“OCEAN’S THIRTEEN” (2007) Review

“OCEAN’S THIRTEEN” (2007) Review

After the rather disappointing 2004’s “OCEAN’S TWELVE”, I really did not expect to even like this third entry into what became a trilogy. I more than liked “OCEAN’S THIRTEEN”. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only was it better than the second film, I found it just as enjoyable as the first – namely 2001’s “OCEAN’S ELEVEN”

Directed by Oscar winner, Steven Soderbergh, the movie starts out in a series of flashbacks in which Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), one of Danny Ocean’s associates from the first two films, makes the mistake of building a hotel with one of Las Vegas’ most hated businessmen, Willy Bank (Al Pacino). He gets cut out of the deal and ends up in the hospital after a heart attack. In an attempt to help his old friend Reuben, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) approaches Bank and asks him to restore Reuben’s share of the hotel. In their exchange, Ocean appeals to the code of honor that applies to those people who have shaken Sinatra’s hand – both Reuben and Bank have done so. Bank glibly denies Ocean’s request saying of Reuben: “He’s made the right choice: roll over and die. Let him be.” Ocean and his crew decide to bring down Banks by rigging his new hotel and casino – The Bank – to lose $500 million dollars on the night of its Grand Opening, six months later. When they run out of money, they enlist the help of former nemesis – casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who wants to settle a score against Bank for creating hotel/casinos that have been taking the spotlight from his casinos.

I could go into detail about the movie’s plot, but I rather not. It happens to be a complicated plot. Do not get me wrong. Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s (“ROUNDERS”) plot is not convoluted. Aside from one or two plot points, I perfectly understood what was going on. But I feel that it is too complicated for me to spell it out in details. Instead, I will simply point out the moments that I truly enjoyed:

*I found the gang’s initial plot to kill Willy Bank and dispose of his body in retaliation for Reuben’s condition rather funny and a great moment of ensemble acting from the cast:

*Another moment I enjoyed was when Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) caught Danny watching an episode of Oprah. Great comic moment for both Clooney and Pitt.

*I loved Linus Caldwell’s (Matt Damon) impersonation of a ”mouthpiece” for an Asian real-estate mogul (Yen in disguise); especially when he is called upon to seduce Bank’s assistant, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), using artificial pheromones, which act as an aphrodisiac to maximize her attraction to him. Apparently, Linus needed her to get him inside Willy Bank’s Diamond Room.

*There is a great sequence of scenes featuring a hotel reviewer who is treated as “the V.U.P.” (the always great character actor David Paymer) or “Very Unimportant Person”, when Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) is mistaken as the reviewer. The V.U.P.’s discovery of bed bugs in his room is part-hilarious, part-creepy.

*Don Cheadle as the group’s mechanical genius Basher Tarr gets to shine in a scene in which he impersonates a motorcycle stuntman in order to distract Bank, while Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Afflect and Scott Caan)

*Another great moment is when the plot to financially ruin Bank comes together with many of the hotel’s patrons winning large sums of money at most of the gaming tables in the casino. Actually, this entire sequence was done within a montage.

*But my favorite sequences feature featured Virgil Malloy’s (Casey Affleck) efforts to load the casino’s specially designed dice at a factory in Mexico. Virgil is sent there to infiltrate the factory. Instead, he loses sight of his mission when he sees the working conditions at the factory. Instead of fixing the dice, he decides to fix the problem and lead his co-workers in a revolt.

As usual, the cast is great. I especially enjoyed Al Pacino’s performance as the backstabbing casino owner, Willy Bank. He managed to be flamboyant, without going over-the-top. I also enjoyed seeing Ellen Barkin in a memorable role, after all of these years. But I must admit that I especially enjoyed Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, David Paymer, Don Cheadle and Elliot Gould in this film. And Steven Soderbergh did a great job in maintaining the movie’s pace, drawing out memorable performances and especially capturing the flash and glitter of early 21st century Las Vegas. In fact, I think that “OCEAN’S THIRTEEN” is just as good as the first movie, “OCEAN’S ELEVEN” . . . and thankfully, a great improvement over the confusing “OCEAN’S TWELVE”.

Five Favorite Episodes of “LUKE CAGE” Season One (2016)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “LUKE CAGE”, the Marvel Netflix adaptation of the Marvel Comics hero Luke Cage. Created by Cheo Hodari Coker, the series starred Mike Colter as Luke Cage:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “LUKE CAGE” SEASON ONE (2016)

1. (1.07) “Manifest” – New York City Councilwoman Mariah Dillard’s political career comes under fire following some violence between her gangster cousin Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and vigilante Luke Cage. Also, Cottonmouth picks up information from Hernan “Shades” Alvarez, his arms dealer’s liaison, that could put Luke on the run.

2. (1.11) “Now You’re Mine” – In one bold move, a person from Luke’s past and Cottonmouth’s arms supplier, Willis Stryker aka Diamondback, puts Luke on the defensive, NYPD Detective Mercedes “Misty” Knight in dire straits, and Harlem’s safety in jeopardy during a confrontation at the Stokes family’s nightclub, Harlem’s Paradise.

3. (1.02) “Code of the Streets” – Luke is pulled deeper into the fight for his neighborhood in Harlem when, as a favor to his close friend Henry “Pop” Hunter, he tries to help a kid who’s in trouble with Cottonmouth after participating in the theft of the gangster’s money during an arms deal.

4. (1.04) “Step in the Arena” – Following Cottonmouth’s attack on the restaurant/apartment building where Luke lived, the latter recalls his past as former Savannah police officer Carl Lucas and the experiments that he had endured while as a prisoner at the Seagate Prison in Georgia.

5. (1.12) “Soliloquy of Chaos” – Misty digs deeper for the truth regarding Luke and Diamondback’s connection and a recent murder, while Harlem’s power players throw the city into confusion.

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 8/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Eight

Both Olivia and Cole stared at the tall and slender, robed figure that stood before them. “Is that it?” the red-haired witch asked. “I mean . . . I guess I had been expecting something a little more . . .”

“Bloody?” The Gimle priest broke into a teasing grin. “Not all daemonic bonding ceremonies require blood, Miss McNeill.” The priest, whose name happened to be Riesen. Ridges around his forehead and nose gave him a reptilian appearance.

Cole added, “The wine represents the blood. Like it does in many mortal religious ceremonies.” His blue eyes gleamed wickedly. “Of course, we can still use real blood, if that will make you feel better.”

Elise McNeill and an elderly, yet affable-looking man of medium height looked on with interest. Olivia’s grandmother commented, “Wine is also used in Wiccan rituals, as well. It’s too bad that many people are unable to see the similarities in many religions. Right Arthur?”

The affable-looking man turned out to be a Wiccan high priest named Arthur McMannus. He replied, “Apparently, the similarities go beyond mortal religions.”

“I suppose so,” Riesen commented. “And there is no need to worry, Miss McNeill,” he said to Olivia. “I assure you that no blood will be part of the bonding ceremony.” He gave Cole a slight, reproving look. “Right, Belthazor?” Cole merely sighed and rolled his eyes.

Olivia glanced at the drawing-room’s door. Paige had arrived, along with two surprising visitors. “Is that Paige with Phoebe and Uncle Brion?” she asked.

Cole’s eyes followed Olivia’s gaze. He frowned. “This doesn’t look good,” he murmured.

“Excuse me.” Olivia flashed a brief smile at Mr. McMannus and Riesen. Then she, Cole and her grandmother joined the new arrivals. “Paige! I see that you’ve finally arrived.”

Warily, Paige nodded. “Yeah, I know I’m late. Uh . . .” She glanced uneasily at Brion. “We were . . . delayed. By someone in particular.”

Cole nodded at his ex-wife. “Phoebe. What are you doing here?”

Her cheeks turning pink, Phoebe answered, “Um, we . . . I mean, I have something to tell you. Both of you.” She took a deep breath.

“You had a premonition last night,” Cole said, taking the two sisters and Brion by surprise. He chuckled lightly. “Yeah, I had figured as much.”

Brion added in a slight supercilious tone, “She had one of you . . . marrying some woman other than Olivia. Possibly a daemon.”

Paige glared at the Welshman. “Dude! Couldn’t you have been subtle? Or at least allow Phoebe to say something?”

Olivia allowed herself an inward chuckle. She had never heard a fifty-two year-old British male be referred to as ‘Dude’. Taking a deep breath, she asked her uncle, “Excuse me Brion, but how did you get involved in all of this?”

“I was there when Miss Halliwell had her premonition. On the terrace.” Brion’s green eyes glimmered with suspicion and hostility, as he stared at Cole. “And I had asked her about it . . . this morning.” Then he rounded on his niece. “I must say, Olivia that you don’t seem particularly upset that Cole might have some other female acquaintance that he apparently has not revealed.”

An equally chilly Cole retorted, “Perhaps the reason why she isn’t upset is that she knows about Idril.”

A long silent pause followed, before Brion frowned at Olivia. “You know about this woman?”

“Yes, I do,” Olivia replied wearily.

“Why did you not say anything?”

Cole shot back, “Because it was none of your damn business!”

Brion’s face turned red with anger. “Now look here . . .” the Welshman began angrily.

“Look here . . . what?” Cole continued. “I have no intention of telling you a damn thing! Unlike everyone else here, I don’t know you!”

Realizing that some semblance of peace was needed before sparks of any kind began to fly, Olivia spoke up. “Brion, Cole had told me about Idril not long ago. Their relationship wasn’t that serious. At least from Cole’s point of view.” The half-daemon shot a quick glance at her. “And if you must know, Cecile had a similar premonition about Cole and Idril.”

“She did?” Phoebe demanded sharply. “When?”

Olivia replied, “About two days ago.”

Brion angrily rounded on his niece. “I cannot believe that you had remained silent about such an important matter! Miss Halliwell has a premonition of him marrying another woman . . .”

Cole rudely interrupted, “Spoiled the impact of your little revelation, didn’t it?”

Olivia shot an exasperated look at her fiancé. “Cole? Please!” When he looked away, she continued, “Cecile had figured from her vision that . . .”

“Is someone using my name in vain?” Cecile appeared before the others. She glanced at Paige. “Oh! You’re finally here. Good. Now we can do the full rehearsals for both ceremonies.”

Brion turned to the Vodoun priestess. “I understand from Olivia that you had a vision of Cole marrying another woman, a few days ago.”

Cecile paused, as she assumed a wary expression. “Yeah, about two days ago. Um . . . when did you find out?” She glanced at Phoebe, who shifted uncomfortably from one foot to another. “You had one?”

“About Cole and this other woman?” Phoebe nodded. “Last night. Mr. Morgan had found out about it.”

“And Mr. Morgan demands to know more about this Idril woman, who will end up marrying Cole!” Brion demanded angrily.

Rolling his eyes, Cole heaved an exasperated sigh. “Idril is a daemon I had once dated back in the late 60s. She belongs to my order, the Thorn Brotherhood. And it wasn’t serious . . . at least from my point of view. I broke up with her and she tried to kill me. We had a brief reunion in the late 90s that only lasted a few days. And I didn’t lay eyes upon her, until the party in the Melora dimension, nearly two weeks ago.” He glared at Brion. “Satisfied?”

“And Olivia knows about this . . .?”

Olivia sharply added, “Yes, Brion! I know. I’ve known about her since the engagement party!”

But Brion refused to brush aside the matter. “Nevertheless, until this Idril matter is dealt with, I believe you should consider postponing the wedding.”

“Are you serious?” Olivia exclaimed in disbelief.

Brion continued, “Yes I am, Olivia. I realize that . . .”

Cole interrupted, his blue eyes radiating cold fire. “I don’t give a damn what you think! And apparently, nor do the others. If you continue to insist upon this ludicrous idea that we need to postpone the wedding, I’ll make sure that you will end up under Idril’s spell and married to her!”

Confusion, anger . . . and a touch of fear illuminated Brion’s green eyes. “What the bloody hell did you mean by that?”

“I mean . . . if you continue being such an annoying shit, I just might transform you into me,” Cole continued in a chilly voice, “and make sure that Idril finds you!”

Olivia allowed herself a quick smile, as her uncle’s face turned sheer white. Cecile surreptiously directed her gaze elsewhere. Paige smirked at Brion, while Phoebe regarded Cole with a shocked expression. Brion blinked momentarily. “I see,” he finally said in a stiff voice.

Cole shot back, “And it’s about damn time!”

Brion’s jaw twitched momentarily, before he gave a stiff nod. “Will you all excuse me?” And he then marched away.

Silence fell between the small group. Then Paige broke the silence, as she turned to her sister. “Now that he’s gone, don’t you think that you should be heading for P3, Pheebs?” The older sister stared at the youngest Charmed Ones with confused eyes. “You’re supposed to help Piper decorate the club for tonight. Remember?”

“Oh!” Phoebe gave her head a slight shake. “Yeah, of course. Um . . . I guess I’ll see you all later.” Her face slightly pink with embarrassment, she turned away from the others and left.

Cecile nudged Paige’s arm. “Let’s get ready for the rehearsal.”

The couple drifted to an isolated spot near the fireplace. Olivia regarded her fiancé with curious eyes. “Would you have done it?” she asked. “Carry out your threat to Brion?”

Cole responded with a direct look. “Let me put it this way, he either would have ended up in Idril’s clutches or I would have incinerated him on the spot.”

Olivia added, “Unless Dad had beaten you to the punch and blow up Brion, instead.”

A satisfied smile curved Cole’s lips. “Now that would have been a pleasant sight.”

With a sigh, Olivia patted Cole’s arm. “Listen, I think you should know that this isn’t about you. Brion’s . . . hostility. It’s about me.” Again, she sighed. “As far as my uncle is concerned, you’re just another example of me fucking up by endangering the family. Richard is another. And I don’t think he still hasn’t forgiven me for Dafydd.”

Cole frowned. “Who?”

“One of my Welsh cousins. He, uh . . . after Richard and Aunt Rhiannon’s deaths, Dafydd had came here to escort Rhiannon’s body back to Wales. We were at the Orchid Hotel, when Dafydd made a disparaging remark about Richard. I, uh . . .” She broke off to ask Cole a question. “Do you remember that time when we had meditated together on your birthday, and tapped into each other’s memories?”

“Sure,” Cole said with a nod.

Olivia hesitated, before she continued, “And do you recall seeing some guy fall out of a hotel window?”

A pause followed before Cole nodded again.

Taking a deep breath, Olivia added, “That was my cousin Dafydd. He, uh . . . had ended up in one of the hotel’s swimming pools, after I had flung him out of the window, using my telekinesis.” She paused. “Only, I didn’t know about the swimming pool.”

“I see.” Cole let out a gust of breath. “I suppose this little incident is one of the reasons why your grandfather didn’t show up for the wedding.”

Olivia’s mouth twisted into a smirk. “What do you think? Most of them are convinced that I might be the next Briana Morgan.”

“I think . . .” Cole hesitated. “I think that Brion and some of the other Morgans need to get their heads out of their collective asses. And out of the past. I can only imagine what your uncle might do, next.”

If she had to be honest with herself, Olivia realized that she would rather not.

————

Ignoring the sounds of activity from downstairs, Brion sat inside his guest bedroom, brooding over his niece and future nephew-in-law. He sighed. It galled him that once again, Olivia had become involved in someone with a dangerous past. Only Cole Turner aka Belthazor happened to be a more dangerous kettle of fish than the late Richard Bannen. And this extremely dangerous and powerful creature is set to marry his niece within twenty-four hours. What the hell had Olivia been thinking?

And now it seems that Cole might end up forming a dangerous union with someone other than Olivia. Both Cecile Dubois and Phoebe Halliwell had visions of the half-daemon marrying some demoness – an ex-girlfriend. Brion did not know whether to accept Cecile’s claims that a spell might be the reason for Cole’s possible marriage to this demoness. At first, he had viewed this theory as a desperate attempt on Miss Dubois’ part to divert any suspicions from the half-daemon. Now, Brion began to suspect that the Voudon priestess might be right. Cole did seem contemptuous of his former lover. But how can he prevent this potentially dangerous union from becoming a reality? Killing Cole seemed out of the question. The half-daemon was too powerful and neither the McNeills or Nimue would forgive him.

Several minutes of pondering led Brion to realize that the solution to the problem would be to kill Cole’s ex-lover. He could examine any books on demonology or the supernatural inside the McNeills’ library for information on Idril. Or perhaps any of the personal Books of Shadow that each member of his sister’s family possess.

Brion left his room and slipped downstairs. Avoiding the activity inside the large drawing-room, he headed straight for the library on the other side of the foyer. After searching the bookshelves for nearly ten minutes, the Welshman came across a book titled PARRISH’S ENCYCLOPEDIA ON THE COVENSORDERS AND SECTS OF THE SUPERNATURAL. Brion could not imagine where the McNeills had discovered this book. He noticed that it had been published in 1975.

It did not take Brion long to come across a chapter titled “The Brotherhood of the Thorn”. He recalled Cole mentioning that Idril belonged to the half-daemon’s former order – the Thorn Brotherhood. The chapter provided detailed information on the daemonic order’s origins and its more infamous deeds. It also listed the Order’s top members. Brion found entries on both Belthazor and Nimue. It also included Cole’s uncle, but mentioned that the former assassin had left the Order for the morally superior Gimle Order back in the 19th century . . . and had been killed by his nephew in the late 1960s. It also struck the male witch odd that the Thorn Brotherhood’s members had not been listed alphabetically. Perusing the chapter even further, Brion discovered that the Order’s members had been listed chronologically, based upon the year of their births. And how this Parrish person managed to discover this seemed like a miracle to the witch.

According to the book, Marbus had been born in 1760, Nimue in 1779 and Belthazor in 1885. Brion examined a few pages, until he came upon an entry on Idril. Born in 1911, Cole’s former lover had come from a race of daemons that originated in the Kenotês Dimension. Recruited into the Thorn Brotherhood by its leader in 1949, Idril’s specialty became acquiring the souls of those involved in the entertainment business. As a high-level daemon in the Thorn Order, it would take a blood-based potion, or very powerful magic practitioner to vanquish Idril. Or one could also consider using a potion based upon a resin from trees and shrubs called amber. Apparently, daemons from the Kenotês Dimension seemed to be susceptible to amber – no matter how powerful they happen to be.

Brion paused. Hmmm. Amber. An excellent possibility. It should not hard for him to find any. Once he acquired the amber resin, all he had to do was make the potion, find Idril and use it against her. Finding Idril, he realized, might prove to be difficult. Brion concluded that he would have to use another spell to summon the daemon. And he would have to do it as soon as possible.

END OF CHAPTER EIGHT

“FURIOUS 7” (2015) Review

“FURIOUS 7” (2015) Review

Following the success of 2013’s “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, I felt sure that the FAST AND FURIOUS movie franchise would finally end. After all, Universal Studios and director Justin Lin had proclaimed the fourth, fifth and sixth films as part of a trilogy. But to my utter surprise, the producers announced their intention for a seventh film by ending “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” on a cliffhanger.

Anyone who has seen the sixth film knows that Dominic Toretto, Brian O’Conner and their circle of friends had assisted Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent Luke Hobbs in taking down mercenary Owen Shaw in exchange for the clearance of their criminal records and finding Dom’s lady love, the amnesiac Letty Ortiz. Their actions had left Shaw in a coma and a return to normal life. However, Dom and his friends learn that Shaw’s older brother, a rogue special forces assassin named Deckard Shaw, is seeking revenge against the team for what happened to the younger brother. The end of “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” revealed that the older Shaw was responsible for Han-Seoul-Oh’s death in Tokyo, which was first seen in the 2006 film, “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT”. Next, Shaw nearly kills both Agents Hobbs and Elena Neves in an explosion at the DSS Los Angeles Field Office, leaving Hobbs seriously wounded. After Shaw sends a package that destroys the Toretto home in Los Angeles, a C.I.A. covert team leader named Frank Petty recruits the remaining friends to help him prevent a mercenary named Mose Jakande from obtaining a computer program called the God’s Eye that uses digital devices to track specific people, in exchange for allowing them to use the latter to find Shaw first. Unbeknownst to the others, Shaw has allied himself with Jakande to take down Dom, Brian and the others.

I must admit that on paper, “FURIOUS 7” struck me as a first-rate story. Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who has been writing for the franchise since “TOKYO DRIFT”, did an excellent job of continuing the story first set up in “FAST AND FURIOUS 4”. He even managed to skillfully connect some of the story acrs of the franchise’s past films with this latest plot. This was especially the case for Han’s death in “TOKYO DRIFT”, his romance with Gisele Yashar and friendship with Sean Boswell; Letty’s amnesia, which was never resolved in “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”; and, of course, the Shaw brothers. Morgan also did a solid job in utilizing the situation regarding Frank Petty, Mose Jakande and the God’s Eye device for the team’s search for Deckard Shaw. And although I feel that James Wan lacked Justin Lin’s more technical skills as a director, I thought he did a pretty good job in handling a high budget production that was nearly derailed by Paul Walker’s death.

One would have to be blind not to notice how beautiful “FURIOUS 7”. Then again, that has been the case for the entire franchise since the first movie. One has to thank Stephen F. Windon, who has worked on the film franchise since “TOKYO DRIFT”, and Marc Spicer for their colorful and sharp photography. The beauty of their work was especially apparent in the Abu Dhabi sequences. Speaking of Abu Dhabi, it also featured some of the movie’s best action scenes. One of them featured a fight between Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz character and martial artist Ronda Rousey, who portrayed the head of security for an Abu Dhabi billionaire. Another featured an attempt by Dom and Brian to steal the billionaire’s car, which contained the God’s Eye device. This scene also led to one of the most spectacular stunts I have ever seen on film. In an attempt to escape the billionaire’s security team, Dom drives the stolen car through a series of hi-rise buildings that . . . hell, I do not know how to describe this stunt. It has to be seen on the movie screen in order to believe it.

The movie also featured another over-the-top stunt, in which the team airdrop their cars over the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan, in order to ambush Jakande’s convoy and rescue Megan Ramsey, the creator of God’s Eye. For some reason, I was not that particularly impressed with this particular stunt. Perhaps it is because I found the sequence a little too frantic and clumsily shot. The best aspect of the Azerbaijan sequence was the fight scene between Brian and one of Jakande’s men, a martial artist named Ket. Not surprisingly, the film’s producers hired martial artist/actor Tony Jaa to portray Ket. They were also lucky in that Paul Walker had been a martial artist for several years, himself. The pair, along with fight choreographer Jeff Imada, created a first-rate fight scene. They also managed to repeat themselves with another excellent fight scene staged inside an empty building in downtown Los Angeles. Imada also served as the choreographer between the Rodriguez/Rousey fight scene in Abu Dhabi and a surprisingly effective fight between Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw near the film’s beginning. The only fight scene that failed to impressed me occurred between Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and Shaw on a downtown L.A. parking structure. If I must be honest, there seemed to be too much testosterone and dialogue, and not enough skillful moves to impress me. It almost seemed as if director James Lin overdid it in his attempt to transform this particular fight into a showstopper. Instead, the fight simply bored me.

However, the Toretto/Shaw fight scene was not the only disappointing aspect of “FURIOUS 7”. I had other problems with the movie. Exactly how many years had passed between “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” and “FURIOUS 7”? After watching the 2013 movie, I had assumed that Deckard Shaw had killed Han Seoul-Oh at least a few months after the events of the movie. But in “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, Brian O’Conner and Mia Toretto’s son Jack was still an infant. “FURIOUS 7” revealed that young Jack was a toddler between the ages of 2-5 around the time of Han’s death. So . . . I am confused. Another problem I had with the film was the dialogue written by Chris Morgan. I might as well be frank. Dialogue has never been a strong point with the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise. But I was surprised that only three characters were forced to spew some of the worst dialogue I had ever heard in the entire movie franchise. And that bad dialogue came out of the mouths of Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. It seemed as if the three actors were engaged in some kind of verbal testosterone contest to see who is the toughest. No wonder some critics had claimed that the movie’s three worst performances came from them. And if this was not bad enough, I had to endure that uber-macho fight scene between Diesel and Statham that really unimpressed me. Worse, the movie featured a moment in which the convalescing Agent Hobbs becomes aware of a struggle between Dom’s team and the combined Shaw/Jakande alliance inside his hospital room. So, what does he do? Hobbs flexes a muscle, forcing his cast to tear apart. It was one of the most wince-inducing moments I have ever seen on film.

According to the movie’s publicists, Universal Studios and the producers had decided not to kill off the Brian O’Conner character, because of actor Paul Walker’s death. For that I am utterly grateful. Learning about his death had been difficult enough. I certainly did not want to see the same for his character on screen. However, the public was told that instead of being killed off, Brian’s character would retire at the end of the movie. This announcement left me confused. Retire from what? Brian’s law enforcement career ended in “FAST AND FURIOUS 4”, when he helped Dom Toretto escape from a prison bus. His brief career as a criminal ended, following the successful Rio de Janeiro heist in “FAST FIVE”. Brian and the rest of the team’s actions in the sixth movie revolved around their search for an amnesiac Letty Ortiz and efforts to get their criminal records cleaned. As for this seventh movie, they were mainly concerned with finding Deckard Shaw before he can kill them all in retaliation for his brother’s condition. So, from what exactly was Brian retiring? The producers could have simply stated that Brian, Mia and their son had moved to another city . . . and away from Dom and Letty. How did retirement fit into all of this?

I also had one last problem with “FURIOUS 7” – namely the Roman Pearce character, portrayed by Tyrese Gibson. Ever since his first appearance in 2003’s “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS”, I have been a fan of Roman and Gibson’s portrayal of him. But I have become aware of the franchise’s recent portrayal of him as the team’s clown. When this happen? Oddly enough, it began with “FAST FIVE” in which the Tej Parker character made a few snarky comments at his expense. In the 2011 film, it was mildly amusing. In “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, it got a little worse. But the Azerbaijan sequence pretty much solidified Roman’s role as the team’s clown. This sequence nearly made him a dye-in-the-wool coward, when he originally refused to participate in the car jump. What the hell? Roman has always been a verbose, temperamental and impulsive guy. But he was also a very pragmatic man, who always seemed to have a more realistic view of their situations than any of the other characters. This does not mean he was gutless. Why on earth did the franchise decided to make him this embarrassing clown? And why team him with Tej, who always seemed hell bent upon humiliating him? One of the aspects of “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS” I enjoyed so much was that Roman and childhood friend Brian O’Conner had struck me as a well-balanced screen team. Brian never went out of his way to constantly humiliate Roman . . . like Tej. And Roman never treated Brian like some adopted offspring . . . like Dom. But the producers were determined to exploit the original Dom/Brian relationship in the movies, starting with “FAST AND FURIOUS 4”. And in order not to leave Roman out of the loop, they teamed him with Tej Parker, whom he first met in the 2003 film. Unfortunately, Tej (through screenwriter Chris Morgan), has transformed poor Roman into a clown.

Clown or not, Roman had the good luck to be portrayed by Tyrese Gibson, whom I believe is one of the better actors in the main cast. Mind you, he is no Kurt Russell, Djimon Hounsou or Elsa Pataky, but I still believe he is slightly better than the other actors and actresses in the movie. Speaking of Russell, he gave a dry and witty performance as shadow agent Frank Petty. The actor injected a good deal of sharp wit into a film nearly marred by bad dialogue. As for Hounsou, he made an effective and intelligent villain, capable of thinking on his feet and quickly exploiting a situation or individual. In my review of “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, I had commented on Paul Walker’s increasing skill as an actor. This improvement of Walker’s acting skills were obvious in scenes that reflected his character Brian O’Conner’s struggle to adapt to a family lifestyle, his conversation with wife Mia two-thirds into the film and his reaction to Dom’s decision to drive a stolen car through the window of an Abu Dhabi skyscraper. Another memorable performance came from Michelle Rodriguez, who continued her portrayal of Letty Ortiz’s struggles to deal with amnesia. This was especially apparent in a scene in which the actress had to convey her character’s frustration in facing fleeting memories of the past and Dom’s attempts to help her regain her memories. The movie also featured solid performances from Jordana Brewster (who was missing throughout most of the film), Chris Bridges aka Ludicrous, Nathalie Emmanuel, Lucas Black (of “THE FAST AND FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT”), Elsa Pataky, Ali Fazal and Tony Jaa. Even Ronda Rousey, despite her lack of acting experience, was appropriately intimidating as the billionaire’s head of security. She is no Gina Carrano, who acting managed to improve by “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, but she was effective.

I know what you are thinking. What about Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Surely they were not that terrible? All three actors are pretty decent performers. But “FURIOUS 7” did not show them at their best. As I had earlier hinted, all three were hampered by Chris Morgan’s machismo dialogue and attempt to raise the testosterone level, via their characters. But each actor had their moments. Diesel’s best moments were featured in his scenes with Rodriguez. Johnson’s best moments occurred in the film’s first half hour, which included his character’s fight against the Deckard Shaw character and his playful interactions with Elsa Pataky’s Elena Neves. And Statham’s best scene in the film, at least for me, was his first. This featured Deckard Shaw’s visit to his comatose brother’s hospital room, in which he expressed tenderness and family concern for the latter (portrayed by Luke Evans in a cameo appearance). Otherwise, Diesel, Johnson and Statham proved to be problematic for me in so many ways.

I am not saying that “FURIOUS 7” is a terrible movie. It would probably be considered terrible by certain fans and moviegoers, whose tastes in films are a lot more elitist or intellectual. But as action films go, it is pretty decent and a lot of fun to watch. Yes, I found it difficult to endure some of the movie’s bad dialogue, the re-imaging of the Roman Pearce’s character into a clown and the over-the-top machismo portrayed by Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. And James Wan does not exactly strike me as skillful a director as Justin Lin. But, I believe “FURIOUS 7” is still a fun-filled action flick and a worthy last film for the late Paul Walker.

Tarte Tatin aux Pommes

Below is a small article about the French dessert known as Tarte Tatin aux Pommes:

TARTE TATIN AUX POMMES

I love Apple Pie. I love it more than any other dessert on Earth . . . well, aside from donuts. I thought there was only one kind of apple pie. Which goes to show how limiting my thinking could be. And I eventually discovered when I learned about the French dessert, Tarte Tatin aux Pommes.

The Tarte Tatin aux Pommes is a pastry that consists of fruit, usually apples, is caramelized in butter and sugar before it is baked as a tart. The apples originally used for the dessert came from two regional varieties – Reine des Reinettes (Queen of the Pippins), and Calville. Over the years, other apple varieties have been used, including Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji and Gala. When choosing apples for a Tarte Tatin aux Pommes, it is important to pick a type that will hold their shape while cooking, and not melt into apple sauce. In North America, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, or Jonathan have proven to be popular choices. The Tarte Tatin can also be made with pears, quinces, peaches, pineapple, and tomatoes. Other fruit and vegetables like an onion can also be used. The Tarte Tatin aux Pommes should be made with puff or shortcrust pastry.

The creation of the Tarte Tatin aux Pommes proved to be an accident. The dessert was created at a hotel called Hôtel Tatin, located in the commune of Lamotte-Beuvron, 200 miles south of Paris, France. The Hotel Tatin was owned by two sisters named Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin during the 1880s. The most common tale about the dessert’s origin is that Stéphanie, who did most of the hotel’s cooking, had started to make a traditional apple pie. But feeling overworked, she left the apples cooking in butter and sugar too long. Realizing that the apples and butter might be in danger of burning, Stéphanie tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert. There is another origin tale for the dessert. In it, Stéphanie had baked a caramelized apple tart upside-down by mistake. She went ahead and served the hotel’s guests the unusual dish. Whatever the veracity of either story, the concept of the upside down tart was new in the 1880s. For instance, patissier Antonin Carême had mentioned glazed gâteaux renversés adorned with apples from Rouen or other fruit in his 1841 book, “Pâtissier Royal Parisien”.

The tarte eventually became a signature dish of the Hôtel Tatin. Many historians and gourmets have argued whether it is a genuine creation of the Tatin sisters or the branding of an improved version of the “Tarte Solognote”, a traditional dish named after the Sologne region which surrounds Lamotte-Beuvron. Research suggests that, while the Tarte Tatin aux Pommes became a specialty of the Hôtel Tatin, the sisters did not set out to create a “signature dish”. They had never written a cookbook or published their recipe. The sisters never even called it Tarte Tatin aux Pommes. That recognition was bestowed upon them after their deaths by Curnonsky, famous French author and epicure, as well as the Parisian restaurant Maxim’s.

Below is a classic recipe for Tarte Tatin aux Pommes from the Epicurious website:

Tarte Tatin aux Pommes

Ingredients

*Frozen puff pastry sheet (from a 17 1/4-ounce package)
*1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
*1/2 cup sugar
*7 to 9 Gala apples (3 to 4 pounds), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored

Special Equipment

*A well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll pastry sheet into a 101/2-inch square on a floured work surface with a floured rolling pin. Brush off excess flour and cut out a 10-inch round with a sharp knife, using a plate as a guide. Transfer round to a baking sheet and chill.

Spread butter thickly on bottom and side of skillet and pour sugar evenly over bottom. Arrange as many apples as will fit vertically on sugar, packing them tightly in concentric circles. Apples will stick up above rim of skillet.

Cook apples over moderately high heat, undisturbed, until juices are deep golden and bubbling, 18 to 25 minutes. (Don’t worry if juices color unevenly.)

Put skillet in middle of oven over a piece of foil to catch any drips. Bake 20 minutes (apples will settle slightly), then remove from oven and lay pastry round over apples.
Bake tart until pastry is browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer skillet to a rack and cool at least 10 minutes.

Just before serving, invert a platter with lip over skillet and, using potholders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto platter. Replace any apples that stick to skillet. (Don’t worry if there are black spots; they won’t affect the flavor of the tart.) Brush any excess caramel from skillet over apples. Serve immediately.

Cooks’ note:

*Tart can cool in skillet up to 30 minutes. It can also stand, uncovered, up to 5 hours, then be heated over moderately low heat 1 to 2 minutes to loosen caramel. Shake skillet gently to loosen tart before inverting.

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) Review

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) Review

Despite its success at the box office, the second film in the Disney STAR WARS Sequel Trilogy, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”, proved to be something of a publicity disaster. Many film critics loved it. An even greater number of moviegoers disliked it. Many have attributed this schism within the STAR WARS fandom as a contributing factor to the box office failure of “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY”. To regain the universal love of the fandom, Disney Studios and Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm brought back J.J. Abrams, who had directed “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”, to handled the trilogy’s third entry, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”.

Disney Studios and Lucasfilm heralded “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” as not only the end of the franchise’s Sequel Trilogy, but also the end of the Skywalker family saga, which began under George Lucas. The 2019 movie began a year after “THE LAST JEDI”. The Resistance under Leia Organa has been hiding from the ever growing threat of the First Order, which has been ruled by her son, Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo. Leia has also been training Force acolyte Rey, while orchestrating the Resistance’s attempts to rebuild the organization and form contacts with other worlds and factions throughout the Galaxy. However, the film’s opening crawl reveals that Emperor Sheev Palpatine is still alive, despite being tossed down the second Death Star’s reactor shaft by Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader, while being electrocuted in “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Palpatine vows revenge against the Galaxy for its rejection of him and his power. Leia charges Poe Dameron, Finn and Rey to search for Palpatine and destroy him. Kylo Ren also seeks Palpatine with the intent to kill the latter and maintain his own supremacy of the First Order. Kylo Ren eventually manages to find Palpatine on the remote planet of Exegol. He learns that his former master, Snoke, had merely been a puppet of Palpatine. And the former Emperor wants him to find Rey and kill her in order to remove any possible threat to the resurgence of the Sith Order.

When I learned that J.J. Abrams would return to the “STAR WARS” franchise to conclude the Sequel Trilogy, my reactions were mixed. On one hand, I disliked his handling of “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. On the other hand, I completely loathed what Rian Johnson had done with “THE LAST JEDI”. And when Abrams had promised to do right by the Finn character, which had been so badly mishandled by Johnson . . . well, some part of me did not know whether to welcome Abrams’ return or be leery of it.

There were aspects of “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” that I liked. I was impressed by Dan Mindel’s cinematography for the movie, especially in scenes that featured the planet of Pasaana. I thought Mindel did an excellent job of utilizing the country of Jordan for those scenes, as shown below:

I was also impressed how Mindel shot the visual effects for the last duel between Rey and Kylo Ren among the second Death Star ruins on the Endor moon. Some of the film’s action sequences struck me as pretty memorable, thanks to Abrams’ direction, Mindel’s cinematography and stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart. I am referring to those scenes that feature the heroes’ occasional encounters with the First Order on Psaana and aboard the First Order star ship. I was also relieved to see the trilogy’s three protagonists – Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron – and Chewbacca spend a great deal of the movie together. The four characters managed to create a pretty solid dynamic, thanks to the performances of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Joonas Suotamo and it is a shame that audiences never got a chance to experience this dynamic in the trilogy’s other two films.

There was an aspect of the film’s narrative that delivered a great deal of satisfaction to me. It is a small matter, but involved Rey’s Jedi training. I am very relieved that Abrams finally allowed Rey to receive substantial training from a mentor, who happened to be Leia. A year had passed between “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Rey’s first scene established that Leia had been training her during that year. The movie also established in a flashback that Leia had received her training from her brother Luke Skywalker. Why did I find this satisfying? Most of Luke’s own Jedi training had also occurred during the period of a year – between the events of “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. And during this period, he had received his training from . . . you know, I have no idea on how Luke managed to complete his training. Even after so many years. To this day, it is a mystery. And this is why I am grateful that Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio had made it clear that Leia had continued Rey’s training between “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”.

The performances featured in the movie struck me as pretty solid, especially from the leads – Ridley, Boyega, Isaac and Adam Driver. The movie also featured solid, yet brief performances from returning cast members such as Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Billie Lourd, Lupita Nyong’o, and the late Carrie Fisher. Dominic Monaghan, Naomie Ackie, Keri Russell and Richard E. Grant all made nice additions to the trilogy. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian. He was one of the bright spots of this film. Hell, it was even nice to see Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles again, despite his brief appearance. But if I must be honest, I was not particularly blown away by any of them – including the usually outstanding Boyega. Actually, I take that back. There was one cast member who provided a moment of superb acting. I refer to Joonas Suotamo, who did an excellent job in conveying a true moment of grief and despair for Chewbacca’s character in the film’s second half.

But I do have a complaint about one particular performance. And it came, from all people, Ian McDiarmid who portrayed the surprisingly alive Emperor Palpatine. How can I put this? This Palpatine seemed like a ghost of his former self. No. Wait. That was phrased wrong. What I meant to say is that McDiarmid’s portrayal of Palpatine in this film seemed like an exaggeration in compare to his performances in the Original and Prequel Trilogy films. Exaggerated . . . ham-fisted. I found McDiarmid’s scenes so wince-inducing that I could barely watch them. However, aware of McDiarmid’s true skills as an actor, I finally realized that his bad performance may have been a result of J.J. Abrams’ direction. The latter’s failure as a director in Palpatine’s scenes and failure to visualize the character as a subtle and manipulative villain really impeded McDiarmid’s performance.

Unfortunately, McDiarmid’s performance was not my only problem with “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. I had a host of others. Many film critics have bashed J.J. Abrams for trying to reject what Rian Johnson had set up in “THE LAST JEDI”. I find this criticism ironic, considering that Johnson had rejected a great deal of what Abrams had set up in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. Not that it really matters to me. I disliked “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. I disliked “THE LAST JEDI”. And if I must be brutally honest, I disliked “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Like the other two films, I thought the 2019 movie was pretty bad.

My first problem with “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” was its main narrative. Basically, the entire story revolved around the heroes and the First Order’s search for the now alive Palpatine. The film’s opening crawl pretty much announced to movie audiences that Palpatine was alive without bothering presenting this revelation as a surprise. It is simply the old case of “tell and not show” that has hampered a great number of fictional works throughout time. I believe this narrative device especially does not suit a plot for a motion picture or a television series, because it comes off as a cheat. It is lazy writing. Worse, most of the main characters spend a great deal of the movie searching for Palpatine. And when they finally discover him, no one bothered to ask how he had escaped death after being allegedly killed by Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader in “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. How did Palpatine survive being tossed to his death, while being electrocuted by Force lightning? Well, STAR WARS fans finally learned the truth in the film’s novelization written by Rae Carson. The only major character who immediately managed to find Palpatine was Kylo Ren, who used a Sith wayfinder . . . or compass. Meanwhile, Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca had to resort to following clues to lead to first a Sith dagger, and later, a Sith wayfinder – traveling from one planet to another at a dizzying speed. This whole search for a wayfinder and Palpatine struck me as unnecessarily rushed. I do not think it is a good thing when a person complains about the fast pacing of a movie with a 142 minutes running time. For me, this exposed the hollow nature of the movie’s narrative.

As I had earlier stated, the majority of the film’s narrative is centered around the protagonists’ determination to find Palpatine. A part of me wonders how did the Resistance and the First Order had planned to kill him, once he was discovered. And yes, the First Order’s leader, Kylo Ren, also wanted Palpatine’s dead. But how did any of them plan to kill him? The movie never conveyed any of the other characters’ plans. Worse, this search for Palpatine had transformed the movie into some space opera version of both the INDIANA JONES and NATIONAL TREASURE movie franchises. Was that why Abrams had decided to expose Palpatine’s return or resurrection in the film’s opening crawl? So he could have his major characters embark on this “Indiana Jones” style hunt for Palpatine from the get go? Or relive the whole “map to Luke Skywalker” search from “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that proved to be so irrelevant? Well guess what? The “Search for Palpatine” proved to be equally irrelevant. Watching Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca hunt down artifacts that would lead them to Palpatine was one of the more ridiculous aspects of this film. I felt as if I had watched a hybrid STAR WARS/INDIANA JONES/NATIONAL TREASURE movie. It was fucking exhausting.

Returning to Palpatine, I was unpleasantly shocked to learn that during the thirty years he was missing, he had created a new fleet of Star Destroyers, each ship equipped with a planet-killing laser. Thirty years. Is that how long it took Palpatine (or his clone) to create a fleet of planet killing Star Destroyers? Is that why he had taken so long construct these ships? If one Star Destroyer can destroy a planet, why did he bother to wait so long to use any of them to re-take the Galaxy? Three decades? I wish I could say more, but I do not see the point. Is a Star Destroyer strong enough to be used as a “base” for a laser powerful enough to destroy a planet?

I have also noticed that the lightsaber duels featured in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” . . . well, they were bad. Quite a travesty, if I must be honest. I have never been that impressed by the lightsaber duels in the Sequel Trilogy, but even I must admit that Kylo Ren’s duels with both Finn and Rey in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” were somewhat better than the Obi-Wan Kenobi/Darth Vader duel in “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. But after the 2015 movie . . . dear God. Rey and Kylo Ren’s fight against Snoke’s guards in “THE LAST JEDI” struck me as something of a joke. But Rey and Kylo Ren’s duels in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” were simply abysmal. Dan Mindel’s cinematography and the movie’s visual effects team could do nothing to hide the laughable nature of the duels. Both Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver seemed to spend a great deal of their time slashing at each with no semblance of swordsmanship whatsoever. Where is Nick Gillard when you need him?

Not surprisingly, “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” revealed a number of Force abilities that appeared for the first (or second time) in the STAR WARS franchise. The Force bond between Rey and Kylo Ren, which was created by Snoke in the previous film; allowed the First Order leader to snatch a necklace from the Resistance fighter’s neck in a violent manner – despite the fact that the pair was thousands of miles from each other. And in another scene, while Rey faced Palpatine and Kylo Ren faced the Knights of the Ren, she was able to hand over a lightsaber to him – despite being miles apart. How did they do this? I have not the foggiest idea. I do not even understand how Abrams and Terrio managed to create this ability in the first place. And frankly, I find it rather stupid and implausible. Force healing. For the first time in the history of the franchise, a Force user has the ability to heal. How did this come about? I have not the foggiest idea. If this had been the case during the events of the Prequel Trilogy, chances are Anakin Skywalker would have never become a Sith Lord. The Force healing ability made its debut in the Disney Plus series, “THE MANDALORIAN” . . . I think. However, Kylo Ren had the ability to use Force healing. So did Rey. I do not know who taught them or how . . . fuck it! I will just treat this as another plot device that came out of Lucasfilm’s ass. “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” also revealed that the “resurrected” Palpatine had the ability to transfer one person’s essence into the body of another. How? More contrived writing.

Speaking of contrivance, there is the matter of one Leia Organa. Although a part of me still believes Lucasfilm should have killed off Leia Organa in “THE LAST JEDI”, in the wake of Carrie Fisher’s death a year before the film’s release; I must admit that Abrams did an admirable job in utilizing old footage of the actress from “THE FORCE AWAKENS”, digital special effects and Billie Lourd as a body double for some of Leia’s scenes. But I hated the way Leia was finally killed off. It was similar to Luke’s ludicrous death in “THE LAST JEDI”. I HATE how Disney Studios and Lucasfilm portray the Force as some kind of energy that can kill an individual if it was used too long or too hard. As if the Force user was some kind of goddamn battery. I really hate that. And this is why I dislike Leia’s death just as much as I disliked Luke’s.

In fact, this movie seemed to be filled with contrived writing. As for the Rebel Alli . . . I mean the Resistance, I noticed that their numbers had grown since the end of “THE LAST JEDI”. Had Leia managed to recruit new members for the Resistance’s cause during the year between the two films? If so, “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” did not hint one way or the other. I mean there were barely enough Resistance members to crowd the Millennium Falcon in the last film’s finale. And the narrative for “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” seemed to hint that aside from Maz Kanata, hardly anyone new had bothered to join the Resistance during that year between the two films. So . . . if this is true, why did the number of Resistance members seemed to have tripled during that year between the two movies? Among the new members is one Beaumont Kin, portrayed by “LOST” alumni Dominic Monaghan.

Speaking of characters – the arcs for the major characters have proven to be as disastrous as those featured in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and especially “THE LAST JEDI”. I was surprised to see Maz Kanata as a member of the Resistance. Her recruitment into the organization was never seen on screen. Even worse, the former smuggler and tavern owner was basically reduced to a background character with one or two lines. Actress Lupita Nyong’o’s time was certainly wasted for this film. Although I thought Rose Tico was a promising character, I never liked how Rian Johnson had used her as a very unnecessary mentor for Finn in “THE LAST JEDI”. However, my hopes that J.J. Abrams would do her character justice in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” proved to be fruitless. In this film, Rose had been reduced from supporting character to minor character, who spent most of her appearances interacting with Monaghan’s Beaumont Kin in three or four scenes. What a damn waste! Speaking of waste . . . poor Domhnall Gleeson. His character, General Armitage Hux, was another character whose presence was wasted in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Audiences learned in the film’s second half that he had become a mole for the Resistance, supplying the group information on the First Order’s movements. The problem with this scenario is that film had Hux explained that he was simply betraying his leader, Kylo Ren. But his reason for this betrayal was never fully explained, let alone developed. Harrison Ford returned in a brief cameo appearance as the ghost of Han Solo. Wait a minute. Let me re-phrase that. Ford returned as a figment of Kylo Ren’s imagination . . . as Han Solo. How was his performance? Unmemorable.

“THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” also featured a good number of new characters. Probably too many. I have already mentioned Resistance fighter Beaumont Kim. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio also introduced Jannah, a former stormtrooper who had deserted from the First Order like Finn. When she was introduced, I had assumed that Finn’s background would finally be explored. Never happened. Worse, Abrams only allowed Jannah – a new character – to speculate on her background in one line spoken to Lando Calrissian. And nothing else. Next, there was Zorri Bliss, a smuggler and former paramour of Poe Dameron’s, who provided the Resistance with information on how to interpret the Sith dagger in their possession. Aside from this task, Bliss managed to miraculously survive the destruction of Kijimi, her homeworld to participate in the final battle against Palpatine and the First Order. Through her, audiences learned that Poe was a former spice smuggler . . . a drug smuggler. More on this, later. And finally, we have Allegiant General Enric Pryde, who came out of no where to become Kylo Ren’s top commander. It occurred to me that Pryde turned out to be the Sequel Trilogy’s General Grievous. I love the Prequel Trilogy, but I never liked Grievous. He should have been introduced a lot earlier than the Prequel Trilogy’s last film. And Enric Pryde should have been introduced earlier than “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. It would have made his brief conflict with Hux a lot more believable.

I read somewhere that the character of Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo is the most popular in the Sequel Trilogy. I am a firm admirer of actor Adam Driver and I thought he gave a solid performance as Kylo Ren. But . . . the character has never been a favorite of mine. I could complain that Kylo Ren is bad written, but I can honestly say the same about the other major (and minor) characters. Yet for some reason, Lucasfilm, a good number of the STAR WARS and media seemed to think the stars shined on Kylo Ren’s ass. I hate it when the glorification of a story or character is unearned and then shoved down the throats of the public. In “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, Kylo Ren’s character arc proved to be just as rushed and full of writing contrivances as his relationship arc in “THE LAST JEDI”. Honestly. Unlike Anakin Skywalker in the Original Trilogy, Kylo Ren’s redemption was never properly set up in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. It merely sprung up in the film’s last third act so that Abrams (the unoriginal storyteller that he is) could allow him to mimic his grandfather’s arc. Looking back on Kylo Ren’s character, he should have continued his arc from the end of “THE LAST JEDI” – as the main villain. Instead, Abrams and Lucasfilm brought back Palpatine so they could have Kylo Ren repeat Anakin’s arc and avoid dying as the film’s Big Bad. This decision only brought about bad writing. And then we have Poe Dameron. In some ways, Poe proved to be the worst written character in this trilogy. It almost seemed as if Lucasfilm, Abrams and Rian Johnson did not know what to do with him. His death was initially set up in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and he spent most of that film off-screen, only to make a miraculous re-appearance near the end, with no real explanation how he had survived the crash on Jakku. In “THE LAST JEDI”, Johnson had transformed Poe into some hot-headed Latino stereotype, who questioned the decisions of the Resistance’s two female leaders – Leia and Admiral Holdo. And “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” made another revision to Poe’s character. The movie revealed that Poe had a past romance with the smuggler Zorri Bliss and was a spice runner (drug smuggler). How quaint. Abrams and Terrio took the only leading character in the Sequel Trilogy portrayed by a Latino actor and transformed him into a drug lord. Where the two writers watching “NARCO” or old reruns of “MIAMI VICE” when they made this decision to Poe’s character? God only knows. I do know that in my eyes, this was another mark of racism on Lucasfilm’s belt.

Speaking of racism . . . what on earth happened to Finn? Following Rian Johnson’s shoddy treatment of his character in “THE LAST JEDI”, J.J. Abrams had assured the franchise’s fans that he would do justice to Finn. And he failed. Spectacularly. Did Finn even have a character arc in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”? The former stormtrooper spent most of the film either participating in the search for Palpatine, while keeping one eye on the constantly distracted Rey, like some lovesick puppy. He seemed to lack his own story in this film. “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” could have provided the perfect opportunity for Lucasfilm to further explore his background as a former stormtrooper. With the creation of Jannah, I thought it would finally happen. Instead, the movie focused more on Jannah’s questions about her origins. And Lucasfilm and Abrams wasted the chance to even consider at subplot regarding Finn and the First Order’s stormtroopers. Boyega also spent most of the film hinting that he had something important to tell Rey. Many believe he was trying to confess that he loved her. That is because the movie DID NOT allow him to finally make his confession. Even worse, audiences learned that he wanted to confess his suspicions that he might be Force sensitive. And Lucasfilm confirmed this. Why on earth could they NOT confirm Finn’s Force sensitivity on film? Why? What was the point in keeping this a secret until AFTER the film’s release?

I also noticed one other disturbing aspect about Finn . . . or John Boyega. I just discovered that John Boyega had been demoted by Disney Studios and Lucasfilm from leading actor to supporting actor. Only this had happened a lot sooner that I thought. In the studio’s Academy Awards campaign for “THE FORCE AWAKENS”, it pushed Boyega for a Best Actor nomination. But in both “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, the studio pushed him for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Yet, for all three movies, Lucasfilm and Disney also pushed a white actor for Best Actor. They pushed Harrison Ford (along with Boyega) “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. They pushed Mark Hamill for Best Actor in “THE LAST JEDI”. Yet, both Ford and Hamill were clearly part of the supporting cast. And they pushed Adam Driver for Best Actor for “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Hmmmm . . . Driver went from supporting actor to lead actor, while Boyega was demoted from lead actor to supporting actor. A few more notches in Lucasfilm/Disney’s racist belt. God, I am sick to my stomach. And poor John Boyega. He was poorly misused by Lucasfilm, Disney Studios, Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams.

As for Rey . . . I am completely over her as a character. Although I found her Mary Sue qualities annoying, I found her arc in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” a complete mess. The only good that came from her arc was the fact that Leia had trained her in the ways of the Force for a year. Otherwise, I had to grit my teeth and watch her behave in this chaotic manner throughout the entire film. Every time she and her friends were in the middle of some situation, she would get distracted by Kylo Ren’s presence and break away. Why? So she could kill him . . . I guess. Apparently, killing Kylo Ren was more important to her than completing a mission for the Resistance. Why? I have no idea. The movie’s narrative never explained this behavior of hers. And it gets worse. Rey eventually learns that she is Palpatine’s granddaughter. Granddaughter. Palpatine managed to knock up some woman years ago and conceive a son after he had become Emperor. That son conceived Rey with her mother before dying. Palpatine, who had been alive all of these years, never bothered to get his hands on Rey . . . until this movie. Why? I have no idea.

During Rey and Kylo Ren’s final duel, she managed to shove her lightsaber blade into his gut. And then she used the Force to heal him. Why? Perhaps she felt guilty for nearly killing him. Who knows? Later, she is killed by Palpatine (who could not make up his mind on whether he wanted her alive or dead) before Kylo Ren Force healed her. And then she planted a big wet kiss on his pucker. Lucasfilm and Disney claimed that the kiss was an act of gratitude on her part. I did not realize that gratitude could be so sexual. Nevertheless, Lucasfilm and Disney ensured that the only leading male that Rey would exchange bodily fluids with was one who shared her white skin. Despite the fact that this . . . man had more or less abused her – mentally and physically – since “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. There was no real development that led to this sexual kiss of gratitude. But I guess Disney and Lucasfilm were determined that Rey would not exchange a kiss with the two non-white men. Another notch on Lucasfilm/Disney’s racist belt. Oh . . . and by the way, the film or Lucasfilm had established that Rey and Kylo Ren were part of some Force dyad. What is a Force dyad? Two Force-sensitive people who had created a Force bond, making them one in the Force. And this happened because Rey and Kylo Ren were grandchildren of Sith Lords. I have never heard of anything so ludicrous in my life, especially since it was established in “THE LAST JEDI” that Snoke – a creation of Palpatine, by the way – had created their mental bond. How he did that I have no idea.

You know what? I could go on and on about “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. But I now realize it would take a goddamn essay to explain why I dislike this movie so much. I should have realized that J.J. Abrams’ promises that he would fix the problems of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI” was worth shit in the wind. He, Chris Terrio, Disney Studios and Lucasfilm only made the Sequel Trilogy worse . . . as if that was possible. Not only was “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” a waste of my time, so was the entire Sequel Trilogy. And it wasted the acting skills of its talented cast led by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver for so many years.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1900s and 1910s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1900s and the 1910s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1900s AND 1910s

1. “Howards End” (2017) – Hayley Atwell and Matthew McFadyen starred in this superb and underrated adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel about class conflict in Edwardian Britain. Written by Kenneth Lonergan and directed by Hettie MacDonald, the miniseries co-starred Philippa Coulthard and Joseph Quinn.

2. “Ellis Island” (1984) – Jerry London directed this excellent adaptation of Fred Mustard Stewart’s 1983 novel about the lives of four immigrants in New York City between 1907 and 1917. The three-part miniseries starred Peter Reigert, Gregory Martin, Faye Dunaway and Richard Burton.

3. “The Good Soldier” (1981) – Robin Ellis, Susan Fleetwood, Jeremy Brett and Vickery Turner starred in this excellent adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s 1915 novel about the lives of two couples at a German spa and resort. Kevin Billington directed.

4. “An Inspector Calls” (2015) – David Thewlis starred in this first-rate adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s 1945 stage play about a police inspector’s investigation of a wealthy family’s connection to a working-class who had committed suicide. Aisling Walsh directed.

5. “The Irish R.M.” (1983-1985) – Peter Bowles and Doran Godwin starred in this very entertaining adaptation of E. Somerville and M. Ross’ series of novels about the experiences of a former British Army officer who becomes a registered magistrate in turn-of-the-century western Ireland.

6. “The Flame Trees of Thika” (1981) – Roy Ward Baker directed this interesting adaptation of Elspeth Huxley’s 1959 memoirs about British settlers in 1913-14 Kenya. The miniseries starred Hayley Mills, Holly Aird and David Robb.

7. “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” (1992-1993) – George Lucas created this television series about the childhood and adolescent experiences of Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones. Sean Patrick Flanery and Corey Carrier starred as the future archaeologist during two periods in his life.

8. “Berkeley Square” (1998) – Suzanne van de Velde created this limited series about the lives of three young women employed as nannies for wealthy families living on exclusive Berkeley Square. Clare Wilkie, Victoria Smurfit and Tabitha Wady starred.

9. “Titanic” (1996) – Robert Lieberman directed this two-part miniseries about the experiences of several characters during the doomed maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic. Peter Gallagher, Catherine Zeta-Jones and George C. Scott starred.

10. “S.O.S. Titanic”(1979) – William Hale directed this television movies about the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic from the perspective of three distinct groups of passengers in First, Second, and Third Class. David Janssen, Cloris Leachman, Susan Saint James and David Warner starred.

Honorable Mentioned – “Parade’s End” (2012) – Tom Stoppard wrote this adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy of his 1924-1928 novels about the experiences of three people during the late Edwardian Age and World War I. Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall and Adelaide Clemens starred in this five-part miniseries.

“YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” (1967) Review

“YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” (1967) Review

In recent years, EON Production’s 1967 movie, “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” has not been highly regarded by many Bond fans. In a way, I can understand why, judging by Sean Connery’s performance in his fifth consecutive turn as James Bond and the movie’s plot.

Loosely based on Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel of the same title, “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” begins with the abduction of an American space capsule in space by a mysterious craft. The United States blames the Soviet Union. But the British government has tracked the mysterious craft to Japan where James Bond is sent to investigate. With the help of Tiger Tanaka and Japan’s SIS agency, Bond eventually links the mysterious craft to the terrorist group SPECTRE, who is being paid by the People’s Republic of China to start a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. As one can see, the movie’s plot, written by Roald Dahl, bears very little resemblance to the novel under the same name. Characters like Kissy Suzuki, Tiger Tanaka, Ernst Blofeld and Dikko Henderson are in both the movie and the novel. But the novel focused on Bond, depressed over the death of his wife, being given one last chance by MI-6 to get direct access from the Japanese to Magic 44, the project revealing all Soviet radio transmissions. The mission, which eventually involves Blofeld and a place called “Castle of Death”, seems like a far cry from the 1967 movie’s plot.

Not only is the movie’s plot bears very little or no resemblance to Fleming’s novel (a first in the Bond franchise), there were some moments in the story that seem to defy logic. I never understood why Aki had failed to mention that she worked for Tiger Tanaka and the Japanese SIS when she first met Bond. Why would SPECTRE operative Helga Brandt go through all of that trouble in allowing Bond to “convince her” to betray fellow SPECTRE operative Osato before finally attempting to kill him? If she had delayed her attempt to kill Bond in order to first have sex with him, then she had deserved her fate. I never could figure out on which side was the wheel placed on Aki’s white Toyota sports car – the left or the right. What exactly did Bond plan to do once he joined the escaped American astronauts impersonating SPECTRE astronauts? Especially since he had sent another SIS agent, Kissy Suzuki, to summon Tiger and his Ninja warriors? And why in the hell did Blofeld shoot Osato and then force Bond to another spot before attempting to kill him? Why was it necessary for him to force Bond to move to a different spot, in the first place?

Most of the performances in the movie were satisfying. especially Akiko Wakabayashi, who memorably played the charming and very competent Aki. In fact, I would say that she practically gave one of two best performances in the movie. It seemed a shame that she had failed to survive the movie. The other best performance came from Tetsuro Tambo, who portrayed the charismatic head of Japan’s SIS, Tiger Tanaka. Teru Shimada was properly menacing as SPECTRE middleman, Mr. Osato. Charles Gray made a nice appearance as MI-6 agent, Dikko Henderson, four years before his stint as Ernst Blofeld.

Speaking of Blofeld, Pleasance was not bad, but his Middle European accent seemed a little unconvincing and the scar on his cheek seemed a little over-the-top. Karin Dor seemed like an obvious attempt on EON Production’s part to repeat Luciana Paluzzi’s popular performance in “THUNDERBALL” . . . and it failed. Dor tried her best, but was defeated by mediocre writing and uninspiring direction from Lewis Gilbert. Mie Hama, although charming and beautiful, turned out to be one of the most boring Bond leading ladies of all time. I could not detect anything interesting about her character, Japanese SIS agent and diving girl Kissy Suzuki.

Many have commented on Sean Connery’s less than spectacular performance in this movie. And I must agree with their opinion. Granted, he had some good moments with Wakabayashi and Tambo. But overall, he seemed to be walking through the performance. And this is not surprising, since it had been reported that Connery was pretty much weary of the Bond role by this time. But at least he did not seemed to be spoofing his character, as he did in 1971’s “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”.

“YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” did have high water marks, other than Wakabayashi and Tambo’s performances. The movie can boast beautiful shots of Japan, thanks to cinematographer Freddie Young. I thought John Barry’s score was lovely. He topped his work with a beautiful and lilting theme song, performed by Nancy Sinatra.

Minor Notes –
Connery’s first wife, Diane Cliento, had doubled for Mie Hama during the scene in which Kissy Suzuki swims back to summon Tiger Tanaka. It seemed that Ms. Hama had been ill at the time with stomach cramps and production could not wait for her to recover.

Tsai Chin, who played Ling, the Chinese agent hired by to set up Bond’s “murder” in the film’s pre-titled sequence in YOLT, also portrayed Madame Wu, one of the high rollers at Le Chiffre’s poker tournament in 2006’s “CASINO ROYALE”.

I have to agree with the prevailing view that “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” was not one of the best films of the James Bond movie franchise. I would not even consider it one of the best that starred Sean Connery. The narrative struck me as solid, but marred by a few plot holes. Aside from Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tambo and Teru Shimada; I found the film’s other performances either serviceable or a bit flawed. And I include Connery’s performance. But despite its flaws, “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” still managed to be very entertaining.

“The Helmsman’s Log: 2371” – 2/2

Here is the sequel to the personal logs of Tom Paris, set around Voyager’s first year in the Delta Quadrant:

“THE HELMSMAN’S LOG – 2371”

Part II

STARDATE 48671.28 – Just came back from a date with Megan
Delaney. Alone, this time. We had an intimate little dinner
at a romantic restaurant on Gerdi Prime, inside Holodeck Two.
After supper, we enjoyed a walk along the beach, followed by a
nightcap inside my quarters.

Ah, Megan! Such a nice, calm person, in compare to her sister,
Jenny. There were times when she almost reminds me of . . .
Shit! What the hell is wrong with me? I just enjoyed a
pleasant night with a beautiful and intelligent woman and all I
can think about is our cook’s girlfriend. Kes. God, will I
ever stop thinking about her? Or better yet, will she ever
dump Neelix? End personal log.

STARDATE 48695.34 – I nearly lost Harry, today. While enjoying
his Beowulf holonovel, Harry was captured by a photonic being
that had been accidentally brought aboard the ship. Apparently,
while we were gathering energy from a photostar. The being took
refuge inside Harry’s Beowulf program and later captured him.
It also captured Tuvok and Chakotay, after they had been sent to
investigate Harry’s disappearance. In the end, the Captain
sent the Doctor to rescue our missing officers. Thankfully,
the Doc succeeded and received a special commendation for his
troubles. Now, if only the Captain could order Torres to do
something about his personality subroutines. End personal log.

STARDATE 48733.51 – Voyager had a strange encounter with
something out of one of those old “B” movies that I usually
enjoy. While investigating some dark nebula, Tuvok and
Chakotay’s shuttle was attacked. Tuvok only sustained minor
injuries, while the good Commander ended up brain dead. His
bio-neural energy had been removed from him.

It turned out worse than we thought. Some trianic energy being
had possessed Tuvok, in an attempt to convince the Captain to
investigate this dark nebula matter. The being belonged to a
race called the Komar, who wanted the crew’s bio-neural energy
as substance for his people. Meanwhile, another entity began
invading the minds of other crewmen – including mine – in an
attempt to prevent Voyager from entering that nebula. This
second entity turned out to be Chakotay’s bio-neural energy,
displaced by the Komar’s attack. Just great! My brain nearly
became food for a bunch of non-corporeal beings and was twice
possessed by the Great Spirit Chief, himself. Oh well, at
least we managed to escape the nebula and the Komar. End
personal log.

STARDATE 48736.53 – This afternoon, Neelix had decided to hold
a little celebration in honor of Chakotay’s recovery and our
near escape from the Komar. Jesus, this guy would just about
hold a party for anything. Not that I mind. The more parties,
the better. I suspect that this was Neelix’s way of
celebrating Kes’s recovery from an attack by the
Komar-possessed Tuvok. Hmmm. Certainly not a bad reason to
celebrate, in my book.

Captain Janeway and the Maquis seemed to be the only ones
really celebrating. I guess they need something to celebrate
after Seska’s humiliating revelation. Well, most of the Maquis
seemed happy. I noticed B’Elanna Torres, sitting by herself
and shooting jealous looks at the very chummy Captain Janeway
and Chakotay. My God! Is that little infatuation of hers,
still going on? Doesn’t she realize that Chakotay is not her
type? Too bad Harry is still mooning over his lost love,
Libby. Quite frankly, he would make a better choice for
Torres. Of course, I don’t exactly relish sharing Harry’s time
with her. (Beep, beep) That must be Megan. I forgot that she
was coming by for drinks, tonight. End personal log.

STARDATE 48766.73 – Not much happened today. Voyager
investigated a Class J nebula – one of many we have encountered
since our arrival in the Delta Quadrant. The only interesting
thing that happened was a minor conversation with Kes in the
Mess Hall. We discussed some our favorite foods. One of hers
happens to be something called Lokar beans. I told her about
tomato soup (something those damn replicators still haven’t got
right) and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. My ultimate
comfort food. By then, even Neelix got into the conversation.
I don’t know if this was his way of keeping an eye on Kes and
me, or merely just genuine interest. At least we managed to
exchange a few words without any hostility or suspicion from
him. End personal log.

STARDATE 48777.42 – Another dull day in the Delta Quadrant. I
guess every day can’t be an exciting encounter with a new
species. Voyager stumbled into the Avery system. It seemed to
consist of several Class M planets. The Captain, in one of her
bouts of “science exploration”, decided she wanted an
investigation of magnacite formations on some of the planets.

I was assigned to explore the planet, Avery III with Pete Durst
and B’Elanna Torres. Voyager should rendezvous with us in two
days. I guess it won’t be that bad. Pete’s okay. He was one
of the few crewmen who had been friendly toward me from the
beginning. And as for Torres – well, we have managed to strike
up a cordial relationship in the last five or six weeks. Hell,
it’s a lot better than spending two days with Chakotay or
Neelix. End personal log.

STARDATE 48790.33 – Oh God! I simply don’t know where to begin!
I feel as if I had taken part in some bizarre horror vid from
the 20th century. Sigh! Might as well get it over with.

While investigating magnacite formations on Avery III with
Durst and Torres, we were captured by Vidiians. That’s right.
The same species who had stolen Neelix’s lungs, three months
ago. These Vidiians didn’t simply steal our organs. They
forced Pete and myself to become part of their slave labor. I
had no idea what happened to B’Elanna. Until the following
day. It seemed some Vidiian doctor named Sulan had extracted
her Klingon DNA, leaving her completely Human. How gruesome!

I still remember the shock of seeing B’Elanna completely Human
for the first time. Oddly enough, I was too surprised by the
change to notice her looks. I must admit that she looked
beautiful. But then, I’ve always thought she made a beautiful
Klingon/Human hybrid. Not only had her looks changed, but her
personality, as well. Gone was the tough and temperamental
woman and in her place, an emotional and sad woman, driven by
fear. I guess the trauma of her situation drove her to be a
little more open about her past. She told me about her
childhood on Kessik IV and how she blamed her Klingon side for
driving her father away. She has not seen him in nearly twenty
years. If that’s true, the man is an idiot. (Pauses) I think
I’m getting a little personal, here. Anyway, I tried to
comfort her with a little revelation of my own. I told her
about the haircuts Dad used to enforce upon me, at the
beginning of every summer. I don’t think it worked. Then
again . . . she did smile a little.

Then everything went from bad to worse. The Vidiian guards
took Pete Durst away. That was the last time I saw him. I
tried to prevent the guards from taking him, but they didn’t
want me. Can’t blame them, I guess. Who would? I later
found out that they didn’t want Pete to send a message to
Voyager. Instead, that monster, Dr. Sulan had Pete’s face
grafted upon his. The guards came back for B’Elanna, leaving
me feel even more useless. God only know how long I would have
remained part of the slave labor force, if Chakotay hadn’t
shown up, disguised as a Vidiian. Too bad we couldn’t take
the Talaxian with us, but the guards were even reluctant to let
me go. We found two B’Elannas being confronted by Dr. Sulan,
with Pete’s face plastered to his skin. I don’t know what
shocked me more – seeing both a Klingon and a Human B’Elanna at
the same time, Dr. Sulan, or witnessing Klingon B’Elanna’s
death after she saved her counterpart’s life. Too bad she
died. I would have liked to have known her. End personal log.

STARDATE 48791.56 – I still can’t help thinking about that Away
mission on Avery III. To me, it’s a reminder of my failure as
a Starfleet officer. I can’t help but wonder what I could have
done to avoid capture or save Pete. I had a dream about it,
several hours ago. At one point, Human B’Elanna’s face
transformed into the dying Klingon B’Elanna’s, and eventually
into Dr. Sulan, with Pete’s face. I woke up in a sweat, after
that. Unable to sleep, I decided to head for Sick Bay to pay
B’Elanna a visit. She still looked Human. Unfortunately,
Chakotay was also there. And since they seemed to be sharing
a tender moment, I didn’t want to interrupt. Oh well. Perhaps
I can read myself to sleep. End personal log.

STARDATE 48799.76 – I finally spoke with B’Elanna. She came to
my table, while I was eating a late dinner in the Mess Hall,
last night. We were the only ones there. She looked normal.
Her Klingon traits had returned, ridges and all. B’Elanna
told me what happened to her on Avery III. Apparently, Dr.
Sulan had used a genetron to remove her Klingon DNA, creating
two B’Elannas in the process – one Klingon and one Human. He
fell in love with the Klingon Human and used Pete’s face to woo
her. He must have been a sick man. Sulan also needed a
full-blooded Klingon to test his theory that Klingon physiology
was resistant to their phage. As it turned out, he was right.

B’Elanna told me that after her Klingon couterpart’s death, she
had assumed she would remain completely Human. I guess the Doc
ruined that dream when he informed her that he needed to
restore her original genetic structure, using Klingon
B’Elanna’s DNA. She seemed disappointed that she would never
be completely Human. I’m not. Although I found both her Human
and Klingon selves to be beautiful, she seems more interesting
as a hybrid. I even told her so. My little remark managed to
produce a small smile, but I could tell that she didn’t draw
much comfort from it. I hope that one day, she will learn to
appreciate her true self. She can really be fascinating. Now,
if only I can learn to do the same about myself. Hmmm, fat
chance of that ever happening.

Anyway, B’Elanna thanked me for supporting her during our
captivity. We also discussed Pete Durst, whose face is now
grafted upon that mad bastard’s own face. When I asked if she
would like to accompany me to Sandrine’s, she declined.
B’Elanna told me that she needed more rest. Oh well. At
least we’ve finally buried the hatchet between us and can
finally become good friends. I guess that’s one thing I can be
grateful about Avery III. End personal log.

STARDATE 48804.91 – God, I’m exhausted! Not a surprise, since
I had my sleep interrupted by a call from the Bridge. Crewman
Henley failed to show up for Gamma shift. Again. This is the
third time in two months. I had to give her a personal
reprimand the last two times. Last night, I personally roused
Henley from bed and ordered her to report to the Bridge. Or
consider herself on report. After a fifteen minute debate,
which ended with me threatening her with the Brig, she
complied. I really don’t know what to do with her. I can’t
threaten her with the Brig, forever. I also realize that she
resents being stuck on a Starfleet vessel, thousands of light
years away from home. But one day, she will have to realize
that she has very little options. End personal log.

STARDATE 48837.63 – Voyager stopped at an M-class called
Napinne. Pleasant little place. And the inhabitants were also
pleasant. Harry, B’Elanna and myself visited the surface for a
few hours, while the Captain, Neelix and Chakotay set about
obtaining food supplies. With the fruits and vegetables now
growing in the Hydropondics Bay, hopefully Voyager won’t be so
dependent upon food supplies from other planets, stations and
ships in the near future. End personal log.

STARDATE 48840.42 – Once more, Crewman Henley failed to appear
for her duty shift. This time, I put her on report. Not long
after I finished Alpha shift today, Chakotay requested my
presence in his office. To discuss Henley, unsurprisingly.
He wanted me to reconsider my decision to put Henley on report.
Give her a chance to fit in with the crew. Then he bored me
with some speech about Starfleet officers learning how to lead
subordinates. Something that already bored me to tears during
Command school. The big hypocrite! I can’t believe this is the
same man who had gave me nothing but grief since we first laid eyes
upon each other. Hell, I’ve been giving Henley a chance for
six months! At least until now. Like it or not, both she and
Chakotay were going to have to live with that reprimand on her
record. Being an ex-Maquis, I doubt that Henley even cared.
End personal log.

STARDATE 48845.9 – After Tuvok’s encounter with Ken Dalby, the
Captain has ordered Henley, Dalby and a few others to undergo
basic Starfleet training, under Tuvok. Poor bastards!
Meanwhile, various ship malfunctions have plagued the crew,
since leaving Napinne. Something to do with the bio-gel
packs. End personal log.

STARDATE 48854.3 – Life aboard Voyager has returned to normal,
thank goodness. No more malfunctions for the time being. The
Captain ordered the ship’s systems to overheat, in order to
kill the virus that had infected the gel packs. My God, the
Bridge almost felt like a furnace! For a while, I wondered if
I would ever be able to breathe again. All thanks to that damn
cheese Neelix had purchased during our stay on Napinne.

Henley and the others are still undergoing their field
training. Must be working, since Henley has reported for duty
without any problems. She also requested additional training
in shuttle maneuvers in the holodeck. We’ll probably never be
friends, but thank goodness I no longer have a troublemaker on
my hands. End personal log.

STARDATE 48892.4 – Harry told me an unusual tale. The Doctor’s
programming and the holodeck systems had malfunctioned, thanks
to the kino-plastic radiation from a anomaly that Voyager came
across. While stuck in one of the holodecks for six hours, the
Doctor believed he was a real person named Lewis Zimmerman and
that Voyager and the crew were all a holographic simulation.
He even thought Kes was his wife. Sigh! I knew it. I’ve
always suspected that the Doc had eyes for our favorite
Ocampan. And this only proves it. Kes is quickly becoming
quite the little heartbreaker on this ship. She has already
captured mine. End personal log.

STARDATE 48921.4 – This has certainly been a day to
remember! I’ve just spent hours at the Helm, dodging a swarm
of . . . hell, I don’t what they were! Some kind of life forms
that resembled a . . . Okay, they resembled human sperm.
There! I said it. I only hope that Starfleet Command never get
a hold of this log. Although the creatures resembled sperm, they
had mistaken Voyager as some kind of sexual mate. Even worse, they
began draining energy from the ship’s systems, in their attempt
to procreate. More problems appeared when a large creature
appeared also began to regard Voyager as a mate. Jeez! I
didn’t realize the ship looked that desirable! Both Torres and
Tuvok wanted to destroy the creature, but Chakoay suggested
that Voyager mimic the smaller ones, giving the impression to
the large creature that we have no interest in procreation with
space born creatures. Ha! Sex in the Delta Quadrant!

Speaking of sex, the Captain made a joke to the Commander about
referring to expertise whenever the subject of procreation
appears. It wasn’t the joke that caught my attention, but the
way she said. I do believe our captain was flirting. The look
on B’Elanna’s face was certainly memorable. She seemed
completely shocked. When I brought up the topic in the Mess
Hall, she gave me a death glare that rivaled the mighty Janeway
herself. I see that she still has that crush on Chakotay.
God, when will it ever end?

Then again, who am I to complain? I still have feelings for
Kes. In my case, I can say that it’s more than a crush.
Before our encounter with the swarm, I helped her gather
Oblissian cabbages from the Hydropondics Bay. On our way to
the turbolift, we encountered Chakotay, along with Ensigns
Bennett and Gallagher. It seems the good Commander caught
them “fraternizing” in the turbolift. Hmm, perhaps the
Captain was right about him being the right man to solicit advice
about procreation. End personal log.

STARDATE 48925.38 – Plenty of surprises awaited me, when I
found Kes in the Hydropondics Bay, following my shift. First
surprise – Ensign Sam Wildman from the Science Division is
pregnant. It seems that Ensign Wildman, who happened to be a
very nice lady, had left behind a Ktarian husband on Deep Space
Nine. Considering how flat her stomach looked, my first guess
was that she sought solace in the arms of a crewman, here on
board Voyager. After all, Voyager has been in the Delta
Quadrant for over seven months, now. But according to Kes, the
embroyo is definitely half-Ktarian. Perhaps Ktarians have
a longer gestation period.

The other surprise? Kes informed me that the electrophoretic
activity from the swarm, yesterday, had sped up her elogium.
Namely, the sexual maturation for Ocampan females. They
usually go through this phase between the ages of four and
five. And since this elogium would have been Kes’ only shot
at conception, she asked Neelix to mate with her.

Neelix and Kes as parents. Good grief! Now there’s an image that
makes me shudder! At first, Neelix felt reluctant. Hell, if I
had known, I would have offered Kes my services. However,
Neelix eventually agreed to mate with her, but she changed her
mind, after realizing that she was not ready for parenthood.
Kes’ elogium ended when Voyager left the swarm behind. I
thought she had lost her chance at motherhood and was prepared
to console her. But Kes assured me that her elogium was false
and the real phase will probably return after her fourth
birthday. I only hope that she and Neelix are no longer a twosome
by then. I realize it’s a rotten thing to say, but I can’t
help feeling they’re wrong for each other. End personal log.

STARDATE 48946 – God, I must really be pathetic! While
playing pool with Harry and B’Elanna in Sandrine’s, last night,
I spotted Kes and Neelix cuddling around a corner table, happy
as pie. Depressing sight. In typical Tom fashion, I decided
to hide my disappointment by flirting with nearly every female
in sight. Except with B’Elanna, of course. One doesn’t
flirt with a close friend. I guess the old Paris charm must
have worked. Later that night, I ended up in bed with Yoshi
Kyoto. After I “subtly” sneaked out of bed this morning,
Yoshi caught me. She assured me that she wasn’t looking for a
permanent relationship. I’m relieved . . . but now, I also
feel like a complete shit. End personal log.

STARDATE 48964.07 – Today was Kes’ birthday. Sigh! Kes’
birthday. Huh. All I can say is that it certainly didn’t turn
out the way I had expected. Not long after we surprised her
with a party inside Sandrine’s, Voyager encountered a
distortion ring that transformed the ship into a labyrinth.
First, the Captain, Chakotay and I got lost, while searching
for the Bridge. We ended back inside Holodeck One. Later,
Torres and I used the turbolift to reach Engineering. To my
surprise, we were fortunate. Thanks to the distortion ship,
B’Elanna almost walked in on Crewman Nozawa inside his
quarters, dressed only in his skivvies. Let’s just say it the
first time I ever saw a Klingon woman blush. A sight, I
suspect, I’ll never see again.

The distortion ring proved to be the third or fourth
non-corporeal life form we’ve encountered since our arrival in
the Delta Quadrant. And all it wanted to do was greet us and
exchange information. Hell of a way to say hello. Both
B’Elanna and Chakotay nearly came to blows with Tuvok on how to
stop the distortion ring. In the end, Tuvok had the best
suggestion. Do nothing.

Kes’ birthday party turned out to be a disappointment. I gave
her a gold filigree locket as a present. She seemed stunned by
it – much to my delight. That delight didn’t last. After our
encounter with the distortion ring, the party eventually
resumed. Kes, who had been worried by Neelix’s disappearance,
declared that she wanted a photo of him, inside her locket.
Great! Just great! A photo of Neelix’s mug will be inside
the locket I gave her. Even worse, I had to stand there on the
Bridge and hold Kes’ birthday cake, while she and Neelix locked
lips.

Sigh! I’m beginning to think that my feelings for Kes are just
as hopeless as B’Elanna’s feelings toward Chakotay. But I
can’t help it. All I can do is hope that she realizes one day
that Neelix is not the man for her. End personal log.

STARDATE 48972.4 – Voyager came across an old 1936 Chevy truck,
here in the Delta Quadrant! Being a connoisseur of anything
20th century Earth, my heart nearly leapt with excitement at
the sight of that old vehicle. I even got a chance to
demonstrate how the truck’s engine worked, once Harry tractor
it to Voyager. I don’t think he, the Captain and the others
appreciated the noise or the carbon monoxide.

The truck also emitted an old S-O-S signal that led us to an
L-Class planet not far away. The trinimbic interference in the
planet’s upper atmosphere made the shuttles and the
transporters, ineffective. So, the Captain ordered me to land
Voyager on the planet’s surface. All I can say that it was
one of the most thrilling moments in my life. And I did it
without a hitch.

The Captain, Harry and members of the Away team not only found
a Lockheed Electra aircraft (which I would have loved to get my
hands on), but several Humans in cryostasis. Kes and I later
joined the Captain and Harry for a closer inspection. Would
you believe it? Among the Humans were the legendary pilot,
Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. It seemed she,
Noonan and the other Humans had been abducted from Earth by
aliens over 400 years ago, during the late 1930s. Voyager has
discovered the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance. If only
the Alpha Quadrant knew. Noonan proved to be a paranoid who
managed to hold us hostage. The Captain eventually convinced
him and Miss Earhart that we meant them no harm. Also, a group
of aliens had fired upon Tuvok, Chakotay and another Away team.
Harry told me that after the Captain disarmed them, she
discovered that they were also Humans. Boy! Things really
seemed to be heating up! End personal log.

STARDATE 48974.55 – I did it. I decided to remain aboard
Voyager and continue the journey to the Alpha Quadrant. I’m
probably the only crewman, who has a good reason to remain on
New Earth. Well, it’s not really called New Earth, but that’s
what most of the crew has decided to name the planet.

It seemed the planet’s original inhabitants, a race called the
Briori, were the ones responsible for abducting Amelia Earhart,
Noonan and 289 other Humans from Earth. They brought the
Humans to this planet to serve as slave labor. However, the
slaves revolted, killed the Briori and established a new
civilization. Hence, New Earth. I even managed to visit one
of the cities. It really surprised me on how it closely
resembled San Francisco. Maybe that was the reason I had decided
not to remain behind. It simply reminded me too much of Earth.
Too much of the bad times I had endured. But I must admit that
Kes’ decision to remain aboard Voyager played a part in my
decision. Along with the feeling that I could not abandon the
Captain. Not after all she has done for me.

I also got a chance to show Miss Earhart, Voyager’s helm. I
don’t know about her, but I got a big thrill. Miss Earhart,
Mr. Noonan and the other “37s” (the original ones abducted),
decided to remain on New Earth. I wish them all the luck in
the world. Meanwhile, not one member of the crew decided to
remain behind. Hmmm. I thought at least the Maquis crewmen
would consider. I guess not. End personal log.

STARDATE 48999.17 – New Year’s Eve. Huh. I can’t remember the
last time I celebrated the New Year. Oh yeah, it happened two
years ago and I was at this casino on Perdon Gel. With that .
. . Gods, what was her name? Damn! I don’t even remember.

Anyway, the Captain gave us permission to celebrate the arrival
of 2372 at Sandrine’s. Neelix has even volunteered to create a
few delicacies to entertain the crew. In defense of our
stomachs, the Conn Division pooled their replicator rations to
provide refreshments not cooked by Neelix. I’m sure the crew
will thank us. Meanwhile, I have to shower and change for the
party. I’m suppose to take Marie Kaplan and I’m already
running late. If I don’t return until tomorrow, Happy New
Year! End personal log.

THE END

Five Favorite Episodes of “GAME OF THRONES” Season One (2011)

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Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “GAME OF THRONES”, HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s 1996 novel from his A Song of Ice and Fire series, “A Game of Thrones”. The series was created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “GAME OF THRONES” SEASON ONE (2011)

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1. (1.09) “Baelor” – In the wake of Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark’s arrest for treason, his oldest son, Robb Stark, goes to war against the new King Joffrey and his mother’s family, the Lannisters. Khal Drogo, the Dothraki husband of Daenerys Targaryen, falls ill from an infected battle wound.

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2. (1.05) “The Wolf and the Lion” – Ned’s wife, Catelyn Stark, captures Tyrion Lannister, whom she believes is responsible for attempting to kill her second son, Brandon (Bran). She takes him to her sister’s land, the Vale, to stand trial. King Robert Baratheon of Westeros receives news of Daenerys’ pregnancy and plots to have her assassinated. Ned, as his new Hand of the King (premiere aide), refuses to participate in the plot and resigns his position.

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3. (1.01) “Winter Is Coming” – In the series premiere, Ned is torn between his family and his old friend, King Robert, when the latter asks him to replace their recently deceased former mentor as the new Hand of the King. Viserys Targarys plans to wed his sister Daenerys to Drogo in exchange for an army to invade Westeros and reclaim the realm’s Iron Throne on his family’s behalf.

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4. (1.06) “A Golden Crown” – While recovering from his duel with Jaime Lannister, Ned is forced to run the kingdom, while King Robert goes boar hunting. At the Vale, Tyrion demands a trial by combat for his freedom. Viserys begins losing patience with Drogo and threatens Daenerys’ life in exchange for the promised army.

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5. (1.10) “Fire and Blood” – Robb vows revenge against the Lannisters following the incident of the last episode. Ned’s illegitimate son, Jon Snow, must officially decide between joining Robb’s army or remaining the Night’s Watch near the Wall. Daenerys says her final goodbye to the catatonic Drogo.