Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season One (1995)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor; the series starred Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK VOYAGER” SEASON ONE (1995)

1. (1.11) “State of Flux” – Captain Kathryn Janeway and other senior members of Voyager’s crew Janeway attempt to flush out a spy who is sending information to a group of aggressive Delta Quadrant species called the Kazon-Nistrim. Martha Hackett and Josh Clark guest-starred.

 

2. (1.14) “Faces” – When Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres, Lieutenant Tom Paris and Ensign Pete Durst are captured by Vidiians during an Away mission, Torres is split into her human and Klingon halves in order for her captors to use her DNA to find a cure for their species. Brian Markinson guest-starred.

 

3. (1.01-1.02) “Caretaker” – While searching for a Maquis ship with a Starfleet spy aboard in the series premiere, the U.S.S. Voyager is swept into the Delta Quadrant, more than 70,000 light-years from home, by an incredibly powerful being known as the “Caretaker”. Gavan O’Herlihy and Basil Langston guest-starred.

 

4. (1.04) “Time and Again” – While investigating a planet just devastated by a polaric explosion, Janeway and Paris are engulfed by a subspace fracture and transported in time to before the accident. Nicolas Surovy guest-starred.

 

5. (1.07) “Eye of the Needle” – Voyager’s crew discover a micro-wormhole leads to the Alpha Quadrant and makes contact with a Romulan ship on the other side with ironic consequences. Vaughn Armstrong guest-starred.

“BLACK PANTHER” (2018) Review

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“BLACK PANTHER” (2018) Review

I am going to be brutally honest. For the past four to five years, I have harbored mixed feelings about the output from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The year 2015 produced one movie that I found entertaining, yet disappointing; and another film that I found entertaining and original, but not exactly mind blowing. But the years 2016 and 2017 proved to be very disappointing, as far as MCU movies were concerned. By the end of 2017, I thought the MCU had finally lost its mojo . . . until I saw “BLACK PANTHER”, early in the following year. 

I realize many might find my comments something of a head scratcher. What exactly was wrong with the MCU films between 2015-2017? Well . . . I thought “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” was entertaining, yet problematic. I enjoyed “ANT-MAN” very much, but I would never regard it as one of the franchise’s best. The movies, starting with 2016’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” and ending with 2017’s “THOR: RAGNAROK”, struck me as very disappointing and somewhat inferior. Despite the fact that the franchise was raking in millions – or billions – with these films, I personally believed it had reached an artistic abyss . . . until I saw “BLACK PANTHER”. Not only did I find the latter film entertaining, I also regard it as one of the better MCU films I have seen in the franchise’s ten-year history. With “BLACK PANTHER”, it seemed the MCU had not only climbed out of the abyss, but had reached (or nearly reached) a pinnacle.

“BLACK PANTHER” basically told the story about King T’Challa aka Black Panther adjusting to his role as the new sovereign of Wakanda, an isolated and fictional African nation that is the most technically advanced in the world, thanks to the vibranium metal within its borders. Wakanda has spent most of its existence pretending to be a poor, third-world nation in order to protect itself from the world – especially Western nations – and prevent them from learning about its rich source of vibranium. The narrative for “BLACK PANTHER” picked up at least a week after the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. T’Challa and his premier bodyguard and leader of the Dora Milaje regiment, Okoye; extract Nakia, T’Challa’s ex-lover and a Wakandan spy, from an undercover assignment in Nigeria. All three returned to Wakanda’s capital to participate in T’Challa coronation as the new king. During the ceremony, the leaders of Wakanda’s five tribes are each given the opportunity to challenge the temporarily de-powered (via a potion that expunges his super strength and speed) T’Challa’s role as the new king by ritual combat. One of the leaders, M’Baku of the mountainous Jabari Tribe, challenges T’Challa. After a fierce fight, M’Baku concedes defeat and T’Challa is officially acknowledged as King of Wakanda.

Unfortunately, T’Challa’s triumph is short-lived when Wakanda intelligence becomes aware of a robbery committed by a group of thieves led by an old foe of the country’s, Ulysses Klaue. The latter had stolen an old Wakanda artifact from a London museum that contains vibranium, a metal substance that has allowed Wakanda to become the most technically advanced nation in the world . . . unbeknownst to other nations. When Wakanda intelligence learns that Klaue plans to sell the vibranium to the C.I.A. at a location in Busan, South Korea; T’Challa, Nakia and Okoye travel there to interrupt the planned sale and arrest the arms dealer. Instead of arresting Klaue, T’Challa stumbles across a family secret involving one of Klaue’s fellow thieves, an African-American named Eric Stevens aka Killmonger, which will threaten his position on the Wakanda throne and endanger the country itself.

After being disappointed by five MCU movies in a row, I found myself wondering if I would ever enjoy a movie from the franchise again. Thankfully, “BLACK PANTHER” proved to be a more than pleasant surprise. Thanks to Ryan Coogler’s direction and the excellent screenplay that he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole, “BLACK PANTHER” proved to be a unique film that combined the usual elements of a comic book movie, a family drama and a rare exploration into the political and social aspects of the African diaspora.

Family drama is nothing new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Audiences have seen this played out in movies like the Thor trilogy, 2015’s “ANT-MAN”, and to a certain extent, 2008’s “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”“BLACK PANTHER” is another addition in which a deadly encounter between T’Challa’s father and uncle – King T’Chaka and Prince N’Jobu in 1992, led to the new king learning about his cousin and N’Jobu’s half-American cousin, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens aka Prince N’Jadaka. That 1992 encounter led to Erik becoming an orphan and abandoned by his isolationist uncle T’Chaka. This, in turn, led Erik to see revenge against the nation of Wakanda. Ironically, Erik never got the chance to exact his revenge on the very person responsible for his loss, namely his uncle, who was killed by Helmut Zemo’s bomb in “CIVIL WAR”. But for him, T’Challa and Wakanda served as a convenient scapegoat for his vengeance.

What made all of this even more fascinating and a lot more original than the MCU’s other family dramas was how Coogler and Cole managed to mix a good deal of political controversy into this family saga. One of the reasons Prince N’Jobu had fallen out of favor with his older brother was his growing disenchantment with Wakanda’s isolationist policy with the world – including those of the African diaspora around the world. After his experiences in late 20th century Oakland, N’Jobu decided to reveal Wakanda’s existence to Ulysses Klaue and help the latter infiltrate Wakanda to smuggle out more vibranium. N’Jobu had planned to use the vibranium to create weapons and lead a revolution of the African diaspora against the dominating Western nations. With his father dead, Erik planned to not only get his revenge against the Royal House of Wakanda, but also carry out N’Jobu’s plans. Watching this, I am reminded of Loki’s plans in 2011’s “THOR” – namely to keep a powerless Thor stranded on Earth, while he sets up the Frost Giants’ destruction and win Odin’s favor. As much I had enjoyed that movie, Loki’s plans seemed rather lame to me in compare to Erik’s. But what made this story arc even more interesting is that in the end . . . Erik’s plans to use Wakanda weapons to conquer the world eventually led to T’Challa’s decision to finally end Wakanda’s isolationist policy.

“BLACK PANTHER” featured some pretty solid action sequences. I enjoyed the sequence featuring T’Challa and M’Baku’s fight for the throne; Erik and Klaue’s confrontation at an abandoned South Korean airfield; T’Challa and Erik’s battle for the throne; and the Battle of Mount Bashenga, in which T’Challa and his forces attempted to prevent Erik and the Border Tribe from sending Wakanda weapons to the outside world. All are pretty good action sequences. But if I had to select my favorite, it would be the confrontation at the Busan casino between T’Challa, Nakia and Okoye against Klaue and his minions. With C.I.A. Agent Everett Ross thrown into the mix, this particular sequence was simply boss, especially since it lead to a wild car chase on the streets of Busan. That once scene featuring Okoye slamming her wig into the face of a Klaue minion will probably remain imprinted in my mind for years to come.

Another aspect of “BLACK PANTHER” that I admired was the film’s production designs. Mind you, the film maintained that same flat photography that the MCU has become infamous for. However, I think Rachel Morrison’s photography was enhanced by some sharp colors, the movie’s visual effects, Hannah Beachler’s gorgeous production designs that convey the world of Wakanda, along with the art direction team led by Alan Hook. Aside from Beachler’s production designs, I was especially impressed by Oscar and Emmy nominee Ruth E. Carter’s costume designs. Someone had compared them to those costumes featured in the 1988 comedy, “COMING TO AMERICA”. But honestly . . . I think I prefer Carter’s more natural designs, as featured in the images below:

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But all of the above would have meant nothing without the talented cast for the film. “BLACK PANTHER” featured some first-rate performances from the likes of Daniel Kaluuya, who portrayed Border Tribe leader W’Kabi, who desires his own personal vengeance against Ulysses Klaue; Sterling K. Brown as the revolutionary Prince N’Jobu; both John Kani and son Atandwa Kani as the older and younger versions of King T’Chaka; Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s strong-willed, yet loving mother and advisor, Queen Ramonda; Denzel Whitaker, who gave a solid performance as the younger Zuri; and Martin Freeman as C.I.A. Agent Everett Ross, who proved to me more entertaining and relevant in this film than he was in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”.

However, there were those performances that really impressed me. One came from Andy Serkis, who was a hoot as the murderous, yet over-the-top South African arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue. Letitia Wright was equally entertaining as T’Challa’s witty and charming sister, the tech-savy Princess Shuri. Another came from Lupita Nyong’o, who gave a passionate and heartfelt portrayal of Wakandan intelligence agent and T’Challa’s former girlfriend, Nakia. Forest Whitaker gave a first-rate performance as Wakanda’s top courtier and former spy, Zuri. Whitaker was especially impressive in one scene in which his character was forced to confess King T’Chaka’s past actions regarding N’Jobu and Erik Killmonger. Winston Duke was very impressive, imposing and at times, rather amusing as M’Baku, leader of the mountainous Jabari Tribe. Also, his first appearance in the film – during T’Challa’s coronation ceremony – is one of the most memorable moments I have seen in a movie for quite some time. Danai Gurira was equally impressive and imposing as Okoyo, the traditionalist leader of the king’s bodyguards – the Dora Milaje. Although I found her character’s conservatism a bit annoying at times, I must admit that Gurira gave one hell of a performance.

However, this movie is really about two characters – King T’Challa of Wakanda aka the Black Panther and his paternal cousin Erik “Killmonger” Stevens aka Prince N’Jadaka. Yes, I know that the movie is called “BLACK PANTHER”. But to be honest, this movie is about both cousins and how their conflicting views on Wakanda’s role in the world and especially upon the African diaspora.

Chadwick Boseman’s second turn as T’Challa proved to be a different kettle of fish from the driven newly ascended king determined to seek revenge for the death of his father, T’Chaka in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. In this film, Boseman gave a more relaxed performance as the happy and more satisfied young king, eagerly anticipating, yet slightly fearing his new role as king. However, Boseman’s relaxed performance skillfully transformed into one of disbelief, anger and outrage when T’Challa learned about his father’s actions back in Oakland 1992. This was especially apparent in two scenes in which Boseman gave outstanding performances. The first scene featured his confrontation with Zuri, who confessed the true circumstances about Oakland. Boseman gave a very intimidating, yet regal performance in that scene. The other featured T’Challa’s second dream in which he expressed anger and disappointment at his father’s spirit for what happened to Erik.

Speaking of the latter, Michael B. Jordan has been receiving rave reviews for his performance as Erik “Killmonger”. Some have been declaring his character as the best MCU villain ever. I do not know if I agree with that assessment. But I must admit that Jordan gave one of the most skillfully ambiguous performances I have encountered in the franchise. Audiences could easily sympathize with his backstory – the young boy who had lost his parents and abandoned. Also, one cannot help but admired Erik’s desire to help those African nations and members of the African diaspora – something that his cousin seemed unwilling to do. And yet, the level of violence Erik seemed willing to utilize in order to achieve his goal or his unwillingness to face that the one person who had truly wronged him was dead justified why the talented Jordan had portrayed him such ambiguity.

As much as I enjoyed “BLACK PANTHER”, I did have some problems with the film. One, there is a chance that I may have stumbled across a major writing blooper. In “CIVIL WAR”, Avenger Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch had accidentally killed a group of Wakanda subjects during a mission in Lagos, Nigeria. The Wakandans had been there on a goodwill mission. This lead King T’Chaka to publicly support the Sokovia Accords – an act that led to his death. And yet, Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole made it clear in the 2018 movie’s screenplay that Wakanda has practiced a policy of isolationism for centuries. Although Coogler and Cole remembered T’Chaka’s death in the 2016 movie and Bucky Barnes’ presence on Wakanda soil, they apparently forgot about this goodwill mission in Nigeria. Also, why did Erik Stevens wait so long to travel to Wakanda and make a bid for the throne? He could have challenged his uncle T’Chaka for the throne and get his revenge against the very man who had wronged him. Instead, he waited until after T’Chaka’s death. Why?

Exactly when did Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes arrive in Wakanda, as shown in one of the post-title scenes in “CIVIL WAR’? The movie opened with T’Challa and Okoye returning to Wakanda for the first time since T’Chaka’s death. Were both Steve and Bucky aboard T’Challa’s plane? Were they aboard the Avenger jet that Steve had used to fly to Russia in the 2016 movie? Where were they? In fact, there was no scene featuring the pair’s arrival in Wakanda for the first time, which I found rather odd. Speaking of arrivals, why was Okoye with T’Challa when he first returned to Wakanda? I realize that she was the leader of the Dora Milaje and that King T’Chaka was in Austria at the time of his death. But Okoye was missing in a scene from “CIVIL WAR” in which Avenger Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow had sought T’Challa’s help to track down Steve, Bucky and Sam Wilson aka the Falcon. As the king’s leading bodyguard, she should have been there – whether with T’Chaka or T’Challa. Instead, another Dora Milaje bodyguard named Ayo (portrayed by actress/model Florence Kasumba) was there. Yet, the latter was missing aboard T’Challa’s plane upon his return to Wakanda. One last question . . . why did T’Challa’s closest friend, W’Kabi of the Border Tribe, seemed so willing to help Erik carry out his anti-isolationist policies? Why? I understand that he might be grateful to Erik for finally killing Klaue, the man who had killed his father years ago. But am I really to believe that his gratitude extended to supporting Erik’s decision to end Wakanda’s isolationist policy . . . especially since he had made it clear earlier in the film that he fully supported the old policy? Was he really that grateful to fight on Erik’s behalf when T’Challa had returned alive to resume the challenge against Erik? I truly found this hard to believe.

And why was the only truly negative black character in this film was the only one of some American ancestry? There was something about the film’s portrayal of African-Americans that struck me as rather negative and a bit one-dimensional. In this film, African-Americans seemed to consist solely of poor and slightly thuggish people barely capable of surviving on their own, except through criminal activities. The idea of Wakanda coming to their “rescue” with advanced technology made the latter country seem very similar to the White Savior trope. And if Wakanda was going to share their technology, why did T’Challa do so with the entire international community, instead of simply other African nations and the African diaspora . . . as Nakia had originally suggested? Considering that Erik had pointed out that many countries – especially in the West – were catching up technically with Wakanda, along with the international community’s generally negative attitude toward African nations and those of the African diaspora; I cannot help but wonder if T’Challa had ever considered that many of the more wealthier nations would take advantage of his generosity at the first opportunity? Or was this plot twist something that Kevin Feige and the other Marvel/Disney suits had insisted that Coogler and Cole include?

However . . . despite these misgivings I have about “BLACK PANTHER”, I cannot deny that I truly enjoyed the movie. I did. I thought Ryan Coogler, along with screenwriter Joe Robert Cole and a talented cast led by Chadwick Boseman, did an exceptional job in bringing comic book hero the Black Panther and the world of Wakanda to life. At this moment, “BLACK PANTHER” has become one of my five favorite movies in the MCU franchise.

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TIME MACHINE: John Brown’s Christmas Raid Into Missouri

TIME MACHINE: JOHN BROWN’S CHRISTMAS RAID INTO MISSOURI

When people think of 19th century abolitionist John Brown, they would usually bring up his activities against pro-slavery factions in the Kansas Territory in the mid 1850s, especially the lethal attack he had led against five pro-slavery settlers near Pottawatomie Creek in May 1856. Or they would especially bring up the famous raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (West Virginia), with the intent to start a slave liberation movement. However, toward the end of the 1850s, Brown became known for another raid that led him from Missouri to the Canadian border.

On December 19, 1858; a biracial Missouri slave named Jim Daniels had encountered one George Gill, a free black man who happened to be one of Brown’s lieutenants near the Missouri-Kansas border. Daniels complained to Gill that his owner Harvey Hicklan planned to sell his wife and children, along with another slave. This sale threatened to break up his family. Gill informed Brown, who saw Daniels’ situation as an opportunity for a raid to liberate slaves and strike a blow for abolitionism. Earlier, he had conveyed his plans for an anti-slavery raid into the South, via the Appalachian Mountains to his Northern-born abolitionist supporters. But they had dismissed the idea as unrealistic and advised Brown to return to Kansas and lie low. However, Brown saw Daniels’ plea to help prevent his family from being sold as an opportunity. He believed this raid and the 1,100 mile exodus to Canada would provide a good deal of press attention for his cause.

Brown’s previous activities, especially the Pottawatomie Creek killings had made him persona non grata with many Americans – including a good number of abolitionists – by late 1858. Many Southerners wanted him captured or dead. His return to Missouri soil had infuriated many citizens of that state. By December 20, Brown had managed to gather twenty (20) riders to lead this latest raid into Western Missouri. He split his followers into three groups in order to free neighboring blacks on the same trip. Brown’s group held up Harvey Hicklan at gunpoint, extracted Jim Daniels and the latter’s family and took some of Hicklan’s possessions to support the freed slaves. Brown sent a second group to John Larue’s nearby farm t liberate four slaves and kidnap Larue as a hostage. A third group, led by Aaron Stevens (another Brown lieutenant), surprised David Cruise at his farmhouse and liberated a female slave. Believing that Cruise was reaching for a weapon, Stevens shot him dead.

Cruise’s death transformed the raid from a rescue into an act that infuriated Kansans, Missourians and Southerners. The act, the slave escapes and Larue’s kidnapping led to a great deal of negative press by the newspapers in those regions. Missouri’s governor, Robert Marcellus Stewart, offered a reward of $3,000 for Brown’s capture. Because of the publicity, Brown’s efforts to lead the fugitive slaves and his men through Kansas and up north became increasingly difficult. Brown and his men were forced to keep the fugitives hidden inside the homes of anti-slavery supporters in the area near Osawatomie, Kansas for a month. One of the fugitives, a woman who happened to be pregnant around the time of her rescue, gave birth to a baby boy, who was named after Brown. However, the abolitionist, his men and the fugitives realized that none of them were safe, especially after nearly being spotted by pro-slavers on two separate occasions. On January 20, 1859; Brown, his men and fugitives resumed their journey north by heading for the Kansas-Nebraska Territory border.

Despite the negative press that covered Brown’s journey; Brown, his men and the fugitives continued to receive aid from local anti-slavery supporters. On the night of January 24, 1859; Brown, Gill, eleven fugitives and the newborn baby had arrived at the farm of Major James Abbott near Lawrence, Kansas. Abbott provided them with food, clothing and fresh horses before they resumed their journey. Brown and his companions were nearly captured, following their arrival in Topeka, during a severe snowstorm. They were forced to spend the night at a nearby village called Holton. The following day, the party – including the remaining raiders – reached Spring Creek. Unfortunately, the water was too high for crossing by wagon or horseback. Brown was nearly in a state of panic, for he had learned both a local posse and one sent by Missouri’s governor were waiting for them. Brown and his party managed to slip away to Fuller’s Crossing . . . where a large posse of around one hundred men awaited them.

Brown remained calm and led his party across the raging creek. Following the crossing, the raiders and the fugitive slaves became engaged in a gun battle with eighty members of the posse. In a bold move, Brown and his party charged the posse members and drove the latter out of the area. The posse members were so intent upon retreating that two men rode some of their horses, digging their boot spurs into the animals. Ironically, there were no fatalities during the incident. Not only was it reported by the press, but also dubbed in newspapers as “the Battle of the Spurs”.

After traveling through the eastern half of the Nebraska Territory, Brown and his party reached the free state of Iowa. Brown had used the state as a hideout during his anti-slavery activities in 1855 and 1856. Although they were allowed shelter in some of the Iowans’ homes, they were not allowed to remain longer than one night, due to David Cruise’s death. However, Brown and his party received friendlier receptions in communities like Des Moines, Grinnell and Springdale. Brown and fellow raider John Henry Kagi were nearly captured when they made an overnight visit to Iowa City. On March 9, Springdale’s citizens accompanied Brown’s party to West Liberty, where the latter boarded a railroad box car to Chicago, Illinois. They arrived in the latter city on March 11, at 3:30 a.m.

The party remained at the home of private detective and future Secret Service leader and Presidential bodyguard, Allan Pinkerton. The detective hid them at his home and at two other houses for several days, as he tried to raise funds for the raiders. Ironically, Pinkerton managed to raise a good deal of cash from fellow members of the Chicago Judiciary Convention, when he blurted out John Brown’s presence in the city.

After raising $600 dollars, Pinkerton and his son conveyed Brown, the fugitives and the raiders to the Chicago railroad station. They boarded a boxcar for Detroit, Michigan. Upon their arrival in Detroit, the fugitive slaves and most of the raiders boarded a ferry that conveyed them across the Detroit River into Canada and freedom. Only Brown remained in the United States. After bidding them farewell, he headed for Oberlin, Ohio in order to visit the imprisoned rescuers involved in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue.

The Christmas 1858 Raid of 1858 led to a 1,100 mile journey from Missouri, through Kansas Territory, Nebraska Territory, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and finally Canada. The raid provided a great deal of national press coverage for John Brown. President James Buchanan offered a reward of $250 for Brown’s capture. Missouri Governor Robert Marcellus Stewart continued to offer a reward of $3,000. The raid convinced Brown’s Northern abolition supporters that his plan for a raid into the South via the Appalachian Mountains in order to lead the slaves into a major rebellion might work. Seven months later, John Brown led his famous raid to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

“THE POST” (2017) Review

 

“THE POST” (2017) Review

When one thinks of Katharine GrahamBen Bradlee and The Washington Post; the Watergate scandal comes to mind. So, when I heard that filmmaker Steven Spielberg planned to do a movie about the famous newspaper’s connection to the “Pentagon Papers” . . . I was very surprised.

As many know, the Pentagon Papers had originated as a U.S. Department of Defense sponsored report that depicted the history of the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Sometime between 1969 and 1971, former military/RAND Corporation strategic analyst Daniel Ellsberg and RAND colleague Anthony Russo secretly made several copies of classified documents about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam since 1945 and submitted them in 1971 to The New York Times correspondent, Neil Sheehan. The Times eventually published the first excerpts of the classified documents on June 13, 1971. For years, I have been aware of The New York Times‘s connection to the Pentagon Papers. I had no idea that The Washington Post had played a major role in its publication, as well.

There have been several productions and documentaries about the Pentagon Papers. However, most of those productions centered around Daniel Ellsberg or The New York Times‘s roles in the documents. “THE POST” marked the first time in which any production has depicted The Washington Post‘s role. Many people, including employees from The New York Times, have questioned Spielberg’s decision to make a movie about The Post‘s connection to the Pentagon Papers. Some have accused Spielberg of giving credit for the documents’ initial publication to the The Washington Post. And yet, the movie made it perfectly clear that The New York Times was the first newspaper to do so. It even went out of its way to convey Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee’s frustration at The Times‘ journalistic coup.

Following The New York Times‘s publication of the Pentagon Papers’ first excerpts, the Nixon Administration, at the urging of Secretary of State Henry Kissenger, opposed the publication. Later, President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General John Mitchell to obtain a Federal court injunction, forcing The Times to cease publication after three articles. While The New York Times prepared a legal battle with the Attorney General’s office, Post assistant editor Ben Bagkikian tracks down Ellsberg as the source of the leak. Ellsberg provides Bagdikian with copies of the same material given to The Times, who turns them in to Bradlee. The movie’s real drama ensues when the newspaper’s owner, Katherine Graham, finds herself torn between Bradlee’s urging to publish the documents and the newspaper’s board of directors and attorneys, urging her not to.

I had at least two problems with “THE POST”. I am certain that others had more problems, but I could only think of two. I had a problem with Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography. I realize that the man is a legend in the Hollywood industry. And I have been more than impressed with some of his past work – many of it for Steven Spielberg’s movies. But I did not like his photography in “THE POST”. I disliked the film’s grainy and slightly transparent photography. I do not know the reasons behind Spielberg and Kamiński’s decision to shoot the movie in this style. I do know that I found it unappealing.

My second problem with the film centered around Spielberg’s directorial style. In other words, his penchant for sentimentality nearly made the film’s last ten minutes slightly hard for me to swallow. I refer to the scene in which one of the reporters read aloud the Supreme Court’s decision to allow both The Washington Post and The New York Times, along with any other newspaper, to continue publishing the Pentagon Papers. It simply was not a matter of actress Carrie Coon reading the Court’s decision out loud. Spielberg emphasized the profoundness of the moment with John Williams’ maudlin score wailing in the background. A rather teeth clenching moment for me.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the movie very much. Superficially, “THE POST” did not seem that original to me. When one has seen the likes of “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” and “SPOTLIGHT”, what is so different between them and “THE POST”. But there was a difference. For the movie’s real heart focused upon owner Katherine Graham and her conflict over whether or not to allow the next excerpts of the Pentagon Papers to be published. And what made this even more interesting is the woman’s character.

If one had read Graham’s memoir, “Personal History”, one would learn that for years, she had suffered from an inferiority complex since childhood, due to her strained relationship with her more assertive mother. In fact, her father, who was the newspaper’s original owner, had handed over the newspaper to her husband, Philip Graham, instead of her. And she saw nothing wrong with her father’s decision. Following her husband’s death, Graham found herself publisher of The Post. During the movie’s setting – June 1971 – not only did Graham found herself dealing with Ben Bradlee’s urgent demand that the newspaper publishes the Pentagon Papers, but also with the newspaper’s stock market launch. Even worse, Graham also found herself facing a board of directors who did not take her seriously as The Post‘s publisher.

So in the end, “THE POST” was more than about the Papers itself and the question of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. It seemed to be about how an unpopular war had an indirect impact upon a woman’s life through a political scandal. The movie also seemed to be about a struggle between the media’s belief in free press in order to inform the people and the government’s belief in its right to control what the people should know. In a way, the Vietnam War and Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers established The Washington Post‘s rise as an important national newspaper. And it opened the public’s eyes about the U.S. government’s involvement in Vietnam – something that had been hidden from the government for over two decades. The war and Ellsberg also kick started Katherine Graham’s elevation as a newspaper publisher willing to take a risk for an important news story and of her self-esteem. Spielberg’s movie could have simply been about The New York Times‘s scoop with its publication of the first excerpts of the Pentagon Papers and its battle with the Nixon Administration. But as I have earlier pointed out, his narrative has been seen in past productions.

Aside from my disappointment with Kamiński’s cinematography, there were other aspects of “THE POST” I admired. I certainly had no problems with Rick Carter’s production designs. One, he did an admirable job of re-creating Washington D.C. and New York City circa 1971. And I was especially impressed that both Carter and set decorator Rena DeAngelo’s recreation of The Washington Post‘s newsroom was as accurate as possible. I had learned that the newsroom depicted in the 1976 movie, “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” was slightly larger. Apparently, sometime between the newspaper’s coverage of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, its newsroom had been renovated and enlarged. Good catch on Carter and DeAngelo’s part. Hollywood icon Ann Roth designed the costumes for the film and I must say that I was impressed. I was not impressed because I found her costumes dazzling or memorable. I was impressed because Roth, who had also served as costume designer for three of director Anthony Maghella’s films, perfectly captured the fashion styles of the conservative Washington political set of the early 1970s.

Both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks earned acting nominations – for their portrayals of Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee. Streep is the only one who earned an Academy Award nod. I am a little conflicted about it. On one hand, I cannot deny that the two leads gave very good performances. Streep did an excellent job in conveying Graham’s emotional growth into her role as her late husband’s successor as owner of The Washington Post. And Hanks was first-rate as the ambitious and tenacious Bradlee, who saw The Post‘s acquisition of more excerpts from the Pentagon Papers as a step into transforming the newspaper as a major national periodical. The movie also featured an interesting performance from Bob Odenkirk, who portrayed Ben Bagkikian, the assistant editor who had decided to set out and find Ellsberg after the Attorney General’s Office forced The New York Times to cease publication of the Papers. Another interesting performance came from Bruce Greenwood, whose portrayal of the besieged former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara really impressed me.

I was surprised to discover that “THE POST” won a Best Ensemble award from the Detroit Film Critics Society. But you know what? Perhaps I should not have been that surprised. With a cast that included Carrie Coon, David Cross and Philip Casnoff; I really enjoyed those scenes featuring Bradlee with his senior staff, whether they were discussing or examining the Pentagon Papers. The movie also featured solid performances from Bradley Whitford, Sarah Poulson, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stulhbarg, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemmons, Pat Healy, and Zach Woods.

I can honestly say that I would not regard “THE POST” as one of my top five favorite movies directed by Steven Spielberg. In fact, I am not sure if I would regard it as one of his best films. But the movie proved to be one of my favorites released in 2017, thanks to Spielberg’s direction, a first-rate screenplay written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and an excellent cast led by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. I have a feeling that it is one movie that I would never get tired of watching.

 

 

Favorite Movies Set During WORLD WAR II BRITAIN

Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Britain during World War II:

 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING WORLD WAR II BRITAIN

1. “Dunkirk” (2017) – Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this Oscar nominated film about the British Expeditionary Force’s evacuation from Dunkirk, France in 1940. Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance starred.

2. “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.

3. “Hope and Glory” (1987) – John Boorman wrote and directed this fictionalized account of his childhood during the early years of World War II in England. Sarah Miles, David Hayman and Sebastian Rice-Edwards starred.

4. “The Imitation Game” (2014) – Oscar nominees Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley starred in this intriguing adaptation of Andrew Hodges’ 1983 book, “Alan Turing: The Enigma”. Morten Tyldum directed.

5. “Darkest Hour” – Joe Wright directed this Oscar nominated film about Winston Churchill’s early weeks as Great Britain’s Prime Minister during the spring of 1940. The movie starred Oscar winner Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott-Thomas and Lily James.

6. “Enigma” (2001) – Dougary Scott and Kate Winslet starred in this entertaining adaptation of Robert Harris’ 1995 novel about Enigma codebreakers of Bletchley Park. Michael Apted directed.

7. “The Americanization of Emily” (1964) – James Garner and Julie Andrews starred in this excellent adaptation of William Bradford Huie’s 1959 about a U.S. Navy adjutant in Britain during the period leading to the Normandy Invasion. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, the movie was directed by Arthur Hiller.

8. “Atonement” (2007) – Joe Wright directed this Oscar nominated adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel about the consequences of a crime. James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan starred.

9. “On the Double” (1961) – Danny Kaye starred in this comedy about a U.S. Army soldier assigned to impersonate a British officer targeted by Nazi spies for assassination. Co-written and directed by Melville Shavelson, the movie co-starred Dana Wynter and Wilfrid Hyde-White.

10. “Sink the Bismarck!” (1960) – Kenneth More and Dana Wynter starred in this adaptation of C.S. Forester’s 1959 book, “The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck”. Lewis Gilbert directed.

“The Corellian Connection” [PG] – Prologue

Here is a sequel to my first Star Wars story – “Altered Lives”:

 

“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”

SUMMARY: A message between Bail Organa and a fugitive senator sets in motion, changes for Anakin, Padme and another familiar character.
FEEDBACK: – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: All characters and things STAR WARS belong to Lucasfilm. All non-original dialogue in this story is credited to “Revenge of the Sith”, which is based upon the story and screenplay by George Lucas. The characters, Romulus Wort aka Darth Rasche, Voranda Sen and Thalia Yeb are my creation.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of five stories set between ROTS and ANH. Also, this particular story is more or less an Alternate Universe story set nine months, following “Altered Lives”

————————————————————————————————–

 

PROLOGUE

18 BBY – AMIR, ANDALIA

The Imperial shuttle entered Andalia’s atmosphere, before it smoothly made its descent upon the planet’s capital, Amir. The young Sith Lord, Darth Rasche, stared through the shuttle’s cockpit window and saw a delegation of officials gathered on a nearby landing platform.

Rasche stood up and made his way to the other end of the shuttle, where four platoons of clonetroopers sat. “Men, we’re now approaching Andalia. Get ready.” The troopers nodded.

Minutes passed before the shuttle finally settled upon the landing platform. The shuttle doors opened, as the boarding ramp extended outward. Rasche took a deep breath and stiffly marched down the ramp. The four platoons marched close behind him. A light-brown skinned Andalian man, covered in a deep teal robe, stepped forward to greet the Imperial visitors. “Good day, um . . .?”

“Darth Rasche,” the Sith Lord coolly finished. “I’m here as a liasion of the Imperial Senate.”

The Andalian’s eyes flew wide open. “Liaison? I . . . I don’t understand. Why would the Senate . . .?”

Rasche regarded the other man with cool and impassive eyes. “You’re harboring a Jedi on this planet,” he accused. “In fact, I believe that the Knight in question is here in Amir.” He took a step forward, forcing the Andalian to step back. “Where is she, Senator Yeb? Where is Anjuli Nab?”

The Andalian delegates regarded the Sith Lord with confusion. The one who had greeted Rasche replied, “I’m afraid that you have me confused with someone else, sir. I am not Solipo Yeb. My name is Junipero Khan, head of the Andalian State Council. Senator Yeb has left for his personal retreat, a few hours ago.”

The Emperor’s apprentice became still. He took a deep breath and used the Force to extend his senses. Then he felt it . . . another Force sensitive signature. One that could only come from a Jedi. The signature emitted from the capital’s busy center. Rasche glared at the Andalian politician. “You lie! The Jedi is here in this city! I feel her presence.” He summoned the clonetroopers’ company commander. “Lieutenant Necros, have a squad set up a detention center, nearby, and place Representative Khan and the rest of these . . . prominent members of the Council there, where they can pass the time.”

Outrage flared in Junipero Khan’s dark eyes. “You cannot arrest us! We’re members of the High Council! We haven’t done anything!”

“You are harboring a Jedi fugitive! An enemy of the Empire!” Rasche barked, “Necros! Do as I ordered!”

The clone officer ordered a squad of troopers to arrest the High Council members. “Do you honestly expect to take over an entire planet’s governing body, because of some fugitive?” Khan exclaimed in disbelief. “The citizens of Andalia will not allow it!”

Rasche glanced upward. Imperial Destoyers descended from the sky like locust. The Sith Lord then stared pointedly at the Council leader. “I’m afraid that your citizens no longer have any say in the matter.”

————-

A male Andalian stepped out of a landspeeder and covered his head with his cloak’s hood. He glanced furtively about and rushed inside a two-story building made from pale-rose adobe mud. The building, called the Karidote Seminary, happened to be a chapel that served as a sanctuary for those citizens who wanted privacy for religious mediation. Senator Solipo Yeb strode past a series of doors, until he came upon the last one on the right. Once more, he glanced around to make sure that no one saw him. Then he knocked.

Over a minute passed before the door slid open. A tall, lithe female with similar light-brown skin, along with high cheekbones, wide brown eyes and long dark hair worn in a single braid, stood in the doorway. “Senator Yeb?” she said in a low, husky voice. “What is it?”

The senator threw back his hood. “Anjuli, you must leave at once. Imperial troops have arrived in the city. And I believe that the Senate has sent a liaison to arrest you.”

The Jedi Knight’s face became slightly pale. “The Senate’s liaison?” She paused with a frown on her face. “I thought I had sensed a presence, but I wasn’t sure. And this person is . . .?”

Sighing, Solipo added, “His name is Darth Rasche.”

Fear crept into Anjuli’s eyes. “Darth? A Sith Lord? The Emperor has a Sith Lord working for him?”

“Anjuili!” Solipo exclaimed sharply. “This is no time for questions! You must leave! The planet will soon be overrun by Imperial troops!”

The pair entered Anjuli’s room. The sparse décor struck a deep contrast to the more lavish furnishings favored by many of the planet’s citizens. The room consisted of a pallet, a low table, two large cushions next to the table, and a wardrobe filled with her personal belongings. Anjuli grabbed hold of a burlap sack and opened the wardrobe. Then she began dumping its contents into the sack. “If I were you, Senator, I would also leave. Get your family and get out. Hide out in the Outer Rim Territories.”

Solipo sighed. “I’ve already made arrangements for my sister to leave, not long after your arrival.”

The Jedi Knight finished packing. “I’m ready. Let’s go.” She led Solipo out into the corridor. Blaster fire whizzed past their heads. The pair glanced down the corridor and saw three clone troopers approaching them with blaster rifles. Anjuli barked at Solipo, “Get out of here! Now!” She nodded at the door situated at the other end of the corridor. “That way!”

Without hesitation, the senator sprinted down the corridor, toward the door indicated by Anjuli. Just as he reached it, Solipo glanced over his shoulder. He saw the Jedi Knight use her lightsaber to deflect the troopers’ fire with great ease. He opened the door and found himself in a lush, formal garden with hedgerows, low trees and flowerbeds. A stonewall surrounded three-fourths of the garden. And a wooden gate divided the wall in the middle.

A minute later, a panting Anjuli emerged from the building. “They’ve been taken care of,” she murmured. “Let’s get out of here, before it’s too . . .” She broke off, as a tall man dressed in a black tunic, black pants and a maroon cape leapt over the stonewall.

“Anjuli Nab!” the tall man growled. “I arrest you in the name of the Emperor! You are charged with treason!”

Anjuli stared at the man with disbelieving eyes. “Romulus Wort? You’re . . . you’re a Sith Lord?”

“The name is now Darth Rasche!” Wort shot back. He whipped out his lightsaber. Its red blade illuminated his handsome face.

Blue light lit up above the Jedi Knight’s lightsaber. “Senator Yeb!” The mention of his name popping into his mind startled Solipo. “The minute we start fighting, I want you to leave. Head for your transport and get out.”

Solipo opened his mouth to speak, but the two Force users began to ignore him. He watched anxiously, as the pair circled each other, cautiously. The moment their blades connected, the senator sprinted toward the wooden gate. Upon reaching it, he glanced over his shoulder. Both Anjuli and Wort . . . or Rasche . . . or whatever his name was, swung their lightsabers at each other with the ease of master swordsmen. Solipo almost felt inclined to remain behind and watch. But his sister and freedom waited. The senator inhaled sharply. Then he passed through the gate and into the streets of Amir.

———–

Red and blue blades clashed in the gardens of the Karidote Seminary. Utilizing the Sorensu form, Anjuli Nab coolly parried Rasche’s aggressive attacks against her. The Sith apprentice could not help but admire the Jedi Knight’s lightsaber skills. As he recalled, Nab possessed a talent for luring her opponents with minimal physical moments. Rasche decided that he would not fall for such strategy.

The moment he took another step toward her, Nab made her move. The Jedi Knight swiftly executed a 360-degree spin, otherwise known as the Jung Ma move. She would have sliced Rasche’s midsection in half, if he had not parried the blow. But he did . . . by dropping to one knee and swinging his weapon in front of his face.

Nab gasped in surprise and Rasche sprung to his feet, forcing her weapon away with another swing. Then he finally went on the attack. Rasche delivered a series of fast swings that kept his opponent off guard. The attacks continued, until Rasche forced Nab against a stone bench, causing her to fall over backward. Then Rasche sliced off her sword hand. She cried out in pain.

“Why?” she whispered, clutching her burnt stump with her uninjured hand. “I don’t understand.”

Rasche coolly replied, “It’s simple. You’re Jedi. I had dedicated nearly all of my life to an order that proved to be nothing more than an archaic institution that ruined the lives of others. Why should I remain loyal to it?”

“Ruined . . . lives?” Nab exclaimed. “The Jedi served democracy! Brought light to the galaxy! How could you . . .?”

Harsh laughter escaped from Rasche’s mouth. “I used to believe the same. Until I learned the truth about the Jedi. But do you want to know why I really hate them? Hate all of you? Because despite their power, they could not prevent the deaths of those I cared about. In fact, I believe that they are responsible for his . . . those deaths. And they allowed the so-called Chosen One in our midst. The Jedi weren’t all wise and powerful. They were stupid! And blind.”

Confusion whirled in Nab’s dark eyes. “I don’t understand.”

Rasche stared down at her with contempt. “Pity. I guess you never will.” With that remark, he plunged his lightsaber into the Jedi Knight’s chest.

Seconds passed before he stared at his former colleague’s dead body. Six or nine months ago, he would have felt a little remorse over her death. But Rasche had learned a lot about the institution he had served most of his life. Before the Jedi records had been destroyed, he learned about the Council’s duplicity in keeping their diminished power to the Force a secret from the Senate. He learned of their plans to take control of the Senate during the Clone War’s waning days. He also learned that the late Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas had been responsible for the creation of the clone troopers. These discoveries, along with knowledge of Master Windu and Master Yoda’s illegal assassination attempts on Palpatine, led Rasche to realize that the order he had served had been nothing but a lie. His anger deepened and he developed hatred toward the Jedi Order. And a deep contempt for those who continued to serve it.

A clone trooper appeared in the seminary’s garden. “Lord Rasche,” he announced, “the Andalia High Council members have been incarcerated, as ordered. Three divisions have taken positions throughout the planet. So far, no resistance has been met.”

“Good,” Rasche replied with a nod. “Also send a squad to track down and arrest Senator Solipo Yeb. As soon as possible.”

The trooper nodded. “Yes, my Lord.” Clutching his blaster rifle, he rushed back inside the building. Rasche picked up the fallen Jedi Knight’s lightsaber and followed closely behind.

END OF PROLOGUE

 

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” (2001) Review

murderinmesopotamia2

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” (2001) Review

One can categorize the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” television movies into two categories. The ones made between 1989 and 2001, featured the supporting characters Captain Arthur Hasting, Miss Lemon (Hercule Poirot), and Chief Inspector Japp. The ones made post-2001 sporadically featured the mystery writer, Adriande Oliver. The very last television movie that featured Poirot’s close friend, Hastings, turned out to be 2001’s “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”.

Based upon Agatha Christie’s 1936 novel, “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” told of Hercule Poirot’s investigation into the murder of Louise Leidner, the wife of an American archeologist named Dr. Leidner. The story began with Poirot’s arrival in Iraq, who is there to not only visit his friend Captain Arthur Hastings, but also meet with a Russian countess of a past acquaintance. Hastings, who is having marital problems, is there to visit his nephew Bill Coleman, one of Dr. Leidner’s assistants. Upon his arrival at the dig, Poirot notices the tension between Mrs. Leidner and the other members of her husband’s dig – especially with Richard Carey and Anne Johnson, Dr. Leidner’s longtime colleagues.

Both Poirot and Hastings learn about the series of sightings that have frightening Mrs. Leidner. The latter eventually reveals that she was previously married to a young U.S. State Department diplomat during World War I named Frederick Bosner, who turned out to be a spy for the Germans. Mrs. Leidner had betrayed Bosner to the American government before he was arrested and sentenced to die. But Bosner managed to escape, while he was being transported to prison. Unfortunately, a train accident killed him. Fifteen years passed before Louise eventually married Dr. Leidner. Not long after Poirot learned about the lady’s past, someone killed her with a deadly blow to her head with a blunt instrument.

Many Christie fans claim that the 1989-2001 movies were superior to the later ones, because these movies were faithful to the novels. I have seen nearly every “POIROT” television movie in existence. Trust me, only a small handful of the 1989-2001 movies were faithful. And “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was not one of them. First of all, Arthur Hastings was not in the 1936 novel. Which meant that Bill Coleman was not Hasting’s nephew. Poirot’s assistant in Christie’s novel was Louise Leidner’s personal nurse, Amy Leatheran. In the 2001 movie, she was among the main suspects. There were other changes. Dr. Leidner’s nationality changed from Swedish to American. Several characters from the novel were eliminated.

I only had a few quibbles about “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. One, I found Clive Exton’s addition of Captain Hastings unnecessary. I realize that the movie aired during the last season that featured Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon. But what was the point in including Hastings to the story? His presence merely served as a last touch of nostalgia for many fans of the series and as an impediment to the Amy Leatheran character, whose presence was reduced from Poirot’s assistant to minor supporting character. Two, I wish that the movie’s running time had been longer. The story featured too many supporting characters and one too many subplots. A running time of And if I must be brutally honest, the solution to Louise Leidner’s murder struck me as inconceivable. One has to blame Agatha Christie for this flaw, instead of screenwriter Clive Exton. I could explain how implausible the murderer’s identity was, but to do so would give away the mystery.

But I still enjoyed “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. Clive Exton did the best he could with a story slightly marred by First of all, I was impressed by the production’s use of Tunisia as a stand-in for 1933-36 Iraq. Rob Hinds and his team did an excellent job in re-creating both the setting and era for the movie. They were ably assisted by Kevin Rowley’s photography, Chris Wimble’s editing and the art direction team – Paul Booth, Nigel Evans and Henry Jaworski. I was especially impressed by Charlotte Holdich’s costume designs that perfectly recaptured both the 1930s decade and the movie’s setting in the Middle East.

David Suchet gave his usual top-notch performance as Hercule Poirot. I am also happy to include that he managed to avoid some of his occasional flashes of hammy acting during Poirot’s revelation scene. Hugh Fraser gave his last on-screen performance as Arthur Hastings (so far). And although I was not thrilled by the addition of the Hastings character in the movie, I cannot deny that Fraser was first rate. Five other performances really impressed me. Ron Berglas was perfectly subtle as the quiet and scholarly Dr. Leidner, who also happened to be in love with his wife. Barbara Barnes wisely kept control of her portrayal of Louise Leidner, a character that could have easily veered into caricature in the hands of a less able actress. I also enjoyed Dinah Stabb’s intelligent portrayal of Anne Johnson, one of Dr. Leidner’s colleagues who happened to be in love with him. Christopher Bowen did an excellent job of keeping audiences in the dark regarding his character’s (Richard Mason) true feelings for Mrs. Leidner. And Georgina Sowerby injected as much energy as possible into the role of Amy Leatharan, a character reduced by Exton’s screenplay.

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was marred by a running time I found too short and an implausible solution to its murder mystery. But it possessed enough virtues, including an excellent performance by a cast led by David Suchet, an interesting story and a first-rate production team; for me to consider it a very entertaining movie and one I would not hesitate to watch over again.

Top Five Favorite “HELL ON WHEELS” Season One (2011-2012) Episodes

kinopoisk_ru-Hell-on-Wheels-1708756

Below is a list of my top five favorite Season One episodes from the AMC series about the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, “HELL ON WHEELS”. Created by Joe and Tony Gayton, the series stars Anson Mount, Colm Meany, Common and Dominique McElligott:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “HELL ON WHEELS” Season One (2011-2012) Episodes

1 - 1.07 Revelations

1. (1.07) “Revelations” – Financier Thomas C. Durant and widower Lily Bell leave the “Hell on Wheels” camp to travel to Chicago for different reasons. Thomas Moore and his Irish gang finds former slave Elam Ferguson in the tent of prostitute Eva.

 

2 - 1.02 Immoral Mathematics

2. (1.02) “Immoral Mathematics” – Vengeance seeking former Confederate Cullen Bohannon fights for his life, as he tries to evade camp security officer Thor “the Swede” Gundersen after killing one of the Union men who had murdered his wife during the Civil War. Joseph Black Moon track down the Cheyenne braves (including his brother) responsible for the attack on the surveyors’ camp.

 

3 - 1.10 God of Chaos - a

3. (1.10) “God of Chaos” – In the season finale, Cullen tracks down a former Union soldier named Harper, whom he believes was one of the men who killed his wife. Durant and Lily conspire to gain arriving investors’ interests. And Elam and Eva express different views on what their future should be.

 

4 - 1.09 Timshel

4. (1.09) “Timshel” – Cullen, Elam, Joseph Black Moon and a squad of soldiers find the Cheyenne responsible for the attack on the surveyor camp that led to the death of Lily’s husband and for the derailment of a train.

 

5 - 1.04 Jamais Je Ne T'oublierai

5. (1.04) “Jamais Je Ne T’oublierai” – Cullen initiates his search for Harper. Lily finally arrives at the “Hell on Wheels” camp, following the Cheyenne attack on the surveyor’s camp and the death of her husband. Elam becomes involved with a prostitute named Eva.

 

“SOME LIKE IT HOT” (1959) Review

“SOME LIKE IT” (1959) Review

It has been called one of the greatest film comedies of all time . . . and possibly the greatest. Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” has been the topic of many books and documentaries on both Hollywood and the director’s career. I have seen the movie more times than I can remember. And for the first time, I have decided to publicize my feelings on it.

Directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by him and I.A.L. Diamond, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” is a remake of a 1935 French film called “FANFARE D’AMOUR”, which was based upon a story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan. “FANFARE D’AMOUR” was first remade in 1951 by director Kurt Hoffmann as “FANFAREN DER LIEBE”. However, the French and German versions did not feature gangsters as an integral part of their plots. “SOME LIKE IT HOT” told the story of a pair of struggling jazz musicians who end up witnessing the Saint Valentine Day Massacre – at least a fictionalized account of it. When the Chicago gangsters, led by “Spats” Columbo see them, the two flee Chicago for their lives by taking a job as members of an all-girl band heading for Florida . . . disguised as women. The musicians, Joe and Jerry, become enamored of a “Sugar” Kane Kowalczyk, the band’s vocalist and ukulele player. And both struggle for her affection, while maintaining their disguises. In order to win Sugar’s affection, Joe assume a second disguise as a millionaire named “Junior”, the heir to Shell Oil. As for Joe, he has attracted the attention of a real millionaire named Osgood Fielding III. But when “Spats” Columbo and his men make an unexpected appearance at a gangster’s convention at their hotel, all hell breaks loose.

Does “SOME LIKE IT HOT” deserve its reputation as one of the greatest film comedies of all time? I believe it does. In fact, it happens to be my personal favorite comedy of all time. Fifty-two years have passed since it was first released and it is just as fresh and hilarious as ever. More importantly, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” features some twisted humor that does not seem dated at all. Mind you, there have been other movies and television series (think “BOSOM BUDDIES” of the early 1980s) with a gender bender theme. But not one of them have been as funny as “SOME LIKE IT HOT”. Not even 1982’s “VICTOR/VICTORIA” – which is a close second for me – is not as funny. Both movies featured the insidious possibilities of cross-dressing. But whereas the 1982 movie is a bit more obvious and a little preachy in its attempt to convince moviegoers to accept what is presented on the screen, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” is a lot more subtle and funny, thanks to Wilder and Diamond’s script. In fact, the movie’s last line said a lot more about the consequences of cross dressing than any other movie ever had. I only have one complaint about Wilder and Diamond’s script. From the moment “Spats” Columbo and his men arrived in Florida, I found the movie’s plot and pacing somewhat rushed. Only Marilyn Monroe’s poignant rendition of “I’m Through With Love”, Pat O’Brien, Nehemiah Persoff and the last scene saved the movie’s final fifteen to twenty minutes.

Production-wise, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” seemed pretty top-notch. Production manager Allen K. Wood did his best to re-create the late 1920s for the film. I certainly had nothing to complain about Edward G. Boyle’s sets and Ted Haworth’s art direction, both earning Academy Award nominations. Although a part of me find the idea of “SOME LIKE IT HOT” shot in color somewhat appealing (see the photograph above), I must admit that Charles Lang’s black-and-white photography (also an Oscar nominee) looked very attractive – especially his photography of San Diego’s famous Hotel Del Coronado standing in as the Florida hotel where Sweet Sue’s band performed. Legendary Hollywood veteran Orry-Kelly won the film’s only Academy Award for his costume designs. I must admit that I found them very impressive and captured the late 1920s beautifully. I only wish that the women’s shoes worn with the costumes had been just as accurate. Looking at Marilyn Monroe’s famous walk along the train station platform, I could easily tell that her shoes were circa 1958-59. And I could say the same for the hairstyles worn by the female cast members.

Speaking of the cast,they were superb . . . every last member. The supporting cast provided brief, but memorable moments from the likes of Billy Gray as a young hotel bellhop lusting after Joe (as Josephine), Nehemiah Persoff as the colorful crime boss Little Bonaparte, Beverly Willis as band member and lover of raunchy jokes Dolores, Dave Barry as the band’s “dignified” manager Beinstock and a delicious Pat O’Brien as the sardonic police detective Mulligan. The movie also featured a funny performance from Joan Shawnlee as the band’s tough talking leader, Sweet Sue. And George Raft was effectively menacing as bootlegger/gangster “Spats” Columbo. I have only seen Joe E. Brown in perhaps two roles . . . and one of them was Osgood Fielding III, the sweet and hilarious millionaire whose heart is captured by Jerry aka “Daphne”. I have a deep suspicion that Osgood may have been one of Brown’s best movie roles ever. And he also had the good luck to utter one of the funniest and memorable last lines in Hollywood history.

But the movie truly belonged to Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Monroe won a Golden Globe award for her performance as the love-sick chartreuse, “Sugar” Kane Kowalczyk. She may or may not have been difficult during the movie’s production, but she more than earned that Golden Globe award. She was funny, poignant, sweet . . . and slightly mercenary – especially in her character’s pursuit of the fictional Shell Oil heir, “Junior”. It is heartening to see that so many have finally learned to appreciate Tony Curtis’ talents as an actor. While co-stars Monroe earned a Golden Globe and Jack Lemmon earned an Oscar nomination, Curtis ended up with the “short end of the lollipop”. Pity, because he was just as funny as the seductive trombone player Joe. But I found his portrayal of the fictional “Junior” even funnier and he managed to utter the second funniest line in the movie. Bull fiddler Jerry aka “Daphne” led to a second Academy Award nomination for Jack Lemmon . . . and he deserved it. One, he formed a great comedy team with Curtis (with whom he would reunite six years later in “THE GREAT RACE”). Two, watching him assume the airs of woman had me rolling on the floor. But what really cracked me up were his acceptance of the possibility of becoming Osgood’s next bride, while basking in the throes of their night together at a Cuban restaurant. It was a superb comedic moment for Lemmon and I would not be surprised if it was the very one that led to his nomination.

What else can I say about “SOME LIKE IT HOT”? Okay, it is not perfect. I was able to spot a few flaws in the costumes and one in the plot. But it is the closest to a perfect film comedy I have seen so far. And remember . . . this movie had been made fifty-two years ago. William Wyler’s remake, “BEN-HUR” ended up sweeping the Oscars for that year. Pity. I have never been a fan of that movie. And if it had been up to me, I would have given the top awards to “SOME LIKE IT HOT”.

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode One “Currahee” Commentary

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – EPISODE ONE “CURRAHEE” COMMENTARY

After spending the last six months or so watching and re-watching my taped copies of the recent HBO miniseries, ”THE PACIFIC”, my family and I decided to re-watch the first television collaboration between Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Of course I am speaking of the 2001 Golden Globe and Emmy winning miniseries, ”BAND OF BROTHERS”.

Based upon Stephen Ambrose historical book , ”BAND OF BROTHERS” centered around the experiences of “Easy” Company, one company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. The miniseries was divided into ten episodes and starred Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston. The first episode, titled ”Curahee”, told the story of Easy Company’s two years of training at Toccoa, Georgia; North Carolina; and later in England under the command of Herbert Sobel.

”Currahee” basically served as an introduction of the main characters featured throughout the miniseries. However, not all of the characters made an impact in this episode. Albert Blythe, David Webster and several others were occasionally seen, but not heard. But one did have characters like William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, Carwood Lipton, George Luz, John Martin, Joe Liebgott, and Harry Welsh certainly made their impacts. More importantly, the two lead characters were featured – namely Richard Winters and Lewis Nixon. But I might as well be frank. This episode truly belonged to the man who had served as Easy Company’s first commander, Herbert Sobel.

The acting in ”Currahee” struck me as pretty solid. At least 70% of the cast featured British or Irish actors portraying American servicemen. Some of the actors did pretty good jobs in maintaining an American accent – including Damian Lewis. However, there were times when it seemed that the basic American accents that most of the British cast seemed capable of using were either Southern, a flat trans-Atlantic accent or an accent from one of the five boroughs of New York City. I found it disconcerting to find some British actors using the latter, despite their characters coming from another part of the country. For example, actor Ross McCall did a great New York accent. Unfortunately, his character Joe Liebgott was born in Michigan and had moved to San Francisco sometime before the war. Even some of the American actors used the wrong accent for their characters. I enjoyed James Madio’s performance as Frank Perconte. However, Madio, who hailed from New York City (the Bronx), used his natural accent to portray Illinois native, Perconte.

I have to be honest. I never found the basic training sequences featured in some war movies to be interesting. In fact, the only war movies that featured interesting training sequences were about the Vietnam War – ”THE BOYS OF COMPANY ‘C’” (1978) and ”FULL METAL JACKET” (1987). As I had stated earlier, the episode ”Currahee” truly belonged to the Herbert Sobel character and David Schwimmer’s memorable and complex performance. Despite Ambrose’s portrayal of Sobel as a tyrannical company commander that was deeply disliked by his men, many veterans of Easy Company cannot deny that he made the company. His tough training methods helped the men endure the horrors of war that faced them in future battles. If it were not for his character and Schwimmer’s performance, I would barely consider ”Currahee” as an interesting episode.

Once Sobel was removed from the scene, the last 15 to 20 minutes of ”Currahee” featured Easy Company’s preparation for their jump into Normandy, France and their participation of the famous June 5-6 invasion. Those last minutes also set future storylines in the next episode and in future ones – including Easy Company’s experiences in France, Guarnere’s anger over his brother’s death, and Lynn “Buck” Compton’s relationship with the men in his platoon. It was not a bad episode. In fact, it was pretty interesting, thanks to David Schwimmer’s portrayal of Easy Company’s first commander, Herbert Sobel. But if it were not for the presence of Sobel’s character, I would almost find this episode rather dull.