“ANGELS AND INSECTS” (1995) Review

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“ANGELS AND INSECTS” (1995) Review

I never thought I would come around to writing this review. I have seen the 1995 movie, “ANGELS AND INSECTS” a good number of times during the past five years. Yet, I never got around to posting a review of this movie, until recently. Why? I have not the foggiest idea. Nor do I have any idea why I had finally decided to write that review.

Based upon A.S. Byatt’s 1992 novella called “Morpho Eugenia”, “ANGELS AND INSECTS” tells the story of a poor naturalist named William Adamson, who returns home to Victorian England after having spent years studying the natural wildlife – especially insects – in the Amazon Basin. Despite losing all of his possession during a shipwreck, he manages to befriend a baronet named Sir Harald Alabaster, who is also an amateur insect collector and botanist. The latter hires William to catalog his specimen collection and assist his younger children’s governess the natural sciences.

William eventually falls for Sir Harald’s oldest daughter, Eugenia, who is mourning the suicide of her fiance. Both of them eventually become emotionally involved and decide to marry. Much to William’s surprise, both Sir Harald and Lady Alabaster seems encouraging of the match. The only member of the Alabaster family who is against their upcoming wedding is Sir Harald’s eldest child, the arrogant Edgar. Not only is the latter close to Eugenia, he believes that William is unworthy of his sister’s hand, due to having a working-class background. The marriage between William and Eugenia seemed to be a happily lustful one that produces five children (among them two sets of twins). But Eugenia’s hot and cold control over their sex life, a constantly hostile Edgar, William’s growing friendship to Lady Alabaster’s companion Matilda “Matty” Crompton, and William’s own disenchantment over his role as Sir Harald’s official assistant brings their marriage to a head after several years of marriage.

The film adaptation of Byatt’s novella seemed to be the brainchild of Philip and Belinda Haas. Both worked on the film’s screenplay, while Philip also served as the film’s director and Belinda served as both co-producer (there are three others) and film editor. From my perusal of many period drama blogs, I get the feeling that “ANGELS AND INSECTS” is not very popular with many of the genre’s fans. On the other hand, many literary and film critics seemed to have a very high regard for it. Despite my love for the usual romantic costume drama, I must admit that my opinions of the 1995 film falls with the latter group. It is simply too well made and too fascinating for me to overlook.

There were times I could not tell whether “ANGELS AND INSECTS” is some look at the age of Victorian science exploration, the close study of an upper-class 19th century family, or a lurid tale morality. Now that I realize it, the movie is probably an amalgamation of them all, wrapped around this view on Darwinism and breeding – in regard to both the insect world and humans. The topic of breeding seemed to seep into the screenplay in many scenes. Some of them come to mind – Sir Harald and Edgar’s debate on the breeding of horses and other animals, William and Eugenia’s second encounter with moths in the manor’s conservatory, Sir Harald’s despairing rant on his declining usefulness within his own household, the reason behind Edgar’s hostility toward William, and the visual comparisons between the bees and the inhabitants of the Alabaster estate, with Lady Alabaster serving as some metaphor for an aging Queen bee on her last legs. The metaphor of the Queen bee is extended further into Eugenia. Not only does she assume her mother’s role as mistress of the house following the latter’s death; but like Lady Alabaster before her, gives birth to a growing number of blond-haired children. If a person has never seen “ANGELS AND INSECTS” before, he or she could follow both the script and cinematographer Bernard Zitzerman’s shots carefully to detect the clues that hint the cloistered degeneracy that seemed to unconsciously permeate the Alabaster household.

I cannot deny that “ANGELS AND INSECTS” is a gorgeous film to behold. Philip and Belinda Haas, along with the film’s other producers did an excellent job in creating a visually stunning film with a bold and colorful look. Cinematographer Bernard Zitzermann, along with production designer Jennifer Kernke and Alison Riva’s art direction provided great contributions to the film’s visual style. But in my opinion, Paul Brown’s Academy Award nominated costume designs not only conveyed the film’s colorful visual style more than anything else, but also properly reflected the fashion styles of the early 1860s for women – including the growing penchant for deep, solid colors – as shown below:

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Adding to the movie’s rich atmosphere was Alexander Balanescu’s memorable score. I thought the composer did an excellent job of reflecting both the movie’s elegant setting and its passionate, yet lurid story.

As much as I enjoyed and admired “ANGELS AND INSECTS”, I believe it had its flaws. I understand why Philip Haas had opened the movie with shots of William Adamson socializing with inhabitants of the Amazonian jungle, juxtaposing with the Alabaster ball given in his honor. Is it just me or did Haas use white – probably British – actors to portray Amazonian natives? I hope I am wrong, but I fear otherwise. I also feel that the movie was marred by a slow pacing that nearly crawled to a halt. I cannot help but wonder if Haas felt insecure by the project he and his wife had embarked upon, considering that “ANGELS AND INSECTS” was his second motion picture after many years as a documentarian. Or perhaps he got caught up in his own roots as a documentarian, due to his heavy emphasis on the natural world being studied by William, Matty and the younger Alabaster children. In a way, I have to thank Balanescu’s score for keeping me awake during those scenes that seemed to drag.

I cannot deny that the movie featured some top-notch and subtle performances. Mark Rylance, who has a sterling reputation as a stage actor, gave such a quiet and superb performance that I hope his reputation has extended to film. Kristin Scott-Thomas was equally superb as the Matty Crompton, Lady Alabaster’s very observant companion, who shared William’s interests in natural sciences. I have no idea what reputation Patsy Kensit has as an actress, but I certainly believe she gave an excellent performance as William’s beautiful and aristocratic wife, Eugenia Alabaster, whose hot and cold attitude toward her husband kept him puzzled. Jeremy Kemp gave one of his more complex andentertaining performances as William’s father-in-law, the amateur scientist Sir Harald Alabaster. Douglas Henshall had a difficult job in portraying the bullying Edgar Alabaster, who seemed to view William as both beneath contempt and something of a threat to his views of the world. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Anna Massey, Saskia Wickham, Chris Larkin, Clare Redman and Annette Badlands.

Some fans of period drama might be taken aback by the graphic sexuality featured in the film, along with the story’s lurid topic. And director Philip Haas’ pacing might be a bit hard to accept. But I feel that enduring all of this might be worth the trouble. Philip and Belinda Haas, along with the crew and a cast led by Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Patsy Kensit did an excellent in re-creating A.S. Byatt’s tale on the screen, and creating a first-rate movie in the end.

Papa Rellena

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Below is an article I had written about a dish called Papa Rellena:

 

PAPA RELLENA

During one of my previous visits to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, I came across a dish served at a Cuban restaurant called Papa Rellena. I had assumed that this dish originated in Cuba. But I eventually learned that it originated elsewhere.

Actually, the Papa Rellena dish originated in Peru. Between 1879 and 1883; the countries of Peru, Chile and Bolivia were engaged in a conflict known as the War of the Pacific. The Peruvian soldiers had to march through extensive lands that were long distances from cities or towns in order to prevent the Chilean forces from discovering their position and where the next attack would come from. Due to these long journeys, the soldiers had to carry previously prepared food that could remain fresh, despite the lack of 20th century preserves.

The Peruvian troops cooked, chopped and seasoned either beef or some other meat. Then, they made dough from the previously cooked potatoes that grew naturally in the Andes Mountains. They formed a hollow in the potato dough and filled it with the cooked meat and sometimes, hard-boiled eggs. Then they would seal the dough, form it into a torpedo shape and fry it. The “Papa Rellenas” or stuffed potatoes were wrapped in cloth and carried by the soldiers. The Papa Rellenas were sometimes accompanied with Salsa Criolla, or an aji sauce. Other Latin American countries like Cuba and Puerto Rico eventually created their own variation on the dish.

Below is a recipe for “Papa Rellena” from the About.com website:

Papa Rellena

Ingredients

1/2 cup raisins
3 pounds yellow potatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced aji pepper, or jalapeno
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 pound ground beef
1 cup beef broth
1 egg
Flour for dusting
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Place the raisins in a small bowl and pour 1 cup boiling water over them. Let them soak for 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel the potatoes and place them in the pot. Cook the potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a fork.

While the potatoes are cooking, cook the onions, garlic, and peppers in the vegetable oil until soft and fragrant.

Add the cumin and paprika and cook 2 minutes more, stirring. Add the ground beef and cook until browned.

Drain the raisins and add them to the ground beef. Add the beef broth and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more, until most of the liquid is gone.

Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them in a colander. Mash the potatoes thoroughly, or pass them through a potato ricer. Season the mashed potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the potatoes for several hours, or overnight.

Once the potatoes are very cold, stir the egg into the mashed potatoes until well mixed.

Shape the papas rellenas: with floured hands, place about 1/4 cup of mashed potatoes in one hand, and make a well in the center. Fill the well with 1-2 tablespoons of the beef mixture. Mold the potatoes around the beef, adding more potatoes if necessary, and shape the whole thing into an oblong potato shape, with slightly pointy ends, about the size of a medium potato.

Repeat with the rest of the mashed potatoes. Coat each stuffed “potato” with flour.

In a deep skillet or deep fat fryer, heat 2 inches of oil to 360 degrees. Fry the potatoes in batches until they are golden brown. Drain them on a plate lined with paper towels.

Keep the potatoes warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.

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TIME MACHINE: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1875-1914)

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TIME MACHINE: ASSASSINATION OF ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND OF AUSTRIA (1875-1914)

June 28, 1914 marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary (present day Bosnia-Herzegovina). Also killed was his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. Franz Ferdinand was not only an Archduke of Austria-Hungary, but also a Royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia; and from 1889 until his death, the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

The assassination had been planned by a group of assassins (five Serbs and one Bosnian) coordinated by a Bosnian-Serb named Danilo Ilić. The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s south-Slav provinces so they could be combined into a Yugoslavia. The assassins’ motives were consistent with a movement that will later became known as Young Bosnia. Also involved in the plot were Dragutin Dimitrijević, Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence; his assistant Major Vojislav Tankosić, and a spy named Rade Malobabić.

During a meeting held in January 1914, the group discussed possible Austro-Hungarian targets for assassination that include Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The participants eventually decided to send Mehmed Mehmedbašić to Sarajevo, to kill the Governor of Bosnia, Oskar Potiorek. However, Mehmedbašić ditched his weapons, while traveling from France to Bosnia-Herzegovina via the train, when the police was searching for a thief. Upon his arrival in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mehmedbašićhe tried to search for new weapons. When his searched delayed the attempt on Potiorek, Ilić summoned Mehmedbašić and on March 26, 1914; informed the latter that the mission to kill Potiorek had been cancelled. The group decided to assassinate Franz Ferdinand, instead. Ilić recruited two Serbian youths, Vaso Čubrilović and Cvjetko Popović on April 19, 1914; to kill Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Unbeknownst to them, three Serbian youths living in Belgrade – Gavrilo Princip, Trifko Grabež and Nedeljko Čabrinović – expressed an eagerness to carry out an assassination. They approached a fellow Bosnian Serb and former guerrilla fighter to transport arms to Sarajevo and participate in the assassination.

Franz Ferdinand, the Duchess of Hohenberg and their party traveled by train from Ilidža Spa to Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Governor Oskar Potiorek met the party at Sarajevo station. Six automobiles were waiting. Three local police officers got into the first car with the chief officer of special security. Franz Ferdinand, the Duchess, Governor Potiorek, and Lieutenant Colonel Count Franz von Harrach rode in the third car. The motorcade passed the first assassin, Mehmedbašić, who had failed to act. Vaso Čubrilović armed with a pistol and a bomb, also failed to act. Further along the route Nedeljko Čabrinović, who possessed a bomb, tossed the latter at Franz Ferdinand’s car at 10:10 am. However, the bomb bounced off the folded back convertible cover and into the street. The timed detonator caused it to explode under the next car, wounding 16 to 20 people. Čabrinović swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka River, but his suicide attempt failed. The police dragged Čabrinović out of the river and he was severely beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody. Franz Ferdinand’s procession sped away towards the Town Hall.

Franz Ferdinand and the Duchess returned to the motorcade at 10:45 am. and entered the third card. In order to avoid the city center, General Oskar Potiorek decided that the royal car should travel straight along the Appel Quay to the Sarajevo Hospital. The driver, Leopold Lojka, turned right into Franz Josef Street. After learning about the failed assassination attempt, Princip decided to make another attempt on the Archduke’s life on the latter’s return trip. He moved to a position in front of a delicatessen off Appel Quay. The Archduke’s motorcade made the mistake of following the original route. Governor Potiorek, who shared the Imperial couple’s vehicle, ordered the driver to reverse and take the Quay to the hospital. Lojka stopped the car close to where Princip was standing. The latter stepped forward and fired two shots from a Belgian-made 9×17mm Fabrique Nationale model 1910 semi-automatic pistol. The first bullet wounded the Archduke in the jugular vein. The second bullet hit the Duchess in her abdomen. Princip was immediately arrested. At his sentencing, Princip stated that his intention had been to kill Governor Potiorek, rather than the Duchess. Both victims remained seated upright, but died on the way to the Governor’s residence for medical treatment. As reported by Count Harrach, Franz Ferdinand’s last words were “Sophie, Sophie! Don’t die! Live for our children!”, followed by six or seven utterances of “It is nothing.” These mutterings were followed by a long death rattle. Sophie was dead upon arrival at the Governor’s residence. Franz Ferdinand died 10 minutes later.

Alfred, 2nd Prince of Montenuovo, Franz Joseph’s Chamberlain, hated Franz Ferdinand and Sophie with a passion and with the emperor’s connivance, decided to turn the funeral into a massive and vicious snub. He disinvited foreign royalty, the dead couple’s three children were excluded from the few public ceremonies and only the immediate Imperial family attended. Even the Austro-Hungarian officer corps was forbidden to salute the funeral train. However, this was nothing in compare to the political aftermath of the assassinations.

Not only was Princip captured, but also his fellow conspirators. They were all tried and convicted by early 1915. Ironically, Princip, who had actually pulled the trigger, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, where he died from malnutrition and disease in 1918. Only three of the conspirators were executed on February 3, 1915 – Danilo Ilić and Veljko Čubrilović. Anti-Serb rioting broke out in Sarajevo and various other places within the Austria-Hungary Empire, hours after the assassination. Country-wide anti-Serb pogroms and demonstrations were also organized throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire by Oskar Potiorek, the Austro-Hungarian governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The assassinations produced widespread shock across Europe. There was a great deal of initial sympathy toward Austria. Within two days, Austria-Hungary and its ally, Germany, advised Serbia that it should open an investigation on the assassination, but the Serbian government responded that the incident did not concern them. After conducting its own criminal investigation, Austro-Hungary issued what became known as the July Ultimatum, which listed demands made to Serbia regarding the assassinations within 48 hours. After receiving support from Russia, Serbia agreed to at least two out of ten demands. The government mobilized its troops and transported them by tramp steamers across the Danube River to the Austro-Hungarian at Temes-Kubin. Austro-Hungarian soldiers fired into the air to warn them off. On July 28, 1914; Austria-Hungary and its ally, Germany, declared war on Serbia. Under the Secret Treaty of 1892, Russia and France were obliged to mobilize their armies if any of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austo-Hungary and Italy) mobilized. Russia’s mobilization completed full Austro-Hungarian and German mobilizations. Soon all the Great Powers, except Italy, had chosen sides. World War I had begun.

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

 

“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”

CHAPTER SIX

CREVASSE CITY, ALDERAAN

Padme’s eyes widened at the sight of the bustling metropolis, perched atop a stark canyon wall. The city’s location seemed a sharp contrast to the lush island that served as Aldera’s location. “What is this place called, again?” she asked.

Captain Antilles answered, “Crevasse City. We’re here to meet a pilot who can take you where you want to go.”

“You’re not coming?”

With a sigh, the good captain explained that he needs to return to Alderaan’s capital. “The Imperials might still be on the planet. And my presence has missed, long enough.” He landed the shuttle on an obscure landing pad, next to the city’s outskirts. On the pad stood a small, Corellian-designed space skiff. “There’s the ship.”

The shuttle landed on the pad. At the same time, the skiff’s boarding ramp lowered. A red-haired woman dressed simply in a freighter pilot’s outfit – dark-blue jacket, white blouse, tight blue trousers and knee-high boots – descended the ramp. Both Padme and Antilles left the shuttle. “Raymus Antilles,” the woman greeted with a smile. “You finally made it. I was beginning to worry.”

“Sorry,” Captain Antilles replied breathlessly. “We had to make sure that we weren’t being followed by the Imperials. They are crawling all over the palace and Aldera.”

The woman shrugged. “They’re here, as well. We might have to wait for them to leave. I don’t want to attract any attention.” She turned to Padme. “Captain Voranda Sen at your service, Milady. This is my ship, the Alberforce. I will be happy to take you to the destination of your choice.”

Antilles explained, “Captain Sen is very reliable, Milady. She has helped many refugees from the Clone War settle here on Alderaan. Voranda, this is . . .” He paused.

Captain Sen smiled knowingly. “I believe I recognize the former senator from Naboo. Pleased to finally meet you, Senator Amidala.” Padme inhaled sharply, as the female captain added, “Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. Whatever it may be.”

“Thank you,” Padme said with a shy smile. “I guess my party should board your ship.” She turned to the Queen’s cousin. “Captain Antilles, could you help me and my droids unload my belongings?” The royal officer and the skiff’s captain helped Padme and the droids unload her trunks and place them on board the Alberforce. By the time the droids, the twin and Madga were settled aboard the starship, Padme rejoined Captain Antilles on the landing pad. “Thank you, Captain. I don’t know what I would have done without your help.”

Antilles’ rock-like jaw twitched momentarily. “It was my pleasure, Milady. And I am quite certain that you would have made your escape without my help.”

Again, Padme smiled. “Thank you, Captain. And please convey my gratitude to Her Majesty. Since we did not have time to talk before I left, I will try to contact her within a week.”

With a bow, Captain Antilles replied, “I will be sure to tell her, Milady. Have a safe journey.” He boarded his shuttle and flew away.

Captain Sen turned to Padme. “You might as well board, Milady. Who knows how long we’ll have to wait before we depart.”

As the two women walked toward the skiff, Padme’s curiosity got the best of her. “Pardon me for asking, Captain, but are you a native of Alderaan?”

“My mother was Alderaanian,” the red-haired pilot replied. “But my father originally came from Abregado-rae. I spent most of my childhood there, until my father died when I was sixteen. Then my mother and I moved here.” The two women paused at the bottom of the boarding ramp. “I must admit that I’m rather curious as to why you would fake your death and avoid the Imperials.”

Padme hesitated. Discretion had been the hallmark of her life, ever since she became involved in politics. And maintaining a secret marriage with Anakin had only increased her tendency toward discretion. Realizing that it would unwise to reveal her children’s connection to the Jedi, Padme lied. “You’ve heard of the Petition of the 2000, haven’t you?” she asked the captain.

Captain Sen shook her head. “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound familiar.”

With a sigh, Padme explained that several senators had formed a petition demanding that the then Chancellor Palpatine give up the extra powers and the office of the Chancellor at the end of the Clone War. “Unfortunately, the whole Jedi Purge began and the Chancellor declared himself emperor. Many senators who had signed the petition recanted and removed their names from the petition.” She paused. “I didn’t. In fact . . . a pair of Jedi Knights and Prince Organa helped fake my death and arranged for my family to escape retribution from the Emperor.”

Nodding, Captain Sen continued, “Now, I understand. When the Imperials showed up on Alderaan . . .”

“Both Bail . . . I mean, Prince Organa and I decided it would be best if my family and I leave,” Padme finished.

Pity crept into the captain’s turquoise eyes. “I’m so sorry.”

“That’s okay,” Padme replied quietly. “I could have removed my name from the petition, but I chose not to. I’ve made my choice.” May all deities in existence forgive her for the lie.

At that moment, two ominous shapes appeared in the skies above Crevasse City. Padme immediately recognized the small, triangular-shaped shuttles that belonged to the Imperial Fleet. “It looks as if the Imperials did not find what they were looking for,” Captain Sen commented.

Padme frowned at the other woman. “Why do you say that?”

The red-haired woman said, “Those shuttles are obviously returning to their ships. And there aren’t more in the atmosphere.” She sighed. “Time to go, Senator.”

The two women climbed aboard the skiff. When it finally lifted from the landing pad, fifteen minutes later, Padme heaved a sigh of relief.

———-

CORONET, CORELLIA

An impatient Kirtan Loor slammed a fist on the desk in front of him. “How could we have missed them so easily?” he cried. “Where could they have gone?”

“Obviously to the city’s spaceport,” Captain Hardy suggested. He found Loor’s dramatics a little tiresome. “It would not be difficult for Solipo and Thalia Yeb to find passage aboard any starship leaving Corellia.”

CorSec Officer Bastra suggested, “Or they could have caught a shuttle to another city here on Corellia.”

“What about the space stations above this planet?” Hardy suggested.

Both Loor and Bastra shook their heads. “The planet’s shipyards are located there,” Bastra said. “I believe your best bet is to check the spaceport. In fact, I already have several officers doing just that.” He broke off, as another CorSec officer entered the office. “Yes, Veritas?”

The assistant informed the three men that a couple matching Solipo and Thalia Yeb’s descriptions had been seen near the spaceport. “According to Officer Gropos, three starships have departed recently,” she added. “The Eureka had departed with four passengers – political lobbyists on their way to Coruscant; the Javian Hawk with only its pilot; and the Tawhid, which is carrying a shipment of Corellian brandy and whisky bound for Wroona. The Tawhid had departed a little over a half hour ago.”

Captain Hardy stood up and placed his cap on his head. “This requires my attention. I will find each starship and search for Senator Yeb.”

“How will you find them?” Bastra demanded. “The last ship had departed thirty minutes ago.”

The Imperial officer allowed himself a thin, cold smile. “The Agamemnon is one of the new warships to join the Fleet. Which means that it possesses the new hyperdrive technology. I should be able to catch up with all three ships with no problems.”

———

AVERAM

Bail Organa glanced out of the window of his hotel room. Although the view beyond project an elegant and sophisticated metropolis located near a winding river, his mind harbored on matters other than the view. Namely the whereabouts of one Solipo Yeb.

Two days had passed since the former Andalian senator contacted him. Upon his arrival on Averam, Bail had expected to be reunited with his former colleague. Unfortunately, Solipo had not arrived. Either the Andalian and his sister had failed to leave Corellia, on route to Averam, or were now prisoners of the Empire. Bail found it difficult to accept the last possibility. If Solipo had been captured, the news would have been broadcasted on the HoloNet News by now.

A faint beep interrupted Bail’s thoughts. It came from his mini holoprojector from within his pockets. Bail removed it and switched it on. A warm smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, as his wife’s holographic image appeared before him.

“Bail,” Breha began, “I thought you should know that an Imperial ship carrying an emissary from the Emperor has paid a visit to Alderaan.” The senator’s heart nearly lurched at the news. “They had detected Solipo Yeb’s signal from Corellia,” she continued. “Fortunately, I had your private holoprojector destroyed before they could find it. Both Padme and myself had also decided it would be best if she and the children leave Alderaan permanently. I suspect they are on their way to the Lars’ farm on Tatooine. I am sure that you would be relieved to learn that the Imperial ship has also left, along with the new emissary.” Breha paused. “Speaking of the latter, I suspect that this new emissary might be the Emperor’s new apprentice. He called himself Darth Rasche. I’m confused, for I could have sworn that you and Padme had told me that his name was Darth Vader. Please hurry home, my love. I miss you very much.” The transmission ended.

Darth Rasche? Bail frowned. Who was Darth Rasche? Did the Emperor acquire a new Sith apprentice? Then Bail recalled Padme once informing both him and Breha that the Sith usually consisted of two – a master and an apprentice. Although more than one Sith Force user has served the Emperor in the past – including a renegade named Asjiy Ventress who ended up being defeated by young Skywalker – only two have used the Sith title of Darth. Has Darth Sidious aka the Emperor changed the rule? Or has Anakin Skywalker truly abandoned the Sith?

Bail realized that he might one day learn the truth. Then again, perhaps not. He decided that once his business with Solipo Yebs has finished, he would travel to Tatooine and reveal the identity of Palpatine’s new apprentice to Padme and Kenobi. His former colleague deserved to know that she may have been right about her husband, after all.

———-

CORELLIAN SECTOR

With the Javian Hawk safely out of Corellian space, Anakin put it on auto pilot. He left the cockpit to check up on his new passengers, situated in another part of the ship reserved for passengers. “Is everything okay?” he asked his Andalian guests. Brother and sister nodded. “Good. Just to let you know, we should arrive on Averam, tomorrow.”

Senator Yeb asked, “Don’t you have another crewman aboard this ship?”

A sardonic smile touched Anakin’s lips. “As you can see, the Javian Hawk is not that big and I can handle her, alone. But she’s big enough for a crew of three or four.” His smile disappeared. “How long has it been since you two have eaten?”

“Too long,” Thalia Yeb replied quickly. “Not since our morning meal, nine hours ago.”

Nodding, Anakin said, “I’ve managed to purchase some supplies on Corellia, before our departure. Lunch . . . or supper should be ready within a half hour.” He left his two passengers and headed toward the ship’s galley. As he opened one of the storage bins, Anakin heard a thump from inside another one. He closed his eyes and inhaled. Oh yes, he had a stowaway aboard the Hawk. Someone very familiar. Anakin opened the bin in question and peered inside. A pair of brown eyes that belonged to a young face radiated guilt as they stared at Anakin. “What are you doing here?” he demanded angrily.

Han Solo stood up and climbed out of the bin with Anakin’s help. “I needed a ride.” He spoke in a matter-of-fact tone that nearly caused the former Jedi to smile.

Anakin’s lips twitched momentarily before he gave the young stowaway a grim stare. “Is your idea of ‘a ride’ is to stow away without my permission?”

The young Corellian’s face turned pale. Then the words poured out of his mouth in an emotional outburst. “Look I’m sorry, but I was desperate! I tried to run away from Shrike earlier, but he managed to catch me. And I had to run away again. Only Dewlanna helped me, this time. But Shrike . . . he . . .” Tears began to form in young Solo’s eyes, taking Anakin by surprise. Between gasps, the boy continued, “Shrike, he . . . he . . . he killed . . . killed Dewlanna!” His tears now flowed freely.

At that moment, a voice cried out, “What in the name of the Republic is going on, here?” Senator Yeb and his sister entered the galley. The former’s eyes rested upon the silently sobbing Han. “Who is this?”

“My name is Han Solo,” the boy declared in a defiant, yet still tearful voice. He wiped the tears from his eyes. “Who are you?”

Thalia Yeb regarded Han with kindly eyes. “Was there a reason why you had to get away from Corellia, young Master Solo? To the point of stowing aboard this starship?”

Han sniffed. “I’m running away.” His eyes blinked furiously. “From . . . someone. What’s it to you?”

Regarding the boy with suspicious eyes, Senator Yeb demanded, “Is he telling the truth? For all we know, he could be an agent of the Empire, hired to keep an eye out for us.”

“Solipo!” his sister cried in outrage.

Anakin rolled his eyes, annoyed by the senator’s paranoia. “He’s telling the truth, Senator. Believe me. You have nothing to fear from . . . Han.”

Yeb glared at Anakin. “And how do you know? What are you? A Jedi or something?”

Thalia’s voice rang loud and clear. “Actually . . . he is.” Everyone stared at her. “Captain Horus is the former Jedi Knight, Anakin Skywalker. ‘The Hero With No Fear’?”

END OF CHAPTER SIX

“X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” (2014) Review

 

“X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” (2014) Review

When the news reached many fans that Bryan Singer would be helming the next film, fans rejoiced. As far as they were concerned, the best movies from the franchise had been directed by Singer. And since he had served as one of the producers for 2011’s “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”, that particular film is highly regarded by fans as well.

The latest film in question, “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” seemed to serve as a sequel to both “FIRST-CLASS” and the 2006 movie, “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. Adapted from Chris Claremont John Byrne’s 1981 storyline, “Days of Future Past”, for comic book, The Uncanny X-Men, Issues #141-142; “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” starts in the 2020s in which robots known as Sentinels are exterminating mutants, humans who harbor the genes that lead to mutant offspring, and humans who help mutants. A band of mutants led by Charles Xavier “Professor X” and Erik Lehnsherr “Magneto” manage to evade the Sentients and eventually find refuge in China. Realizing that the Sentients will finally catch up with them, Xavier and Magneto, along with fellow mutant Kitty Pryde, come up with a plan to prevent the events that would kick-start the creation of the Sentients.

Using Kitty’s ability to project an individual’s consciousness through time, they instruct her to do the same to Logan’s “Wolverine” consciousness back to late January 1973 (over ten years following the events of “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” – to prevent Raven Darkhölme “Mystique” from assassinating Bolivar Trask, the creator of the Sentinels. Following the assassination, the U.S. government captured Mystique and allowed Trask’s company to use her DNA to create Sentinels that are near-invincible due to their ability to adapt to any mutant power. Xavier and Magneto advise Wolverine to seek out both of their younger selves for aid. When Logan finally arrives in the past, he learns that the younger Xavier has become an embittered man over the premature closing of his school for mutants and addicted to a serum created by Hank McCoy “the Beast” to suppress his mutation. Logan also learns that the younger Magneto has spent over 10 years imprisoned for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

I might as well lay my cards on the table. I love time travel movies. It is the reason why I am such a big fan of the“BACK TO THE FUTURE” franchise and especially 2012’s “MEN IN BLACK 3”. The return of Bryan Singer as the director of an X-MEN film was not the reason why I had anticipated this film so much. It was the story’s theme of time travel. Only in this case, the movie’s time traveler, Logan, does not bodily travel back through time. Instead, his 2020s consciousness is sent back to his 1973 body. I found nothing wrong with that. After all, the 2011 movie, “SOURCE CODE”used a similar method. And the 2000 movie, “FREQUENCY” featured the communication between father and son – across a period of thirty years via a shortwave radio. When I realized what the plot was about, I suspected “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” might prove to be the best film in the franchise.

The movie certainly featured a great deal that made it memorable. Unlike “FIRST CLASS”, “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”did an excellent job in re-creating the early 1970s. One has to thank John Myhre’s excellent production designs, along with Gordon Sim’s set decorations, the special effects team and Newton Thomas Sigel’s superb photography. I was especially impressed by Sigel’s photography and the special effects in the following scenes:

quicksilver1

More importantly, Louise Mingenbach did a much better job in creating costumes that adhere correctly to the movie’s setting (especially the early 1970s) than Sammy Sheldon did for the early 1960s costumes for “FIRST CLASS”.

“DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” also featured some excellent action sequences that left me feeling slightly dazzled. I especially enjoyed the two battles fought between the mutant and the Sentinels in the movie’s first five minutes and its last ten to twenty minutes, Mystique’s rescue of her fellow mutants from an Army base in South Vietnam, the rescue of Magneto from a Federal prison and especially Mystique’s attempt to assassinate Bolivar Trask at the latter’s meeting with North Vietnam generals, following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.

But action scenes, cinematography and special effects do not alone make a good movie. Thankfully, “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” featured some excellent dramatic scenes and a decent narrative – with some flaws. I must admit that I was impressed at how screenwriter Simon Kinberg carried over the early Xavier-Magneto relationship from “FIRST CLASS” in two scenes – Xavier greeting the recently imprisoned Magneto with a punch to the face and their embittered quarrel aboard Xavier’s private plane, as they fly to Paris. He also did an excellent job in carrying over the same for the two men’s relationship with Mystique. The first meeting – actually, I should say Magneto’s first meeting with Wolverine proved to be interesting. It did not take long for the animosity between the two to immediately spark. One of the best dramatic sequences proved to be – ironically – in the middle of the film’s last action scene that was set on the White House lawn. I am speaking of that moment in which Xavier tried to talk Mystique out of carrying out her plan to assassinate Trask. As for the sequences set in the 2020s, I cannot recall any memorable dramatic moments. But there is one unforgettable scene that linked the two time settings that I will never forget. It featured a conversation between the young and old Xavier, thanks to a psychic link set up by Logan. A great, dramatic and emotional moment.

I read on the Wikipedia site that “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” is regarded as the best film in the X-MEN franchise and the best reviewed. I feel that it had the potential to be the best in the franchise, thanks to its time travel theme. But . . . I am afraid it did not achieve that goal. At least for me. What tripped up this movie? Simon Kinberg’s screenplay. However, I cannot solely place the blame on him. As one of the producers and the director of the film, I believe Bryan Singer deserves most of the blame.

I read somewhere that Josh Helman had originally been hired to portray a younger version of Juggernaut, who was portrayed by Vinnie Jones in 2006’s “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. But the filmmakers changed their minds, dropped the Juggernaut character from the script and gave Helman the role of a younger William Stryker. And this was the biggest mistake that Singer, his crew and the rest of the producers made. A big mistake. The 2009 film, “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” made it clear that Stryker was the leader of a group of mutant mercenaries hired to help him develop his Weapons X project. Stryker was portrayed by the then 46-47 year-old Danny Huston, who portrayed Stryker as someone in his late thirties or early forties. I recall that Stryker had recruited both Logan and his half-brother, Victor Creed “Sabretooth” in Vietnam. Later, Logan had left the group in 1973. But there was no sign of Sabretooth and the other mutants working for Stryker in “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. And we are also supposed to be believe that a Stryker portrayed by a 26-27 year-old Josh Helman, was the son of a 10 year-old boy. Are they kidding? When I had pointed out this problem on the Internet, I was told that the audience was supposed to dismiss the 2009 movie as part of the franchise. What the hell? Was this really Singer’s idea of handling the continuity problem of William Stryker in this movie? If so, this is sloppy film writing at its worse.

The William Stryker character proved to be a problem in other areas of the story. In the movie, he is supposed to be Boliviar Trask’s Army liaison. Okay, I can buy that. But would an officer of the U.S. Army stand by silently, while Trask meets with a group of Communist military generals (especially from an army that had just been at war with the United States) in order to sell his Sentinel program? I rather doubt it. Even if Congress was not interested in using Trask’s program, I doubt it or Stryker would be so cavalier about Trask selling his program for combatant robots to military armies they would deem enemies of the U.S. The movie also featured a scene with President Richard M. Nixondiscussing the chaos and violence caused by Mystique’s assassination attempt in Paris with his political and military advisers in the White House’s Oval Office. Nixon and his advisers are suddenly surprised by Trask and Stryker’s appearance, who were there to push the Sentinel program again. Guess what? I was also surprised. How did Trask and Stryker gain entry into the Oval Office without an appointment or security agents stopping them? How was it even possible?

Since I am on a roll, there are other matters in the script that I find questionable. For example . . . did anyone notice any similarities between the plot for “X-MEN UNITED” and this film? In the 2003 movie, Magneto hijacked William Stryker’s plans to use the kidnapped Xavier to kill all mutant in order to use his old friend against non-mutants. And in“DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, Magneto (again) hijacked Trask’s Sentient robots that were created to kill mutants in order to bump of President Nixon and his advisers. Hmmmm . . . how unoriginal. And how was Magneto able to reprogram the prototype Sentinel robots in the first place? He had never displayed any technological skill or talent in the past. I read in Wikipedia’s recap of the movie’s plot that Magneto had intercepted the Sentinels that were in transit by rail and laced their polymer-based frames with steel, allowing him control of them. What the hell? I have never heard of such contrived bullshit in my life. I take that back. I just realized more contrived bullshit in the plot. When did Kitty Pryde acquire the ability to send a person’s consciousness back through time? Her ability is to phase through objects like walls, doors, etc. How did she acquire this second ability, when it was non-existent in the comics? According to Bryan Singer, Kitty’s phasing ability enables time travel. Hmmm. More bullshit to explain vague and bad writing. And speaking of the future segments, could someone explain what was going on the movie’s first action sequence that involved the younger mutants fighting Sentients . . . and nearly being wiped out? And yet, the next thing I know, all of them rendezvous with the older mutants in China – Xavier, Magneto, Ororo Munroe aka Storm, and Logan. So . . . could someone please explain in full detail what the hell was going on?

And could someone please explain why Storm ended up as a background character in this movie? All she did was stand around, while others around her talked . . . until a few minutes before her death. I read that actress Halle Berry was pregnant at the time of the movie’s production. All I can say is . . . so what? Rosamund Pike (her co-star from the 2002 Bond movie, “DIE ANOTHER DAY”) was pregnant during the production of “JACK REACHER”. She was not treated like a background character. And Berry could have been provided with a great deal more dialogue than she was given. There was no need for her to be involved in mainly action sequences. Also, I am at a loss on how Jean Grey and Scott Summers aka Cyclops ended up alive and well in the altered timeline. How? How on earth did their fates have anything to do with Trask’s Sentinels? It was Stryker’s actions in “X-2: X-MEN UNITED” that eventually led to Jean’s “death” in this movie and eventually hers and Scott’s actual deaths in “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. And I do not recall Stryker’s Army career being affected by Trask’s downfall by the end of this movie. Some fans claim that the post-credit scene of “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” explained how Xavier was resurrected, following his death at the hands of Jean. Uh . . . it did not explain anything to me. And you know what? Neither “THE WOLVERINE” or “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. Am I to assume that Xavier’s resurrection in the franchise’s movieverse will always remain a mystery?

The movie eventually revealed that the younger Magneto had been imprisoned for Kennedy’s assassination. As it turned out, Magneto was trying to save Kennedy’s life. Why? Because according to Magneto, the 35th President was a mutant. What was the point of this tidbit? To give Kennedy a reason for his . . . so-called liberal politics? Why was that necessary? Speaking of Magneto, I noticed in one scene that was dressed in this manner in order to retrieve his uniform and telepathy-blocking helmet:

Mind you, Michael Fassbender looked good. But honestly . . . why did his character, a forty-something year-old man who was born and raised in Europe, had to channel “Superfly” in order to retrieve his old uniform? I have one last quibble. This movie is supposed to be set around late January to early February, 1973; during the time when the Paris Peace Accords to end the Vietnam War were signed. Could someone explain why the weather conditions – for locations in the State of New York; Paris, France; and Washington D.C. – in the movie made it seem this story was set during the spring or summer? No one wore a heavy coat. Nor did I see signs of snow, blustery weather or trees with dead leaves.

Before one thinks I hate this movie, I do not. I believe “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” has a great deal of flaws. But it does have its merits. I have already commented on them, earlier in this review. But I have not touched upon the performances. Personally, I have no complaints about them. Sure, Halle Berry barely had any dialogue. Ian McKellen was slightly more fortunate, which I found surprising. Anna Paquin as Marie aka Rogue, Kelsey Grammer as the older Hank McCoy aka the Beast, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, and James Marsden as Scott Summers aka Cyclops all made ten (10) seconds or more appearances at the end of the film. What a waste. However, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde and Shawn Ashmore as Bobby Drake aka Iceman gave solid performances. So did Josh Helman , who made a very effective and scary younger William Stryker. Evan Peters gave a very entertaining and crowd-pleasing performance as supersonic mutant Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver. I enjoyed Nicholas Hoult’s quiet, yet intense performance as the younger Hank McCoy. Hugh Jackman gave his usual intense and deliciously sardonic portrayal of the time traveling Logan aka Wolverine. However . . . I sense that he is getting a bit too old to be portraying a mutant that barely ages. And his physique looked extremely muscular . . . even more so than he did at the age of 31 in 2000’s “X-MEN”. In fact, his body looked downright unnatural and heavily veined.

However, there were outstanding performances in the movie. Patrick Stewart did an excellent job in conveying the many aspects of the older Xavier’s emotional reactions to the war against the Sentients. Also, both he and McKellen continued their first-rate chemistry as the former foes who had renewed their friendship. Both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continued their strong screen chemistry as the younger Xavier and Magneto. I was especially impressed by their performances in the scene that featured their quarrel aboard Xavier’s private plane. And remember the rapture I had expressed over the scene that featured the two Xaviers? Well, one should thank both Stewart and McAvoy for making it so memorable. Peter Dinklage gave an outstanding performance as the intelligent mastermind behind the Sentient robots, Bolivar Trask. But the best performance, I believe, came from Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of the younger Mystique, who seemed hellbent upon assassinating the man she perceived as a threat to the mutants’ future. She was all over the place . . . and in the right way. I found her performance a lot more impressive than the one she gave in “FIRST CLASS”.

Unlike many other fans of the X-MEN movies, I was not particularly impressed by the news that Bryan Singer had returned to direct this latest film for the franchise. I was more impressed by the movie’s theme of time travel. “DAYS OF FUTURE” had a lot to offer – colorful visual effects, great dramatic moments, superb action sequences and some excellent performances by the cast. But the inconsistencies that popped up in the movie’s plot were too many for me to dismiss. And I believe that in the end, those inconsistencies prevented the movie from achieving its potential to be the best in the X-MEN franchise. Hmmm . . . too bad.