Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” (1977)

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode IV: A New Hope”. I hope that you enjoy them:

Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” (1977)

*According to the movie’s opening scrawl, Leia possessed the Death Star plans that could “provide freedom to the galaxy”. Is that what happened at the end of the movie?

*Wow! R2-D2 really looks worn and old aboard the Organas’ ship, the Tantive IV. It is easy to imagine that he has been around for over three decades.

*Are the troops firing upon the stormtroopers, Alderaanian troops? If so, does that mean Leia had contradicted herself when she told Tarkin and Vader that Alderaan was a peaceful planet?

*When Vader made his entrance, the first thing that popped into my mind was Anakin leading the clone troopers to the Jedi Temple in ROTS.

*Father and daughter meet. At last.

*I hate to say this, but I have always found C3-P0 and R2’s adventures on Tatooine before meeting Luke to be slightly boring. Okay. I did find it boring.

*The technology inside the Jawa’s ship looked very outdated.

*It is interesting how Owen had to ask Threepio if he spoke Bocce for the moisture vaporators. Which tells me that he did not immediately know Threepio’s identity. But then, Threepio had not introduced himself.

*“But I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!” – Ah yes! The infamous Skywalker whining at work. I really don’t understand why many fans complained of Anakin’s whining in AOTC. Luke had to have inherited his whining from someone.

*C3-P0 finally introduces himself and R2-D2 when they are alone with Luke, inside the Lars’ garage.

*So, Threepio and Artoo were not personally in Leia’s service aboard the Tantive IV, as I had first imagined. I had forgotten that they had become the property of Captain Antilles.

*I did not realize that Luke knew where Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi lived.

*The moment Luke had mentioned R2 and 3P0 might belong to Obi-Wan, Owen ordered their memories to be wiped. Interesting.

*For some bizarre reason, I found myself seeing Padme comfort Luke and telling him not to grow up too fast.

*Artoo seemed to have set a lot in motion. Leia hid the Death Star plans in his system. Artoo was the one who set out to find Obi-Wan, bringing about the old Jedi Master and the future Jedi Master’s first meeting. And because Luke was forced to search for R2, he managed to avoid Owen and Beru’s fate.

*I also noticed that Vader did not bother to join the search for R2 and 3P0 on Tatooine.

*It is a good thing that those Tusken Raiders did not know that Luke was the son of the Jedi who had wiped out a tribe of their kind.

*Did Obi-Wan immediately recognize the two droids?

*”He was the best star-pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior.” – It is nice to know that’s how Obi-Wan remembered Anakin. But then these next words, as he handed over Anakin s lightsaber to Luke rather spoiled the moment – “I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it.” – especially in light of how Obi-Wan really managed to acquire the lightsaber. Obi-Wan’s description of how Vader had “murdered” Anakin spoiled the moment even further.

*If the Emperor had dissolved the Imperial Senate as stated by Tarkin in the movie, then it is obvious that Lucas had abandoned the earlier idea of Palpatine being a pawn or puppet of other politicians, as indicated in the 1976 edition of The Journal of the Whills.

*”Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” – Was this an example of Vader’s past Jedi training coming to the fore? Or was this an example of his Sith background? Or his 30 odd years as a Force user?

*Some people have stated that Luke’s upbringing had prepared him to face Owen and Beru’s deaths a lot better than Anakin had dealt with Shmi’s death. But considering Luke’s reaction to Obi-Wan’s death, along with Han and Leia’s endangerment in both ESB and ROTJ, I would say that Luke did not feel as emotionally close to the Lars as he did to the other three.

*”Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” – Famous words to live by. I wonder if Obi-Wan had ever visited Mos Espa.

*I love how the special effects recently added to the film, has enhanced the details of Mos Eisley during Luke and Obi-Wan’s arrival.

*I was surprised to notice the small number of human customers and inhabitants inside the cantina in Mos Eisley.

*For one crazy moment, Sir Alec Guiness sounded like Ewan McGregor in the scene where Obi-Wan and Luke meet Han Solo for the first time.

*”That’s okay. I’m never coming back to this planet, again.” – Careful Luke. Never make promises that one cannot keep.

*Does anyone know the name of the creature that followed Luke and Obi-Wan to the Millennium Falcon’s hangar?

*I had no idea that Boba Fett had been working for Jabba the Hutt before the incidents of ESB.

*I don’t think that even the massacre at the Jedi Temple in ROTS could ever exceed the horror of Alderaan’s destruction. Tarkin made Vader look like an amateur.

*Did I detect a slight British accent coming out of Carrie Fisher’s mouth?

*While watching Obi-Wan begin Luke’s training in the Jedi skills, I realized that this is the first time I’ve seen a 19 year-old Jedi youngling.

*”That’s good. You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” – A rather apt description of one’s introduction into the Force.

*”I sense something. A presence I have not felt since . . .” – I find it odd that Vader was able to immediately sense Obi-Wan, yet Obi-Wan did not sense Vader until the latter nearly found him?

*“Bring em’ on! I prefer a straight fight to all of this sneaking around!” – I found Han’s comment rather odd, considering that he was a smuggler.

*”Better her than me!” – I found Han’s refusal to save Leia rather cold, considering that she would end up being his future love.

*Leia was imprisoned in cell block 1138. Hmmm . . . do you suppose that Robert Duvall is with her?

*Han gave the worst impression of an Imperial trooper I have ever seen. Classic moment.

*”Hi! I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.” – Brother and sister meet for the first time since their births.

*”Will someone please get this big, walking carpet out of my way?” – Ah! Leia is still Daddy’s girl.

*Watching Luke and Leia swing to safety reminded me of Anakin and Padme’s failure to do the same in AOTC.

*Anakin (Vader) vs. Obi-Wan: Part II – in retrospect, is not as exciting or thrilling as their first duel on Mustafar.

*Vader’s dialogue seemed rather wooden during his duel with Obi-Wan.

*”Not this ship, sister.”/”It is for me, sister.” – Without a doubt, these are the two worst lines ever uttered in a STAR WARS movie. And both lines had been spoken by Harrison Ford.

*For a guy that had been traumatized by Obi-Wan’s death, Luke seemed to have recovered from his grief rather fast. Even to the point that he ended up contemplating a romance with Leia before the Falcon could reach Yavin IV.

*Despite the Battle of Yavin sequence, the movie never recaptured or continued its drive, following the Falcon’s escape from the Death Star.

*Why did Han and Chewbacca attend the pilot’s briefing on their mission to destroy the Death Star? Especially since the two never had plans to hang around any longer or join the Rebel Alliance.

*Typical of Vader/Anakin in that he had decided to join the Imperial fighters in the battle, instead of remaining with the generals.

*What do you know? Uncle Dennis . . . oop! I mean, Wedge to the rescue!

*It seemed as if Lucas had incorporated nearly every World War II aviator cliché into the Battle of Yavin sequence.

*Someone in my family had pointed out that the Rebels never really had any kind of strategy to destroy the Death Star. Instead, the Alliance military leaders merely had an objective and a method to destroy the station.

*When Obi-Wan had urged Luke to use the Force, had he foreseen that Vader would sense it?

*When I first saw ANH, I had wondered why Vader did not die in the end. From a 29 year perspective, I know understand why.

*The medal ceremony featured a good number of pilots in the audience. So, where had they been during the Battle of Yavin?

*Someone had described the medal ceremony near the end of the film as a pyhrric victory for the Rebel Alliance. When one contemplates on what laid ahead for Luke, Leia, Han and the others . . . that person may have been right.

*I would describe ANH as the most fun of all the STAR WARS movies. A straight out adventure flick with heroes, villains, damsels and wizards. Which would explain why many fans consider it to be the best of the saga. However . . . as much fun ANH was, it harbored very few meaningful metaphors and complexities in compare to the five other films that followed. It’s a lot of fun, but somewhat a little shallow to me.

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“DREAMGIRLS” (2006) Review

“DREAMGIRLS” (2006) Review

When I first learned that “DREAMGIRLS”’ eight Academy Award nominations did not include one for Best Picture and a Best Director nod for Bill Condon, it seemed pretty odd to me. The movie, based upon the 1981 Broadway musical, had already won plenty of accolades – including a Best Musical/Comedy Picture and two other Golden Globe awards. Was it possible that “DREAMGIRLS” had failed to live up to its hype?

Several movie critics, including one for “The New York Times” claimed that this might be the case. This critic and others went on to say that although “DREAMGIRLS” was a pretty good movie, it lacked the qualities to be considered as a nominee for Best Picture. Since I had yet to see “DREAMGIRLS”, I began to wonder if my sister – who had highly recommended the movie – had exaggerated its good qualities.

Last weekend, I finally saw “DREAMGIRLS”. Needless to say, I feel that my sister had not exaggerated. The movie not only possessed a rich, in-depth look at the music industry for African-Americans in the 1960s and 70s, it can also boast fine performances and a very unusual direction.

The cast, which included Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover and Jennifer Hudson. Foxx, Knowles and Glover all did competent jobs in their respective roles. I was especially surprised to see Foxx (usually seen in comedy roles and Oscar winner for his portrayal of Ray Charles) portray villainous record producer Curtis Taylor Jr. in such a subtle, yet intimidating manner. Knowles proved that she can be a competent actress – especially in two scenes that feature her character’s (lead singer Deena Jones) growing resentment toward Taylor’s control over her career and life. It was good to see Glover in a substantial role again, after so many years. He was his usual competent self as the more conservative manager of Eddie Murphy’s character, James “Thunder” Early. Another character connected to the Early role was Lorrell Robinson, portrayed by Anika Noni Rose. I must admit that Rose’s portrayal of the young, star-struck Lorrell seemed a little hammy and unconvincing. Fortunately, her performance improved, as her character matured.

Two of the best things about “DREAMGIRLS” turned out to be the show-stopping performances of Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson as R&B singer, James “Thunder” Early and the Dreams’ real talent Effie White. Not only have both performers won Golden Globe awards for Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress, both have received Oscar nominations for the same categories. Murphy bypassed his usual comedic performances to portray James Early, a R&B singer doomed to have his raw talent being slowly squeezed to death by Curtis Taylor’s ambition for acceptance by the white audience in 1960s/70s America. Not only did Murphy give a brilliant performance as the doomed Early, he also proved that he could be a knock-out musical talent. “DREAMGIRLS” must have seemed like sweet revenge for Chicago native, Jennifer Hudson. After being dismissed by “American Idol” judges halfway into competition, Hudson managed to win the role of Effie White, a talented and mercurial singer forced to deal with rejection by Taylor because of her“soulful” voice and physical appearance. Hudson’s show-stopping performance of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”combined the best of her acting ability and magnificent voice, and may have possibly rivaled Jennifer Holliday’s performance of the same song in the Broadway version.

Not only did “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” beautifully showcased Jennifer Hudson’s talent, it also proved a theory of mine. I once told a friend that singing in front of a live audience took more than simply holding a microphone and singing. To get the song across to the audience, the performer needed to act out the meaning behind the song through facial expressions and body language. Such expressions through song has been shown before on both the screen and stage, but Hudson took it to a level that left me breathless . . . and almost crying. Not only did the song’s lyrics expressed Effie White’s desperation to maintain Curtis Taylor’s love, but her facial expression and body language effectively did so, as well. I also have to commend Knowles, Foxx, Rose, Keith Robinson (who played Effie’s songwriter brother C.C.) and Sharon Leal (who played Effie’s replacement, Michelle Morris) for their performances in a scene in which they all express their hostility and resentment toward Effie’s volatile behavior. For a moment, I thought I was watching an operetta.

In fact, one felt the sense of watching an operetta, instead of the usual musical. Since the Astaire/Rogers series of the 1930s, movie musicals have perfected the art of movie dialogue seamlessly segueing in a song. In “DREAMGIRLS”, not only does the dialogue segue into song, but sometimes segue back into dialogue in the middle of a song. Or . . . two characters would end either do the following: 1) interrupt the dialogue with a few lines of song; or 2) switch back and forth between song and dialogue. This made “DREAMGIRLS” feel like no other movie musical I have ever seen and I have to commend director Bill Condon for creating this unusual style for any musical.

Now, I find myself back to thinking about the Academy Award nominations. Were those critics right to believe that the Academy was right to withhold Best Picture and Best Director nominations for “DREAMGIRLS”? In the end, those critics are entitled to their own opinions. I had learned from another source that “DREAMGIRLS” had enough votes from the Academy members to receive a Best Picture nomination. But from my personal view, all I can say is . . . ”What the hell was the Academy thinking?”

“ANGELS AND DEMONS” (2009) Review

“ANGELS AND DEMONS” (2009) Review

After the success of the 2006 adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel, ”The DaVinci Code”, director Ron Howard and actor Tom Hanks returned to adapt another Brown novel that featured the character of symbologist Robert Langdon – namely,”Angels and Demons”. Although the latter novel had been published first; it became the second of Brown’s works to be adapted by Hollywood, making ”ANGELS AND DEMONS” a cinematic sequel to ”THE DaVINCI CODE”.

”ANGELS AND DEMONS” revolves around the quest of fictional Harvard University symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) to uncover the mysteries of a secret society called the Illuminati and to unravel a plot to annihilate Vatican City using destructive antimatter. Like the novel, the movie uses the idea of a historical conflict between science and religion, particularly that between the Illuminati and the Roman Catholic Church.

Following the death of the Pope, a destructive antimatter is stolen from CERN (the world’s largest particle physics laboratory located in Geneva, Switzerland) and one of the scientists murdered. The Vatican then receives a threat from a group calling itself the Illuminati (a former secret society that consisted of European freethinkers that supported new scientific discoveries, despite the Catholic Church’s opposition), which claims it will destroy the Vatican using the stolen antimatter. The Church summons both Robert Langdon and CERN scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) to prevent the Illuminati from carrying out its threat in less than 24 hours. During their time at the Vatican, both Langdon and Vittoria encounter some degree of hostility – mainly from Commander Richter, head of the Swiss Guard (Stellan Skarsgård).

”ANGELS AND DEMONS” can boast solid performances from a first-rate cast. There were no bad performances that I could spot. On the other hand, not one member of the cast gave what I would consider an exceptional performance – not even top-notch talents like Hanks, Skarsgård or Ewan McGregor, who portrayed the Vatican’s the Camerlengo, Patrick McKenna. The more I try to think of an exceptional performance in this film, the more difficult it was for me to achieve this goal. However, I must admit that I found Rance Howard’s appearance as one of the Cardinals voting for a new Pope rather out of place. Other than his appearance, everyone seemed . . . solid.

And if I must be frank, I might as well say the same about the movie. Some have claimed that the screenplay had failed to follow the novel very closely. I say . . . who cares? I am not a fan of Dan Brown’s novel. It bored me so much that I did not even bother to finish it. The only reason I had bothered to go see the movie was due to my hope that like ”THE DaVINCI CODE”, it would be an improvement over the novel. Thankfully, Ron Howard’s direction, along with the screenplay written by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman improved the story immensely. Well, the parts I had read. Like the novel’s beginning.

I can see that it would be futile to compare the entire novel to the entire film. Especially since I never bothered to finish the novel. But . . . I must admit that I did enjoy the film. Langdon and Vittoria’s efforts to stop the group from killing four Vatican cardinals and destroying the Vatican managed to maintain my interest. I was especially impressed by Howard’s direction of the sequences that featured Langdon and the Swiss Guard’s Lieutenant Chartrand (Thure Lindhardt) being trapped in the Vatican’s increasingly airless archives; Langdon and Inspector Ernesto Olivetti’s (Pierfrancesco Favino) attempts to save one of the kidnapped cardinals suspended above a roaring fire inside the Santa Maria della Vittoria Basilica; and the efforts of Langdon, Vittoria, Chartrand and Father McKenna to find the antimatter and prevent it from blowing up.

If a moviegoer is looking for an exceptional movie, ”ANGELS AND DEMONS” is not the right flick. But I rather enjoyed”ANGELS AND DEMONS” a lot. It was a solid and entertaining thriller filled with good performances, first-rate action, great location photography of Rome and a pretty good solid story. If you simply want to be entertained, I highly recommend this movie.

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.01) “Pilot – The First Seventeen Hours”

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“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.01) “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours”

It took me quite a while to get over CBS’ cancellation of the 2006-2008 post-apocalypse series, “JERICHO”. Quite a while. But when I recently watched the series’ first episode, “Pilot: The Seventeen Hours”, my anger returned. Somewhat. After all, five years had past since the series’ cancellation. And I know it will never come back.

Oh well. I still have my DVD collection of all the episodes. Watching “Pilot: The Seventeen Hours” brought back good memories for me. The episode not introduced most or all of the players that would have a major role in the series’ saga. The episode and the story begins with the return of Jake Green to his hometown of Jericho, Kansas. Estranged from his family for five years, he only returns to to pay respect to his recently deceased grandfather and to claim the money left to him by the latter. Due to his estrangement with his father, Mayor Johnston Green and the latter’s refusal to hand over the money, Jake decides to leave town again. While driving away from Jericho, he witnesses the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb in the far distance before colliding with an oncoming car.

That mushroom cloud, also witnessed by Deputy Jimmy Taylor’s son and a few others. Mayor Green surmises that the bomb must have hit Denver, Colorado. However, his wife Gail learns from a local named Dale Turner that the latter’s mother was killed in Atlanta, Georgia – the location of second nuclear attack. Realizing that a school bus full of children and their teacher, Heather Lisinski, is missing; Mayor Green orders the sheriff and his deputies to find it. However, an injured Jake ends up finding the bus. He saves the life of a young girl and manages to drive the bus back to Jericho with an injured leg. Unfortunately for the sheriff and one deputy, they are killed by a group of convicts that managed to escape from a prison bus following the nuclear attack.

“Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” struck me as a pretty good episode. It did not allow “JERICHO” to begin on a sensational note like many science-fiction/fantasy television series I have seen in the past decade. And perhaps that is a good thing. Most recent serial television shows that begin on a high note have great difficulty in maintaining such a high level of quality. I am not stating that the pilot episode for “JERICHO” was terrible. Not by a long shot. But I would not view it as among the series’ best episodes. Did “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” have any flaws? Well, some of the crowd scenes featuring the good citizens of Jericho struck me as overwrought and cliched. This is the episode that tried to introduce the idea of Jake Green and Heather Lisinski as a potential couple. While some fans bought the . . . uh, “chemistry” between the two, it did not work for me.  The pair has always struck me more as siblings. The episode also introduced Lennie James as the mysterious Robert Hawkins. While the screenwriters did a good job in establishing Hawkins’ mysterious nature, I was not that impressed by the British-born James’ American accent.

Despite these flaws, I still enjoyed “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours”. Not only did the episode did a solid job in introducing the series’ overall narrative, it also provided plenty of good action and mystery. Director Jon Turteltaub did a good job in handling such action scenes like the car accident that prevented Jake’s departure from Kansas and the escaped convicts’ murder of Jericho’s sheriff. And although I had some trouble with one or two crowd scenes – especially the one in which the town citizens nearly panicked over getting their hands on available supplies. But there were some dramatic scenes that I enjoyed; including Jake’s quarrel with his father and brother Eric, Jake saving the life of the young schoolgirl, Robert’s attempt to offer his help to the sheriff and the fire chief, Dale Turner’s revelation of a second nuclear explosion in Atlanta, and Jake’s uneasy reunion with his ex-girlfriend Emily Sullivan. Despite the resolution of the missing school bus plot line, “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” made sure that audiences knew that “JERICHO”would be a serial drama by leaving the following plot lines hanging:

*The escaped convicts
*Emily Sullivan’s nighttime road trip to the pick up her fiancé from a nearby airport
*The emergence of businessman Gray Anderson as a future political opponent for Johnston Green
*The reason behind Robert Hawkins’ appearance in Jericho

Of these four plot lines, only one will be resolved by the following episode.

The performances in this episode seemed pretty rock solid. My only complaints are directed at the extras and minor characters who portrayed the citizens of Jericho. The main reason I found some of the crowd scenes overwrought was that I found the performances portraying the citizens over-the-top. I realize they were supposed to be portraying the citizens in a state of panic. I simply did not find their performances satisfying. However, Skeet Ulrich expertly set the tone as the show’s leading man. Lennie James injected that mysterious tone in his character right off the bat, even if I found his American accent a little shaky. Michael Gaston did a good job as Gray Anderson and I found Sprague Grayden’s portrayal of Heather Lisinski rather charming. But there were three performances that really impressed me. One came from Gerald McRaney, who gave a commanding, yet sardonic performance as mayor Jericho, Johnston Green. Another came from Pamela Reed, who seemed to be the heart and soul of this episode as the mayor’s wife, Gail Green. And the last impressive performance came from Erik Knudsen, who did an excellent job in setting up the complexities of the adolescent Dale Turner, one of the show’s most complex characters.

“Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” is not as impressive as other pilots I have seen from recent science-fiction/fantasy television shows. As I had earlier stated, the episode is not terrible, nor mediocre. But it is not great. However, this is not a problem for me. I have never demanded that the pilot of a science-fiction/fantasy series blow me away. All I demand that it does a good job in setting up the series’ premise. And I believe that this pilot episode for “JERICHO”certainly accomplished

“SHENANDOAH” (1965) Review

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“SHENANDOAH” (1965) Review

During my recent viewing of the 1965 movie, “SHENANDOAH”, I came to the surprising conclusion that it proved to be entirely different than what I had assumed it would be. But it is not surprising that it would take several years for the movie to be appreciated by today’s audiences than it was back in 1965.

Like I said, “SHENANDOAH” is an unusual film. Set in 1864, during the U.S. Civil War, the movie is about the efforts of a sardonic Virginia farmer and widower named Charlie Anderson to prevent his sons from fighting in the war. Although, he is sympathetic toward the travails his neighbors face from the Union Army’s presence in the Shenandoah Valley, he feels no obligation to fight on behalf of a state he believes had never help him maintain his farm. Nor does he support the Confederacy’s pro-slavery stance. His neighbors seem willing to tolerate his pacifist stance, although a few like Pastor Bjoerling occasionally make barbed comments.

Not long after his only daughter’s wedding to neighbor and Confederate Army officer Sam and the birth of his first grandchild, Charlie’s family fortunes take a turn for the worse. His youngest son, 16 year-old Boy, is captured by Union soldiers, while playing with his close friend Gabriel, a neighbor’s slave. Boy had been wearing a Confederate Army kepi cap he had earlier found. When Gabriel informs the Anderson family of the news; Charlie, most of his sons and daughter Jennie leave to look for Boy. They leave James and his wife Ann at the farm with their young baby.

While watching the first twenty to thirty minutes of “SHENANDOAH”, one gets the impression of watching a warm family comedy-drama with a Civil War setting. I almost felt as if I were watching “THE WALTONS” in a 19th century setting. There are very few characters in uniform. The movie featured the Anderson family at home, at work and a mildly amusing scene of them arriving late at church during the beginning of the sermon. And when the war did infringe upon their lives, the family usually responded in humorous ways – namely their boisterous fight with a state official and soldiers trying to acquire horses for the army, and a stand-off between Anderson’s sons and a group of army recruiters. By the time Charlie and his family set out to find the missing Boy, I felt certain that their adventures would be exciting, topped by a happy ending. Charlie and the rest of the Andersons got their happy ending. . . but at great costs, thanks to the Union Army, the Confederate Army and a group of deserters. The movie’s growing dark tones and anti-war sentiments really took me by surprise, considering its earlier tone. But what really took me by surprise is that the movie’s changing tone had been gradual, thanks to director Andrew V. McLaglen and screenwriter James Lee Barrett.

There were scenes in “SHENANDOAH” that really impressed me. I enjoyed those scenes with Charlie’s conversations with his future son-in-law, Sam, and his daughter-in-law Ann; due to their heartwarming nature, Charlie’s outlooks on both his family dynamics and dealing with marriage, and fine performances from James Stewart, Doug McClure and Katherine Ross. However, his conversation with Union Army officer Colonel Fairchild really impressed me, thanks to Stewart and George Kennedy’s performances, and the way the two men managed to emotionally connect on the horrors of war and fear of losing their sons. Boy’s escape with a group of Confederate soldiers from a riverboat struck me as rather exciting. In one of the movie’s earlier scene, Jennie Anderson had encouraged Gabriel to run away from his master. Not only did Gabriel run, he eventually joined the Union Army. This is probably why I found Gabriel’s reunion on the battlefield with a wounded Boy emotionally satisfying. The friendship and warmth the two boys felt for each other had not wavered, despite finding themselves within the ranks of the opposite armies. And I was amazed at how both Philip Alford and Eugene Jackson Jr. managed to convey the close friendship of the two characters with hardly any words. However, I feel that the movie’s two best scenes were featured in the Andersons’ local church. The first church scene proved to be a very funny affair, thanks to actor Denver Pyle’s skillful conveyance of Pastor Bjoerling’s irritated reaction to the Andersons’ late arrival in the middle of his sermon. The second church scene, which ended the film, was a beautifully acted and emotional that surprisingly left me in tears. It had the perfect mixture of relief, happiness and a little pathos that followed the emotionally draining aspects of the movie’s second half. Even after nearly five decades, many people still talk about it.

Despite my satisfaction with “SHENANDOAH”, there were some aspects of it that I found troubling. Most of my dissatisfaction came from the movie’s historical portrait of its setting. One of the Union soldiers that captured Boy proved to be black. The Union Army was not integrated in 1864. In fact, I do not believe it was ever integrated during the four years of the Civil War. And for the likes of me, I could not see how all of Charlie’s six sons could have avoided military service during the war’s first three years. His sons, especially Jacob, seemed to have minds of their own. I figured if they really wanted to fight in the war – whether for the Confederacy or the Union – they would have left the farm and join the military. I could not understand how someone as strong-willed as Jacob (who was the oldest) could have allowed his father to prevent him from joining the Confederate Army. And even if all the boys had wanted to remain on the farm, they would have been subjected to the military draft. The Confederacy had enacted the military draft about a year before the Union. And the Andersons were not rich or owned any slaves. I have one last complaint – a minor one at that. Some of the acting by the supporting characters in minor roles sucked. Period. I found their performances rather wooden and could not understand how they managed to get roles in an “A” production like“SHENANDOAH”.

Flaws or not, I can honestly say that “SHENANDOAH” is one of the better Civil War movies I have ever seen. Instead of telling the story of the war from one side or the other, it told the story about a family that desperately tried to avoid being dragged into the chaos and tragedy of war . . . and failed. Thanks to a well-written script written by James Lee Bennett and a talented cast led by the even more talented James Stewart, director Andrew V. McLaglen crafted an excellent story about the Civil War that proved to be more emotional and surprising than I could ever imagine.

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1971) Review

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“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1971) Review

For some reason, I still find it hard to believe that until recently, very few people were aware that the first adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, “Sense and Sensibility”, dated as far back as 1971. After all, people have been aware of other Austen adaptations during this same period or earlier. Even the Wikipedia site fails to mention it, except in connection with one of the cast members. What was about this four-part miniseries that eluded so many Austen fans?

In “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”, a wealthy landowner named Mr. Dashwood dies, leaving his two daughters and second wife at the mercy of his son by his first marriage, thanks to the rules of inheritance. When the son fails to financially help his sisters and stepmother, the trio are forced to live at a meager cottage, thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin. The miniseries follows the love lives of the sisters, while they deal with their new penniless status.

I could have went into greater detail about Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. But what would have been the point? Austen’s novel and the other adaptations have made both their story and characters well known to fans. Everyone knows that the Dashwood sisters’ penniless state have made them undesirable as potential mates among the English upper-class. And many know that Elinor Dashwood is the older and more sensible sister, who kept her emotions suppressed behind a facade of stoic behavior. They also know that Marianne is the younger sisters, whose romantic enthusiasm led to emotional excesses and irrational behavior. Was there something unique about this adaptation of Austen’s novel? Hmmm. Other than it was probably the first version of the 1811 novel and the first of four versions to exclude the character of the youngest Dashwood sister, Margaret.

Overall, I believe that “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” turned out to be an entertaining and well-paced television miniseries. But it was not perfect. One, I felt that screenwriter Denis Constanduros made a few missteps in his adaptation. I wish that Constanduros had included a scene featuring John Dashwood’s last conversation with his dying father. I felt that his eventually betrayal of his promise, due to his wife’s capriciousness would have possessed more bite. I also felt that Constanduros could have included more scenes featuring Marianne and John Willoughy’s courtship. The period between their first meeting and Willoughby’s decision to end their romance seemed to go by in a flash. It happened too soon for me to understand Marianne’s grief over his rejection of her. Although there were a good deal of exterior shots of the English countryside, I wish there had been more exterior shots of early 19th century London, during the sisters’ trip. The London sequences made the miniseries feel more like a filmed play. And why on earth did Constanduros allowed Elinor to pay a visit to Edward Ferrars’ London rooms alone? What was he thinking? He should have allowed Elinor to summon Edward to Mrs. Jennings’ home in order to deliver Colonel Brandon’s news about a new job. I have one last major problem. Why on earth did costume designer had Elinor and Marianne wearing identical traveling outfits? They were not twin sisters. And no siblings from an upper-class family – especially of the female gender – would be caught dead in this manner:

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What was costumer designer Charles Knode thinking?

I also had some problems with the casting and performances. I had a real problem with actress Ciaran Madden’s performance as Marianne Dashwood. How can I put it? It was over-the-top. I realize that she was at least 25 years old at the time this production was filmed. But did she and director David Giles really thought an exaggerated performance was necessary to portray the emotional 17 year-old Marianne? Was that their idea of portraying an emotional adolescent? And why would actor Michael Alderidge use a strong, regional accent for his portrayal of Sir John Middleton? I realize that his mother-in-law and wife came from a middle-class background. But Sir John and his cousin Mrs. Dashwood, did not. Both actresses who portrayed the Steele sisters – Frances Cuka and Maggie Jones – seemed at least a decade-and-a-half too old for their roles. And Kay Gallie’s Fanny Dashwood seemed like such a major disappointment. Her Fanny struck me as too passive-aggressive and nervous in compare to the other actresses who portrayed the role.

But despite some disappointments, I must admit that “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” turned out to be a pretty good production. Hell, I like it a lot more than I do the 1981 television version. Thanks to Constanduros’s script and Giles’ direction, the four-part miniseries struck me as well paced – aside from Marianne and Willoughby’s courtship. Aside from the traveling outfits, I must admit that I found Knode’s costume designs both colorful and elegant. And like the 1995 movie, I was happy to see that the screenplay allowed Marianne to become aware of Colonel Brandon before her meeting with Willoughby . . . allowing the pair’s eventual romance in the last episode very credible.

There were also some very good performances in “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”. I found myself surprisingly impressed by Richard Owens’ performance as Colonel Brandon. At first, I barely paid attention to him. But I must admit that his performance actually grew on me and I thought he did a credible job of slowly revealing Brandon’s passion for Marianne. Despite his strong regional accent, I must admit that Michael Aldridge was perfectly cast as Mrs. Dashwood’s gregarious cousin, Sir John Middleton. And despite her age, Frances Cuka did a very good of conveying Lucy Steele’s manipulations regarding Edward, Elinor and the Ferrars family . . . even if I found it a bit obvious. I was very impressed by Milton Johns’ performance as Elinor and Marianne’s spineless older half-brother John Dashwood. In fact, I feel that he gave one of the better performances in the miniseries. Robin Ellis gave a solid performance as Edward Ferrars. However, I must admit that I was not that impressed by his screen chemistry with Joanna David’s Elinor. In an ARTICLE I had written about Jane Austen’s rogues, I stated that I found Clive Francis’ portrayal of the caddish John Willoughby unmemorable. I take it back. On a second viewing, I found myself surprisingly impressed by his performance. I think I may have been distracted by the so-called Regency wig he was wearing . . . or the speed of the Marianne-Willoughby courtship. But I thought he gave a very complex performance.

But there were two performances in “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” that I found outstanding. One of them belonged to Joanna David, who was perfect – well . . . almost – as Elinor Dashwood. She was one of the few performers who managed to restrain from “playing to the second balcony” as many other stage-trained actors tend to do. Mind you, there were moments when she seemed incapable of projecting Elinor’s passionate nature behind the sensible facade. But more than any other person in the cast, she did a superb job in carrying the miniseries on her shoulders. The other outstanding performance turned out to be Patricia Routledge’s portrayal of the vivacious Mrs. Jennings, Sir John’s mother-in-law. She was in her early 40s at the time and technically, too young for the role. But I cannot deny that Routledge seemed like the very personification of the verbose and interfering, yet warm-hearted widow. Of the four Mrs. Jennings I have seen, only Elizabeth Spriggs from the 1995 movie seemed her equal.

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” is not the best adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, despite being the first. And it possessed certain aspects in both the script and casting that I found questionable. But thanks to David Giles’ direction, Denis Constanduros’ screenplay, and superb performances especially from Joanna David and Patricia Rutledge; I feel that it turned out to be a pretty damn good adaptation in the end. I would highly recommend it.

Kathryn Janeway and Starfleet Principles – “STAR TREK VOYAGER” (2.14) “Alliances”

 

KATHRYN JANEWAY AND STARFLEET PRINCIPLES – “STAR TREK VOYAGER” (2.14 “Alliances”)

Many ”STAR TREK” fans have claimed that the lead character of ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” lead character, Captain Kathryn Janeway, barely developed as a character during the series’ seven (7) season run. After watching the Season Two episode, (2.14) “Alliances”, I am can see that I would never agree with those critics of Janeway’s character. The Season Two Kathryn Janeway featured in this episode struck me as a far cry from the Janeway that finally returned to Earth in the series finale, (7.25-7.26) “Endgame”.

But this article is not simply about Kathryn Janeway. It is mainly about the good captain and the major role she played in ”Alliance”. The episode began with a Kazon attack upon Voyager, which resulted in damages to the starship, several wounded and the death of another Voyager crewman – the popular ex-Maquis and close friend of Commander Chakotay named Kurt Bendera. After Chakotay delivered the eulogy after the funeral, Crewmen Hogan and Michael Jonas voiced their opinion to Captain Janeway that Voyager should operate in a manner similar to the Maquis and consider making a deal with the Kazon for safe passage. Naturally, Janeway refused to consider the idea of trading technology with Kazon, which is something they have proposed in the past. But her resistance to the idea of an alliance eventually faded when Chakotay and Lieutenant Tuvok both proposed that she consider an alliance with one or two Kazon factions to secure peace. Not to trade technology, but to offer protection from attacking forces and emergency supplies. As I had pointed out, the Captain was reluctant to accept Chakotay’s idea, but eventually accepted. Ensign Harry Kim seemed horrified by the idea, claiming that the Federation would never consider forming alliances with the likes of the Kazon. Apparently, the young ensign forgot about the treaty that the Federation had signed with the Klingon Empire in the late 23rd century (something that Tuvok had reminded the Captain about) and one with Cardassia a few years earlier. Fortunately, Janeway ignored Kim’s protests.

During the series’ first two seasons, Janeway had been a rigid practitioner of Starfleet’s principles, unwilling to be flexible about her command style. She also had a bad habit of ignoring advice that required her to be a little more flexible . . . unless it suited her. Obviously, Chakotay’s suggestion of mixing a little Starfleet principles with Maquis methods never really appealed to Janeway. And I got the feeling that she was determined to prove him wrong. Bear with me. There was nothing wrong in Janeway’s policies about following Starfleet principles – when the situation demanded it. After all, if Janeway had not maintained discipline on her ship, Voyager could have easily become another U.S.S. Equinox. However, there was a time for adhering to Starfleet . . . and a time for using other methods.

Chakotay’s idea of forming an alliance with the Kazon seemed sound. Even Tuvok thought it was a good idea. Yet, Janeway decided to sabotage Chakotay’s idea by accepting Torres and Paris’ not-so-bright suggestion of forming an alliance with Seska and Maj Cullah of the Kazon Nistrim sect. Why on earth would she agree to sign a treaty with the very Kazon sect that the crew of Voyager had been in conflict with since Season One’s (1.11) “State of Flux”. And why did she not simply consider contacting other Kazon sects, as Chakotay and Tuvok had suggested. Then Janeway added more fuel to the fire when she disregarded Tuvok’s advice against forming an alliance with the Trabe, the Kazons’ blood enemy. The Trabe used to be a major power in the Delta Quadrant that were also brutal slave masters ruling over the Kazon race. The Kazon eventually revolted and stole all of the Trabe technology, spacecraft and even their home world. The Trabe had been reduced to wanderers that were constantly pursued by Kazon fleets and unable to settle on any permanent planet for fear of being exterminated by the former slaves. In the end, Tuvok’s objections against an alliance with the Trabe proved to be sound. The effort to form an alliance with the Kazon ended up being undermined by the Trabe’s attempt to assassinate the Kazon majes (leaders).

As I had earlier stated, one of Janeway’s major flaws had been her inability to be flexible in the face of Voyager’s extraordinary situation in the Delta Quadrant. During Seasons One and Two, she seemed obsessed with maintaining Starfleet principles. In the end, this strict adherence to these principles did not prevent Voyager’s capture by Seska, Maje Cullah and the Kazon in the Season Two finale, (2.26) “Basics, Part I”. Following this last incident with Seska and the Kazon, Janeway switched tactics and adhered more closely with utilizing Maquis methods. I would have cheered her for this . . . except she went from one extreme to another. Her determination to use any means possible to get home nearly led to Voyager’s destruction in the early Season Three episode, (3.04)”The Swarm”, when she decided to trespass into a hostile alien space after being warned away. Another form of this kind of extremism occurred when she decided to form an alliance with the Borg in order to avoid what she believed was certain destruction at the hands of Species 8472 in (3.26-4.01) “Scorpion”. This alliance led to Species 8472’s defeat and many home worlds opened to conquest and assimilation by the Borg. After Voyager’s encounter with the U.S.S. Equinox in (5.26-6.01) “Equinox”, Janeway finally learned to become flexible by striking a balance between maintaining Starfleet principles and being a little creative when the occasion demanded.

As for “Alliances”, it had the potential to be an excellent episode. Unfortunately, too much had occurred during the episode’s 45 minutes running time. ”Alliance” could have . . . should have been a two-part episode. But writer/producer Jeri Taylor decided to stuff this very eventful story into one episode. Worse, the story ended on a sour note with Janeway’s speech reaffirming Starfleet principles. Her strident speech not only made me wince, it also made me wonder if she was feeling a little smug at proving both Chakotay and Tuvok wrong. The ending did not strike me as one of her finest hours.