“ATONEMENT” (2007) Review

“ATONEMENT” (2007) Review

Based upon Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, “ATONEMENT” told the story about how the lies and misunderstandings of 13-year-old girl from a nouveau-riche English family affected the romance between her older sister and the son of the family’s housekeeper. The movie starred James McAvoy, Keira Knightely and Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan.

Comprised in four parts (like the novel), “ATONEMENT” began with the 13 year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring novelist with a crush on Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the family’s housekeeper. Robbie, along with Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) have both returned for the summer in 1935, following their education at Cambridge. Although both Robbie and Cecilia have been aware of each other at Cambridge, neither have not bothered to acknowledged their romantic interest in each other until recently. Also at the Tallis home for the weekend are Briony and Cecilia’s cousins – the 15 year-old Lola Quincey (Juno Temple) and her younger twin brothers – and their older brother Leon’s friend, the owner of a chocolate factory named Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch).

After Briony had witnessed several disturbing scenes – at least in her eyes – between Robbie and Cecilia, she comes to the conclusion that Robbie might be a sexual threat to Cecilia. Matters worsened when Briony joined the rest of the household in the search for Lola’s twin brothers, who had ran off in protest against their parents’ upcoming divorce. During the search for the twins, Briony witnessed the rape of her cousin Lola on the family estate by a man in a dinner suit. In the end, Briony claimed that the man she saw raping Lola was Robbie. Aside from Cecilia, the rest of the family believed Briony and Robbie ends up being sent to prison. At the outset of World War II, the British government released Robbie from prison on condition that he enlist as a private in the British Expeditionary Force. The rest of the movie, set during the early years of World War II, featured Robbie’s brief reunion with Cecilia – who had become a nurse – before his journey to France and the now 18 year-old Briony’s (Romola Garai) experiences as a wartime nurse.

“ATONEMENT” turned out to be a first-rate film about the destructive consequences of lies and illusions. Both director Joe Wright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton structured the movie in an unusual way in which not only did they allow moviegoers different conflicting perspective on certain incidents in the story – a prime example would be both Briony and Robbie’s different points-of-view on an incident regarding Cecilia’s retrieval of a broken vase from the estate fountain, but also quite cleverly hinted that certain aspects of story – especially the World War II segments – may have been colored by Briony’s own emotions and imagination. Also, Wright, along with art directors Ian Bailie, Nick Gottschalk and Niall Moroney; and production designer Sarah Greenwood did an excellent job in re-creating the rich atmosphere of Britain in the mid-1930s and 1940 and especially the Dunkirk expedition. I also have to commend Paul Tothill for the film’s superb editing. Tothill managed to give “ATONEMENT” a rhythmic style that matched the sound of a typewriter that added an illusionary sense to the unfolding story. In other words, by editing the story in a way that allowed certain scenes to be told from different points of view and added a sense of illusion, Tothill’s work gave the audience a false sense of illusion – at least for those who have never read McEwan’s novel.

I do have one quibble about the movie’s production . . . and I have to place the blame on Wright’s direction. I am referring the sequence that featured Robbie’s arrival at the beach at Dunkirk. At first glance, I was struck by the spectacle of Wright’s direction and Seamus McGarvey’s photography of the entire montage. Like I said . . . at first. Unfortunately, the montage ended up lasting several minutes too long. Not much time had passed when I found myself longing for it to end. I realized that Wright wanted to reveal the horror and chaos of war in all of its glory. But in the end, he simply went too far.

I must admit that I was not as impressed by most of the cast of “ATONEMENT” as most critics and moviegoers. There was nothing earth-shattering about most of the performances . . . just good, solid work. Many moviegoers and critics had been surprised when both James McAvoy and Keira Knightley failed to earn Academy Award nominations. After watching the movie, I am not really surprised. Mind you, both gave very competent performances as the two lovers – Robbie and Cecilia But I had two problems with McAvoy and Knightley. One, their screen chemistry was not that explosive, considering the heated romance of their characters. It took a love scene inside the Tallis library to truly generate any heat between them. And two, I think their performances were hampered by Wright’s decision to allow the characters to speak in a staccato style that was prevalent in the movies of the 1930s and 40s in both Hollywood and Britain. I hate to say this, but McAvoy and Knightley never really managed to utilize this speech pattern with any effectiveness. There were times when their attempts to use it threatened to make their performances seem stiff and rushed. Perhaps they were simply too young and inexperienced.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by the three actresses who portrayed Briony Tallis at different stages in her life. Legendary actress Vanessa Redgrave portrayed a 70-80 year-old Briony, who had not only wrote a novel based upon the events surrounding Robbie’s arrest, but also confessed to the mistake she had committed decades earlier. And Romola Garai portrayed the character as an 18 year-old wartime nurse. Both actresses did an excellent job of portraying these older versions of Briony. But it was the young actress Saoirse Ronan who stole the movie as the 13 year-old Briony, whose naivety, jealousy toward Cecilia and Robbie’s budding romance and penchant for illusions led to devastating consequences for the romantic pair. Unlike McAvoy and Knighteley, Ronan gave a superb and natural performance as the confused and emotional Briony. It is not surprising that her work eventually earned BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

Before I end this review, I have to point out something that troubled me about “ATONEMENT”. I might as well admit that I have never read McEwan’s novel . . . which is why the following storyline left me feeling confused. From what I have read about the film and the novel, Briony’s cousin, Lola Quincey, had been raped by the Tallis’ guest, Paul Marshall. And yet . . . she married the man, five years later. Why? Was it because she never knew that Marshall had been the one who had raped her? But judging from the hostile look she had given Briony at her wedding, Lola seemed well aware of that fact. Did Marshall actually raped her? Or had he seduced her that night the twins disappeared and Robbie was arrested? Perhaps the novel made the details of Lola’s storyline clearer. The movie left it murky. At least for me.

In the end, I must admit that “ATONEMENT” proved to be one of the best movies released in 2007. Was it the best movie of that year? I do not think so. I have recently seen “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN” and believe that it deserved that Best Picture Oscar. But despite some of the movie’s flaws, director Joe Wright managed to lift the usual Merchant Ivory façade of Britain’s past and create an emotionally dark film from Ian McEwan’s novel.

 

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1970s Costumes in Movies and Television

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Below are images of fashion during the 1970s, found in movies and television productions over the years:

 

1970s COSTUMES IN MOVIES AND TELEVISION

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“Apollo 13″ (1995)

 

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“Casino” (1995)

 

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“Austin Powers in Goldmember” (2002)

 

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“Dreamgirls” (2006)

 

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“Rush” (2013)

 

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“American Hustle” (2013)

 

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“X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)

 

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“The Astronaut Wives Club” (2015)

“Altered Lives” [PG-13] – Chapter Three

 

“ALTERED LIVES”

CHAPTER THREE

CORUSCANT

Romulus finally arrived at the galaxy’s bustling capital. Thanks to the ARC-170 that he flew, the planet’s security controller did not demand any identification. In fact, the young Jedi Knight managed to guide the starfighter toward the Jedi Temple with no problems. Only . . . the temple that he had remembered no longer existed.

Heavy rainfall nearly shielded the smoke that billowed from the temple’s center tower. A closer look revealed that three of the Temple’s surrounding towers no longer stood. His heart filled with anxiety, Romulus disregarded any thoughts of caution and landed the fighter on the nearest landing pad.

The Jedi Knight climbed out of the vehicle and immediately raced inside the temple’s hangar. When he finally reached the main building, he found three bodies clad in the uniform of a clone trooper. He raced along the main corridor and did not find a soul, let alone a body around. Although there seemed to be no signs of corpses, Romulus could detect the odor of dead flesh in the air. Whatever bodies there had been, someone had them removed. For which Romulus felt eternally grateful. Facing the ruined temple had been bad enough. His mind reeled at the idea of being confronted with bodies of his fellow Jedi.

Romulus continued to march along the temple’s desolate corridor. He meant to reach a room where he could learn the whereabouts of all the knights. Perhaps he could rendezvous with one or more of them. Find a way to fight back and finally oust Palpatine from office.

“Hold it right there!” a voice barked. Romulus whirled around and saw a squad of clone troopers aiming blasters at him. The squad’s leader cried out, “He’s Jedi! Fire!” And the troopers attacked.

Fortunately for Romulus, his Jedi reflexes allowed him to fight off the attack with his lightsaber. Despite the troopers’ continuing fire, Romulus managed to deflect their blasts and kill them in the end. After the last clone trooper fell dead, Romulus continued along the corridor. He had reached the temple’s records room when two more clone squads appeared.

Once again, the Jedi found himself deflecting blaster fire. He had the oddest feeling that someone had been expecting him. The Jedi Knight tried to fight off the troopers as best as he could. Deflecting their shots, he managed to kill a good number of them. But despite his Jedi reflexes, he found himself growing increasingly exhausted. He deflected one last shot before a sharp pain struck his left shoulder. This is it, he told himself, before he finally slipped into oblivion.

———

CHOMMEL SECTOR

Inside the Tantive IV’s conference room, Bail met with his two Jedi guests to discuss an important issue – namely what to do with Padme Amidala and her newborn twins.

“Arrange her death we must,” Master Yoda pronounced. “To make sure the Sith does not find her. Or the children.”

Bail felt slightly uneasy that the Jedi Master would make such a decision without considering Padme’s consent. Before he could protest, Master Kenobi asked, “Arrange her death? Do you mean . . .?”

Master Yoda nodded. “Yes. Fake her death. Pregnant, she must still appear. Hidden, safe, the children must be kept.”

“We must take them somewhere the Sith will not sense their presence,” Obi-Wan added.

The older Jedi Knight countered, “Split up, they should be.”

Finally, Bail decided to speak up. “Surely, you plan to discuss this matter with Senator Amidala before you set all of this in motion?”

“I believe that would be an excellent idea,” a light, female’s voice added. The three males glanced at the figure standing in the doorway. A very pale Padme, supported by her protocol droid, slowly made her way into the conference room. All three men stood up, while Bail helped the droid escort her to an empty seat. “Gentlemen.”

Both Masters Yoda and Kenobi bowed at the senator. “Milady,” they murmured simultaneously.

Slowly, Padme sat down in an empty seat and regarded the two Jedi Knights with chilly eyes. “Exactly when were you planning to inform me of your plans regarding my children, Master Yoda?”

The diminutive Jedi Master bowed again. “Senator Amidala, feel how do you?”

“I am well as I can be, Master Yoda.” Padme inhaled sharply. “Considering I have recently given birth to twins. Speaking of my children, what were you planning to do with them?”

An uncomfortable silence filled the starcruiser’s conference room. As much as Bail felt sorry for Masters Yoda and Kenobi, he could not help but feel a small twinge of satisfaction at their discomfort. They had brought it upon themselves by assuming authority over his colleague’s children.

Kenobi said, “Please Padme, you must understand. We are only thinking of your safety. And the children’s safety. One day, they might be able to defeat the Emperor.”

“Strong the Force runs in the Skywalker line,” Master Yoda added. “Until the time is right, disappear they must.”

Padme’s eyes hardened. “Is that all my children mean to you? A tool to defeat Palpatine? What makes you think I will allow them to become Jedi?”

Kenobi sighed. “Padme . . .”

“Allow me to make something clear,” Padme said, interrupting the Jedi Knight. “I . . . will decide my children’s future. And until they assume the age of consent, they will stay with me. I will not split them up.”

Anxiety flashed in Master Kenobi’s eyes. “Padme, you cannot be serious! You simply cannot take your children back to Naboo. It will not be long before the Emperor finds them!”

“I will not return to Naboo.”

Again, silence enveloped the room. The two men and Yoda frowned at the Nabooan senator. “But . . . we are bound for Naboo at this moment,” Bail said. “In fact, we should arrive within a day.”

Padme sighed. “Then I suggest that we adopt Master Yoda’s idea . . . fake my death. However, my parents must know the truth.” Kenobi opened his mouth to protest, but she continued. “I need them to help me acquire all of my personal assets, Obi-Wan. I will need those assets to maintain a comfortable life for my children and myself.”

Bail asked, “And after that? After the funeral?”

Padme hesitated. “I don’t know. Find a new home for us. I might consider asking Ani . . . Anakin’s family on Tatooine to allow us to stay for a while. At least until I can find a new home.”

“Why don’t you stay with us?” With a jolt, Bail realized that he had spoken. Yet, the more he considered his suggestion, the more he agreed to the idea. He felt certain that his wife, Queen Breha of Alderaan, would not mind the company. Padme could pose as a distant Organa kinsman.

Everyone else in the room stared at Bail. Both Yoda and Kenobi looked skeptical. Padme, on the other hand, seemed conflicted by the idea. “Bail, I don’t . . . I don’t know what to say. I would love to accept your offer, but Alderaan isn’t exactly located in the far reaches of the galaxy. If the Emperor happens to sense the twins . . .”

“It will not matter,” Bail replied. “Trust me. I am sure that Master Yoda can attest to the fact that being inclined toward pacifism, many Alderaan citizens were reluctant to hand over their Force-sensitive children over to the Jedi Order. They did not approve of the martial arts. Which means that a good number of our citizens are Force-sensitive.”

Padme blinked. “Oh. Then . . .” A bright smile – the first he had seen in a very long time – illuminated her otherwise pale and drawn face. “Then I accept your offer. Thank you, Bail.”

Skepticism remained stamped on the two Jedi Knights’ faces. Kenobi opened his mouth to speak, but Padme added, “Would you all please excuse me? I need to see to the children. And I need more rest.” She turned to the protocol droid. “Threepio?”

“Yes, Miss Padme.” The droid rushed over to help his mistress stand up. The men also stood. Bail summoned Raynor to help the droid escort her back to her cabin.

The Alderaanian senator realized that he need to make arrangements for their arrival on Naboo – and for the deception they were all about to perpetrate. He excused himself and started toward the door. As he paused in the doorway, he glanced over his shoulder and saw that the two Jedi Masters were already deep in conversation.

———-

“. . . any way to change Padme’s mind?” Obi-Wan was saying to Yoda. “Surely she must realize that keeping the twins together might be dangerous.”

Yoda closed his eyes and sighed. “Clouded by her emotions, the senator is. Trust us, she no longer does.”

Obi-Wan glanced away. “Speaking of which, I have yet to tell her about Anakin.” He paused. “And I have not decided whether I should or not. What do you think, Master Yoda?”

“Find him, she will not,” Yoda proclaimed. “Not without great risk to her children.” He gave the younger Jedi Master a surreptious glance. “As for your decision to search for him . . .”

With a slight cough, Obi-Wan declared, “My decision has remained firm on this matter, Master Yoda. I must be certain that he has not returned to Lord Sidious.”

Yoda nodded. “And your plans, if you do not find him?”

Obi-Wan searched his mind for an answer. “Find a permanent home. Since I am headed for Tatooine, it seems like a good place to stay.”

The other Jedi Master leaned back into his chair. “In that case, in your solitude on Tatooine, training I have for you.”

Leaning forward, Obi-Wan said, “Training?”

“An old friend has learned the path to immortality.”

“Who?”

The Jedi Master’s eyes grew opaque. “One who has returned from the netherworld of the Force to train me.” He paused dramatically. “Your old Master, Qui-Gon Jinn.”

The news took Obi-Wan by surprise. His heart nearly leapt at the mention of his former master. “Qui-Gon? But how could he accomplish this?”

Yoda leaned forward. “The secret of the Ancient Order of the Whills, he studied. How to commune with him, I will teach you.”

Obi-Wan shook his head in confusion. “I will be able to talk to him?”

Nodding, Yoda replied, “How to join the Force, he will train you. Your consciousness you will retain, when one with the Force.” His small eyes glittered with promise, as he added on a final note, “Even your physical self, perhaps.”

———-

CORUSCANT

Accompanied by his aide, Sly Moore, Emperor Palpatine slowly walked along the wide corridor of the new Imperial Security Bureau. The pair finally came upon a pair of double door that led to the Bureau’s rehabilitation facility. Two members of the Red Guard, now renamed the Imperial Guard, flanked the doors.

“Stay here,” Palpatine barked at his aide. Sly Moore nodded and remained outside, while the Sith Lord entered the facility. Inside, he found his new prisoner laid across a gurney that also served as a bed. Metal clamps stretched across the prisoner’s chest, while other clamps imprisoned his arms and legs. Palpatine nodded at the FX-9 medical droid. “Wake him.”

The droid glided over to the gurney and inserted a drug-filled injector into the prisoner’s left arm. Nearly a minute passed before the prisoner’s eyes flickered open. Palpatine pressed a button, allowing the gurney to rotate into a vertical position. The prisoner glanced around and groggily asked, “Where am I?”

“You are inside the Imperial Security Bureau,” the Emperor replied. “Here on Coruscant, of course.” He continued in a polite voice, “May I ask what where you doing at the Jedi Temple? Hoping to meet a few of your conspirators, perhaps?”

The prisoner frowned. “Conspirators? You dare question . . .” He paused. “The clone troopers on Dallik had mutinied against me and my master. And when I had arrived here . . . I was attacked. By other clones.”

Smoothly, Palpatine replied, “Naturally. You are Jedi. What did you expect? Your masters had committed treason against the state. Both Masters Windu and Yoda had attempted to assassinate me . . . due to a plan by the Jedi Council to take over the Senate.”

“You’re lying!” the prisoner exclaimed. A piece of equipment zoomed across the room, narrowly missing the Sith Lord’s head by inches. “The Jedi would never have made any assassination attempts. That is not our way. If they . . . if they had tried to kill you . . . they must have had a good reason. Many of us knew of your connection to a Sith Lord named Sidious.”

The news startled Palpatine slightly. He had been aware of the Jedi Council’s suspicions and the evidence they had discovered. But he never realized that the Jedi rank-and-file also knew. “From whom did you learn this?” When the prisoner failed to answer, Palpatine smiled. “Ah, of course. I should have known that Jedi Master Wo-Chen Puri must have said something to you. I understand that he had been a friend of Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, who was a member of the Council.”

A startled expression flitted across the prisoner’s face. “You . . . you know who I am?”

Palpatine’s smile widened. Like a reptile that had ensnared his prey. “Of course. Jedi Knight Romulus Wort. You were considered one of the Order’s most promising initiates of your generation. Along with Ferus Olin and Anakin Skywalker . . . also known as the Chosen One.” He inhaled slightly to mask his own frustration and anger at his former apprentice’s defection.

“If you’re asking me for their whereabout, I don’t know,” Wort spat out. “Ferus had left the Order before he could be knighted. Before the war. As for Skywalker . . . I assume you had him killed.”

His voice dripping with false modesty, Palpatine countered, “Now why would I do that? Master Skywalker had been a great help to putting down the Jedi rebellion.” Savoring Wort’s surprised reaction, he added, “Did you know that he had saved me from Mace Windu, when the latter tried to kill me? He even ended the war by destroying the Separatist leadership on my orders.” He paused. “And helped end the Jedi Order’s rule once and for all.”

Palpatine could practically feel the Jedi Knight’s consternation rising. In fact, he savored every moment of it.

“What are you saying?” Wort demanded. “For all his faults, Anakin Skywalker would never betray the Order. He has always been a loyal knight.”

A heavy sigh left Palpatine’s mouth. “Really?” Using a remote, the Sith Lord activated a holoprojector situated not far from the gurney. A holographic image of the late Mace Windu wielding a lightsaber, a fallen Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker appeared before the pair. With concealed glee, Sidious watched the Jedi Knight stare at the unfolding scene:

A holographic Palpatine gasped, “I can’t . . . I give up. Help me. I am weak . . . I am too weak. Don’t kill me. I give up. I’m dying. I can’t hold on any longer.”

Windu growled, “You Sith disease! I am going to end this once and for all!”

“You can’t kill him, Master!” the holographic Skywalker begged. “He must stand trial.”

“He has too much control of the Senate and the Courts!” Windu retorted. “He is too dangerous to be kept alive!”

Palpatine watched his holographic self beg once more for Skywalker’s help. And as he had recalled, the latter demanded restraint on the Jedi Master’s part. He then watched as the holographic Windu raised his lightsaber for the death blow.

Skywalker demanded, “He must live . . .”

“Please don’t,” the holographic Palpatine begged.

Skywalker added, “I need him . . .”

“Please don’t . .”

Then Palpatine’s missing apprentice cried out, as he stepped forward to chop off Windu’s sword hand. Palpatine had to refrain from chuckling aloud at the moment. He then reveled at the sight of his holographic self blasting the Jedi Master with Force lightning.

Gasps escaped from Romulus Wort’s mouth. The Sith Lord could feel the young man’s anger growing stronger.

Then the holographic Skywalker bemoaned, “What have I done? After the Palpatine hologram reminded the Chosen One of destiny being fulfilled, the latter pledged, “I will do whatever you ask.”

“Good,” the holographic Palpatine said.

“Just help me save Padme’s life. I can’t live without her. I won’t let her die. I want the power to stop death.” While the holoprojecter displayed Skywalker pledging his life to the Sith, Palpatine switched it off.

“This . . . this isn’t true!” a horrified Wort exclaimed. “Anakin would never be . . .” He turned accusing eyes upon the Emperor. “You’re the Sith Lord! You deserved to die at Master Windu’s hands! Anakin would never betray the Order!”

“Are you so certain, my young Jedi? Then I suggest that you continue to watch.” Again, Palpatine switched on the holoprojector.

A holographic image of Skywalker as Darth Vader surveyed the carnage inside the Jedi Temple. Palpatine could not help but admire his former apprentice’s handiwork. Then his holographic counterpoint appeared.

“The traitors have been taken care of, Lord Sidious,” Vader declared.

Nodding, the holographic Palpatine murmured, “Good . . . good. You have done well, my new apprentice. Do you feel your power growing?”

“Yes, my Master.”

“Now, Lord Vader,” the other Sidious added, “now go and bring peace to . . .”

“NOOOOO!!!” The cry escaped from Wort’s mouth, as medical equipment zipped back and forth, across the room. Droids crushed into pieces of metal without any effort. The Jedi Knight’s restraints snapped free. Using the Force, Palpatine detached a needle from one remaining medical droid and inserted its tip into Wort’s neck. Seconds later, the Jedi Knight slumped to the floor, unconscious.

The Sith Lord heaved a sigh of relief. He had no idea that Romulus Wort would prove to be so powerful. True, he may never match Vader’s raw strength, but he came pretty close. Developing this young man into a Sith apprentice might just make up for the loss of Vader.

Satisfied with his work for the afternoon, Palpatine left the room. He found Sly Moore, as he had left her, standing in the corridor. Only, she now held a data pad in her hands. “This is for you, Your Highness,” she said in a solemn voice. “It is news from Naboo.”

END OF CHAPTER THREE

 

“AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” (2007) Review

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“AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” (2007) Review

Not long ago, I had written a review of an Agatha Christie television movie called “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL”. It was a 1987 adaptation of the writer’s 1965 novel. Twenty years later, ITV aired its own version that starred Geraldin McEwan as Miss Jane Marple. 

But I am not interested in comparing the two adaptations. Instead, I want to discuss only one of them – the recent 2007 televised film. The movie began with a flashback to the early 1890s in which a young Jane Marple stayed at the fashionable London hotel, Bertram’s, with a relative. Sixty years later, the elderly resident of St. Mary Mead’s pay another visit to the hotel and discovers that its interior has not really changed over the years. Miss Marple is there She is there to meet an old friend named Lady Selina Hazy, who is visiting for the reading of a will of her millionaire second cousin, who had been declared dead after being missing for seven years and owned Bertram’s. Also there for the reading of the hotel owner’s will are his ex-wife Bess, Lady Sedgwick; and daughter Elvira Blake. Bertram’s Hotel also seemed to be used as a center to smuggle Nazi war criminals and their stolen treasure; and for jewel thieves.

Christie’s 1965 novel is not considered one of her stronger ones and I can see why. The story’s murder mystery is rather weak and easy to solve. They mystery behind the hotel proved to be more interesting. The 1987 television movie with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple closely followed the novel. Despite a sluggish pacing, it still proved to be entertaining. Screenwriter Tom McRae decided to “solve” the matter of Christie’s narration by “improving” it with major changes. And you know what? It sucked. Big time. Without a doubt, “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” – at least this 2007 version – is one of the worst Christie adaptations I have ever seen. Period.

One of the first sentences that Miss Marple observes when she arrives at Bertam’s after many years is that the hotel had not changed . . . even after sixty years. And yet that was NOT the impression I encountered. In Christie’s novel and the 1987 film, the elderly sleuth noticed that the hotel’s quiet and elegant atmosphere had remained intact after many years. I NEVER got that impression in this 2007 film . . . certainly not with the noisy bustling going on upon her arrival. To make matters worse, McRae’s script had Louis Armstrong and his band break out into a jam session in one of the hotel’s ballroom. He is joined by one of the writer’s fictional characters, an American-born black jazz singer named Amelia Walker. WTF????? I cannot image Louis Armstrong staying at some quaint little London hotel like Bertram’s. The screenplay also had the Lady Sedgwick character receiving clumsily written death threats, Nazi war criminals and their hunters disguised as hotel guests. The screenplay even featured an extra murder victim – a hotel maid named Tilly Rice. It also made the actual murder of Bertram’s commissionaire a lot more complicated than necessary. And to make matters even more worse, McRae added another maid character named Jane Cooper, who becomes a younger version of Miss Marple – another talented amateur sleuth. And she acquired a love interest of her own – an Inspector Larry Byrd, a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress. He also replaced the much older Chief Inspector Fred Davy character, as the story’s main police investigator. The screenplay allowed the young Miss Cooper to reveal most of the hotel’s mysteries before Miss Marple exposed the actual killer.

I do not mind if changes were made to Christie’s story. I can think of a good number of Christie adaptations in which changes were made to her original novels and ended up being well-made movies. But I feel that those changes needed to be well-written or be necessary as an improvement to the author’s original tale. “At Bertram’s Hotel” was not a perfect or near-perfect novel. But the changes made for this particular adaptation did not improve the story. On the contrary, the changes made for “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” transformed Christie’s rather eccentric tale into one big convoluted mess. The only positive change that emerged in this adaptation was a shorter running time of ninety-three (93) minutes. Thanks to this shorter running time, “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” managed to avoid the occasionally sluggish pacing of the 1987 movie.

The performances in “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” proved to be a mixed bag. I had nothing against Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of the quiet, yet intelligent Miss Jane Marple. She was her usual more than competent self. I enjoyed her performance so much that I wish that the screenplay had not seen fit to saddle her with the Jane Cooper character. Yes, I hated the idea of another amateur sleuth in this tale. But I must admit that Martine McCutcheon gave a very good performance as Jane. But the producers of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MISS MARPLE” want another amateur sleuth that badly, create another series for her . . . or him. Francesca Annis managed to rise above the material given to her and gave a very funny and entertaining performance as Miss Marple’s old friend, Lady Selina Hazy. However, why do most or all of Miss Marple friends tend to look more glamorous . . . and older than her? Stephen Mangan gave a solid and intense performance as Inspector Larry Byrd. More importantly, he managed to portray a post-traumatic stress victim without engaging in excessive acting. I was not particularly thrilled by McRae and director Dan Zeff’s changes to the Lady Sedgwick character. They replaced Christie’s vivacious and elegant socialite/adventuress into a hard-nosed and somewhat cold businesswoman. However, I cannot deny that actress Polly Walker gave a more than competent performance as Lady Sedgwick, despite the changes to the character.

Naturally, there were the performances that either failed to impress me, or I found troubling. I was not that impressed by Emily Beecham’s portrayal of the young Elvira Blake. I simply found it unmemorable. I can say the same for Mary Nighy’s portrayal of Elvira’s friend, Brigit Milford; Vincent Regan’s performance as hotel commissionaire Mickey Gorman; Nicholas Burns’ portrayal of twin brothers Jack and Joel Britten; and Charles Kay as one Canon Pennyfather, who struck me as a dull and stuffy character. Ed Stoppard portrays a Polish race car driver named Malinowski, who is suspected by many of being a former Nazi. He gave a pretty good performance, although there were a few moments when he dangerously veered into hammy acting. The role of Amelia Walker proved to be singer Mica Paris’ second and (so far) last dramatic role. Mind you, she gave a pretty good performance, but the moment she opened her mouth, I immediately knew she was not an American. I found her accent rather exaggerated at times. I have always been impressed by Peter Davidson in the past. But I must admit that I did not care much for his portrayal of hotel employee Hubert Curtain. I found it unnecessarily exaggerated . . . especially in one scene.

What else can I say? “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” does featured a good deal of atmosphere. Unfortunately, it struck me as the wrong kind of atmosphere for this particular story. And some of the good performances featured in this movie – especially by Geraldine McEwan, Francesca Annis and Polly Walker – could not save the movie from the shabby screenplay written by Tom MacRae. Honestly, I found the whole thing a mess. I only hope that there will be a better written adaptation some time in the future.

Ten Favorite Movie Musicals

Below is a list of my ten favorite movie musicals . . . so far: 

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIE MUSICALS

1. “Mary Poppins” (1964) – Oscar winner Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke starred in Walt Disney’s Oscar winning adaptation of P.L. Travers’ literary series about a magical English nanny. Robert Stevenson directed.

 

 

 

2. “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) – Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds starred in this musical classic about Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies. Kelly co-directed with Stanley Donen.

 

 

 

3. “Hello Dolly!” (1969) – Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau starred in this colorful adaptation of David Merrick’s 1964 Broadway hit musical about a matchmaker in late 19th century New York. Gene Kelly directed.

 

 

 

4. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) – Angela Landsbury and David Tomlinson starred in this entertaining adaptation of Mary Norton’s novels about a woman studying to become a witch, who takes in three London children evacuated to the country during World War II. Robert Stevenson directed.

 

 

 

5. “Grease” (1978) – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-Johns starred in this adaptation of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s 1971 Broadway play about the lives of high-school students during their senior year in the late 1950s. Randal Kleiser directed.

 

 

 

6. “42nd Street” (1933) – Lloyd Bacon directed this musical about the preparation of a Broadway musical during the Great Depression. Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Ruby Keeler and George Brent starred.

 

 

 

7. “Dreamgirls” (2006) – Bill Condon wrote and directed this adaptation of the 1981 Broadway musical about the travails of a female singing group from Detroit during the 1960s and 1970s. Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson starred.

 

 

 

8. “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (1967) – Robert Morse starred in this hilarious adaptation of the 1961 Broadway musical about an ambitious New York window washer using a “how-to” book to rise up the corporate ladder of a wicket company. David Swift wrote and directed the film.

 

 

 

9. “1776” (1972) – William Daniels, Howard Da Silva and Ken Howard starred in this entertaining adaptation of the 1969 Broadway musical about the creation and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Peter H. Hunt directed.

 

 

 

10. “The Gay Divorcee” (1934) – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in this adaptation of the 1932 Broadway musical, “The Gay Divorce” about an American woman who mistakes a song-and-dance man as the professional correspondent, who had been hired to help her get a divorce. Mark Sandrich directed.

“THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY” (1979) Review

“THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY” (1979) Review

As I have stated in many previous movie reviews, I am a sucker for period drama. However, I am an even bigger sucker when said drama turns out to be something different from the usual narrative for this kind of genre. In the case of the 1979 movie, “THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY”, it turned out to be one of those rare kind of films. 

Like Michael Crichton’s 1975 novel, “The Great Robbery”“THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY” is a fictional account of a famous robbery known as the “Great Gold Robbery of 1855”. Before one thinks that the movie is a faithful account of this historical event or a faithful adaptation of Crichton’s novel . . . you are bound to be disappointed. Not only did Crichton play a little fast and loose with history in his novel, he also wrote the movie’s screenplay and made even more changes to the tale.

“THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY” began with a failed attempt by some nameless criminal to rob the gold used to pay the British troops fight in the Crimean War being shipped monthly on the London-to-Folkestone train. This failed robbery, which ended with the criminal’s death, had been masterminded by a successful criminal named Edward Pierce. Finally realizing that the gold is guarded in two safes with two locks each, Pierce and his mistress, Miriam, recruit a pickpocket and screwsman named Robert Agar to make copies of the safes’ four keys. They also set about attaining copies of the keys by exploiting the weaknesses of two key holders – bank president Edgar Trent and bank manager Henry Fowler.

When they discover that the other two keys are locked in a cabinet, inside the office of the South Eastern Railway at the London Bridge train station, Pierce and Agar recruit a cat burglar named “Clean Willie” to help them break into rail office and make impressions of the keys. At first, Pierce is able to execute his plan with very few problems. But obtaining the keys inside the South Eastern Railway office and recruiting “Clean Willie” end up producing major obstacles that he and his accomplices are forced to overcome.

I would not claim that “THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY” is a favorite movie of mine. But I must admit that every time I watch it, I usually end up enjoying it very much. And I cannot deny that it proved to be different than the usual period drama. Although “THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY” is a literary adaptation that also features a historical event, it is not the usual period piece. I mean . . . how many period dramas are about a real-life crime? Especially a crime that had occurred before the 20th century? If there is another movie with a similar narrative, I have yet to come across it.

Even more interesting is that Crichton utilized great details to show audiences how the crime was planned and carried out. Yes, I realize that Crichton had made changes to his portrayal of the 1855 gold robbery, but I still cannot help but admire that he portrayed this crime in such a detailed manner. And this allowed me to enjoy the film even more, for it provided audiences a detailed look into the criminal and business worlds of the Victorian Age during the 1850s. This was especially the case in the movie’s second half in which the protagonists schemed to get their hands on copies of the third and fourth set of keys inside a London railway station. And if I must be honest, I enjoyed the movie’s first half even more – especially those scenes that featured the robbers’ attempts to acquire copies of the first two keys. Since those two keys were in the hands of bank executive Trent and bank manager Fowlers, the movie allowed peeks into the lives of an early Victorian family and a Victorian bachelor, all from the upper-middle-classes. These scenes included one featuring Pierce’s wooing of Trent’s only daughter, while riding along Hyde Park’s Rotten Row, a popular riding spot for upper and middle-class Londoners; and another featuring Miriam’s seduction of the always lustful Fowler inside an exclusive London bordello.

Another aspect of “THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY” that I enjoyed was its production values. Crichton and producer John Foreman had gathered a first-rate crew for this movie. There were four aspects of the movie’s production values that I enjoyed . . . somewhat. I certainly had no problem with Maurice Carter’s production designs for the movie. I thought he did an excellent job in re-creating Victorian London – especially in crowd scenes like the Rotten Row sequence, the bordello and the railway station. I also enjoyed Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Although I did not find it particularly memorable, I thought it blended well with various scenes throughout the movie and was original enough in a jaunty way. I have slightly mixed feelings about Anthony Mendleson’s costume designs. On one hand, I thought many of them – especially those for the male characters – wonderfully recaptured the fashion styles of the mid-1850s. My feelings regarding his designs for the female characters were another matter. There were some designs that I admired very much – especially those for the Pamela Trent and Emily Trent characters. Yet, I found those designs for Lesley-Anne Down’s character rather theatrical. I also have mixed about Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography. On one hand, I found many of the film’s wide shots – especially in many of the exterior shots – rather colorful and beautiful. Unfortunately . . . I also noticed that Unsworth’s photography seemed to project this hazy film, indicating that the movie was a period drama. Personally, I found this . . . haze rather annoying and a bit detrimental to the movie’s sharp colors.

I can only recall at least three or four sequences that might be considered action-oriented. Three of them involved the “Clean Willie” character and I found them well shot by Crichton. The fourth action sequence – the actual train robbery – was also well shot by Crichton. The problem is that I am not a big fan of the actual robbery sequence. What can I say? It bored me. I could explain that I am becoming less tolerant of action sequences in my old age. But if I must be honest, I never really liked this sequence when I first saw it when I was a lot younger. There is nothing like an actual action sequence on top a train to bore the living daylights out of me. It was not Crichton’s fault. This is simply a case of my personal preferences.

I certainly had no problems with the cast. Sean Connery was the perfect embodiment of middle-age debonair as the charismatic, clever and occasionally ruthless criminal mastermind, Edward Pierce. I would not exactly regard this role as a challenge for him. But he seemed to be enjoying himself. The role of Pierce’s mistress, Miriam, seemed to be quite rare for Lesley-Anne Down. I can only recall her portraying a similar character in another heist film that released the same year. Personally, I thought she did a great job portraying Miriam not only as a sexy paramour for Pierce, but also as an equally intelligent and talented partner-in-crime.

The movie also featured some interesting performances from Malcolm Terris as the lustful bank manager Henry Fowler with a penchant for prostitutes. Michael Elphick was effective as the cool and collected bank guard Burgess, who accepts Pierce’s bribe to be a part of the heist. Gabrielle Lloyd gave an interesting performance as Edgar Trent’s rather stuffy and plain daughter Elizabeth whom Pierce pretends to court. And Pamela Salem gave a sly performance as Elizabeth’s stepmother Emily Trent, who hides her lust for Pierce with a cool attitude and pointed comments. Other fine supporting performances came from Alan Webb, Wayne Sleep, Robert Lang and André Morell.

“What about Donald Sutherland?” many might be thinking. Why was he left out of the praise? Trust me, he was not. If I must be honest, Sutherland gave my favorite performance in the film. I really enjoyed his colorful take on the witty and sly pickpocket/screwsman Robert Agar. However, I do have one complaint to make . . . and it not about Sutherland’s performance. As I had just stated, I found it very enjoyable. But I had read somewhere that the real Agar was more or less the brains behind the bank robbery. Also, Crichton had somewhat “dumbed down” the character in his 1975 novel and in the movie. I noticed, while watching the film that Sutherland’s Agar seemed to flip-flop between an intelligent criminal and a buffoon. Personally, I found this inconsistent and unnecessary . . . especially for a successful criminal like Agar.

Yes, I have a few quibbles regarding “THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY”. And if I must be honest, it is not a great favorite of mine. But I certainly do not regarding it as a mediocre piece of filmmaking. In fact, I thought it was not only an excellent movie, but also rather original for a period piece. Michael Crichton may not have been that faithful to what actually happened during the “Great Gold Robbery of 1855”, but I found his fictionalized account rather exciting. And the movie was topped by fine performances from a cast led by Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down.

“Altered Lives” [PG-13] – Chapter Two

 

“ALTERED LIVES”

CHAPTER TWO

EXPANSION REGION

The ARC-170 starfighter raced through the dark recesses of the Derra VI system. Inside the cockpit, Romulus fiddled with the ship’s communication system in a vain attempt to contact the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.

The clonetroopers on Dallik had taken possession of his and Wo-Chen’s Jedi fighters. This action forced Romulus to steal one of the ARC-170 fighters that belonged to a squad of clone pilots. Once he had cleared the Dallik system, Romulus picked up a signal from the Jedi Temple ordering all knights to convene on Coruscant. Unfortunately, the signal went dead somewhere between Koorivia and Bestine, the following day. Romulus had spent the last sixteen hours trying to pick up the signal, again.

For the first time in nearly forty-eight hours, he allowed his mind to replay the clone troopers’ attack upon the Jedi commanders. What had happened? Who had given the clones order to kill both Wo-Chen and himself? Had other Jedi Knights in the field been targeted as well?

Romulus could only think of one person with the power to order the deaths of Jedi Knights – Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Both he and Wo-Chen had occasionally discussed the growing estrangement between the Order and the Republic’s leader. One contention had been the fact that the Chancellor had managed to stay in office beyond his term. Wo-Chen once revealed that Master Ki-Mundi-Adi had spoken of an alleged connection between someone in Palpatine’s inner circle and a Sith Lord named Sidious. If the Jedi were being targeted by clone troopers, Romulus surmised that the connection to the Sith Lord had to be Palpatine.

For a brief second, Romulus closed his eyes and sighed. He hoped that enough Jedi Knights had survived and gathered at the Temple to form some kind of defense against Palpatine and the clone troopers. Then his thoughts fell upon one knight in particular. Anakin Skywalker was known to be a close friend of the Chancellor’s. Had the Chosen One been attacked by clone troopers, as well? Or had his friendship with Palpatine given him immunity? Romulus realized that the answer could only be found in Coruscant.

———-

POLIS MASSA

A young Alderaanian officer approached Senator Bail Organa and whispered a message in his ear. “Thank you, Raymus,” the older man replied, before dismissing his cousin-in-law.

Alderaan’s senator and prince consort rose from his chair inside the Tantive IV’s main cabin and left. He departed from his starship and made his way to the moon’s main post. The senator asked one of the exobiologists for Master Yoda’s location. Several minutes passed before he found Jedi Master Yoda inside the post’s observation dome – meditating.

“Pardon me, Master Yoda,” Bail said, interrupting the diminutive Jedi. “Master Kenobi has made contact. He is on his way.” The latter grunted slightly and nodded.

Nearly an hour later, a silver Nabooan skiff descended upon the post’s main landing platform. Bail inhaled sharply at the sight of Master Kenobi carrying Senator Amidala’s unconscious body down the ship’s ramp. “What happened to her?” the Alderaanian senator demanded.

“Anakin had attacked her,” Kenobi grimly replied. “Using the Force.” Aware of the friendship between his colleague and the young Jedi Knight, Kenobi’s news took Bail by surprise. Even more surprising was the obvious fact that Padme Amidala was pregnant.

Yoda also noticed Senator Amidala’s bulky form. “Hmmmm. Expecting a child, the senator is.”

Kenobi added, “Anakin is the father.”

“Is?” One of Master Yoda’s brows rose questioningly.

A sigh left the younger Jedi’s mouth. “I’m afraid that I have failed, Master Yoda. Anakin . . . or Lord Vader still lives. He has escaped.”

“Then failed the both of us have.” Bail knew that Yoda spoke of his failed attempt to kill the new emperor.

While a pair of medical technicians led the small party toward a medical facility, Bail’s mind reeled over the past recent events that left the Republic in tatters. It all seemed a blur. He found it hard to believe that two attempts on Palpatine’s life, the Jedi Order’s destruction, the end of the war, Palpatine’s declaration as the galaxy’s new emperor, and his assistance of two fugitive Jedi Knights had all occurred within the last few days. And now it seemed that he and these last two Jedi will have to deal with an unexpected pregnancy. Bail shook his head in disbelief. He had harbored misgivings about the Clone War when it first started. But he had no idea that it would eventually lead to the end of the Republic.

The small party entered the medical facility. The technicians placed Padme on a bed inside one of the operating theaters. A groan escaped from her mouth. The two men and Yoda exchanged grim looks. It appeared that the Nabooan ship’s arrival had occurred at a fortuitous time. Not long after she had been situated, Senator Amidala went into labor.

——–

MUSTAFAR

The Imperial shuttle slowly descended into Mustafar’s fiery system. Not long after it landed on solid ground, a squad of clone troopers escorted the wizened, cloaked figure down the shuttle’s ramp.

Former Supreme Chancellor-now-Emperor Palpatine sharply ordered the troopers to search near the lava banks for his new apprentice. Just recently, he had received a premonition that Lord Vader’s life might be in danger.

While the troopers followed his order, Palpatine closed his eyes and inhaled. He saw visions of Lord Vader’s confrontation with Senator Amidala and that Jedi scum, Kenobi. He also saw Vader strangle the senator and engage in a lightsaber duel with the Jedi Master. Back on Coruscant, he had foreseen his apprentice struggling to escape the burning lava after being dismembered by Kenobi. But now . . . He took another deep breath. All he saw was the past. For some reason, he could not sense Lord Vader’s present state or whereabouts. He could not even sense a heartbeat or sound. It seemed as if the Force had blocked his new apprentice from his senses.

Several minutes passed. When the clone detail failed to report any sign of Vader, Palpatine joined them near the lava bank. “Report!” he sharply ordered the squad’s leader.

“Lord Vader is nowhere to be found, Your Highness,” the squad leader reported. “We’ve searched all along the riverbank.”

Palpatine snapped back, “Nonsense! He was here. I had sensed him.” The squad leader remained silent. Once more, the Sith Lord used the Force in an effort to find his missing apprentice. And once again, he failed. Frustration threatened to overwhelm him, until an image of a dark-haired, young man walking through the ruins of the Jedi Temple appeared before him.

“Call off the search,” the new emperor barked. “We will return to Coruscant.”

The squad leader nodded. “Yes, Your Highness.” He summoned the other clone troopers.

Darth Sidious breathed in and out, as he led his troops back to the shuttle. He regretted losing a powerful and valuable apprentice in Vader. But the Force had shown him a suitable replacement. Hopefully, an apprentice powerful enough to stand by his side, yet malleable enough not to become a wild card – like a certain fair-haired Jedi Knight.

———–

POLIS MASSA

A low moan escaped from Padme’s mouth. She felt the baby ease slowly from her body. Her baby. Hers and Anakin’s child. Padme realized that she should feel overjoyed at the idea of becoming a mother. But the feeling refused to come forth. How could she feel any joy? Especially since it had all gone wrong.

“Push,” she heard the medical droid said. Padme released a series of short breaths, as she followed the droid’s order. She could barely sense Obi-Wan’s presence inside the operating theater. Then it finally came. The warm flesh eased further out of her body.

Where had it all gone wrong? Was she being punished for wanting too much? For marrying a Jedi Knight in secret? For marrying him in the first place? Perhaps, if she had followed her original instincts and kept her distance, Anakin’s loyalty would not have been divided between her and the Jedi Order.

Padme felt pain jolt throughout her body. She winced. Then Obi-Wan grabbed hold of her hand. “Don’t give up, Padme,” he gently whispered.

Finally, the baby arrived. Faint cries filled the operating theater. “It’s a boy,” the medical droid announced.

The moment the droid announced the baby’s gender, a name popped into Padme’s mind. “Luke . . .” she whispered. With great difficulty, she struggled to touch the infant’s forehead. She and Anakin were the parents of an infant boy named Luke. If only he were . . .

Another twinge of pain shot through her body. She felt the second child before the medical technician could announce it to the others. She had been carrying twins! Again, the droid ordered her to relax. Between the pain, the humidity that surrounded her and the infant struggling to enter this world, Padme found herself barely hanging on.

Her mind raced back to that day, thirteen years ago, when her presence in the Galactic Senate had spelled the end of Finis Valorum’s rule as the Supreme Chancellor. At first, Padme had felt proud of her “no confidence” nomination against the former chancellor. The situation between Naboo and the Trade Federation led her to consider Valorum as an ineffective leader. But his successor proved to be a bigger mistake for the Republic. The latter no longer existed and had become an Empire due to her foolish naivety. Was she being punished for allowing someone like Palpatine a chance to . . .?

The second baby arrived. Finally. The medical droid announced that it was a girl. Another name popped into Padme’s head. “Leia.”

“You have twins, Padme,” Obi-Wan said. She felt her surroundings slowly fade before her eyes. Obi-Wan continued, “Padme? They need you. Hang on.”

Hang on? How could she? “I can’t,” Padme whispered.

She closed her eyes . . . and heard his voice. She heard Anakin. “You need to be strong, Padme. For you and the baby’s future. But don’t forget . . . I will always love you. Forever.”

A gasp left Padme’s mouth before she could stop herself. While one of her hands grabbed hold of the japor snippet that hung around her neck, the other one took hold of Obi-Wan’s hand. “Save your energy,” the Jedi Master gently added.

Padme opened her mouth to speak. “Obi-Wan,” she whispered, “there . . .” She paused, as she struggled to remain conscious. “There . . . is good . . . in him. I know there is . . .” Her eyelids grew heavy. Her energy continued to drain from her body. She had to tell him! “There is . . . still . . .” And everything faded to black.

———

Stunned by Padme’s sudden laspe, Obi-Wan regarded her with anxious eyes. “Is she . . .? he began.

The medical droid checked the instruments. “The patient is unconscious. She should recover after sufficient rest.”

Relief sagged Obi-Wan’s shoulders. He glanced at Master Yoda and Senator Organa and saw that they shared his feelings. He joined them outside the operating theater. “That was close.”

“No doubt,” Senator Organa replied, shooting a quick glance at his unconscious colleague. “However, I had no idea that she was with child. Is it true that Master Skywalker is the father of her twins?”

Both Obi-Wan and Master Yoda exchanged uneasy looks. “The father, Young Master Skywalker is,” Yoda replied with a nod. “Or as he is now known – Lord Vader. Consumed him, the Dark Side has.”

Obi-Wan shifted from one foot to the other. He realized with discomfort that he had yet to disclose what really happened on Mustafar. “I’m not quite so sure, Master Yoda.”

“Hmmm?”

The older Jedi Master and the Alderaanian senator regarded Obi-Wan with curious yes. He continued, “Something happened on Mustafar. Something . . . unexpected. Before he left, Anakin left this behind.” He removed his former apprentice’s lightsaber from his robe and displayed it before the other two’s astonished eyes.

———

SLUIS SECTOR

Inside his starfighter’s cockpit, Anakin leaned back into his seat and heaved a sigh. Within a space of two or three days, he had managed to ruin his life and the lives of those close to him. And because of this, he now found himself stuck in the middle of the Sluis Sector with no real place to go.

Anakin checked the Jedi fighter’s star charts. So far, the closest star system seemed to be Melida/Daan. Over twenty-five years ago, the planet had been the site of a bloody civil war between its two main inhabitants – the Melida and the Daan. He recalled that Obi-Wan had briefly left the Jedi Order to assist a group called the Young in ending the civil war. Eventually, both groups reunited and have managed to rebuild the planet from the war’s ravages.

A stopover in Zehara, Melinda/Daan’s capital, would provide fuel for the starfighter and a brief respite for him. But Anakin had no plans to remain behind. He decided it would be best to head for one of the systems in the far reaches of the Outer Rim. There was Naboo, but Anakin immediately dismissed it. The planet harbored too many memories of his relationship with Padme. And he suspected that the Chancellor – now the Emperor – might assume he would settle there.

He might also consider Tatooine to be out of the question. At least as a permanent residence. Palpatine knew about his familiarity with the planet. And to be honest, it also held as much disturbing memories as Naboo. But since it rarely registered on the Senate’s radar, Anakin decided he could spare a few weeks on his childhood planet. Just long enough to raise credits for a permanent home, elsewhere.

Anakin contemplated spending some time on the Lars’ moisture farm. Perhaps he could find a job in nearby Mos Eisley or Anchorhead. On second thought . . . perhaps not. The Lars homestead held very painful memories for him. And he has harbored a lot to last a lifetime. His old hometown, Mos Espa, would have to suffice. Hopefully, his former owner could use his help.

Having made his decision, Anakin allowed himself a brief sigh of relief. He continued to guide his starfighter through space and toward the Melida/Daan system.

———-

POLIS MASSA

While Padme remained unconscious, Master Yoda decided it would be wise for all of them to leave Polis Massa. Senator Organa offered the two Jedi Masters passage aboard his star cruiser, the Tantive IV. “After I deliver Senator Amidala and her children to Naboo,” the senator said, “my captain will be more than happy to deliver you both to your destinations.”

“Use a lifepod, I will,” Master Yoda said. “To my new home, it will take me.”

Senator Organa turned to the younger knight. “Master Kenobi?”

The younger man smiled politely. “Thank you, Senator, but I hope to use Padme’s skiff to take me to the Outer Rim. If she will permit me. If not, I may take up your offer.”

“The Outer Rim?” Yoda regarded Obi-Wan with curious eyes. “Within you, I sense a purpose, Obi-Wan. What draws you to the Outer Rim? Your former apprentice’s lightsaber, does it concern?”

A sigh left Obi-Wan’s mouth. “My feelings tell me that Anakin has not returned to the Emperor. I had sensed remorse from him back on Mustafar. Guilt. Possibly shame. And he did leave his lightsaber behind. Not the actions of one who plans to continue to serve the Sith.”

“Hmmmm . . . certain are you, about Lord Vader?”

Obi-Wan hesitated. “Actually . . . no. That is why I want to make a few inquiries into his present whereabouts. I have an idea of where he may have gone.”

Doubt crept into Master Yoda’s eyes. “Find him, if you must. But do not forget – forever the Dark Side might control his destiny. Now that he has embraced it.”

“You don’t believe that Anakin may have turned away from the Dark Side?”

A long pause followed before Yoda finally answered. “The answer, you should soon discover.”

END OF CHAPTER TWO

“DUNKIRK” (2017) Review

 

“DUNKIRK” (2017) Review

Looking back the World War II drama called “DUNKIRK”, I realized that I had made a few assumptions about it. One of those assumptions was that the movie would be a call back to those old war epics of the 1960s and 1970s that featured a running time between two to three hours long and an all-star cast. I was proved right … on one matter.

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, “DUNKIRK” is about simply about one thing … the British Expeditionary Force (BEF)’s evacuation from Dunkirk, France. The BEF, along with the French Army had been forced to retreat to the city next to the English Channel in early June 1949, after failing to halt the German Army invasion of France. Although British, French and other European forces found themselves trapped at Dunkirk, Nolan’s movie mainly focused on the British troops awaiting evacuation.

Nolan wanted to convey the evacuation from three perspectives:

*the beach (“The Mole”)
*the English Channel (“The Sea”)
*aerial combat (“The Air”)

“The Mole” focused upon the efforts of a young British soldier named Tommy to survive as long as he could and get himself evacuated from Dunkirk as soon as possible. Tommy is eventually joined by a silent soldier who called himself “Gibson”, another soldier called Alex and a group of Scottish soldiers who make several attempts – using a wounded soldier, a ship that ends up being torpedoed by a German U-boat, and a Dutch trawler – to escape the beach in front of Dunkirk over a period of a week.

“The Sea” featured the experiences of a Mr. Dawson of Weymouth, England; along with his son Peter and the latter’s best friend George Mills as part of an armada of British civilian boats sent across the English Channel to help evacuate the trapped at Dunkirk. The experiences of the Moonstone’s crew, which takes place over a period of a day, included the journey across the Channel; their rescue of a shell-shocked Army officer, who was the sole survivor of a wrecked ship; an unexpected and tragic mishap between the officer and George; and the crew’s rescue of a downed R.A.F. pilot named Collins.

“The Air” followed the experiences of Collins, his fellow pilot Farrier and their leader, “Fortis Leader”. Due to the amount of fuel in their Spitfire fighter planes, the trio only have an hour to protect the evacuating troops from the Luftwaffe. “Fortis Leader” is immediately shot down during a dogfight. During the same fight, Farrier assumes command and his fuel gage is shattered. But when Collins is shot down during another dogfight, Farrier is left alone to protect the evacuating troops from the air … using a reserve tank of gas.

Another assumption I had formed before seeing this film was that the story was told in chronological order. Only I had failed to pay attention to the three different time spans that Nolan had conveyed at the beginning of each segment. So, after watching Mr. Dawson and his small crew rescue the shell-shocked officer, I was taken aback at the sight of the same officer preventing Tommy, Gibson and Alex from boarding his doomed ship from the mole (a long pier) later in the film. It was my sister who reminded me of the time differences of each segment. In other words, from their perspective, Tommy and his fellow evacuees had met the officer (who was far from shell-shocked at the time) later in the week they had spent on the French beach. From Mr. Dawson’s perspective, Peter and George had rescued the officer not long after their departure from England.

A part of me wondered if utilizing this non-linear narrative to tell this story was really necessary. Then it occurred to me … it is only natural that soldiers like Tommy would spend at least a week trapped on the beach. It was natural that the crew of the Moonstone would spend only a day traveling between England and France, across the Channel. And it was especially natural that pilots like Farrier and Collins would only spend at least an hour in the air, considering that they were limited by their fuel supply. And if Nolan had told his story in a rigid linear manner, he would have lacked enough time to focus on “The Sea” and “The Air”segments. Looking back on how Nolan handled the time span of his story, I found it very clever. More importantly, a sense of urgency seemed to increase as the three segments eventually converged near the end of the movie.

I also noticed that “DUNKIRK” had a running time of 106 minutes. This is completely different from other World War II dramas with an all-star cast. And yet, I was not even aware of this shorter running time. I became so engrossed in the film that I barely noticed how long or short it was. And if I must be frank, I am rather glad that the movie only ran less than two hours. I do not think I could have handled more than two hours of that film. It was so damn tense … and nerve wracking. The movie featured so many interesting and tense scenes.

Among those scenes include Flight Officer Collins being shot down over the English Channel and his efforts to free himself from his damaged Spitfire before he can drown. Another scene that nearly had me biting my nails featured Tommy, “Gibson” and Alex trying to escape a damaged ship after it had been torpedoed. A real nail biter proved to be the rescued shell-shocked officer’s encounter with the crew of the Moonstone. I found that sequence both tense and tragic. Ironically, the three most tension-filled scenes occurred in the movie’s last twenty to thirty minutes. One of those scene featured Tommy’s efforts to defend “Gibson”, who had revealed himself as a French soldier, from Alex and a group of Scottish troops inside a damaged Dutch trawler under fire by German troopers. I also found Farrier’s last dogfight against a German fighter rather tense to watch. Ironically, this dogfight led to another tense scene featuring Tommy and the other soldiers, as they try to reach a minesweeper and later, the Moonstone amidst burning fuel from the Messerschmitt shot down by Farrier.

There are other aspects of “DUNKIRK” that I admire. One of them turned out to be Hoyte van Hoytema’s photography, as shown in the images below:

 

 

I thought his cinematography was absolutely spectacular. And I hope that van Hoytema will receive an Oscar nomination for his work. I was also impressed by Lee Smith’s editing. Between Nolan’s direction and Smith’s editing, the movie marched at a pace that really impressed me … especially the scenes mentioned in the previous paragraph. Nathan Crowley is another I believe should be considered for an Oscar nomination. As the film’s production designer, I thought he did an excellent job in re-creating wartime Northern France and Southwestern England, circa 1940. Jeffrey Kurland did a solid job in creating costumes that reflected both the film’s characters and settings. But they did not particularly blow my mind. As for Hans Zimmer’s score, I found it … okay, I simply do not recall it. What can I say?

I found the performances featured in “DUNKIRK” very admirable. The movie featured solid performances from Kenneth Branaugh and James D’Arcy, who seemed to have formed a pretty good screen team as a pair of British senior officers awaiting evacuation. Mark Rylance gave an admirable performance as the patient, yet commanding Mr. Dawson, owner of the Moonstone. Aneurin Barnard managed to effectively convey the emotions of the French soldier “Gibson” with barely a line or two. Jack Lowden was very effective as the strong-willed Flight Officer Collins. I could also say the same about Barry Keoghan’s performance as Peter Dawson’s eager friend George Mills, who volunteered to accompany the Dawsons to Dunkirk.

But one of the performances that truly impressed me came from Harry Styles as the belligerent soldier Alex, who did a great job of expressing his character’s willingness to cross the moral line for the sake of survival. I also enjoyed Tom Glynn-Carney’s portrayal of the growing maturity of Mr. Dawson’s son, Peter. Cillian Murphy gave a superb performance as the shell-shocked Army officer whom the Moonstone crew rescues from a sinking ship. Tom Hardy seemed to have even less lines than Aneurin Barnard. But with very little lines and a great deal of facial expressions, he was marvelous as the R.A.F. pilot Farrier, whose seemed determined to protect the evacuating troops as long as possible within a space of an hour. The role of the everyman soldier, Tommy, proved to be Fionn Whitehead’s third or fourth role in his career. Yet, this barely 20-something kid did a superb job in carrying most of “The Mole” segment on his shoulders. With a few lines and some great silent acting, Whitehead managed to convey Tommy’s growing desperation to escape the Dunkirk beach … but with his moral compass intact.

I do have one complaint about “DUNKIRK”. Although I realized that “DUNKIRK” was basically about the evacuation of the BEF, a part of me wish that Nolan had did more to set it up. Nolan flashed a brief paragraph about Allies’ retreat to Dunkirk before starting the film. I did not expect the director to go into details about the events that led to the retreat. But damn! He could have spared more than one measly paragraph.

Otherwise, I was very impressed with “DUNKIRK”. Very impressed. Despite my fears that it would prove to be another one of those two-to-three hour World War II epics with a cast of thousands, the movie proved to be something different. Nolan took the World War II epic trope and nearly turned it on its ears with a smaller running time and a non-linear narrative that emphasized the importance of time. It also featured a superb cast led by the likes of Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance. Is it the best World War II movie I have seen? I cannot answer that question for it would be subjective. But it may prove to be one of my favorites.

 
 
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