of James Michner’s 1973 novel of the same title. Because the miniseries stretched to twelve episodes, NBC aired the first seven episodes aired during the late fall of 1978. After a one-month hiatus, the remaining five episodes aired during the early winter of 1979. 

Michner’s tale followed the history of the fictional town of Centennial, Colorado and its surrounding region from the late 18th century to the 1970s. By focusing upon the history of the town, “CENTENNIAL” managed to cover nearly every possible topic in the Western genre. Some of those topics include Native American societies and their encounters with the white trappers and traders, American emigration along the Western trails, the Indian Wars, a gold rush, a cattle drive, the cattle-sheep range wars and environmental issues. The first episode “Only the Rocks Live Forever” centered on an Arapaho warrior named Lame Beaver, his daughter Clay Basket, a French-Canadian fur trader named Pasquinel, and his partner, a young Scottish-born trader named Alexander McKeag.

“Only the Rocks Live Forever” began with the death of Lame Beaver’s father in the mid-1750s, at the hands of the Pawnee. The episode also covered moments of the warrior’s life that include his theft of much needed horses from the Commanche for the survival of his village, his first meeting with Pasquinel and later, McKeag; and his village’s wars with their nemesis, a Pawnee chief named Rude Water and his fellow warriors. The episode focused even longer on the fur trader, Pasquinel. Viewers followed the trader on his adventures with various Native Americans such as the Arapaho and the Pawnee; and his two encounters with a keelboat crewed by murderous French Canadian river men. After being wounded in the back by a Pawnee arrow and barely escaping death at the hands of the French Canadian rivermen, Pasquinel made his way to St. Louis, then part of the Spanish Empire. An American doctor named Richard Butler introduced him to a German-born silversmith named Herman Bockweiss and the latter’s daughter, Lise. Pasquinel formed a partnership with Bockweiss, who provided him with trinkets to trade with the Native Americans and fell in love with Lise.

Upon his return to the West, the Pawnee introduced Pasquinel to the Scottish-born Alexander McKeag, who became his partner. After experiencing a series of adventures, the two arrived at Lame Beaver’s village. There, Pasquinel strengthened his ties with Lame Beaver, while McKeag fell in love with the warrior’s daughter, Clay Basket. The pair eventually returned to St. Louis with a profitable supply of furs. There, Pasquinel married Lise. During the two partners’ visit to St. Louis, Lame Beaver and his fellow Arapaho became engaged in another conflict with the Pawnee in an effort to rescue a child that had been snatched by the other tribe. The conflict resulted in the rescue of the child, Rude Water’s death at the hands of Lame Beaver, and the latter’s death at the hands of Pawnee warriors. When Pasquinel and McKeag returned to the Pawnee village, they discovered that Rude Water had been shot by a bullet molded from gold by Lame Beaver. They also learned about Lame Beaver’s death. And upon their return to the Arapaho village, they learned from Clay Basket that her late father had ordered her to become Pasquinel’s wife. Because of the French Canadian’s desire to learn about the location of Lame Beaver’s gold, he agreed to make Clay Basket his second wife, despite McKeag’s protests.

Directed by Virgil W. Vogel and written by producer John Wilder, “Only the Rocks Live Forever” was a surprisingly well-paced episode, considering its running time of two-and-a-half hours. Viewers received a detailed look into the society of the Arapaho nation (despite the fact that many of the extras portraying the Arapaho were of Latino descent). And through the adventures of Pasquinel and McKeag, viewers also received a detailed and nearly accurate look into the perils of the life of a fur trader in the trans-Mississippi West. Wilder managed to make one historical goof. When asked in late 18th century St. Louis, circa on how far he had traveled upriver, Pasquinel said, “Cache La Poudre”. However, that particular river was not known by this name until after the 1820s, when a severe storm forced French trappers to “cache their gun powder” by the river bank. And although the episode never stated outright, it did hint that St. Louis and the rest of the Mississippi Valley was part of the Spanish Empire during that period, through the characters of Senor Alvarez and his wife, portrayed by Henry Darrow and Annette Charles.

This episode also benefited from the strong cast that appeared in the episode. I was especially impressed by Michael Ansara’s charismatic performance as the Arapaho warrior, Lame Beaver. Well known character actor Robert Tessier (of Algonquian descent) gave an equally impressive performance as Lame Beaver’s main nemesis, the Pawnee chief Rude Water. Not only was I impressed by Raymond Burr’s performance as St. Louis silversmith, Herman Bockweiss, I was also impressed by his use of a German accent. Whether or not it was accurate, I must admit that his take on the accent never struck me as a cliché. Sally Kellerman’s own handling of a German accent was also well done. And I thought she gave a poignant performance as the slightly insecure Lise, who found herself falling in love with Pasquinel. Barbara Carrera gave a solid performance as Clay Basket, but I did not find her that particularly dazzling in this episode. Hands down, “Only the Rocks Live Forever” belonged to Robert Conrad and Richard Chamberlain. Both actors did an excellent job in adapting foreign accents. And both gave exceptional performances in their portrayal of two very different and complex personalities. Superficially, Conrad’s portrayal of Pasquinel seemed superficial and very forthright. However, I was impressed how he conveyed Pasquinel’s more complex traits and emotions through the use of his eyes and facial expression. And once again, Chamberlain proved to be the ultimate chameleon in his transformation into the shy and emotional Scotsman, forced to learn about the West and who seemed bewildered by his morally questionable partner.

“Only the Rocks Live Forever” is not my favorite episode in “CENTENNIAL”. I can think of at least three or four that I would personally rank above it. But I must admit that thanks to Vogel’s direction and Wilder’s script, this episode proved to be a perfect start for what I consider to be one of the best minseries that ever aired on television.

“BABYLON 5” RETROSPECT: (1.11) “Survivors”

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“BABYLON 5” RETROSPECT: (1.11) “Survivors”

For the first time during its five-season run, the award-winning science-fiction series, “BABYLON 5”, focused on the major supporting character of Security Chief Michael Garibaldi. The name of the episode was Season One’s (1.11) “Survivors”. And I never realized until now, how much it foreshadowed future events in the series’ major story arc, until recently. 

“Survivors” begins with the news network, ISN, announcing President Luis Santiago’s intention to pay a visit to Babylon 5 during his tour of Earth Alliance outposts. The president also intends to present a new wing of starfuries (fighter planes) to the station. While Garibaldi and Babylon 5’s second-in-command, Lieutenant-Commander Susan Ivanova, discuss Santiago’s upcoming visit, the station is rocked by an explosion inside its Cobra landing bay. An injured crewman named Nolan is tended in Medlab by medical officer, Dr. Stephen Franklin; while Garibaldi, Ivanova and Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (the station’s commanding officer) discuss the possibility of sabotage. Santiago’s security detail, led by one Major Lianna Kemmer, arrives on Babylon 5. Kemmer, who knew Garibaldi when she was a child, treats him coldly and demands that her detail investigate the Cobra Bay explosion. She and her aide Cutter, interrogate the badly wounded Nolan against Dr. Franklin’s wishes and manages to extract one name from him – Garibaldi’s – before his death. Kemmer demands that Sinclair put Garibaldi on suspension. And when Cutter finds the Cobra Bays blueprints and a bag of Centauri ducats inside Garibaldi’s quarters, Kemmer tries to arrest the security chief. But the latter makes his escape and tries to learn who had framed him.

Judging from the episode’s initial plot, one might be led to wonder what the title had to do with it. I mean . . . “Survivors” . . . in a tale about a political assassination plot? Once the episode moved into the details of Garibaldi’s history with Lianna Kemmer, I understood . . . completely. Babylon 5’s security chief had been a twenty-something Earthforce security guard at the ice-mining station on Europa, when he first met a shuttle pilot named Frank Kemmer and his family. Garibaldi had also developed a drinking problem to deal with the strains of working at the station. Garibaldi managed to make a few enemies on Europa, who decided to retaliate by rigging his friend’s shuttle pod to explode. Frank Kemmer was killed, Garibaldi was blamed and retreated further into the bottle. He eventually became estranged from Frank’s wife and daughter, Lianna, when he left Europa without any further word to them. Lianna grew resentful and angry over Garibaldi’s disappearance from the Kemmers’ lives. This continuing resentment spilled over into her willingness to quickly assume his guilt on the word of a dying terrorist. The presence of Lianna brought back painful memories of Europa for Garibaldi. His situation grew even worse after being named as a collaborator in the bombing and stripped of his position on the station. Once viewers became of Garibaldi’s history with Lianna, it became easy for me to see that the episode’s title referred to both characters.

I read a few reviews of “Survivors” online and noticed that most critics seemed to regard this episode as either a filler or an opportunity to flesh out the Michael Garibaldi character. On a certain level, they might be correct. The events of “Survivors” were never referred to again in the few episodes that followed, aside from a brief mention of the Cobra Bay bombing and President Santiago’s visit. And yet . . . I noticed something else. This episode also featured some major foreshadowing that not only played out by the end of this first season, but also as late as Season Five. One of the episode’s foreshadows featured Garibaldi’s alcoholism, which will rear its ugly head in future episodes. Many fans have never been able to deal with it. They were barely able to tolerate his alcoholism, as long as he was able to overcome it by the end of this episode. But when he succumbed to it again, they complained. Loudly. Apparently, they could not deal with him succumbing to it . . . again. And I never understood their attitude. Surely, they understood the struggles for any addict not to succumb again. But it seemed as if they could not deal with a guy like Garibaldi possessing such a major problem in the first place.

I must admit that it was interesting to watch someone like Garibaldi, an authority figure who knew more about the in and outs of Babylon 5 than anyone else, find himself stripped of his authority, neutralized from his friends and hunted down by an authority higher than the station’s commander, Sinclair. What made it even more interesting is that Garibaldi’s situation led him back to the bottle and at his lowest, before he could climb out of the gutter. It was also interesting to watch both Sinclair and Ivanova try their best to help Garibaldi. The commander came to Garibaldi’s rescue in a brief, yet rousing fight; while the latter was being beaten down by bounty hunters. And I found Ivanova’s subtle, yet brief threat to Lianna, when the latter tried to enforce her authority in the station’s Command and Control Center rather amusing. But in reality, there was very little they could do. It was Garibaldi who had to climb out of the bottle, do his own investigation and convince Lianna that he was an innocent man.

“Survivors” featured solid performances from the likes of Michael O’Hare, Claudia Christian, Richard Biggs, Tom Donaldson, David L. Crowley, Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik. But the real stars of this episode were Jerry Doyle as Garibaldi and Elaine Thomas as Lianna Kemmer. At first, I was not that sure about Thomas. She seemed stiff and a little uncomfortable in her early scenes. But once her character’s determination to hunt down Garibaldi became prominent, Thomas really grew into the role. And she did a marvelous job in her final scene. Jerry Doyle gave an outstanding performance as the increasingly besieged Garibaldi. Not only was he very effective in portraying his character’s growing desperation to escape the situation he found himself in, Doyle was surprising effective in portraying Garibaldi’s alcoholism. And I have noticed that portraying a drunken character does not seemed to be an easy thing to do.

I would never count “Survivors” as one of my favorite “BABYLON 5” episodes. I would not count it as one of my favorite Michael Garibaldi episodes. But I must admit that I have always managed to enjoy myself, while watching it. Unlike many other “BABYLON 5” fans, I have never been put off or outraged over the show’s portrayal of Garibaldi’s alcoholism. It gave Jerry Doyle an opportunity to really strut his stuff. And show runner J. Michael Straczynski managed to reap narrative gold out of this character trait – not only in this episode but also in future ones.

“WAR AND PEACE” (2016) Review

“WAR AND PEACE” (2016) Review

I have a confession to make. I have never seen a movie or television adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel, “War and Peace”. Never. Well . . . I once made an attempt to watch the 1956 movie adaptation directed by King Vidor. Unfortunately, I could never go the distance. In fact, I have never read the novel. 

However, many years passed. When I heard about the BBC’s latest adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give “WAR AND PEACE” a chance. The six-part miniseries is simply about the experiences of five Russian families during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. Those families include the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins, and theDrubetskoys. The miniseries seemed to be divided into three segments during a period between 1805 and 1812-13. The first segment featured the introduction of the main characters and Russia’s preparation of a war against Napoleon’s France. This culminates into the Battle of Austerlitz in which two major characters – Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky and Count Nikolai Ilyich Rostov – participate.

The second segment featured the characters’ personal experiences at home. During this period, the miniseries explored Count Pyotr “Pierre” Kirillovich Bezukhov’s failed marriage with the beautiful, but vapid and unfaithful Princess Yelena “Hélène” Vasilyevna Kuragina; the Rostov family’s financial woes and how it affected Nikolai Rostov; the emotional strains within the Bolkonsky family; Prince Boris Drubetskoy’s efforts to advance his military career; and especially Countess Natalya “Natasha” Ilyinichna Rostova’s love life, which included both Andrei Bolkonsky and Prince Anatole Vasilyevich Kuragin. This segment also included news of Treaties of Tilsit of 1807, which ended hostilities between Imperial France and Imperial Russia and Prussia. The miniseries’ final segment focused on France’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and the characters’ efforts to survive it.

I could compare director Tom Harper and screenwriter Andrew Davies’ adaptation with Tolstoy’s novel, but it would be a useless effort. As I had earlier pointed out, I have never read the novel. But I do have at least two complaints about the productions. One of them revolved around the relationship between Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky. I realize that the publicity machine on both sides of the Atlantic had undergone a great effort to build up the relationship between the pair. Frankly, I found the publicity campaign rather wasted. The Natasha/Andrei romance struck me as a disappointing and wasted effort. The majority of their story arc – which began with their meeting at a ball near the end of Episode Three, continued with Natasha’s brief romance with the slimy Anatole Kuragin, and ended with Natasha’s romances with both men crashing around her by the end of Episode Four; had moved . . . so damn fast that it left my head spinning. I cannot help but wonder if the entire arc could have been portrayed with more detail if the series had stretched a bit longer.

I also had a problem with Edward K. Gibbon’s costume designs. I found most of them very colorful, especially for the aristocratic characters. But I also found most of them rather troublesome. Well . . . to be honest, I found them either mediocre or historically questionable. One of them left me gritting my teeth:

But my jaw had literally dropped at the sight of a few costumes worn by actresses Tuppence Middleton and Gillian Anderson – including those shown in the images below:

 

WHAT IN THE HELL??? Their costumes looked more appropriate for present-day evening wear than the early 19th century. What was Mr. Gibbons thinking?

Despite the rushed Natasha Rostova/Andrei Bolkonsky romance and despite the rather questionable costumes, I managed to enjoy “WAR AND PEACE” very much. I am a sucker for family sagas, especially when they are seeped in a historical background. And “WAR AND PEACE” nearly pushed every one of my buttons when it comes to a well made saga. It had everything – romance, family struggles, historical events and personages. When I realized that Tolstoy had originally focused his tale on five families, I did not think Andrew Davies would be able to translate the author’s novel in a tight story without losing its epic quality.

There were certain sequences that really blew my mind, thanks to Davies’ writing and especially, Tom Harper’s direction. I thought Harper did an outstanding job of re-creating battles like Austerlitz and Borodino, along with the French Army’s retreat from Moscow. Harper also did a great job in directing large parties and ball scenes. My two favorites are the party held at St. Petersburg socialite Anna Pavlovna Scherer’s salon in Episode 1 and the ball where Natasha and Andrei met in Episode 3.

But it was not just the battle and crowd scenes that impressed me. “WAR AND PEACE” is – after all – a melodrama, even if many literary critics are inclined not to admit it. I never thought I would find myself getting caught up in the lives of the saga’s main characters. But I did. I must admit that I admire how Tolstoy . . . and Davies managed to allow the three main characters – Pierre, Natasha and Andrei – to interact with the five families, regardless of blood connection or marriage. I especially enjoyed the explorations into the lives of Pierre, the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys. At first glance, some might regard the miniseries’ ending that featured a picnic with the families of the three leads as a bit on the saccharine. It did have a “happily ever after” tinge about it. But I read in a newspaper article that complained about Tolstoy’s “realistic” ending – one that featured a less-than-happy view of the protagonists’ lives and a critique from Tolstoy on all forms of mainstream history. Thanks to Davies’ screenplay, audiences were spared of this.

“WAR AND PEACE” featured a good number of first-rate performances from a supporting cast that included Stephen Rea, Gillian Anderson, Tuppence Middleton, Callum Turner, Mathieu Kassovitz, Jessie Buckley, Adrian Edmondson, Aisling Loftus, Rebecca Front and Aneurin Barnard. However, I was especially impressed by certain supporting performances. One came from Greta Scacchi, who portrayed the Rostov family’s practical and sometimes ruthless matriarch Countess Natalya Rostova. I also enjoyed Brian Cox’s portrayal of the world weary General Mikhail Kutuzov, who has to contend with not only Napolean’s army, but also the amateurish interference of the Czar. Tom Burke did a great job in portraying the wolfish and ambitious army officer, Fedor Dolokhov, who eventually becomes a better man following Napoleon’s invasion. Jack Lowden’s portrayal of the young Count Nikolai Rostov really impressed me, especially when his character found himself torn between following his heart and marrying a wealthy woman to restore his family’s fortunes. And Jim Broadbent gave a very colorful performance as Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky, the mercurial and controlling patriarch of the Bolkonsky family.

And what about the production’s three leads? Lily James gave a very charming performance as Countess Natasha Rostova. Well . . . I take that back. Describing James’ performance as simply “charming” seemed to hint that I found it rather shallow. Yes, James handled Natasha’s “light” moments with her usual competence. More importantly, she did an excellent job in conveying Natasha’s personal struggles – especially during the series’ second half. There were times when I did not know what to make of the Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. He struck me as a very unusual protagonist. Although I found him rather honorable and filled with valor, Andrei did not always struck me as likable – especially in his relationship with adoring, yet ignored wife Lise. And Norton superbly captured the many nuances of Andrei’s character. If Andrei Bolkonsky struck me as an unusual protagonist, Count Pierre Bezukhov struck me as one of a kind. Well . . . one of a kind for a literary piece written in the 19th century. Sometimes, I get the feeling that someone like Pierre could easily translate into a late 20th century or early 21st century geek. Or perhaps not. I think Pierre is too kind and open-minded to be considered a geek. But he is very unusual for a leading man. And thanks to Paul Dano’s superb portrayal, Pierre has become one of my favorite fictional characters. He did a stupendous job in conveying Pierre’s character from this insecure and rather naive man to a man who learned to find wisdom and inner peace through his struggles. Dano was so good that I had assumed that his performance would garner him a major acting nomination. It did not and I am still flabbergasted by this travesty.

My taste in period dramas usually focused on stories set in the United States or Great Britain . . . with the occasional foray into France. I was very reluctant to tackle this latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s most famous novel. But I was in the mood for something new and decided to watch the six-part miniseries. I am happy to say that despite some flaws, I ended up enjoying “WAR AND PEACE” very much, thanks to Andrew Davies’ screenplay, Tom Harper’s direction and an excellent cast led by Paul Dano, James Norton and Lily James.

 

 

“Altered Lives” [PG-13] – Chapter One

“ALTERED LIVES”

CHAPTER ONE

19BBY – AMARATH, DALLIK

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

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

“Roger that, General Puri.”

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

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

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

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

“I promise to be careful, Master,” Romulus replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes sir,” Telos replied with a sharp nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Master.”

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

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

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

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

——–

MUSTAFAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“From the Sith! Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!”

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

Disbelief now dominated Obi-Wan’s eyes. “Well, then you are lost!”

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

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

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

Obi-Wan shot back, “Don’t try it!”

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

“Anakin?” Obi-Wan cried out.

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

Again, Obi-Wan cried out, “Anakin!”

“You’ve won, my Master. Let it go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——–

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

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

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

“Master Kenobi!” Threepio’s voice rang with relief. “Oh, I am so glad to see you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He spoke . . . to me,” Padme continued to whisper. “But he’s go . . .” She broke off and became unconscious.

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

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

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

END OF CHAPTER ONE

 

“The Curious Affair of B’Elanna Torres’ Age”

 

“THE CURIOUS AFFAIR OF B’ELANNA TORRES’ AGE”

Over the years there have been many complaints about the inconsistency regarding characters and stories in STAR TREK series, “STAR TREK VOYAGER” (1995-2001). I will not deny that the series has been guilty of the occasional inconsistency. To be frank, all of the five TREK series and many of the franchise’s movies are guilty of the same.However, I was shocked and surprised to learn that some of the websites that provide information on the entire franchise turned out to be just as inconsistent. 

While perusing the WIKIPEDIA website several years ago, I was surprised to discover a major discrepancy featuring one of the major characters on “VOYAGER”, namely that of the Chief Engineer, B’Elanna Torres. According to the site, B’Elanna was born in 2349, the same year as Voyager’s Operations Chief, Harry Kim. It also included that B’Elanna had joined Starfleet Academy in 2366, right after her last meeting with her mother, Miral Torres. Two years later in 2368, B’Elanna allegedly resigned from Starfleet Academy and not long afterwards, joined Chakotay’s cell in the Maquis. There is another source that confirms this – namely Jeri Taylor’s 1998 Voyager novel, “Pathways”. Personally, I had major problems with this summation.

One, I found it hard to believe that B’Elanna had joined the Maquis sometime between 2368 (the year that Chakotay had resigned from Starfleet and joined the Maquis) and 2369. If this is true, then she would have first met the ship’s Chief Pilot, Tom Paris, in the Maquis. But the television series had never hinted that B’Elanna and Tom knew each other before Voyager was hurled into the Delta Quadrant in early 2371. The early Season Two episode, (2.05) “Non-Sequitur”made it clear that Tom had served his full sentence of eighteen months in a Federation prison – in an alternate timeline that Harry Kim found himself in. According to the episode and the stardate, Tom had been released from prison in September 2371. Which means that Tom had been captured and imprisoned by the Federation in March 2370. And another Season Two episode, (2.17) “Dreadnought”, made it clear that Voyager’s encounter with Cardassian missile occurred nearly on the second anniversary of B’Elanna’s first encounter with the missile – not long after she had joined Chakotay’s cell. According to the stardate, “Dreadnought” occurred in the summer of 2372, which means that B’Elanna had joined Chakotay’s cell sometime during the late spring of 2370.

Also, it is not possible that B’Elanna had joined Starfleet Academy in 2366, after seeing her mother for the last time. According to the late Season Five episode, (5.26) “The Equinox, Part I”, B’Elanna had not seen her old Academy boyfriend, Maxwell Burke, in ten years. “The Equinox” was probably set around the end of 2375 or the beginning of 2366, which means that she and Burke had last seen each other in 2365. I am also convinced that it is possible B’Elanna had last met with her mother after resigning from Starfleet Academy and not before joining it, as was indicated in Taylor’s novel. Although there is no episode that claimed B’Elanna had last spoken to her mother after leaving Starfleet, the Season Six episode, (6.03) “Barge of the Dead” certainly did not make it clear that she had joined Starfleet Academy after her last meeting with Miral – despite what Wikipedia and Jeri Taylor had claimed.

There is one last reason why I found it difficult to accept that B’Elanna was born in 2349. It happened to be the same birth year as her close friend, Harry Kim. If the two friends had been born in the same year, this meant that both had entered Starfleet Academy around the same time. And both would have immediately been placed on the Engineering track. Their chances of meeting for the first time at the Academy would have been pretty good. Yet, the series premiere episode, (1.01-1.02) “Caretaker” made it pretty clear that B’Elanna and Harry had met for the first time, while in the Ocampan settlement in 2371.

It is the series itself that still makes it easy for me to refute the claim that B’Elanna Torres had joined the Maquis in 2368 or that she had been born in 2349. In regard to the first claim, the stardates provided in episodes like “Non-Sequitur” and “Dreadnought” seemed to contradict Wikipedia or Jeri Taylor that B’Elanna had joined the Maquis in 2368. And episodes like “Caretaker”“The Equinox” and “Barge of the Dead” gave enough evidence to refute the claim that B’Elanna had been born in 2349.

About an hour ago, I had examined the Wikipedia page for B’Elanna’s character. Changes had been made. The site no longer claimed that B’Elanna had been born in 2349. Instead, it claimed that she had been born in 2346. I do not know if this is true, but it seems a lot more plausible than its earlier claim. But I would not be surprised if these changes were removed by the site’s webmaster. No matter. I am now satisfied.

“UNKNOWN” (2011) Review

“UNKNOWN” (2011) Review

I have noticed that during the past decade, Hollywood has developed a habit of releasing a series of minor political thrillers during the first or second month of a new year. And to my surprise, I discovered that I found all of them quite entertaining. One particular thriller that was released during the winter of 2011 was a film that starred Liam Neeson called “UNKNOWN”

Based upon Didier van Cauwelaert’s 2003 French novel published in English as “Out of My Head”“UNKNOWN” is about an American scientist named Dr. Martin Harris, who arrives in Berlin with his wife, Elizabeth, to attend a science conference held at an upscale hotel. Upon their arrival at the hotel, Dr. Harris discovers that one of his suitcases had been left behind at the airport. While Elizabeth checks into the hotel, Martin hires a taxi to take him back to the airport. Unfortunately, the taxi becomes involved in a serious accident en route, and Martin’s life is saved by the driver. Several days later, Martin wakes up from a coma and returns to the hotel. He discovers that his wife has checked into the hotel with another man assuming his identity. Not only is Martin taken aback by this turn of events, he becomes aware of a mysterious stranger that has made one or two attempts upon his life. Martin recruits the help of the taxi driver, an Eastern European immigrant named Gina; and a former Stasi agent named Ernst Jürgen to help him learn the truth behind the deception being perpetrated with his wife and the man assuming his identity.

I really did not know how I would react to ”UNKNOWN”, when I first saw the trailer. It struck me as one of those movies in which the best parts were featured in the previews. I had also suspected it would be another ”TAKEN” or ”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE”, a lightweight thriller with a great deal of action and a simplified plot. As much as I had liked those two movies, I never really found them that impressive. On the other hand, ”UNKNOWN” seemed to possess more substance as a complex political thriller. The movie had mysteries and plot twists that took me by surprise, before its denouement.

Director Jaume Collet-Serr certainly did justice to Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell’s screenplay. Whether they did justice to the novel is another matter, considering that I have never read it. But ”UNKNOWN” featured exciting and well-dramatized scenes that provided both depth and atmosphere to the movie. One of my favorite scenes featured the recently hospitalized Martin’s attempt to connect with one of the conference’s other scientists, a Professor Bressler. Unfortunately for Martin, the man impersonating him happened to be at Professor Bressler’s laboratory. And both Martin Harrises’ attempts to prove themselves as the real McCoy were both strangely humorous and frustrating . . . at least for Martin and the audience. The meeting between Martin’s longtime colleague, Professor Rodney Cole and Ernst Jürgen, the former Stasi agent, proved to be fascinating and tense, thanks to the first-rate performances by Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz. And Martin’s first attempt to reunite with his wife, Liz, came off as rather creepy, due to both January Jones and Aidan Quinn’s skillful acting.

However, I found myself greatly impressed by Collet-Serr’s direction of two major action scenes. One of those scenes featured the finale in which Martin attempts to prevent an assassination attempt that proved to be one of the plot’s surprising twists. I also enjoyed the action sequence at a Berlin hospital that began with the murder of a nurse and the first attempt on Martin’s life. But I must admit that I believe Collet-Serr did justice to what I consider to be the movie’s best sequence – another murder attempt on Martin’s life at Gina’s apartment that segued into an exciting car chase through Berlin’s streets.

”UNKNOWN” provided some first-rate performances by a cast that included Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Sebastian Koch, and Frank Langella. Diane Kruger proved to be a surprisingly effective action heroine that racked up a higher body count than the rest of the cast. January Jones gave one of the most enigmatic performances I have ever seen in quite a while. She effectively kept me speculating upon the reasons behind her character’s failure to acknowledge Martin as her husband. However, the movie really belonged to Liam Neeson, whose portrayal of the beleaguered scientist proved to be the movie’s backbone. Neeson perfectly captured all the emotions that his character experienced throughout the story, without missing a beat. My only complaint is that I found his American accent a bit stiff and formal.

I really had no idea on how I would accept ”UNKNOWN”, once I saw it. The only reason I went to see it in the first place was because I had nothing else to do. I am glad that I saw the movie. I enjoyed it so much that I eventually purchased a DVD copy of the film.

“VANITY FAIR” (2004) Review

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“VANITY FAIR” (2004) Review

William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel about the life and travails of an ambitious young woman in early 19th century has generated many film and television adaptations. One of them turned out to be the 2004 movie that was directed by Mira Nair. 

“VANITY FAIR” covers the early adulthood of one Becky Sharp, the pretty and ambitious daughter of an English not-so-successful painter and a French dancer during the early years from 1802 to 1830. The movie covers Becky’s life during her impoverished childhood with her painter father, during her last day as a student at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies, where she meets her only friend Amelia Sedley – the only daughter of a slightly wealthy gentleman and her years as a governess for the daughters of a crude, yet genial baronet named Sir Pitt Crawley. While working for the Crawleys, Becky meets and falls in love with Sir Pitt’s younger son, Captain Rawdon Crawley. When Sir Pitt proposes marriage to Becky, she shocks the family with news of her secret marriage to Rawdon. The couple is ostracized and ends up living in London on Rawdon’s military pay and gambling winnings. They also become reacquainted with Amelia Sedley, who has her own problems. When her father loses his fortune, the father of her beau, George Osborne, tries to arrange a marriage between him and a Jamaican heiress. Leery of the idea of marrying a woman of mixed blood, he marries Amelia behind Mr. Obsorne’s back, and the latter disinherits him. Not long after George and Amelia’s marriage, word reaches Britain of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and control of France. Becky and Amelia follow Rawdon, George, and Dobbin, who are suddenly deployed to Brussels as part of the Duke of Wellington’s army. And life for Becky and those close to her prove to be even more difficult.

The first thing I noticed about “VANITY FAIR” was that it was one of the most beautiful looking movies I have ever seen in recent years. Beautiful and colorful. A part of me wonders if director Mira Nair was responsible for the movie’s overall look. Some people might complain and describe the movie’s look as garish. I would be the first to disagree. Despite its color – dominated by a rich and deep red that has always appealed to me – “VANITY FAIR” has also struck me as rather elegant looking film, thanks to cinematographer Declan Quinn. But he was not the only one responsible for the film’s visual look. Maria Djurkovic’s production designs and the work from the art direction team – Nick Palmer, Sam Stokes and Lucinda Thomson. All did an excellent job of not only creating what I believe to be one of the most colorful and elegant films I have ever seen, but also in re-creating early 19th century Britain, Belgium, Germany and India. But I do have a special place in my heart for Beatrix Aruna Pasztor’s costume designs. I found them absolutely ravishing. Colorful . . . gorgeous. I am aware that many did not find them historically accurate. Pasztor put a bit more Hollywood into her designs than history. But I simply do not care. I love them. And to express this love, the following is a brief sample of her costumes worn by actress Reese Witherspoon:

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I understand that Witherspoon was pregnant at the time and Pasztor had to accommodate the actress’ pregnancy for her costumes. Judging from what I saw on the screen, I am beginning to believe that Witherspoon’s pregnancy served her role in the story just fine.

Now that I have raved over the movie’s visual look and style, I might as well talk about the movie’s adaptation. When I first heard about “VANITY FAIR”, the word-of-mouth on the Web seemed to be pretty negative. Thackery’s novel is a long one – written in twenty parts. Naturally, a movie with a running time of 141 minutes was not about to cover everything in the story. And I have never been one of those purists who believe that a movie or television adaptation had to be completely faithful to its source. Quite frankly, it is impossible for any movie or television miniseries to achieve. And so, it was not that surprising that the screenplay written by Julian Fellowes, Matthew Faulk and Mark Skeet would not prove to be an accurate adaptation. I expected that. However, there were some changes I could have done without.

Becky Sharp has always been one of the most intriguing female characters in literary history. Among the traits that have made her fascinating were her ambitions, amorality, talent for manipulation and sharp tongue. As much as I enjoyed Reese Witherspoon’s performance in the movie – and I really did – I thought it was a mistake for Fellowes, Faulk and Skeet to make Becky a more “likeable” personality in the movie’s first half. One, it took a little bite not only out of the character, but from the story’s satirical style, as well. And two, I found this change unnecessary, considering that literary fans have always liked the darker Becky anyway. Thankfully, this vanilla-style Becky Sharp disappeared in the movie’s second half, as the three screenwriters returned to Thackery’s sharper and darker portrayal of the character. I was also a little disappointed with the movie’s sequence featuring Becky’s stay at the Sedley home and her seduction of Amelia’s older brother, Jos. I realize that as a movie adaptation, “VANITY FAIR” was not bound to be completely accurate as a story. But I was rather disappointed with the sequence featuring Becky’s visit to the Sedley home at Russell Square in London. Perhaps it was just me, but I found that particular sequence somewhat rushed. I was also disappointed by Nair and producer Jannette Day’s decision to delete the scene featuring Becky’s final meeting with her estranged son, Rawdy Crawley. This is not out of some desire to see Robert Pattinson on the screen. Considering that the movie’s second half did not hesitate to reveal Becky’s lack of warmth toward her son, I felt that this last scene could have remained before she departed Europe for India with Jos.

Despite my complaints and the negative view of the movie by moviegoers that demanded complete accuracy, I still enjoyed “VANITY FAIR” very much. Although I was a little disappointed in the movie’s lighter portrayal of the Becky Sharp, I did enjoy some of the other changes. I had no problem with the addition of a scene from Becky’s childhood in which she first meets Lord Steyne. I felt that this scene served as a strong and plausible omen of her future relationship with the aristocrat. Unlike others, I had no problems with Becky’s fate in the end of the movie. I have always liked the character, regardless of her amoral personality. And for once, it was nice to see her have some kind of happy ending – even with the likes of the lovesick Jos Sedley. Otherwise, I felt that “VANITY FAIR” covered a good deal of Thackery’s novel with a sense of humor and flair.

I have always found it odd that most people seemed taken aback by an American in a British role more so than a Briton in an American role. After all, it really depends upon the individual actor or actress on whether he or she can handle a different accent. In the case of Reese Witherspoon, she used a passable British accent, even if it was not completely authentic. More importantly, not only did she give an excellent performance, despite the writers’ changes in Becky’s character, she was also excellent in the movie’s second half, which revealed Becky’s darker nature.

Witherspoon was ably assisted with a first-rate cast. The movie featured fine performances from the likes of James Purefoy, Deborah Findley, Tony Maudsley, Geraldine McEwan, Eileen Atkins, Douglas Hodge, Natasha Little (who portrayed Becky Sharp in the 1998 television adaptation of the novel), and especially Romola Garai and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Amelia Sedley and George Osborne. But I was especially impressed by a handful of performances that belonged to Bob Hoskins, Rhys Ifans and Gabriel Byrne. Bob Hoskins was a delight as the slightly crude and lovesick Sir Pitt Crawley. Rhys Ifans gave one of his most subtle performances as the upright and slightly self-righteous William Dobbins, who harbored a unrequited love for Amelia. Jim Broadbent gave an intense performance as George’s ambitious and grasping father. And Gabriel Byrne was both subtle and cruel as the lustful and self-indulgent Marquis of Steyne.

In the end, I have to say that I cannot share the negative opinions of “VANITY FAIR”. I realize that it is not a “pure” adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s novel or that it is perfect. But honestly, I do not care. Despite its flaws, “VANITY FAIR” proved to be a very entertaining movie for me. And I would have no problem watching it as much as possible in the future.

“SPIDER-MAN” HOMECOMING” (2017) Review

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“SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” (2017) Review

Although the 2017 movie, “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING”, marked the first solo Spider-man film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franhise, it also marked the second appearance of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man in a MCU film. The character made its first appearance in 2016’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”.  In an odd way, this film could be seen as a sequel to the 2016 movie. .

Before the 2016 movie, the character of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man had been featured in five films released through Columbia (later Sony) Pictures – three of them directed by Sam Rami between 2002-2007 and two of them directed by Marc Webb between 2012-2014. Instead of allowing Webb to round out his own trilogy, Sony Pictures made a deal with Disney and Marvel Films to allow the Spider-Man character to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), while Sony retained final creative control over over any of the character’s solo films and appearances in other MCU movies. In the end, both Sony and Disney hired British actor Tom Holland to be the new Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. The character made his first MCU appearance in the second half of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” when he was recruited by Tony Stark aka Iron Man to help track down and arrest Steve Rogers aka Captain America and other rogue Avengers who had refused to sign the Sokovia Accords in Berlin, Germany.

However, the first ten to fifteen minutes of “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” began in the past . . . a few days following the Battle of New York in 2012’s “THE AVENGERS”. Adrian Toomes, the owner of a salvage company, has been contracted by the city government to clean up the mess from the Chitauri invasion. However, their operation is taken over by the Department of Damage Control (D.O.D.C.), a partnership between Tony and the U.S. government. Angered at being driven out of business, Toomes and his employees decide to keep the Chitauri technology they have already scavenged and use it to create and sell advanced weapons. After Peter participates in the Avenges’ battle at the Berlin airport, he returns to New York and resumes his studies at the Midtown School of Science and Technology. Tony informs Peter that he is not ready to become an Avenger, yet allows the web slinger to keep an A.I. Spider-Man suit that he had created. A few months later, Peter quits his school’s academic decathlon team in order to spend more time focusing on his crime-fighting activities as Spider-Man. The latter also becomes aware of Spider-Man and utilizes a suit with mechanical wings forged from Chitauri technology to become the criminal known as “Vulture”. However, his operation attracts the attention of Spider-Man, when the latter prevents a criminals from robbing an ATM with his advanced weapons.

“SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” became the second highest-grossing film of the Summer of 2017, following “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2” . . . so far. To be honest, I had expected it to become the highest grossing summer film of the year and a lot sooner. Nor did I expect it to become the second-highest grossing film within a span of two months. That seemed a bit long to me for a movie with such high expectations. A part of me cannot help but wonder why it took so long for “HOMECOMING” to achieve this position in the first place. I thought “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” was one of the more down-to-earth MCU films I have seen since 2015’s “ANT-MAN”. But the latter had the distinction of being something rare in a comic book film genre . . . a heist film. “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING”proved to be a more conventional film in which the protagonist takes on a group of local arms dealers, selling their wares to local criminals. Like I said . . . down to earth. The movie also did a solid job in portraying Peter’s development as a costumed hero. I say solid, because audiences were first introduced to the MCU’s Spider-Man a few months after he had acquired his powers and become a vigilante. So, movie audiences never really saw how this Peter Parker became Spider-Man. But if I must be honest, I did not regard this as a major problem. Somewhat. The movie also did a pretty good job in conveying how Peter’s Spider-Man activities interfered with his private life.

The movie also featured what I believed were a few memorable scenes – both dramatic and action. I enjoyed the sequence in which Spider-Man was forced to rescue his classmates from an elevator mishap inside the Washington Monument. Well, most of the sequence. I had one complaint about it, which I will point out later. The ferryboat sequence that featured Spider-Man’s attempt to arrest the Vulture provided a good number of tension and great cinematography. The movie’s ending proved to be very memorable to me. In this final scene, May Parker, Peter’s aunt, walked into his bedroom and found him changing out of his Spider-Man costume. Her reaction to this revelation proved to be the funniest and most original scene in the entire movie. But my favorite moment proved to be when Adrian Toomes discovered Peter’s identity as Spider-Man. It happened, in all places, inside Toomes’ car as he drove his daughter Liz Allan and Peter to their school’s Homecoming dance. From the moment that Liz Allan unintentionally revealed Peter’s constant absences, Toomes knew that Peter was the costumed vigilante who had been causing trouble for him and his men.

“SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” also benefited from a first-rate cast. Tom Holland became the fourth actor I have seen portray Spider-Man . . . and the third to do so on the silver screen. He is probably the youngest to portray the role. Many critics and moviegoers regarded his age as the reason why he might be the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I cannot say that I agree with assessment. Mind you, he did a great job in the role. But if I must be honest, I was equally impressed with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s interpretations. Another first-rate performance came from Michael Keaton, who portrayed the movie’s main antagonist, Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture. In fact, the Toomes character, along with Keaton’s portrayal; seemed indicative of the film’s down-to-earth style. I do not regard Adrian Toomes as one of the best villains that have appeared in the MCU franchise. But . . . I must admit that Keaton gave one of the best performances I have seen within the franchise for a while. Thanks to his skillful and subtle performance, Keaton elevated a character that otherwise did not strike me as particularly interesting.

There were a few other performances that I also found enjoyable. One of them came from Marisa Tomei, who portrayed Peter’s widowed aunt and sole guardian, May Parker. And thanks to Tomei’s skills as a comedic actress, she provided one of the most memorable endings in a MCU film. Jon Favreau continued his portrayal of Tony Stark’s right-hand man, Harold “Happy” Hogan. I thought he did an excellent job of portraying Happy’s never-ending disregard for any of Tony’s fellow costumed vigilantes. Tony Revolori gave a rather entertaining performance as Peter’s high school tormentor, Flash Thompson. What I found interesting about Revolori’s performance is that unlike the previous versions of this character, his Flash utilize more verbal methods of bullying Peter, due to being the self-indulged son of a wealthy man and slight in figure. The movie also featured solid performances from Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Bokeem Woodbine, Jacob Batalon, Hannibal Buress, Logan Marshall-Greene, Garcelle Beauvais, Tyne Daly, Kenneth Choi; along with Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony Stark and Pepper Potts.

However, “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” has its flaws. Unfortunately, I feel that it has more flaws than virtues. I have so many problems with this film that I believe it would take a separate essay to discuss all of them. The best I can do is mention those I can remember at the moment – like the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline. What in the hell happened? Talk about a massive screw up. In “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, Vision had pointed out that Tony Stark had revealed himself to the world as Iron Man eight years earlier. This movie began a few days after the events of “THE AVENGERS”. Then the movie jumped eight years to its main narrative, beginning with Spider-Man’s experiences with the Berlin Airport fight in “CIVIL WAR”. Following that event, the movie jumped a few months later. Does this mean that both “IRON MAN” and “THE AVENGERS” were set during the same year? The entire Phase One of the MCU – aside from most of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”? I doubt it very much, considering that according to Nick Fury, the events of “IRON MAN 2”“THOR” and “THE INCREDIBLE HULK” had occurred at least a year before “THE AVENGERS”. It is all so fucking confusing that I do not want to discuss this any further.

Another problem I had with “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” was the presence of Tony Stark in the film and that damn Artificial Intelligence Spider-Man suit he had created for Peter. I realize that Iron Man was the Marvel character that had kick-started the MCU, but . . . c’mon! It was bad enough that the character had nearly hijacked a Captain America film. Now we had to see Robert Downey Jr.’s mug in this film? And he has proven to be one of the worst mentors I have seen on-screen. Tony’s idea of being a mentor was to plant a tracking device in Peter’s new Spider-Man suit and order Happy to keep tabs on the kid. You know, long distance mentoring? What the damn hell? It was bad enough that he had dragged Peter all the way to Germany (and without May’s knowledge) to help him battle the rogue Avengers. Then upon their return to New York, he advises Peter to stick with capturing local criminals. And then he leaves New York to monitor Peter from a distance. What the hell? I hate to say this, but the actor has really outstayed his welcome in the MCU . . . at least as far as I am concerned.

Speaking of Tony Stark, the movie revealed that he had resumed his romance with his former Girl Friday, Pepper Potts. In fact, they had become engaged. Only this revelation was made near the end of the film . . . in a quickie scene that served as comic relief. Great! Between “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” and this film, Marvel revealed how incompetent it has become in portraying on-screen romances – even between established couples. Audiences were told in “CIVIL WAR” that Tony and Pepper had broken up. And we were told in a brief scene in this film that they had not only reconciled, but had also become engaged. The MCU’s screenwriters utilized the old “tell but not show” adage in the franchise’s portrayal of the Tony/Pepper romance. How sloppy. I never thought I would say this, but I was not that particularly thrilled by the presence of Captain America in this film. Why? Because he was featured in a series of taped Public Service Announcement (P.S.A.) video clips shown to the students at Midtown High. Normally, I would not have a problem with this. And even the final P.S.A. shown in a post-credit scene struck me as rather humorous. But . . . Steve Rogers aka Captain America had been a fugitive for a few months. Why would any school show a P.S.A. featuring a wanted fugitive? The New York City School District had a few months to tape a new P.S.A. Or . . . I could have simply done without this little and unnecessary addition to the film in the first place. I thought it was a waste of my time.

As for the A.I. suit, I hated it. I really hated that damn suit. I hated it. It merely robbed Peter from most of the abilities and nuance that made him Spider-Man – especially his spider senses. Worse, it kept interfering with Peter’s vigilante activities. When Spider-Man finally defeated the Vulture without the use of that damn suit, I sighed with relief. Unfortunately . . . the movie ended with Tony giving back that suit to him. Ugh! Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and the comic book versions of the character managed to survive and develop without Stark’s tech additions. But apparently, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man cannot. Why? Because he is now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. UGH!

When I heard that actress/singer Zendaya had been cast as one of Peter’s classmates – M.J., I cheered. She would be a new kind of Mary Jane Watson. Only, I had no idea how different Zendaya’s M.J. would prove to be. One, her initials did not stand for Mary Jane. They stood for Michelle Jones. They changed the name, but kept the initials? What the fuck for? And like Peter, she proved to be a science-oriented student. Apparently, Marvel felt that the only kind of love interest – present or future – worthy of someone like Peter Parker, is one who is science-oriented like him. Which is why both Liz Allan and M.J. are science-oriented. Worse, the screenwriter completely changed her personality. This M.J. is an introverted and sardonic person in compare to the more extroverted M.J. from the comics. A romance between the introverted Peter and the introverted M.J.? Sounds like a great snooze fest. Come to think of it, the relationship between Peter and Liz Allan struck me as equally dull. I hate to say this but Tom Holland and Laura Harrier lacked screen chemistry. Honestly, she seemed a bit too much for the likes of him . . . on-screen and off.

Speaking of introverts, I found the movie’s portrayal of Peter Parker rather confusing. Peter has always been an introvert – even before he became Spider-Man. Only when wearing the Spider-Man suit did he display an extroverted persona. Well, Holland’s Spider-Man was extroverted. I had no problems with that. I had a problem with his Peter Parker persona. The only times Holland’s Peter displayed any signs of an introverted nature was when he had to deal with classmates like the bullying Flash Thompson. Otherwise, his Peter was unusually extroverted. And he never had to pay the consequences for his activities as Spider-Man. Not really. I thought it would have been more dramatic if his academic decathlon team had suffered a loss at their competition in Washington D.C. because he was busy being Spider-Man. Only they did not.

And the story lost an excuse for Peter to suffer any consequences for being Spider-Man. Also, near the end of the film, Tony offered him a position as a member of the Avengers. He brought Peter all the way to the Avengers facility in upstate New York and had a room waiting for the 15 year-old. Gee! All of this . . . without May’s permission? After all, Peter was underage. Was Tony really planning to let Peter drop out of school and leave Queens in order to join the Avengers . . . without May’s permission and knowledge? After the shit he had pulled with dragging Peter to Germany in “CIVIL WAR”, I guess so. What the hell Marvel?

I realized that director Jon Watts and the five screenwriters who had co-written the screenplay with him thought they were being clever by not starting the movie with Peter’s origin story. In a way, how could they? Especially since Peter had been Spider-Man for several months before the events of “CIVIL WAR”. But dammit! Watts and the other writers could have utilized a flashback or two to reveal the events of that momentous occasion. More importantly, the movie’s screenplay could have mentioned Ben Parker’s name and how he had died. They did not even bother to do that. Instead, Peter merely mentioned to his friend Ned that his aunt May had managed to recover from a traumatic event. Peter’s uncle went from “Uncle Ben Parker” to “a traumatic event”. Gee. How nice.

I also had a problem with Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture. As I had stated earlier, I really enjoyed Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the character, despite the latter being an underwhelming villain. But I had a problem with the villain’s actions and goals. Let me get this straight. He was about to lose his business, because he lost the contract with the city to clean up the mess from the Chitauri invasion? Really? You mean to say that Toomes’ salvaging company lacked any business before the events of “THE AVENGERS”? And how did the D.O.D.C. failed to confiscate the Chitauri technology that Toomes had already collected before losing his contract? When the Chitauri tech threatened to run out two-thirds into the film, Toomes’ company was in danger . . . again? This guy could not operate a salvage company without depending upon alien technology? I also found Toomes’ reason for stealing and selling Chitauri tech and weapons to many of New York City’s criminals struck me as somewhat problematic and shallow. Yes, Toomes had spent money to ensure that his salvaging company would collect the Chitauri weapons from the latter’s invasion. But after the Federal government had taken over the task, Toomes should have demanded a refund for the money he had already spent. Even if the City or the Feds had been reluctant to do so, Toomes could have easily recovered his money via a lawsuit . . . instead of turning to crime. This made his reason for becoming a villain and his goal irrelevant to me. Hell, this made the plot irrelevant, as well. I guess the movie’s screenwriters could not do better.

And could someone explain why Marvel had decided to make Liz Allan and the Vulture daughter and father? Yes, both characters are a part of the Spider-Man mythos. But they had nothing to do with each other. And in this film, both had different surnames. What was the point in making Liz the daughter of the Vulture in the first place?

I do not know what else to say about “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING”. Well, despite some first-rate acting from the likes of Tom Holland and Michael Keaton and a few solid action and dramatic sequences directed by Jon Watts, I guess so. Unfortunately, the movie’s virtues seemed to be rather few. And if I must be honest, Watts’ direction struck me as okay, but not really that impressive, considering that I was only impressed by a few scenes. But there were too many aspects in this film that either rubbed me the wrong way or seemed badly written to me. In the end, I found “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” rather disappointing. It is probably my least favorite Spider-Man film.