George Stinney Jr. Exonerated


A seventy year-old miscarriage of justice has finally been overturned in a case that involved murder, false accusations and racism.

Seventy years ago, a 14-year old South Carolina adolescent named George Stinney Jr. was arrested, convicted and executed by the State of South Carolina for the murders to two white girls – 11 year-old Betty June Binnicker and 8 year-old Mary Emma Thames. The 5’1″ and 90 pounds. George was electrocuted on June 16, 1944.

It took the State of South Carolina 70 years to realize that young George was too short and lacked the weight to wield the murder weapon – a 15-inch railroad spike that weighed over 20 pounds. South Carolina Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen vacated (overturned or reversed) Stinney’s conviction of first-degree murder won December 17, 2014 . . . 70 years, six months and one day after his death. The judge overturned the case based upon the argument that Stinney did not receive a fair trial.

The Stinney case was the basis for David Stout’s 1988 novel called “Carolina Skeletons”. Stout was awarded the 1989 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel. The novel served as the source for the 1991 television movie of the same name. The movie was directed by John Erman and starred Lou Gossett Jr. Another movie about Stinney called “83 Days” is being made by Pleroma Studios. The movie was written and produced by Ray Brown. And Charles Burnett is the director. This new movie is based upon research and documents largely found by Brown, Sonya Williamson, James Moon and others. The material they found assisted in Stinney’s exoneration hearing. The movie will star Danny Glover, Ted Levine and Carl Lumbly.

For more information on the George Stinney Jr. case, here is an ARTICLE about it.

“The Corellian Connection” [PG-13] – Chapter Three






Padme had just finished her breakfast, when CP-30 entered the dining room. “Pardon me, Milady, but you have a visitor. Prince Organa.”

“Where is he, Threepio?” Padme asked.

The protocol droid revealed that her visitor awaited her in the east drawing-room. Padme heaved a sigh and stood up. She followed Threepio in the said room, where she found an anxious Bail Organa pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. “Bail,” the former senator greeted. “What are you doing here?”

“I just came to say good-bye,” Bail replied. “I’m leaving for Averam.” He went on to explain about a message he had received from a distressed Solipo Yeb. “I’ve already sent extra funds to Corellia. Solipo had planned to remain on Averam, but I advised him to head elsewhere.”

Padme frowned. “Like where?”

With a shake of his head, Bail sighed. “I don’t know. We’ll discuss the matter when we meet.”

Bail’s comments reminded Padme of her present situation as the Alderaan Royal Family’s guest. “Speaking of a permanent home,” she added, “I think we need to consider finding a new home for the twins and myself.”

“Yes, I had thought the same,” Bail said. “As a matter of fact, this situation with Solipo worries me for another reason. Thanks to the Emperor’s new intelligence network . . .”

Padme commented with distaste, “The Inquisitorius. I’ve heard of it.”

“Yes, well there is a chance that Solipo’s message from Corellia may have been detected,” Bail continued. Padme grew alarmed. “Which means that I think you should prepare yourself for the possibility of an immediate escape. Just in case.”

Padme nodded. “I understand.” She gave her former colleague a reassuring smile. “Safe journey, Bail. May the Force be with you.”

Bail returned her smile. “Thank you, Padme. I’ll be sure to visit you upon my return.” He bowed and left the room.

Once alone, Padme heaved a long-suffering sigh. Threepio, she decided, might not like this new development. Come to think of it, she did not care for it, either. But as Bail had pointed out . . . one should be prepared. She then left the drawing room and went in search of the protocol droid.



“Give him his breakfast, Dewlanna.”

Han sat quietly at the table in the middle of the kitchen, inside the three-story villa. Opposite him sat his “benefactor”, Garris Shrike. The stocky, black-haired man regarded the eleven year-old with pale blue eyes, while the female Wookie quietly set a plate of food in front of the boy.

Shrike’s stocky face leaned forward. “I’m allowing you to eat this morning, Solo. You’ll need your strength to collect the 2,000 credits that you owe me.”

Two thousand? Han frowned, as he protested, “I thought you wanted me to collect one thou . . .”

“It’s now two thousand!” Shrike interrupted in a hard voice. A thin smile curved his lips. “Since you’re not used to collecting such a large sum, you’ll have two days to do the job. If you fail . . .” His smile disappeared. “. . . more punishment will follow.”

Rubbing the bruise under his left eye, Han had a pretty good idea what more entail. “I understand,” he murmured.

“Good.” The smile returned, as Shrike stood up. “Now, eat up. Enjoy your meal. The Trader’s Luck will be leaving Corellia by the end of the week.” He left the dining room.

The eleven year-old grabbed his fork and began to eat his Corellian potatoes. “Not so fast,” Dewlanna growled. “You have not eaten in quite a while. You’ll hurt your stomach if you don’t slow down.”

Very few humans, let alone other species within the galaxy, understood Shyriiwook, the Wookies’ language. Han counted himself among those very few who did. Not only had Dewlanna taught him Shyriiwook, she had ensured that he acquired a decent education and health care – matters that Shrike had deliberately ignored. Han did as he was ordered and ate his potatoes at a slower pace. “I can’t stay here any longer, Dewlanna,” he said between bites. “I have to get out of here. Either Shrike is gonna kill me some day, or I’m gonna get him.”

A growling Dewlanna retorted, “Don’t talk such nonsense, Han! Where would you go?”

Good question, Han thought. Where would he go? Nearly three years ago, Dewlanna had informed him about his family background. It seemed Han was part of the famous House of Solo – a family that had once ruled Corellia a long time ago. That knowledge had led Han to run away from Shrike and track down his long lost Aunt Tiion Solo and her son, Thrackan Sal-Solo. Unfortunately, Aunt Tiion proved to be mad and Cousin Thrackan, a violent bully. The latter eventually betrayed Han and sold him back to Shrike.

Who could offer him refuge from Shrike? Memories of the tall, dark-blond pilot flashed in Han’s mind. The pilot’s intense blue eyes, scar and hardened expression gave him an intimidating aura. Yet, Captain Horus had not ratted out Han to the CorSec officer, after Han tried to pick his pocket. Given the eleven year-old’s experiences aboard Shrike’s own ship, the Trader’s Luck, Han figured that he would feel right at home as the pilot’s companion. Deep down, he knew that his chances of receiving help from Captain Horus seemed pretty slim. But he had to make the attempt. After last night, he could not bear staying here any longer.

Han ate the last of his potatoes and drank the rest of his Bribb juice. “Finished,” he declared, as he wiped his mouth. “Gotta go.” He stood up and began to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Dewlanna demanded. She regarded the boy with shrewd eyes.

Through the side of his mouth, Han muttered, “Going to work, of course.”

Dewlanna continued to stare at him. “What about your plans to leave Shrike? Do you still plan to go through with it?”

“Maybe,” Han replied. “But not today. I gotta go.”

“Wait a minute.” She opened the pantry and removed a burlap sack from within. “Here.” The Wookie tossed the bag at Han, who neatly caught it. “There is some food for today and a credit chip that will last you for two weeks.” Sadness crept into her large and expressive eyes. “Ever since last night, I suspected you would try to leave. You’re right, of course. It’s time for you to leave.”

“Dewlanna . . .”

The Wookie walked over to Han and affectionately ruffled his hair. “Good-bye, my scruffy one. Take care.” With a slight yelp, she turned away and left the kitchen.

Han stared at the Wookie’s disappearing form. A lump formed in his throat, as he walked from the kitchen into the villa’s courtyard. He paused before the courtyard’s gate and stared at the house for what he hoped to be the last. Then he opened the gate and left.



The Imperial Destroyer, the Exactor, hovered in orbit over the serene-looking planet of Alderran. Darth Rasche and two squads of clone troopers entered the ship’s hangar bay and marched toward the largest shuttle. The destroyer’s second-in-command, Commander Mellon, accompanied them.

“The squad and I will meet with Queen Breha and Prince Bail on Alderaan, and search for the holoproject used to receive Senator Yeb’s message,” the Sith apprentice announced. “Once we have discovered it and retrieved the message, I will arrest both the queen and her husband, and then give the signal for you to send troops to the planet’s surface.”

Captain Mellon asked, “What if the signal from Corellia never reached the Aldera Palace? What if it had reached somewhere else on the planet?”

Squelching a desire to strike the annoying officer, Rasche retorted, “Then I will search every inch of the planet until I learn who had received that signal.”

“But what if . . .?”

Rasche silenced the officer with a deadly glare. “You have your orders, Captain!” he snarled.

Mellon recoiled slightly. “Yes, my Lord.”

“Let’s go,” Rasche ordered the two squads. The Sith Lord and the two squads boarded the shuttle. Minutes later, it hovered over the hangar’s floor before it zoomed into deep space and toward Alderaan’s surface.



Queen Breha sat on a stone bench, situated on her favorite balcony. The latter overlooked the royal woods and the planet’s capital in the far distance. She glanced up from the data pad in her hands and saw her cousin, Raymus Antilles, approach the balcony. “Cousin Raymus!” she greeted warmly. “I thought you and Bail had left on the Tantive IV.”

“His Highness did not leave on the Tantive IV, Your Majesty,” Raymus replied with a bow. “He thought it would be prudent to leave on a less conspicuous ship. And he asked me to remain behind.” A slight unease crept into his eyes. “Also, I have some dire news, Cousin.”

Breha sighed. She should have realized that this was not a friendly visit. Raymus usually paid such visits in the evening. “Is there a problem?”

“A major one, I’m afraid.” Raymus paused dramatically. “I have just received word from one of His Highness’ contacts on Coruscant that the Empire will be sending an emissary to Alderaan.”

Alarmed by the news, Breha rose to her feet. “Oh no! Padme and the children! The Emperor has finally learned that they’re alive!”

Raymus shook his head. “No, Your Majesty. This has nothing to do with Senator Amidala. According to Prince Bail’s contact, the Inquisitorum has detected the message from Senator Yeb on Corellia. Apparently, they’re aware that he is there.”

Which meant that Emperor Palpatine suspected Bail of being in contact with the former Andalian senator and a traitor to the Empire. “Have you contacted His Highness?”

“I’m afraid not, Your Majesty,” Raymus replied anxiously. “The planet’s communications have been jammed. I was only able to receive most of the message from His Highness’s contact before it happened.” He paused and inhaled sharply. “However, the contact did reveal that the Emperor’s emissary has the title of a Sith Lord.”

A Sith Lord? An uneasy thought came to Queen Breha. Both she and Raymus were among the few that knew that both the Emperor and Padme’s Jedi husband were Sith Lords. She asked Raymus for the full name of the Imperial emissary. Her cousin did not know, since the planet’s communication systems had jammed before he could find out. “However, I must add, Your Majesty, that if Alderaan’s communications are jammed, it is suffice to believe that this emissary has arrived.”

“We need to warn Padme,” Breha insisted. “And some of our other refugees.”

Raymus nodded. “I have sent a group of our most trusted men to warn the others. And I will warn Senator Amidala, as soon as possible.” He paused before adding, “One last thing, Your Majesty – if the Imperials show up any minute, I think it would be best to either hide or destroy Prince Bail’s private holoprojector. If you know what I mean.”

The queen quickly replied, “I understand perfectly. Leave that matter to me.”



“Any messages?” Anakin asked the hotel’s desk clerk.

The clerk, a nervous-looking man with very pale skin and protruding gray eyes, replied, “No, Captain Horus. However . . .” He glanced behind Anakin’s right shoulder. “. . . you have a visitor. He would not give me his name.”

Anakin’s gaze followed the clerk’s. Expecting to find Thalia Kor and her brother, he was surprised to see the young street thief that he had met, yesterday in the hotel lobby’s sitting area. The boy had acquired a nasty bruise on the left side of his face. “Well, well,” Anakin muttered. “Look who’s here.”

“Captain?” the clerk began. “Do you wish for me to have the boy escorted out of the hotel?”

“No. I’ll speak with him. Thank you.” Anakin walked over to the sitting area, where the boy sat in a plush blue chair. The latter seemed overwhelmed by his surroundings. “Han Solo. Am I right? What are you doing here?” Anakin sat down in the empty chair to the boy’s right.

Clutching a burlap sack, young Solo answered, “I came to see you. I wanna join your crew.”

Anakin nearly burst into laughter. Until he remembered that he had been an accomplished pilot before the age of ten. Instead, he coughed slightly and asked, “Now, how did you know that I’m a pilot?”

“I saw you disembarking from a freighter at the spaceport, yesterday afternoon,” Han replied. “I figured that you were the ship’s pilot.”

“And you want to become a member of my crew?”

Annoyance flashed across the boy’s face. “Hey, I might not be a pilot . . . at least not yet. But I’ve traveled all over the galaxy on Shrike’s starship. So, I’m used to space travel.”

One of Anakin’s brows arched questioningly. “Shrike? Would that be the gentleman that the CorSec officer had spoke of, yesterday?” Han remained silent. “Did he give you that bruise?”

Han’s face paled visibly. “It’s not his fault. I didn’t bring in the . . . quota that he wanted, yesterday,” he muttered.

“I see.” Anakin began to realize that the boy yearned to escape from his criminal ‘benefactor’ and a life of thievery. He longed to help, but the former Jedi believed that Han would be better off without him, as well. “Sorry kid,” he finally murmured. “I think you need to find someone else to rescue you. I can’t be that person.” He began to rise from his chair.

A frown creased the boy’s forehead. “Why not? You think I’m too young to be a part of your crew?”

Anakin sighed. “I am the crew of the Hawk. And I don’t need another crewman. If you think that being with this Shrike character is bad, you just might find that I can be a lot worse. Trust me.”

“What did you do? Kill someone?”

A long pause followed. Not even the chatter from the hotel’s guests and employees could penetrate the silence that surrounded the pair. Anakin stared pointedly at Han. “No, I didn’t kill someone,” he said in a quiet voice. “I had killed more than one person. Hundreds of them, as a matter of fact. Including children.”

An uneasy smile tugged the corners of Han’s mouth. “You’re kidding, mister. Right? You’re just trying to scare me.”

Anakin leaned forward. “Do I look like I’m kidding?” he said in a menacing voice. Han’s mouth gaped open like a dead fish. “So kid, do you still want to be a part of my crew?”

Han gulped loudly. Then he quickly slid off the chair. Clutching his burlap bag, he murmured a quiet, “Excuse me” and quickly scuttled away.

“I guess the answer is no,” Anakin added. He heaved another sigh. Now that he had resolved that little dilemma, it was time to meet his new clients.



A young officer marched onto the bridge of the Imperial warship, the Agamemnon, and headed toward the ship’s commander. “A message from Grand Moff Tarkin, sir.”

The captain, a native of Metellos named Ulen Hardy, switched on the monitor near his chair. The thin, aristocratic face of a man in his forties, appeared on the monitor’s screen. Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. The Eriaduian had recently become one of the Imperial Fleet’s new flag officers and now commanded the star destroyer, the Executrix. “Your Excellency,” Hardy greeted in an obsequious manner reserved for those ranked higher than himself.

Tarkin merely raised his brows slightly. “Captain Hardy, I have an assignment for you. Senator Solipo Yeb has been traced to Coronet on Corellia. Go there, arrest both Senator Yeb and his sister, and bring them back to Coruscant at once.”

“As you wish, Your Excellency. Hardy out.” The captain switched off the monitor and turned to his executive officer. “Commander Jaffe, lay in a course for Corellia.”

Commander Jaffe nodded. “Yes sir.” Then he began to bark the captain’s order to the rest of the crew.


“A Deadly Choice”




One of the most emotionally devastating episodes that aired on ABC’s “LOST” (2004-2010) turned out to be the Season Six episode, (6.14) “The Candidate”. The episode marked a final turning point in the saga’s main narrative. More importantly, it featured the deaths of three main characters who had been with the series since the beginning.

The fact that three long-standing characters met their deaths made “The Candidate” a topic of great debate by “LOST”fans. The fact that the three characters happened to be non-Western – Jin and Sun Kwon, along with Sayid Jarrah – added fuel to the episode’s controversial nature. But the main controversy that emerged from “The Candidate” centered around a choice made by Jin Kwon. It was a choice that affected (off screen) his and Sun’s young daughter back in South Korea, Ji-Yeon.

The end of the previous episode, (6.13) “The Last Recruit” saw the Kwons and other Losties prisoners of billionaire and former Other Charles Widmore on Hydra Island. Widmore called himself protecting the castaways from the Smoke Monster, now assuming the form of the late John Locke. However, the “Man in Black” recruited Jack Shephard and Sayid to rescue the castaways from Widmore and his followers in “The Candidate”. The Losties made their way to the Ajira 316 airplane, where the “MIB” discovered explosives planted inside. Eager to leave the island, the castaways and the “MIB” decided to use Widmore’s submarine to leave. At the same time, James “Sawyer” Ford conspired with Jack to prevent the “MIB” from leaving the island by instructing the latter to shove the Smoke Monster into the water. A gun battle between the Losties and Widmore’s people exploded near the submarine. Jack shoved the Smoke Monster into the water and Kate got shot. The rest of the castways – aside from Claire Littleton boarded the submarine. Jack carried the wounded Kate aboard. While searching for something to treat her inside his backpack, Jack found a bomb planted by the “MIB”. He tried to convince Sawyer and Sayid not to pull the wires, explaining that the Smoke Monster wanted them to do exactly that so they would kill each other. But Sawyer refused to believe Jack and pulled the wires.

Before the bomb exploded, Sayid grabbed it and ran into another chamber in order to prevent the other castaways from experiencing the initial blast. The explosion loosened a door that knocked pilot Frank Lapidus unconscious. It also put a hole in the side of the submarine, which allowed Frank to float to the water’s surface. More importantly, the explosion loosened heavy debris that trapped Sun into a corner. Jin, Jack and Sawyer tried to free Sun with no success. Jack ordered Hugo “Hurley” Reyes to take one of the air tanks inside the chamber and help the wounded Kate reach the ocean surface. After Hurley and Kate left the submarine, more debris loosened and knocked Sawyer unconscious. Jin told Jack to grab the remaining air tank and take Sawyer to the surface. Jack reluctantly followed Jin’s suggestion, leaving the Kwons alone aboard the sinking submarine. And here is where viewers arrived at the controversial moment. Jin made several attempts to free Sun from the debris. When husband and wife realized his efforts were futile, Sun sadly suggested that Jin attempt to swim for the surface on his own. Recalling the three years he and Sun had spent apart, Jin refused to abandon his wife and insisted upon remaining by her side. Both of the Kwons remained together to the very end and drowned.

As I had earlier hinted, this scene had generated a good deal of controversy among “LOST” fans. Some fans were moved by the Kwons’ fierce devotion to each other and determination to die together. Some complained over what they saw as a lack of originality about the Kwons’ deaths, claiming that “LOST” not only provided Charlie Pace a similar death in Season Three’s (3.22-3.23) “Through the Looking Glass”, but also a more dramatic one. But many had issues over Jin’s decision to die by his wife’s side. They believed that he should have tried to swim for the surface and live in order to be with his and Sun’s only child, Ji-Yeon. They believed that Jin had neglected his parental duties when he made the decision to remain by his wife’s side. By making Ji-Yeon an orphan, Jin left his daughter in the hands of Sun’s ruthless father, Mr. Paik. If I had to be honest, my sentiments regarding the Kwons’ death seemed to match the first group. I was moved Jin’s decision to remain at Sun’s side. Part of my feelings were based upon my frustration toward the two seasons in which the couple were separated. But I also believe that Sun’s parents would care for Ji-Yeon . . . and Jin would have never survived a swim to the surface.

Mr. Paik may have been a ruthless bastard, but I could never accuse him of being a lousy parent. Granted, he struck me as something of a disciplinarian. But Sun has never struck me as an ideal offspring, considering her penchant for lying and other flaky behavior – including an extramarital affair. The only true downside for Ji-Yeon – aside from being parted from her parents – is that I suspect she will never get to meet her paternal grandfather, Mr. Kwon. As for my allegation that Jin would have never survived a swim to the surface, I stand by it. If Jin had left Sun behind and accompanied Jack and the unconscious Sawyer to the surface, he probably would have survived, thanks to the remaining air tank in Jack’s possession. But Jin continued his efforts to free Sun when Jack departed the submarine with Sawyer and the air tank. Without an air tank, Jin would not have survived. Even if he had managed to free Sun, they would not have survived the swim to the surface. Not without an air tank.

Many would point out Frank Lapidus’ survival of the submarine’s destruction as proof that Jin could have made it to the surface without an air tank. But the bomb blast had knocked Frank unconscious. Because he was in that state, his body did not offer any resistance and this allowed the water’s currents to convey his body to the surface. Ana-Lucia Cortez had experienced something similar during the Oceanic 815 plane crash, three years earlier. When that plane broke apart in mid-air, a suitcase fell from one of the overhead compartments and knocked the former police officer out cold. The water’s current carried her body close to the surface, before she eventually regained conscious.

Unlike Frank and Ana-Lucia, Jin was conscious. Unlike Jack, Sawyer, Hurley and Kate; he lacked the assistance of an air tank. I suppose that many can still accuse him of selfishly choosing Sun over a future with their daughter. But since Jin was conscious and lacked an air tank, he would have drowned before reaching the surface. And in the end, both he and Sun would have died anyway . . . only apart from each other and alone.


Plum Pudding


Below is a brief look at the traditional Christmas dish known as Plum Pudding:



Many people tend to associate the dish known as Plum Pudding (aka Christmas Pudding or Plum Duff) with the Christmas holiday, Victorian Britain, and especially Charles Dickens. I know I certainly did for a good number of years. But I was surprised to discover that Plum Pudding’s association with the Christmas holiday in Britain went back as far as the medieval period. During that particular period, it was the custom for pudding to be prepared on the 25th Sunday after Trinity. It was also customary for the pudding to be prepared with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the twelve apostles. Also, every family member was required to stir the pudding in turn from east to west in honor of the Magi and their alleged journey in that direction.

The origin of the current Plum Pudding made popular during the Victorian Age could be traced back to the 1420s. The dish emerged not as a confection or a dessert, but as a means of preserving meat at the end of the harvest season. Because of shortages of fodder, all surplus livestock were slaughtered in the autumn. The meat was then kept in a pastry case along with dried fruits acting as a preservative, developing into large “mince pies”. These pies could then be used to feed hosts of people, particularly at the festive season. The chief ancestor of the modern pudding was a thick soup or stew made from vegetables, dried fruit, sugar, grain, spices and some form of meat (if available) called “pottage”; which originated in Roman times. , however, was the pottage, a meat and vegetable concoction originating in Roman times.

Then in 1714, King George I began to request that this particular kind of pottage, which became known as “Plum Pudding” be served as part of his royal feast every Christmas. But it was not until the 1830s in which the current Plum Pudding assumed its form – a round tower of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly – and was served during the Christmas holiday. Below is a recipe for the tradition Plum (or Christmas) Pudding from the website:

Plum Pudding


1lb /450g dried mixed fruit (use golden raisins/sultanas* , raisins, currants)
1 oz /25 g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped Grated zest and juice
½ large orange and
½ lemon
4 tbsp brandy, plus a little extra for soaking at the end
2 oz /55 g self-raising flour, sifted
1 level tsp ground mixed spice
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz /110 g shredded suet, beef or vegetarian
4oz /110g soft, dark brown sugar
4 oz /110 g white fresh bread crumbs
1 oz /25 g whole shelled almonds, roughly chopped
2 large, fresh eggs


Lightly butter a 2½ pint/1.4 litre pudding basin.

Place the dried fruits, candied peel, apple, orange and lemon juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the brandy and stir well. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to marinate for a couple of hours, preferably overnight.

Stir together the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon in a very large mixing bowl. Add the suet, sugar, lemon and orange zest, bread crumbs, nuts and stir again until all the ingredients are well mixed. Finally add the marinaded dried fruits and stir again.

Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl then stir quickly into the dry ingredients. The mixture should have a fairly soft consistency.

Now is the time to gather the family for Christmas Pudding tradition of taking turns in stirring, making a wish and adding a few coins.

Spoon the mixture in to the greased pudding basin, gently pressing the mixture down with the back of a spoon. Cover with a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment, then a layer of aluminum foil and tie securely with string.

Place the pudding in a steamer set over a saucepan of simmering water and steam the pudding for 7 hours.

Make sure you check the water level frequently so it never boils dry. The pudding should be a deep brown color when cooked. The pudding is not a light cake but instead is a dark, sticky and dense sponge.

Remove the pudding from the steamer, cool completely. Remove the paper, prick the pudding with a skewer and pour in a little extra brandy. Cover with fresh greaseproof paper and retie with string. Store in a cool dry place until Christmas day. Note: The pudding cannot be eaten immediately, it really does need to be stored and rested then reheated on Christmas Day. Eating the pudding immediately after cooking will cause it to collapse and the flavours will not have had time to mature.

On Christmas day reheat the pudding by steaming again for about an hour. Serve with Brandy or Rum Sauce, Brandy Butter or Custard.




After a mixed reaction to the darker tones of 1984’s “INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM”, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg decided to compensate by ending what was then planned their Indiana Jones trilogy with a movie lighter in tone. The result of this decision is the 1989 movie, “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE”.

The movie began with a prologue set in 1912 with a 13 year-old Indiana Jones riding with his Boy Scout troop in Utah. He stumbles across some robbers in a cave finding an ornamental cross that once belonged to Spanish explorer Coronado. Indy manages to steal the cross from the robbers and make it back to town to report the crime. His father, Henry Jones Sr. is oblivious to what his happening, due to his obsessive research on the Holy Grail. And Indy is forced to give up the cross to a mysterious man for whom the robbers worked for. Twenty-six years later, Indy finally gets his hands on the cross from the mysterious man, off the coast of Portugal.

“INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” proved to be the only film in the franchise in which its prologue had little to do with the movie’s main narrative, aside from a brief peek into Henry Sr.’s obsession with the Holy Grail. Still in 1938, Indiana is contacted by an American businessman named Walter Donovan, who also happens to be a collector of antiquities. He informs Indy that Henry Sr. had vanished in Venice, Italy while searching for the Holy Grail on his behalf. Indy also receives a package in the mail that contains his father’s “Grail Diary” – a notebook featuring the latter’s research on the artifact. Realizing that Henry Sr. is in trouble, Indy and his mentor, Marcus Brody, travel to Venice and with the assistance of Dr. Elsa Schneider, Henry’s Austrian-born assistance, search for the missing archaeologist. During their adventures, the trio discover that Henry’s disappearance is either tied to a Christian secret society called the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword or the Nazis.

From the time I first saw “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE”, I enjoyed it very much. Actually, I can say the same for just about every INDIANA JONES movie I have seen, save one. It really is a fun movie and I suspect this is a result of Lucas and Spielberg’s decision to make its tone lighter than either “TEMPLE OF DOOM” and 1981’s “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”. Just like in the previous movies, “THE LAST CRUSADE” saw Indiana Jones on a globe-trekking adventure to acquire a famous artifact on behalf of someone. In this case, he seemed to be working on behalf of both Walter Donovan and especially his father, Henry Jones Sr. But there was one aspect of this movie that made this movie particularly enjoyable was the casting. Lucas and Spielberg, along with screenwriters Jeffrey Boam and Tom Stoppard (uncredited), decided to make this movie a family affair by including Indy’s dad into the story. They also broadened the role of Indy’s mentor (and Henry Sr.’s college chum), Marcus Brody, who was featured in probably the movie’s funniest scene. And this is the only INDIANA JONES film and the second one for Lucas that featured a villainous leading lady. In fact, I suspect that Lucas was inspired by the Princess Sorsha character in 1988’s “WILLOW”, who started out as a villain and ended up as a sympathetic character. With Dr. Elsa Schneider, Lucas and Spielberg had a leading lady who started out as a heroine, slipped into villainess mode and ended up as a very ambiguous anti-heroine. I am not claiming that Elsa was the best of the movie franchise’s leading ladies, but she was certainly interesting.

The movie also featured some first-rate action sequences. My favorite included Indiana and Elsa’s conflict with the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword in Venice, Indy and Henry Sr.’s hasty departure from a Zeppelin that was returning to Germany and especially their escape from the German Army controlled Brunwald Castle on the Austrian-German border. The extended action sequence featuring Indiana’s clash with Colonel Ernst Vogel aboard a tank in the fictional Hatay desert ended with one of the movie’s best scenes – namely the tank falling over a cliff along with Indy and Vogel. This particular sequence must have been so successful that I suspect producer-director Peter Jackson more or less used it in one important scene in 2003’s “LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING”. But the movie was not sustained by interesting characterizations and action sequences alone. The main narrative for “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” – the search for the Holy Grail and belief in its existence and power – not only set in motion a series of adventures for the main characters, but also served as a backdrop for Indiana’s complicated relationships with both Elsa Schneider and especially, Henry Sr. In fact, one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie featured a brief conversation between Indy and Henry Sr. aboard the Zeppelin in which the former pointed out that the latter’s obsession with the Holy Grail and inability to communicate led to a twenty-two year estrangement between father and son.

But as much as I enjoyed “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE”, it is probably my least favorite in the franchise. Aside from the leading lady’s characterization, the movie strikes me as the least original of the four movies. The other three movies offered something truly original to the franhcise – especially in regard to narratives. I cannot say the same about “THE LAST CRUSADE”. Despite its unusual addition of the Elsa Schneider and Henry Jones Sr. characters, it was more or less a rehash of “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”, which included a search for a Judeo-Christian artifact, Nazis, a Middle Eastern setting, the return of both Marcus Brody and Sallah Mohammed Faisel el-Kahir (Sallah), and a non-German collaborator of the Nazis who seemed more interested in the artifact than ideology.

Also, I was not that impressed by the 1912 Utah prologue for the movie. I did not find it particularly interesting, even though I am thankful that it served as a forerunner to “THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES” television series from the early 1990s. And as much as I enjoyed the relationship between Indy and Elsa, there was one scene between them that I found unappealing. It concerned Indy’s efforts to retrieve his father’s “Grail Diary” from the Austrian art historian in Berlin. The retrieval led to an angst-filled quarrel that struck me as rather false. I got the impression that Lucas and Spielberg were trying to capitalize on the emotional relationship between the James Bond and Kara Milovy characters in the 1987 Bond movie “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. The problems were that I never got the feeling that Indy and Elsa were that emotionally involved for such angsty fight, and Harrison Ford and Alison Doody never really sold it for me . . . at least in that particular scene. Like the other three movies in the franchise, “THE LAST CRUSADE”suffered from some heavy-handed action sequences. This was especially apparent in the Hatay desert sequence featuring the Nazi tank. And could someone please explain how that Zeppelin traveled from Berlin to Southeastern Europe so fast? It was in the latter region where Indy and Henry Sr. encountered the German fighter planes sent to kill them. Also, “THE LAST CRUSADE” suffered from a fault that also marred both “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” and 2008’s“INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS”. In the film’s final confrontation scenes, Indy played no role in the main villain’s downfall. Like in the 1981 and 2008 films, he mainly stood around with this thumb up his ass while someone else . . . or a supernatural entity dealt with the main villain. And like in the other two movies, I found this anti-climatic and rather disappointing.

But I was certainly not disappointed with the cast. They proved to be first-rate . . . not surprisingly. Harrison Ford returned as the intrepid archaeologist Indiana Jones and was superb and more relaxed in the role. Okay, I did criticize his acting in that Berlin scene with Alison Doody, but it was only one blot in an otherwise excellent performance. Dr. Henry Jones Sr. has to be my favorite Sean Connery role of all time. I adored him as Indy’s priggish and high-minded father who finds working in the field a new experience. And he also got to speak one of my favorite lines in the entire film, while repelling a German fighter plane in Eastern Europe. In fact, it is my favorite Connery quote of all time. Alison Doody was at least 21 or 22 years old when “THE LAST CRUSADE” went into production. She only had at least 2 to 3 years of acting experience. And yet, I was more than impressed by her portrayal of the amoral Austrian art historian Dr. Elsa Schneider. Doody had once complained that dealing with the Austrian accent was difficult for her. I would think dealing with Elsa’s complex nature would be more difficult. And I believe that despite her limited experience at the time, she did a pretty damn good job in portraying the very ambiguous Elsa – aside from that Berlin scene with Ford.

Julian Glover gave a smooth performance as Walter Donovan, the American businessman for whom the Jones family sought out the Holy Grail. His Donovan also proved to be just as complex, thanks to his skillful performance. Both John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliot reprised their roles as Sallah and Dr. Marcus Brody. And both were not only entertaining, but also gave first-rate performances. I especially enjoyed Elliot’s display of humor in a scene featuring Marcus’ arrival in Turkey. Michael Byrne’s portrayal of S.S. Colonel Ernst Vogel struck me as both subtle and intimidating. Back in 1980, Kevork Malikyan first tried out for the role of Sallah for “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”, but the role went to Rhys-Davies. But Spielberg remembered him and hired the actor to portray Kazim, a member of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, whom Indy and Elsa encountered in Venice. Malikyan’s skllful portrayal of Kazim proved to be a complex mixture of intensity, religious fevor and a deep-seated calm. And River Phoenix did a marvelous job in portraying the 13 year-old Indiana. He proved to be quite adept in capturing Ford’s mannerisms and speech pattern, while maintaining the persona of a boy in his early teens.

As I had stated earlier, I found “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” to be the least original of the four movies in the franchise. Because of this, it is also my least favorite. But despite being my least favorite “INDIANA JONES” film, it is still very entertaining and I never get tired of watching it, thanks to a solid story penned by Jeffrey Boam and Tom Stoppard, first-rate direction by Steven Spielberg and an outstanding cast led by Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.

“MAD MEN” Season Three Quibbles

Although I consider Season Two of AMC-TV’s “MAD MEN” slightly better, I ended up enjoying Season Three very much. It also brought about some drastic changes into the lives of the characters. But I am not here to discuss what I had liked about Season Three. I am here to discuss the quibbles I had with this latest season. Some of the problems I had with Season Three had to do with creator Matthew Weiner’s story. And some of the problems I had were with the fans. Perhaps I will start with the fans.


”MAD MEN” Season Three Quibbles

Fan Reactions

Betty Draper – I get the feeling that many fans of ”MAD MEN” have this great desire to brand certain characters as the villain or villainess of the season. Both Herman “Duck” Phillips and Bobbie Barrett were castigated by many fans as the “bad guys” of Season Two, despite the fact that they were no better or worse than the rest of the major characters. This season, it became Betty Draper’s turn to attract the fans’ ire. For an entire season, I came across comments and articles that branded Betty as a cold wife and an even colder and abusive mother. The fans dumped their shit on poor Betty’s head so much that they managed to ignore the fallible of other characters – especially Don’s lack of parental skills. Every time Betty scolded her children, the fans labeled her as abusive, cold or the worst mother in television history. I do not believe that Betty is a wonderful mother. Then again, she is not a terrible mother. She is not very demonstrative or warm. But compare to Don, she is usually there for her children.

The only two times she was not available happened when her father, Gene Hofstadt died in (3.04) “The Arrangement”. Dealing with her father’s death and a grieving daughter screaming in her face that she did not care caused Betty to order said daughter to her room. Fans dumped a lot of shit on Betty for that act. Yet, at the same time, many of them failed to notice that Don seemed more concerned about Betty than Sally. In the season finale, (3.13) “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”, she left New York with baby Eugene and new beau, Henry Francis, to get a quickie divorce in Reno, Nevada. Fans castigated her for leaving Sally and Bobby behind in New York with the Drapers’ maid, Carla. And yet . . . no one speculated on why Don was not keeping an eye on the kids, during her absence. So much shit has been dished out about Betty that I found myself coming to her defense in two essays. Two. And Betty is not even my favorite character.


Peggy Olson’s Romance With Duck Phillips – I never understood the reaction to this romance. Then again, I never understood the fans’ aversion to Duck Phillips. In (3.05) “The Fog, Duck Phillips had approached Peggy Olson and Pete Campbell in an attempt to recruit them for the agency he worked for – Grey’s. Pete, who had not forgiven Peggy for her revelations about their son, left before Duck could begin his recruitment speech. Peggy heard the speech, but rejected Duck’s offer out of some misplaced (in my opinion) loyalty toward Don and Sterling Cooper. When Don had chewed her out for asking him to work on the Hilton account, Peggy arrived at the hotel suite that Duck was working at to return a gift . . . and began an affair with him. The reaction to this affair was unbelievable. Critics like Matt Maul began spouting this view of Peggy as this naïve woman being sexually and emotionally exploited by Duck. All because most of the fans disapproved of Duck abandoning his lousy dog into the streets of Manhattan in last year’s (2.06) “Maidenform”. The ironic thing is that Peggy and Duck’s relationship did not bring about any personal catastrophe for Peggy. She simply had a healthy, sexual relationship with an older man with no strings attached. And for some reason, many fans could not deal with this. Especially when the man in question was Duck Phillips.


The Adulation of Joan Harris née Holloway – By the end of Season Three, I found myself wondering if I had developed a dislike or even hatred of former Office Manager, Joan Harris. Why? I have noticed that in the eyes of many fans, Joan cannot do any wrong. And I found this attitude annoying. It was bad enough when fans defended or excused her racist remark to Paul Kinsey’s ex-girlfriend, Sheila White, last season. Sometime between Greg Harris’ rape of her in (2.12) “The Mountain King” and the Season Three premiere, (3.01) “Out of Town”, Joan married him. She married the fiancé who had raped her. On a certain level, I understood why Joan did it. She internalized this belief that being married to a successful professional with kids and a house in the suburbs was an ideal life. She had internalized this belief to the point that she upped and married her rapist, instead of dumping his ass and search for another potential husband. And instead of criticizing Joan for this incredibly stupid act, many fans came to her rescue and created all sorts of excuses for her action. One of the Lipp sisters on the ”Basket of Kisses” site even accused this woman of stating that it was Joan’s fault that Greg had raped her. That was one of the most stupid accusations I have ever come across. In (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, Greg whined about his failed job interview for a position as a psychiatrist. In a fit of anger, Joan took a vase and slammed it against his head. And many fans cheered. That is correct. Fans cheered over an act of domestic violence. Why? Because they disliked Greg for raping Joan, last season. Which is understandable. I also disliked Greg. But these same fans believed that because Greg had raped Joan last season, she had every time to bash him over the head in a fit of temper. What can I say? I would have cheered if Joan had been defending herself. But self-defense did not seemed to be Joan’s aim. Instead, she committed an act of mindless violence to express her anger and frustration at her loser husband. Yet, her act garnered cheers, much to my disgust. Every time Joan’s name was mentioned, a slew of complimentary adjectives followed. By the time the season ended, the woman seemed to be on a damn pedestal. Yep, I do believe I am in danger of developing a deep dislike toward Joan. And it is not even her fault.


Don Draper . . . Father of the Year – Pardon me, while I take some time out to control my laughter over this. I am going to make this short. I agree that Don is a warmer parent than Betty. He knows how to be friends with their kids. And I had applauded his decision to take that dead German soldier’s helmet away from his son, who had received it from Granpa Gene Hofstadt. But that is the best I can say about Don as a father. Being a warm parent only tells me that he knows how to be a pal to his kids. But I still believe that he is a lousy parent. Why? He is hardly there for Betty and his kids. A heavily drugged Betty had complained about Don’s unreliability, as she was about to give birth in ”The Fog”. And in the season finale, Sally pointed out that Don was rarely at home with his family. This was certainly the case during his affair with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne Farrell. Following Gene Hofstadt’s death, Don consoled a grieving Betty and failed to show any concern for a grieving Sally, until the last moment – while she was asleep. And when Carla had confronted both Betty and Don about Sally’s infraction against Bobby in (3.08) “The Souvenir”, Don sneaked away in an effort to avoid responsibility in dealing with his daughter. I believe that Betty Draper is a mediocre parent. As for her warm and friendly husband, he is a lousy one.


Season Three Story

Suzanne Farrell – I understand that Matt Weiner wanted the fans to believe that Don had fallen in love with Sally’s schoolteacher. And although I managed to accept this by (3.10) “The Color Blue”, I thought the storyline surrounding the Don/Suzanne romance was one of the worst to be featured on the show. I had a problem with it on two major counts:

a) Actress Abigail Spencer (who portrayed Miss Farrell) had NO chemistry with Jon Hamm. Many fans have claimed that Hamm is one of those actors who can create chemistry with just about anyone. I think that his interactions with Ms. Spencer had disproved this theory.

b) The Don/Abigail romance ended with a whimper in ”The Gypsy and the Hobo”. Don and Abigail had plans for a trip to Connecticut, while Betty and the kids were out of town. But when his family returned unexpectedly and Betty confronted Don about his false identity and the items found in his study, Don left Abigail sitting in his car and waiting for hours. She eventually slinked away back to her little home. The following morning, Don informed her that their affair was over . . . for the moment. A rather lame ending to a rather disappointing affair.


The British Invasion – Nothing really came from Putnam, Powell, and Lowe’s purchase of Sterling Cooper. Well . . . Lane Pryce, the parent company’s financial officer for Sterling Cooper, was responsible for the dismissal of several staff members by the time ”Out of Town” aired. In that particular episode, he fired someone named Burt Peterson, who had succeeded Duck Phillips as Head of Accounts. At PP&L’s orders, he set Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove against each other for the position of Head of Accounts. Sterling Cooper nearly ended up with Guy Kendricks, a PP&L executive, to helm Sterling Cooper in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”. But Kendricks’ encounter with Lois Sadler at the wheel of a John Deere lawnmower severed his foot and his budding career as an ad man. In ”The Color Blue”, Lane Pryce learned that PP&L planned to sell Sterling Cooper and revealed the news in ”Shut the Door. Have a Seat”. This led to Pryce, Bert Cooper, Roger Sterling and Don Draper raiding some of Sterling Cooper’s talent to form their own agency. And that is it. Weiner failed to develop a steady storyline regarding PP&L’s ownership of Sterling Cooper and the so-called British Invasion ended without any real drama between the season premiere and the finale.


Gene Hofstad and Sally Draper – I understand that Sally had been devastated by the death of her maternal grandfather, Gene Hofstadt. But I found myself unable to empathize wholeheartedly with her. Perhaps that was due to my belief that Weiner and his writers had failed to engage in any prolonged exploration of their relationship (which was only covered in two episodes) before the old man’s death.


Betty Draper’s Pregnancy and Gene Draper’s Birth – According to Matt Weiner, he had decided to set Season Three nearly six months after the end of Season Two because he wanted to depict the effect of Betty’s pregnancy and young Eugene’s birth upon the Draper family. I hate to say this, but he failed. Baby Eugene was barely focused upon, following his birth.


Carla – I am certain that many fans of the show are relieved that Matt Weiner has allowed the role of Carla, the Drapers’ maid to have a bigger role, this season. And so am I. But . . . once again, Weiner proved himself incapable of creating an interesting and complex African-American character. What is my beef? Many fans have praised Carla for being “dignified and sympathetic”. Unfortunately, these traits simply made her another Hollywood stereotype – the dignified black servant. In other words, Carla is boring.

There are no imperfections in Carla’s character at all. In fact, there seemed to be nothing wrong with Carla. I realize that as a servant, she has to maintain a facade in front of her employers, but . . . good grief! If the secretaries and minor employees can show their warts when their bosses are not around, why not Carla? Why not allow her to interact in a more interesting way with other servants in the Drapers’ Ossing neighborhood? Why dump her with a stereotype that has been around since the 1950s?


Peggy Olson and Duck Phillips’ Affair – I can only wonder if Weiner plans to explore Peggy and Duck’s affair in Season Four. He certainly failed to do so in Season Three. Fans had been prophesying disaster for Peggy ever since it started in”Seven Twenty-Three”. Instead, nothing really came of it. No real disaster struck in regard to Peggy and Duck’s affair.  Instead, she simply grew tired of him in Season Four and reacted badly to her rejection . . . by getting drunk.  That is all.  It seemed a shame that in the end, this story arc was created . . . for nothing.





I will be the first to admit that I have never been an ardent reader of Tom Clancy’s novels. Many who know me would find this strange, considering my penchant for the movie adaptations of his stories. The first I ever saw was “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER”, the 1990 adaptation of Clancy’s 1984 novel of the same title.

The last remnants of the Cold War – at least the one between the United States and the Soviet Union – were being played out when “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” hit the screen. Realizing this, director John McTiernan, screenwriter Larry Ferguson (who also had a role in the film) and producer Mace Neufeld decided to treat Clancy’s story as a flashback by setting the movie in the year Clancy’s novel was published. The movie begins with the departure of the new Soviet submarine, the Red October, which possesses a new caterpillar drive that renders it silent. In command of the Red October is Captain Marko Ramius. Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the U.S. Navy submarine called the U.S.S. Dallas has a brief encounter with the Red October before it loses contact due to the Soviet sub’s caterpillar drive. This encounter catches the attention of C.I.A. analyst Jack Ryan, who embarks upon studying the Red October’s schematics.

Unbeknownst to the C.I.A., Captain Ramius has put in motion a plan for the defection of his senior officers and himself. They also intend to commit treason by handing over the Red October to the Americans. Unfortunately, Ramius has left a letter stating his intentions to his brother-in-law, a Soviet government official. This leads the Soviet ambassador in Washington D.C. to inform the Secretary of Defense that the Red October has been lost at sea and requires the U.S. Navy’s help for a “rescue mission”. However, Ryan manages to ascertain that Ramius plans to defect. When the Soviets change tactics and claim that Captain Ramius has become a renegade with plans to fire a missile at the U.S. coast, Ryan realizes that he needs to figure out “how” Ramius plans to defect before the Soviet or U.S. Navies can sink the Red October.

I might as well put my cards on the table. After twenty-three years, “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” holds up very well as a Cold War thriller. What prevented it from becoming a dated film were the filmmakers’ decision to treat Clancy’s tale as a flashback to the last decade of the Cold War. I have never read Clancy’s novel. In fact, I have only read two of his novels – “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”. Because of this, I could not judge the movie’s adaptation of the 1984 novel. But there is no doubt that “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” is a first-rate – probably superb thriller. Screenwriters Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart made another first-rate contribution to the script by not rushing the narrative aspect of the story. The movie is not some fast-paced tale stuffed with over-the-top action. Yes, there is action in the film – mainly combat encounters, a murder, hazardous flying in a rain storm and a shoot-out inside the Red October’s engine room. And it is all exciting stuff. However, Ferguson and Stewart wisely detailed the conversations held between Ramius and his fellow defectors, Ryan’s attempts to figure out Ramius’ defection plans and his efforts to convince various high-ranking U.S. Naval officers not to accept the Soviets’ lies about the Red October’s captain.

“THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” also features some excellent performances. Sean Connery gave one of his best performances as the Red October’s enigmatic and wily captain, Markus Ramius. Alec Baldwin was equally impressive as the slightly bookish, yet very intelligent C.I.A. analyst, Jack Ryan. A part of me believes it is a pity that he never portrayed the role again. The movie also boasted fine performances from James Earl Jones as Ryan’s boss, C.I.A. Deputy Director James Greer; Scott Glenn as the intimidating captain of the U.S.S. Dallas, Bart Mancuso; Sam Neill as Ramius’ very loyal First Officer, Vasily Borodin; Fred Dalton Thompson as Rear Admiral Joshua Painter; Courtney B. Vance as the Dallas’ talented Sonar Technician, Ronald “Jonesy” Jones; Tim Curry as the Red October’s somewhat anxious Chief Medical Officer (and the only one not part of the defection) Dr. Yevgeniy Petrov; and Joss Ackland as Ambassador Andrei Lysenko. Stellan Skarsgård made a dynamic first impression for me as Viktor Tupolev, the Soviet sub commander ordered to hunt and kill Ramius. And Richard Jordan was downright entertaining as the intelligent and somewhat manipulative National Security Advisor Dr. Jeffrey Pelt. The movie also featured brief appearances from the likes of Tomas Arana, Gates McFadden (of “STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION”) and Peter Firth (of “SPOOKS”).

Before one starts believing that I view “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” as perfect, I must admit there were a few aspects of it that I found a bit troublesome for me. The movie has a running time of 134 minutes. Mind you, I do not consider this as a problem. However, the pacing seemed in danger of slowing down to a crawl two-thirds into the movie. It took the Dallas’ encounter with the Red October to put some spark back into the movie again. And could someone explain why Gates McFadden portrayed Ryan’s wife, Dr. Cathy Ryan, with a slight British accent? Especially since she was an American-born character?

Despite these minor quibbles, “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” is a first-rate spy thriller that has withstood the test of time for the past 23 years. And I believe the movie’s sterling qualities own a lot to John McTiernan’s excellent direction, a well-written script by Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart, and superb performances from a cast led by Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin.

“The Corellian Connection” [PG-13] – Chapter Two





The young boy had first spotted his mark leaving one of the spaceport’s hangars, earlier this afternoon. Han Solo usually avoided robbing pilots, but he was desperate today. His “benefactor”, one Garris Shrike, had insisted that the eleven year-old collect at least 1,000 credits by the end of the day. Five hundred credits more than his usual quota. Apparently, Shrike had not forgiven him for breaking a favorite landspeeder. For the umpteenth time, Han found himself wishing he could go back to being a beggar. It seemed to be an easier way to rob the public.

The target’s tall and lean frame had made it easy for Han to follow him through Coronet’s crowded streets. But when the man paused before the Golden Flame restaurant, the young boy gained a closer look at his mark. Despite his youth, the man possessed a hard-edged aura and eyes that scanned the crowd like a hunter. An odd feeling came to Han that he had ceased to be the hunter and became the hunted. The young boy decided to find another target and leave the pilot alone.

Over an hour had passed and Han found himself unable to find another mark. Then he spotted the pilot again – leaving the Torvian Blue Hotel. Only this time, the man looked despondent. Distracted. Han saw a perfect opportunity to pick the man’s pocket. He made the attempt . . . and failed.

“Ow!” the young Corellian cried out in pain, as the man twisted his hand. “That hurts! Lemme go!”

The pilot retorted, “Let go of my credit chip and I will.” He gave Han’s wrist a twist. The boy finally released the small credit into the pilot’s other hand. “Thank you.”

Before Han could recover from his humiliation, a uniformed security officer from the Corellian Security Force (CorSec) appeared before the pair. “What’s going on, here?” He frowned at the young boy. “Solo! Were you . . .?” Then he glanced at the pilot. “Is this boy giving you any trouble, sir?”

Intense, blue eyes stared at Han. The pilot answered, “No, everything’s fine.” Han nearly sagged with relief. “The boy was simply giving me some directions to Kembel Avenue.”

Suspicion remained fixed in the CorSec officer’s eyes. “If you say so, Mister.” He glared at Han. “However, I would suggest that you be careful around this boy, sir. Solo . . .” He nodded sharply at Han. “. . . belongs to a gang of thieves and pickpockets, operated by a notorious gangster.”

“Really?” The pilot smiled politely at the security officer. “Mr. Solo seemed very helpful to me. If he and his . . . associates are as dangerous as you claim, why aren’t they in a detention cell?”

The CorSec officer shot another glare at Han. “We haven’t been able to catch any of them in the act. Yet.”

“I see. Meanwhile,” the pilot placed himself between Han and the officer, “thank you for your assistance. And don’t worry. Everything is fine.”

A cross between a polite smile and a grimace touched the CorSec officer’s lips. “If you insist . . . sir. Excuse me.” Once more, he glared at Han and walked away.

Astonished that the pilot had not turned him in, the eleven year-old stared at his benefactor. “Why didn’t you tell him the truth?”

“What for?” the pilot asked. “You gave me my money back.” He smiled sardonically at Han. “Nice meeting you . . .?”

“Han. Han Solo.” The eleven year-old immediately clamped his mouth shut. Now why did he give the pilot his real name?

A genuine smile curved the man’s lips. “I’m . . .” He sighed heavily. “I’m Set Horus. It was nice meeting you . . . Han.” The smile disappeared. “Good day.” He turned away.

Han watched the man’s tall frame merge into the crowd. For some unexplainable reason, he felt an urge to follow the man. Despite catching him at attempted theft, Set Horus had shown more compassion toward him in the past five minutes than anyone ever had – aside from Dewlanna. Once the pilot’s figure disappeared, Han heaved a sigh. Time to return to Shrike. He dreaded how the gangster would react to him being 500 credits short.



Laughter filled one of the Aldera Royal Palace’s smaller dining rooms. Inside, Her Majesty Queen Breha and His Highness Prince Bail Organa shared their day’s experiences with each other during supper. Bail had just related a humorous meeting he had experienced with a regional councilman, who wanted to discuss Aldera’s growing problems with the pleasure industry developing in the Spacer Quarter – a section of the city that accommodated the needs of off-worlders and refugees.

“Honestly Breha,” Bail concluded between chuckles, “I’m beginning to wonder if the man ever had intimate relations. Despite being the father of four children.”

Breha’s smile curved wider. “Considering what I have heard about Lahrus Vornac, you might be right.”

At that moment, Raymus Antilles, one of Bail’s aides and Breha’s cousin, strode into the dining room. He bowed before the royal couple. “Pardon me for the interruption, Your Majesty, but . . .” He took a deep breath. “His Highness has just received a message. An encrypted message from his private holo projector.”

The couple exchanged long-suffering glances. Then Bail heaved a sigh and stood up. “Pardon me, Breha. I’ll be back.” He bowed to his wife and strode out of the dining room, with Raymus close at his heels. The pair made their way to Bail’s private study. Raymus bowed at the older man and walked away. Bail entered the study and headed straight for his holo projector. He used it for private and unofficial messages. The flashing red light at the projector’s base indicated that someone awaited his response.

Bail pressed a button. The surprising image of Solipo Yeb materialized. “Bail!” the Andalian senator cried in relief. “Thank goodness! I’m finally able to contact you.”

“Solipo, where are?” Bail demanded.

The now former senator glanced around uneasily. “Corellia. My sister and I are at Coronet. We need to reach Averam. I have . . . property there. ”

“Surely, you can hire a pilot to take you there,” Bail said.

The other man sighed. “Unfortunately, I cannot afford the fees these Corellians are demanding for passage. They’re scavengers, all of them. When I left Andalia, I was forced to leave behind most of my assets.” He sighed. “I was in a hurry.”

After a few seconds of contemplation, Bail said, “I suppose I could lend you a sufficient amount of credits for you to hire a pilot. But I suggest that you do not stay there, Solipo. It is still part of the Core World, and too close to Coruscant.”

“Where can I go?”

Bail shook his head. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m trying to find a place for a close . . . relative of mine. I’ll meet you in Averam and we can discuss the matter.”

“I don’t know if that is a good idea, Bail.”

A sigh left the Alderaanian’s mouth. “It’s either that or you remain on Averam in false security.”

A long pause followed before Solipo gave his consent. “I will await for the funds. And I will see you on Averam within a few days. If all goes well. Until later, my friend.”

Bail heaved one last heartfelt sigh. He had the oddest feeling that his conversation with Solipo Yeb might result in dire consequences for a good number of people.



Anakin swallowed the last of his Corellian ale and placed his glass on the table. The Burning Musk did not possess a reputation for fine dining. The café, located in the city’s Blue Sector, merely served dishes for the average citizen who only required a hearty meal at low prices. And yet, Anakin considered it the best restaurant in all of Coronet. Even exclusive restaurants like those inside the Torvian Blue Hotel, could not match the Burning Musk’s superb cooking, as far as he was concerned. In his opinion, the only other restaurant that could match the Musk in quality was Dexter Jettster’s diner on Coruscant.

After he pushed his plate aside, Anakin signaled his waitress. A red-haired woman appeared by his table and smiled. “Will there be anything else, Captain Horus? A dessert, perhaps?”

“Another time,” Anakin replied politely. “I would like the bill, please.”

“Here you go.” The waitress handed over a data pad. It listed his order and the price – fifteen credits.

Anakin slipped his credit chip into the data pad. He included a tip for the waitress. “Thank you, Freya.”

“My pleasure.” The redhead’s smile broadened, as she practically cooed the words. Anakin ignored the obvious attempt at flirtation and politely returned Freya’s smile. Then he left the restaurant.

As he weaved his way through the crowded Treasure Ship Row, a large bazaar located just inside Blue Sector, Anakin became aware of two men following him. Upon emerging from the bazaar, he paused before a tailor’s stand and glanced at the window’s reflection. Just as he had thought . . . Orlan Remar’s thugs. Anakin whirled upon the men, taking them by surprise. “May I assume that your employer is looking for me?” he asked in a sarcastic tone.

One of the thugs, a tall blond man with pale green eyes and pockmarked skin stared at Anakin in his most intimidating manner . . . affecting Anakin not one bit. “Mr. Remar had left you a message to meet him at the hangar. Two hours ago.”

“I didn’t receive the message,” Anakin coolly replied. “I was busy. Eating.”

The blond man took a step toward Anakin. “I hope you’re not trying to cheat Mr. Remar of his cargo.”

Anakin regarded the thug with cold eyes. The man stepped back. “Say that again?” he murmured in a menacing voice.

The thug shivered. “I . . .”

“Mr. Remar is waiting for you,” the shorter thug added. “In the hangar.”

A sigh left Anakin’s mouth. “Let’s go.” He continued walking along the street. The two men followed. Anakin had considered using a speeder taxi to reach the spaceport. But he took a perverse pleasure in testing the two men’s physical endurance. By the time they reached the spaceport, Remar’s thugs were panting from exertion.

They found a tall, red-haired man in his early forties, impatiently pacing back and forth in front of the Javian Hawk. A deep green robe covered his expensive outfit. Orlan Remar regarded Anakin with sharp, greenish-blue eyes. “Captain Horus,” he greeted in a soft voice, “I see that you’ve finally arrived.”

Anakin approached his client with a raised eyebrow. “Finally? I’ve been here since this afternoon, Mr. Remar.”

“And yet . . . I didn’t receive a message that you had arrived.”

Coolly, Anakin shot back, “You should have. Unless the hotel had been remiss in attending to its duty. How did you find out that I was here?”

A pause followed before Remar heaved an exasperated sigh. “I had received a bill . . . from the Customs Office. I had also left a message at your usual hotel, instructing you to meet me here over an hour ago.”

“I never received the message,” Anakin retorted. “Now that we’ve learned about the hotel’s inability to pass on messages, I suggest that we tend to business.”

Again, Remar sighed. “Fine. I believe I owe you four thousand credits.”

Anakin glared at the older man. “You owe me five thousand. That was the price we had agreed upon.”

“Let’s just say that I’m deducting a thousand for the inconvenience. I do not like to be kept waiting, Captain Horus.”

Anakin took a step forward. “It’s either five thousand or I leave and take your precious cargo elsewhere. I’m sure there are others interested in Carsunum.”

The merchant stiffened slightly. Then he turned to his men. “Boys, I think that the good captain needs to learn a little lesson on how business transactions are conducted.”

Remar’s two thugs regarded Anakin in a menacing manner. For several seconds, the former Jedi felt a deep desire to kill the pair, along with Remar. He no longer possessed a lightsaber, but there were other ways to kill them. All he had to do was squeeze Remar’s . . . He took a deep breath. This would not do. He did not want to return to that young Sith Lord he had discarded back on Mustafar. Anakin directed a fierce gaze at the merchant. “I suggest that you call off your thugs, Remar,” he hissed. “Even if they shoot me down, they won’t be fast enough to save your life.”

The Corellian’s eyes widened in fear. Anakin sensed the man’s heartbeat increase rapidly. Seconds passed before a nervous chuckle escaped Remar’s lips. “Really, Captain! Such melodrama is unnecessary. Of course I will pay the fee we had agreed upon. Five thousand credits.” He inhaled sharply. “Your credit chip, please.”

Anakin handed over his credit chip to the merchant. Who inserted it into a data pad and handed it back to the pilot. “Thank you.” Anakin inserted his chip into his own data pad to verify the payment. Sure enough, his account had increased by five thousand credits. He boarded the Javian Hawk and unlocked the ship’s cargo hold. Then he returned to the top of the ramp. “It’s all yours.”

While Remar’s men began to unload the Carsunum, Anakin stood near the cargo hold and watched them. “Hey,” the blond man said, “aren’t you going to help?”

“What for? I did all the hard work between here and Servacos II.”

The two men grumbled and continued their task. Once they had loaded the entire cargo into Remar’s land shuttle, Anakin joined them and Remar at the bottom of the boarding ramp. “Okay, that’s it,” he said. “Our business is over.” He stared directly at Remar. “Good night, Remar. Unless there is something else you need.”

“I rather doubt it,” the merchant retorted. He and the other two men boarded the shuttle and sped away.

Once alone, Anakin secured the Javian Hawk and left the hangar. He had only walked less than a block away from the spaceport, when he sensed another presence. One that seemed both scared and desperate. Anakin turned into the nearest alley and paused. He waited for a few seconds, until that same presence approached the alley. Then he reached out and grabbed an arm. He dragged the robed body attached to the arm, deep into the alley. Anakin jerked the robe’s hood and found himself staring into the face of a woman with light-brown skin, high cheekbones and dark eyes. For some reason, the woman reminded him of Anjuli Nab. “Who are you and why are you following me?” he growled.

“I . . . I need a pilot,” the woman replied nervously. “I need a pilot to convey me and my brother from here.”

Anakin glanced around. “Where is your brother?”

“Back at our hotel room,” the woman replied nervously. “He . . . he doesn’t know that I’m here. He’s asleep.” Then she began to ramble. “Listen, I would have approached you in better circumstances, but I need to get my brother off of this planet as soon as possible. We now have the resources to pay for passage and I had spotted you heading for the spaceport. I was desperate and took a chance.”

Maintaining a grip on the woman’s arm, Anakin demanded, “Why do you need to leave so soon?”

A sigh left the woman’s mouth. “My brother . . . He’s wanted by the Empire. He’s exhausted and I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to find another pilot after tonight.”

“Okay,” Anakin said with a nod. “I might consider the job.”

Relief flooded the woman’s dark eyes. “Oh thank you! You don’t know how much this means to me.”

“I said I ‘might’ consider the job,” Anakin insisted in a hard voice. “After I meet your brother and we discuss . . . certain terms. I’ll follow you back to your room.” He released the woman.

She hesitated. “Look, I know that I said that time was of the essence, but my brother . . . well, he’s fast asleep. The past week has been very busy for him and for the first time, he has been able to get some sleep. Could you meet us at our hotel room, tomorrow morning? We’re at the Selonia Hotel. Ask for Thalia Kor.” She turned away.

“Wait a minute!” Anakin cried, as he grabbed her arm. “You don’t even know my name.”

Miss Kor smiled briefly. “Of course I do. I overheard what that man called you – Captain Horus, I believe?”

“Set Horus,” Anakin added. “I . . .”

With a firm nod, Miss Kor said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Captain. Good night.” She freed herself from Anakin’s grip and disappeared into the night.

Anakin chuckled lightly to himself and shook his head in disbelief. It seemed that his meeting with his last client had led to another meeting with a new one. He wondered if meeting Thalia Kor and her brother would prove to be just as dangerous as smuggling Carsunum spice out of Sevarcos II.



The glittering lights of Coruscant twinkled outside of the Emperor’s private gymnasium. The two men inside the room barely noticed. They were busily engaged in an intense lightsaber duel.

Clutching his weapon, Darth Rasche exerted as much energy as he possibly could to overcome his Sith master. Despite his use of the Shien Form, he seemed incapable of defeating his opponent. Lord Sidious managed to parry every thrust he made. Rasche then decided to change tactics and express an exhaustion he did not feel. Sidious took that moment to execute a 180-degree turn and strike the Sith apprentice in the mid-section. Before the older man could strike, Rasche dropped to one knee and blocked the strike. Then he took advantage of his master’s surprise and knocked the latter’s lightsaber to the floor. Rasche proceeded to attack the unarmed man, but Sidious snatched up his weapon, using the Force, and parried Rasche’s attack just in time.

“Good!” the Sith Lord declared enthusiastically. “Excellent! Very clever of you to lure me into attacking you, Lord Rasche. May I assume that you have used similar tactics to defeat your recent opponent?” He smiled broadly, causing his deformed countenance to look even more hideous. When Rasche failed to disarm his weapon, Sidious added in a more sinister tone, “I suggest that you disarm your weapon, my Lord Rasche. Before you live to regret it.”

A hot flush crept into Rasche’s cheeks, as he switched off his lightsaber blade. “If you must know, I had used such a tactic to defeat Anjuli Nab. Nor do I see why I should have disarmed my weapon. I was simply tapping into my anger . . . as you have instructed me, time and again.”

“Your problem, my young apprentice, is that you allow your anger to get the best of you!” Sidious snapped. He turned away. “Yes, anger is the best way to tap into the Force. But it should be used as a tool. A weapon. A weapon kept in control by you. However, I have no need for you to indulge in your anger like some petulant and temperamental child. You were in danger of doing just that, Lord Rasche. Pray that it does not happen, again.”

The Sith Lord’s words burned into Rasche’s psyche. He wanted to re-activate his lightsaber and cut down his master. Let the old fool know that he had learned to use the Dark Side . . . and was ready to face Skywalker. But his earlier refusal to disarm his weapon had alerted Sidious. Rasche could sense the older man’s wariness. His anger barely under control, the young apprentice grumbled, “Will that be all, my Master?”

“Yes, you may be excused.” Sidious strode toward a single chair, where his robe laid.

Before he reached the double doors, a thought came to Rasche. He paused and whirled around. “I have one question, Master. When you talked of using anger as a weapon . . . is that what you had done with me? Used my anger to kill Jaren Tagge, last year?”

Sidious turned to give Rasche a subtle smile. “I see that you’re now beginning to finally understand, Lord Rasche. I commend you. Yes, I did exploit your anger. Senator Tagge had tried to take advantage of the newly formed Empire, through his family corporation. I needed your help to keep his family in check.”

His anger threatening to reassert itself, Rasche growled, “So, is that all I am to you? Merely a weapon and nothing else?”

“Yes . . . and no,” the Emperor murmured. “On one hand, you are a weapon, Lord Rasche. I will not deny it. After all, I needed a powerful apprentice to help me maintain order throughout the Empire. But you are also more than just a tool to me. You’re a comrade-in-arms. Together, we can bring about a new world. Ensure that the Sith will last for more than just a mere millennia.” The Sith Lord paused, while Rasche continued to regard him with a stony expression. Then he added with subtle malice, “May I remind you, my young apprentice, that you also regard “me” as a mere tool? After all, do you not require my help and the Empire’s resources to hunt down Skywalker? To exact vengeance upon him?”

Rasche stiffened. “Touche, Master. You have made your point. Now, if you will excuse me?” Again, he started toward the double doors. As it slid open, he nearly bumped into his master’s Umbrian aid, Sly Moore.

The Umbrian woman stopped short and bowed at Rasche before bowing even lower at the Emperor. “Pardon me, Your Highness.”

“Do you have news for me?” Palpatine demanded.

Sly Moore replied, “Actually . . .” She turned to Rasche. “. . . I have news for Lord Rasche. It is from Inquisitor Malorum.” She handed a data pad to the Sith apprentice.

Rasche scanned the pad. “Interesting,” he commented. “Apparently, over two weeks ago, Senator Solipo Yeb’s sister had booked passage aboard a space freighter bound for Corellia. And nearly an hour ago, the Inquisitorium had intercepted an encrypted message from Corellia . . .” He paused dramatically. “. . . to Alderaan.”

“Alderaan?” Palpatine frowned. “Bail Organa? That’s impossible. He has been one of my most loyal supporters.”

Rasche continued, “But he and Yeb were close colleagues in the Senate, Master. And there is the matter of Senator Organa’s presence at the Jedi Temple, last year. If Senator Yeb has reached his sister on Corellia, it is possible that he would contact Prince Organa.”

The Emperor took a deep breath. Rasche sensed that the older man seemed disturbed by the possibility that Organa might be a possible traitor. “Then you shall go to Alderaan, Lord Rasche. Question Organa about the message. And if you learn that he might be involved with Senator Yeb’s escape, then Alderaan shall share Andalia’s fate.”

“What about Yeb?” Rasche demanded. “Shall I search for him on Corellia?”

With a wave of his hand, Palpatine dismissed the idea. “No. Searching for some former senator amongst that piratical den on Corellia should not concern you. As my right hand, it is more befitting that you deal with Alderaan.”

Rasche bowed respectfully. “Yes, my Master.”






If I have to be perfectly honest, I do not recall the initial reaction to many Marvel fans, when the studio first released the news of the upcoming release of the second Captain America film. I do recall various comments regarding the first one – 2011’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. The comments for that film ranged from mediocre to box office disappointing. I found the latter opinion odd, considering that movie made a considerable profit at the box office. And besides . . . “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” proved to be a favorite of mine from 2011.

It was not until the release of this second Captain America film was less than a month away, when I finally heard some excellent word-of-mouth about it. Some were even claiming that it was better than the 2012 blockbuster hit, “THE AVENGERS”. Personally, I could not see how any comic book movie could top that. But I did look forward to seeing “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” – especially after I learned that Robert Redford, of all people, had been cast in the film. I mean . . . honestly, can you imagine an actor like Redford appearing in a Marvel Comics movie? And yet . . . he appeared in this one. Either he was desperate for work, or he really liked Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” begins two years after the events of “THE AVENGERS”. Steve Rogers aka Captain America now works as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in Washington D.C. During an early morning jog, he meets and befriends an Army veteran named Sam Wilson, before he is summoned by Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow for a new mission. Steve, Natasha and a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents led by Agent Brock Rumlow are ordered to free hostages aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel from a group of mercenaries. During the mission, Steve discovers that Romanoff has another agenda – to extract data from the ship’s computers for Director Nick Fury. When Rogers returns to the Triskelion, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters, to confront Fury, the latter briefs him on Project Insight, which consists of three Helicarriers linked to spy satellites and designed to preemptively eliminate threats. After failing to decrypt Romanoff’s recovered data, Fury becomes suspicious about Insight and asks World Security Council member Alexander Pierce to delay the project.

Fury is later ambushed by assailants and a mysterious assassin named the Winter Soldier. After reaching Steve’s apartment and giving the latter a flash drive of the information acquired by Natasha, Fury is gunned down by the Winter Soldier. Steve is summoned by Pierce to explain what happened between him and Fury. But Steve refuses to cooperate and is later declared a fugitive by Pierce and S.H.I.E.L.D. When Natasha helps him evade S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, she also becomes a fugitive. The two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents discover that Steve’s old World War II nemesis, HYDRA, had been infiltrating the agency for years. They seek sanctuary with Sam Wilson, who turns out to be a former U.S. Air Force pararescueman, trained for combat and the use of an EXO-7 “Falcon” wingpack. The trio sets out to learn more details about HYDRA’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. and their agenda, before they can do something about it.

If I must be brutally honest, I feel that “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” is not only one of the best Marvel Comics movies I have ever seen, but also one of my top favorite comic book movies. It is superb. Some have claimed that it is better than “THE AVENGERS”. I do not share that belief. I have yet to see a comic book movie that is better than the 2012 film. But this movie was fantastic. I could see why Robert Redford was willing to be cast in this film. I agree with many that “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” was reminiscent of the political thrillers released during the 1970s. But this particular film did more . . . it shook up the Marvel Movieverse in ways that no one saw coming. The revelation of HYDRA’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly had a major impact on the ABC television series, “AGENTS OF MARVEL”, which is a spin-off of the Marvel films. I also have to say a word about the fight sequences. There have been fight scenes from other Marvel movies and the TV series “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” that I found admirable. But the fight scenes featured in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” – especially those between Steve and the brainwashed Bucky – were probably the best I have ever seen in a Marvel movie, let alone in recent years.

Many film critics and some moviegoers have commented on the movie’s action sequences. To them, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” seemed to be a movie with a great deal of action sequences and very little dramatic moments. That was not the movie I saw. Mind you, Anthony and Joe Russo handled the movie’s action sequences very well. Their work was aptly supported by Trent Opaloch’s gorgeous cinematography, Jeffrey Ford’s excellent editing and the exciting work from the visual effects team. I was especially impressed by the following sequences: the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s rescue of the hostages; HYDRA’s attack upon Nick Fury on the streets of Washington D.C.; Steve, Natasha and Sam deal with a team of HYDRA agents led by the Winter Soldier; and especially the big finale in which the trio and Maria Hill attempted to stop HYDRA’s plans to use the three newly constructed S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers.

But as I had earlier stated, I do not believe that “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” was all action and very little drama. The film featured some dramatic moments that not only brought out the best in the cast, but also struck me as very well written. There were a good deal of verbal confrontations in this film. And most of them seemed to feature the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury. I was especially impressed by the drama and the acting in scenes that featured Fury’s two conversations with Steve – one regarding the helicarriers and the other about the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. I also enjoyed Fury’s final confrontation with Alexander Pierce inside the Triskelion. I was also impressed by how the screenwriters and the Russo brothers managed to inject some very good drama in the middle of Steve’s final fight against Bucky, while he tried to convince the latter to remember the past. Speaking of the past, this movie also featured a poignant moment that displayed the strength of Steve and Bucky’s friendship in a late 1930s flashback regarding the death of Steve’s mother. The movie also featured another friendship – the budding one between Steve and Sam. This was especially apparent in one poignant scene in which Steve and Sam discussed the latter’s experiences in Afghanistan.But the best scene, as far as I am concerned, featured Steve’s last conversation with a very elderly and dying Peggy Carter. That moment between the two former lovers seemed so sad that I found myself crying a little. How this particular scene managed to evade the memories of those who claimed that the movie was basically an action fest baffles me.

Was there anything about “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” that baffled me or turned me off? I found it hard to believe that Fury actually accepted Steve’s rather ludicrous suggestion regarding the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. Why he did not laugh in the super soldier’s face or told the latter that suggestion was dangerously naive is beyond me. Why did the movie make such a big deal about HYDRA infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D., when certain characters made it pretty obvious that it had infiltrated other government agencies . . . all over the world? And considering that Steve’s personality was not suited for espionage, I am still wondering why Marvel – both in the comics and in the movies – would have him join S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place. And what happened to World Council Member Hawley in the movie’s climax? The movie never explained.

I certainly had no problems with the performances featured in the movie. Once again, Chris Evans proved that he could be a first-rate dramatic actor in his portrayal of Steve Rogers. Although he injected a little more humor into his character – especially in the movie’s first half hour – he did an excellent job of expressing Steve’s continuing discomfort of being a man in the wrong time period, his penchant for making friends with people who are not Tony Stark, and his priggish nature. I should have known that since Evans, who can be a first-rate comedic actor, should also prove to be excellent in drama. He certainly proved it in his scene with Hayley Atwell, who reprise her role as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Peggy Carter. And she was marvelous as the aging Peggy, who wavered between joy at being with Steve again, sadness that they are now far apart age wise, and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But Evans’ leading lady in this film proved to be Scarlett Johansson, who reprised her role as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow. And as usual, she was fantastic. I do not know whether she did all of her stunts, but she certain looked good. And . . . as usual, Johansson did a great job in conveying the agent’s ambiguous nature – especially in the film’s first half hour. I was especially impressed by her chemistry with Evans in this film. Mind you, they did a good job of projecting a newly developed friendship in“THE AVENGERS”. But in this film, there seemed to be an extra sexual charge between the two characters.

So far, Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in at least six Marvel films. Of the six, he has somewhat sizeable role in“IRON MAN 2”, and major roles in both “THE AVENGERS” and “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. He did such a marvelous job as the manipulative Fury in “THE AVENGERS” that I did not think he could repeat himself in portraying that aspect of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Director’s character. I was wrong. He not only did a great job in portraying Fury as manipulative as ever, but at the same time, conveyed Fury’s own anger at being a victim of his mentor’s betrayal. Speaking of which, a part of me still cannot imagine Robert Redford in a comic book movie. And I cannot help but wonder if he felt the same. I wonder who approached him – the people at Marvel or his agent? Nevertheless, I am glad he accepted the role of World Security Council Alexander Pierce. This is the first time I have seen Redford portray a genuine villain and he was great. His Pierce was intelligent, soft-spoken, friendly, manipulative as Fury, and cold-blooded. It is a pity that he did not portray similar roles in the past.

Anthony Mackie joined the cast as Steve’s new friend, Army veteran Sam Wilson aka the Falcon. And like the rest of the cast, he gave a great performance. Mackie injected a good of down-to-earth sensibility to the story, along with some much-needed humor – especially in scenes in which Sam expressed annoyance at the machismo of both Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Brock Rumlow. I was especially impressed in one scene in which Mackie’s Sam recalled his time in Afghanistan and the death of a fellow Army comrade. Sebastian Stan reprised his role as James “Buchanan” Barnes, Steve’s old childhood friend. Only his Bucky Barnes in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” is, like Steve, a man out of time. More importantly, he is a brainwashed amnesiac and super assassin known as the Winter Soldier. I have to give kudos to Stan for skillful portrayal this seemingly cold-blooded assassin, who seemed torn between his role as a HYDRA killer and a confused man haunted by memories of his friendship with Steve.

The movie also featured some solid supporting performances from Cobie Smulders, who portrayed Fury’s no-nonsense second-in-command Maria Hill; Maximiliano Hernández as Agent Jasper Sitwell; Frank Grillo, who portrayed the cocky Brock Rumlow; Gary Shandling as Senator Stern, and the members of the World Security Council – Alan Dale, Chin Han, Bernard White and Jenny Agutter. By the way, many fans will be amazed to see Jenny Agutter kick butt in one particular scene. And for fans of “LOST”, you might be able to spot Adetokumboh M’Cormack, who portrayed Mr. Eko’s brother in the series, as one of the mercenaries who took control of the S.H.I.E.L.D. ship early in the movie.

There may have been a few things that left me feeling a bit uneasy in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. But if I must be brutally honest, I think it is one of the best Marvel and comic book films I have ever seen . . . period. And one has to thank Kevin Fiege’s excellent control of the Marvel films that centered on the Avengers Initiative, the marvelous screenplay scripted by Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, Anthony and Joseph Russo’s superb direction and an excellent cast led by Chris Evans. Not only is this a superb film, but it managed to shake up the Marvel Movie Universe considerably.

Top Ten Favorite “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” (2005-2014) Episodes


Below is a list of my top ten (10) favorite episodes of the CBS series, “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” (2005-2014). Created by Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, the series starred Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan:



1- 5.22 Robots vs. Wrestlers

1. (5.22) “Robots vs. Wrestlers” – This hilarious episode features Ted Mosby at his most pretentious, when he and his friends crash a high-society party. Later, the others attend a Robots vs. Wrestlers event.



2 - 2.09 Slap Bet

2. (2.09) “Slap Bet” – Barney Stinson discovers Robin Scherbatsky’s secret behind her aversion to malls. His discovery leads to the infamous slap bet between him and Marshall Eriksen.



3 - 4.09 The Naked Man

3. (4.09) “The Naked Man” – Ted walks into the apartment he shares with Robin and finds her date naked on the couch. The date reveals a new dating technique that may revolutionize dating for the group.



4 - 2.05 The Greatest Couple

4. (2.05) “The Greatest Couple” – Lily Aldrin moves into Barney’s apartment, when he uses her to drive away needy dates.



5 - 7.03 Ducky Tie

5. (7.03) “Ducky Tie” – Ted encounters his old girlfriend Victoria and tries to make amends with her. Meanwhile, Marshall and Lily make a bet with Barney that could force him to wear Marshall’s ducky tie.



6- 3.08 Spoiler Alert

6. (3.08) “Spoiler Alert” – An annoying habit in Ted’s new girlfriend causes the group to point out their own bad habits, previously unnoticed by them.



7 - 2.21 Something Borrowed

7. (2.21) “Something Borrowed” – Nothing goes as planned when Lily and Marshall’s wedding day finally arrives.



8 - 1.22 Come On

8. (1.22) “Come On” – Ted decides to seriously pursue Robin, instead of a date arranged for him by a matchmaking service. Meanwhile, Marshall is stunned by Lily’s decision to leave him for an art fellowship in San Francisco.



9 - 6.04 Subway Wars

9. (6.04) “Subway Wars” – The group race each other through the streets of New York to a restaurant where Woody Allen was spotted by a friend.



10 - 8.23 Something Old

10. (8.23) “Something Old” – Robin desperately tries to locate the antique locket that she had buried in Central Park at the age of 15, to wear as her “Something Old” for her wedding to Barney.



HM - 9.16 How Your Mother Met Me

Honorable Mentioned: (9.16) “How Your Mother Met Me” – This poignant episode recounted the eight years in the life of Tracy McConnell aka “The Mother”, before she met Ted at Farhampton.