Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1880s

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1880s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1880s

1. “Stagecoach” (1939) – John Ford directed this superb adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s 1937 short story, “The Stage to Lordsburg”, about a group of strangers traveling by stagecoach through the Arizona territory. Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell starred.

2. “The Four Feathers” (2002) – Shekhar Kapur directed this fascinating adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel about a former British Army officer accused of cowardice. Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou and Kate Hudson starred.

3. “Back to the Future Part III” (1990) – Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd starred in this third installment of the “BACK TO THE FUTURE” TRILOGY, in which Marty McFly travels back to the Old West to prevent the death of fellow time traveler, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown. Written by Bob Gale, the movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis.

4. “Topsy-Turvy” (1999) – Mike Leigh wrote and directed this biopic about W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and their creation of their most famous operetta, “The Mikado”. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner.

5. “Tombstone” (1993) – Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer starred in this colorful and my favorite account about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the famous O.K. Corral gunfight. George P. Cosmatos directed.

6. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1939) – Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in this adaptation of William Gillette’s 1899 stage play, “Sherlock Holmes”. Directed by Alfred L. Werker, the movie co-starred Ida Lupino and George Zucco.

7. “The Cater Street Hangman” (1998) – Eoin McCarthy and Keeley Hawes starred in this television adaptation of Anne Perry’s 1979 novel about a serial killer in late Victorian England. Sarah Hellings directed.

8. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945) – Hurd Hatfield and George Sanders starred in this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel about a handsome young Englishman who maintains his youth, while a special portrait reveals his inner ugliness.

9. “High Noon” (1952) – Gary Cooper won his second Oscar as a town marshal forced to face a gang of killers by himself. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, the movie was written by blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and co-starred Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado.

10. “Open Range” (2003) – Kevin Costner directed and co-starred with Robert Duvall in this western about a cattle crew forced to take up arms when they and their herd are threatened by a corrupt rancher.

Floating Island

Below is an article about the French dessert known as Floating Island:

FLOATING ISLAND

Many people might find this odd, but the first time I ever heard about the French dessert, Floating Island, was in the 1994 comedy called “MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY”. I have not thought about it for a while, until I came across a few passages about the dish on The Food Timeline website.

The Floating Island is a meringue that floats on crème anglaise, or a vanilla custard. The meringues are prepared from whipped egg whites, sugar and vanilla extract. The crème anglaise is prepared with the egg yolks, vanilla, and hot milk. There is some confusion about the name of the dessert. In French cuisine, the terms Oufs à la Neige, also known as “Eggs in Snow”, which originated in Elizabethan England, and Ile Flottante aka Floating Island, are sometimes used interchangeably. The difference between the two dishes is that the Floating Island (Ile Flottante) sometimes contains islands made of “layers of alcohol-soaked dessert biscuits and jam”.

The dish originated in eighteenth-century France. However, no particular chef has been credited as its inventor. Below is a recipe for the Floating Island from the Epicurious.com website:

Floating Island

Ingredients

Sauce
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar

Meringues

2 cups whole milk
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar

Caramel
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Preparation

For Sauce
Scrape seeds from vanilla bean halves into heavy small saucepan; add beans. Add milk and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from heat, cover, and steep 10 minutes.

Whisk yolks and sugar in heavy medium saucepan until thick, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in warm milk mixture (including vanilla beans). Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 9 minutes (do not boil). Strain custard into small bowl. Cover and chill until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

For Meringues
Lay smooth kitchen towel on work surface. Pour milk into medium (10-inch) skillet. Bring milk to simmer over medium heat.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large bowl until foamy. Add salt and beat until whites hold soft peaks. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until whites are stiff and glossy. Scoop some meringue (about twice the size of an egg) onto large oval spoon. Using another large spoon and gently transferring meringue from spoon to spoon, shape meringue into smooth oval. Drop oval into milk. Quickly shape 2 or 3 more meringues, dropping each into milk. Simmer meringues 1 minute. Using heatproof rubber spatula, turn meringues over in milk. Simmer 1 minute longer (meringues will puff up while poaching). Using slotted spoon, transfer meringues to towel (meringues will deflate slightly as they cool). Repeat process, shaping and then poaching enough meringues to make total of 12. Transfer meringues to waxed-paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours.

For Caramel
Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to boil, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush to dissolve any sugar crystals. Boil until syrup is pale golden color, occasionally swirling pan, about 6 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Let syrup cool until thick enough to fall from tines of fork in ribbons, about 8 minutes. (If caramel becomes too thick, rewarm slightly over low heat, stirring constantly.)

Spoon some sauce into center of each plate. Arrange 2 meringues on each. Dip fork into caramel and wave back and forth over meringues so that caramel comes off in strands that harden like threads, and serve.

“LOST IN AUSTEN” (2008) Review

austen460

 

“LOST IN AUSTEN” (2008) Review

I must admit that I am usually not a fan of novels or any other forms of storytelling that are based upon or continuations of published works of the origin author. This is certainly the case for the numerous works (sans two) based upon Jane Austen’s six published novels.

The 2008 miniseries, “LOST IN AUSTEN” is not based upon any particular Austen novel that was not written by the Georgian Era writer. Instead, it is the brainchild of screenwriter Guy Andrews. The latter created this fantasy-comedy, which is an adaptation of Austen’s novel, “Pride and Prejudice”. “LOST IN AUSTEN” told the story of one Amanda Price, a twenty-something career woman, who lives in Hammersmith, a suburb of London. Amanda works at a bank and shares a flat with another twenty-something named Pirhana. She dates an obtuse and slightly crude young man named Michael, with whom she has become disenchanted. Amanda is also a die-hard Jane Austen fan. And her favorite pastime is reading the author’s published works – especially her favorite novel, “Pride and Prejudice”.

One evening, Amanda finds the novel’s main character in her bathroom – namely one Elizabeth Bennet. Amanda decides to regard the latter as a vision and views the incident as a reminder that she can do better than Michael. But when Elizabeth re-appears the following evening, Amanda steps through a secret doorway shown by the former and finds herself inside Longbourn, the Bennet family home . . . and stuck in the novel, near the beginning. Amanda manages to become the Bennets’ houseguest by claiming that she and Elizabeth are pen pals who had become confused over the dates they were supposed to visit each other. During her stay in this fictional early 19th century world; Amanda not only discovers that Austen’s characters are not what she had always assumed they were, but that her interactions with them may have somewhat scrambled the author’s tale.

“LOST IN AUSTEN” struck me as this mixture of the 1991 Diana Gabaldon novel, “Outlander” and the television series, “ONCE UPON A TIME”. Guy Andrews’ tale is basically a mixture of time travel and the collision of the real and literary worlds. I am not one of those purists who believe that a film or television adaptation should strictly follow its literary source. However, Amanda Price’s adventures in “Austen Land” not only forced her to deal with the customs and mores of early 19th century Britain, but also changes in the novel that would have left the author spinning in her grave.

Some of those changes resulted from Amanda’s determination to maintain the story’s original narrative – namely Charles Bingley’s brief infatuation with her, Jane Bennet’s marriage to William Collins and Charlotte Lucas’ decision to become a missionary in Southern Africa. Other equally hilarious and mind boggling changes simply took Amanda . . . and the audience by surprise. Lydia Bennet proved to be a lot more likable than the Austen’s version. The three biggest characterization changes proved to be Caroline Bingley, Georgiana Darcy and George Wickham. One of the more interesting aspects of Andrews’ screenplay was the difference between Fitzwilliam Darcy’s romance with Elizabeth Bennet in Austen’s novel and his romance with Amanda Price in this production. The differences were probably the result of Amanda’s knowledge of the story, her blunt speaking personality and Mr. Darcy’s more ruthless approach toward propriety.

How do I feel about these changes? They injected a crazy spin on Austen’s tale that left me shaking with laughter. I also found these changes chaotic, funny and at times, simply insane. What can I say? I loved Andrews’ tale. I am usually a little wary of revisionist novels or cinematic adaptations of the former. But “LOST IN AUSTEN” proved to be so original and hilarious that I had completely dismissed my apprehensions about the production and fully embraced it.

Mind you, “LOST IN AUSTEN” was not perfect. I found it odd that other members of the Bennet family barely made a fuss over Amanda’s lack of wardrobe, or the fact that she seemed to be borrowing the missing Elizabeth’s clothes. I found the time-travel method to transport Amanda to Austen’s tale a bit lame, but this seemed to be the case in many time travel stories. My biggest gripe proved to be Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s socializing with Charles and Caroline Bingley. Apparently, Andrews (and many other Austen fans) seemed to harbor the misconception that the Bingleys were members of the upper-class and the Bennets were part of the middle-class. The opposite was true. The Bennets came from the landed gentry. And the Bingleys made their money in trade, which made them members of the middle-class. There is no way in hell that an ultra-snob like Lady Catherine de Bourgh would associate with the likes of Caroline Bingley or her brother Charles.

The main virtue of “LOST IN AUSTEN” proved to be its cast. Jemima Rooper turned out to be the woman of the hour in her superb portrayal of “the woman out of time”, Amanda Price. Considering the crazy shenanigans that permeated Andrews’ story, I have to give kudos to Rooper for not only carrying this production on her shoulders and making it all so effortless. One of the most amazing aspects of “LOST IN AUSTEN” was the electric chemistry between Rooper and her leading man, Elliot Cowan. I heard or read somewhere that Cowan was a last minute casting for the role of Fitzwilliam Darcy. I say . . . thank God!. I have to say it. Cowan gave, in my opinion, a brilliant performance and probably the most interesting interpretation of the Fitzwilliam Darcy character I have ever seen. Or should I say . . . the most ruthless? I have never come across a Mr. Darcy so ruthlessly determined to adhere to society’s rules. And when the character finally succumbed to feelings for Amanda, his Mr. Darcy struck me as the most romantic.

“LOST IN AUSTEN” also featured some first-rate performances from the supporting cast. Tom Riley did an outstanding job in his portrayal of a more ambiguous George Wickham, who seemed less of the fortune seeker and more of the decent and a surprisingly chivalrous friend for Amanda and the Bennet family. Morven Christie gave an excellent performance as the eldest Bennet sibling Jane, whose long-suffering in this story revealed the character’s true strength and backbone. Hugh Bonneville gave an entertaining and witty performance as Mr. Bennet, the family patriarch. I found Alex Kingston’s portrayal of Mrs. Bennet to be very interesting. Her take on the role seemed more ruthless and a lot less silly than other interpretations. Another interesting performance came from Tom Mison, whose portrayal of Charles Bingley struck me as more refreshingly complex than other portrayals.

Christina Cole, who co-starred with Rooper in the Sky One 2004-2005 series “HEX”, gave a wickedly subtle performance as Caroline Bingley, Amanda’s rival for Mr. Darcy’s attention. In many ways, her performance reminded me of her role in the 2009 miniseries, “EMMA”, but with more of a sophisticated touch. After seeing “LOST IN AUSTEN”, I feel that Guy Henry’s take on the William Collins character has to be the skeeviest and yet, funniest version I have ever seen. Lindsay Duncan, on the other hand, injected a good deal of sophistication into her portrayal of the autocratic Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And Gemma Arterton gave a very nuanced performance as the time traveling Elizabeth Bennet. However, I must admit that her take on the character seemed a bit more introspective than previous performances. The miniseries also featured solid performances from the likes of Perdita Weeks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michelle Duncan, Daniel Percival, Ruby Bentall and Florence Hoath.

Yes, Guy Andrews’ screenplay for “LOST IN AUSTEN” had a few hiccups. What movie or television production does not? But overall, Andrews created a wildly entertaining and imaginative look into the pages of Jane Austen through the eyes of a modern day, early 21st century woman. And Dan Zeff’s well-paced direction, along with a talented cast led by Jemima Rooper and Elliot Cowan, added a great deal of pleasure to his story.

“Crossroads of the Force” [PG-13] – Chapter One

“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”

CHAPTER ONE

8BBY – CORUSCANT

The announciator inside her private office distracted Senator Zoebeida Dahlma from her work. She glanced up and said, “Enter.”

Seconds later, a petite, dark-haired woman dressed in royal blue entered the Maldarian senator’s office. “Pardon me, Senator Dahlma, but you have a communiqué from Senator Mon Mothma.”

Returning her gaze to the data pad in her hand, Senator Dahlma replied, “Upload it into my computer.”

The younger woman hesitated. “It’s a . . . private communiqué.”

Zoebeida glanced up. She noticed the small holoemitter in her aide’s open palm. A sigh left her mouth. “I see. Give it to me.” The aide, Igraine Colbert, handed the holoemitter over to the senator. “Thank you, Igraine. You may go.”

Igraine nodded and left the office. Although the twenty-six year-old aide knew about Zoebeida’s activities with the barely formed Rebel Alliance, the senator made sure that she remained ignorant of any details . . . in case the Empire ever learned of Zoebeida’s secret activities.

Now alone, the senator placed the holoemitter on her desk and switched it on. Mon Mothma’s statuesque figure illuminated above the device. “Greetings Zoebeida,” the Chandrilian began. “A special conference will be held at the Hotel Grand in Worlport, on Ord Mantell, to discuss the Alliance’s future agenda. Because this is a special meeting, Bail Organa, Garm Iblis and I have decided it would be best not to hold this meeting here on Coruscant. If you plan to participate, please respond to either Bail or myself within the next twenty-four hours. I hope to hear from you soon.” The hologram disappeared.

Zoebeida leaned back into her chair and sighed. A special meeting for the Rebel Alliance? In reality, no such alliance really existed. At least not yet. The Maldarian senator had originally been amongst the Delegation of 2000 – a group of senators who had opposed Palpatine’s growing power around the end of the Clone Wars. The Delagation had presented a petition to the former Chancellor that demanded he find a peaceful resolution to the war and give up his emergency powers. Instead, a conflict with the Jedi led Palpatine to declare himself emperor and order the destruction of the Jedi Order. Many who had signed the petition ended up either killed, imprisoned or forced into exile. Of course, there were those senators like herself, Organa and Mothma, who managed to elude Palpatine’s retribution by removing their names from the petition and continuing their opposition against Palpatine, as a secret.

Padme Amidala, along with other senators like Solipo Yeb and Garm Bel Iblis had ended up in exile. Zoebeida recalled that the discovery of a fugitive Jedi Knight on Andalia had led to the Imperial annexation of Solipo’s homeworld. And poor Garm had nearly been killed by Palpatine’s troops – a fate that his family had failed to avoid – because of the Corellian’s past open opposition against the former Chancellor-turned-Emperor. But Zoebeida could not fathom Padme Amidala’s reason for evading the Empire. The former Naboo senator had once been Palpatine’s protégée. And Naboo’s ties to the Empire seemed free of any conflict with its former Emperor – despite the mysterious death of Queen Apiliana, some nine years ago. What exactly had led Amidala to fake her own death?

If this meeting on Ord Mantell proved to be a major one for the Alliance, then it seemed possible that Organa, Mothma and Iblis had finally discovered a way to unite many individual factions and resistance cells now fighting against the Empire. Zoebeida wondered if Amidala and Yeb will be present. Both former senators possessed connections to various resistance cells in the Outer Rim Territories.

Zoebeida finally erased Mothma’s message from the holoemitter. Then she replaced it with one of her own: “Greetings Mon. I am more than happy to accept the invitation to attend this conference. Please provide me with the details, so that I can make arrangements. Thank you.” She ended the recording and summoned Igraine. The younger woman entered the office and Zoebeida handed over the holoemitter. “Return this to Senator Mothma. And if you’re unable to find her, give it to Senator Organa of Alderaan. Make sure that you give it to either one of those two . . . personally.”

“Yes, Senator Dahlma,” the pretty young woman dutifully replied with a nod, before leaving the office. Zoebeida remained behind her desk and contemplated upon the upcoming conference. Has the day for an organized resistance against the Empire finally arrived? The Maldarian senator sincerely hoped so.

——-

LE YER, ABREGADO-RAE

“Happy Birthday!”

The handsome, 21 year-old Corellian broke into a wide grin, as his partner, along with several friends and acquaintances sang to him inside a private room at the Triple Nova Casino. As the singing continued, an attractive, blue-skinned Twi’lek placed a Pyollian cake with 21-lit candles in front of him. Once the singing ceased, everyone broke into applause.

“Congratulations, Han. Today, you are a man.” The 33 year-old Anakin Skywalker also grinned, as his younger partner shot him a disbelieving stare. “What did I say?”

Han grumbled, “Nothing.” He blew out the candles and more applause followed.

The Twi’let, a fellow pilot and smuggler by the name of Vi’dal Mira, leaned down to plant a light kiss on the Corellian’s cheek. “So, what did you wish for?” she asked.

“I believe that my wish had already been granted,” Han replied slyly. “About two years ago, on Ord Montell.” He shot a meaningful glance at Vi’dal, who smirked.

Anakin understood the meaning behind Han’s words. Nearly two years ago, Han had suffered a setback from a serious romance and turned to Vi’dal for one night with the Twi’lek smuggler. Fortunately, nothing serious had evolved from the brief affair. With a straight face and his tongue firmly tucked in his cheek, Anakin commented, “Was that the extent of your birthday wish? Vi’dal?”

Han nearly snickered out loud. Vi’dal glared at the wide-eyed Anakin. “And what did you mean by that, Captain Horus? Don’t you feel that one night with me would make a worthy birthday wish?” Set Horus happened to be the name that Anakin used as an alias to avoid Imperial detection.

“Well . . .” Anakin began, as he allowed his eyes to sweep appreciatively over the Twi’lek’s voluptuous figure. “. . . I have yet to experience such a night to make that kind of judgment.”

Vi’dal eased next to Anakin with hands on her hips. “I would be happy to make arrangements for such an experience. Believe me, you will not be unsatisfied.”

“My birthday had passed two months ago.”

“Irrevelant.”

Anakin allowed one of his brows to arch. “I beg your pardon?”

Vi’dal continued in a seductive voice, “I don’t care whether it’s your birthday or not. Why should you?”

Both the human and the Twi’lek regarded each other for what seemed like a very long moment to Anakin. He almost sensed an electrical charge between himself and the female smuggler. Aside from his brief period as a Sith Lord, Anakin has always tried to be honest regarding his personal character. He could not deny his attraction toward the beautiful Vi’dal. But he found it difficult to become romantically involved with other females – despite being a widower for the past eleven years. The memory of Padme and what he had done to her became a stumbling block to any possible relationship with another woman – whether serious or not.

Anakin inhaled deeply and gave Vi’dal his most charming smile. “To be honest, I don’t . . .” He paused briefly. Then, “How about another time? When the time is right?”

Disappointment flashed briefly in Vi’dal’s large brown eyes before she returned his smile. “I look forward to that moment, Set Horus.”

“If you find it hard to wait for Set,” a fourth voice began, “there’s always me.” Anakin suppressed an urge to roll his eyes in disgust. The voice belonged to Mako Spence, a fellow smuggler from Corellia.

Vi’dal shot a contemptuous glance at the handsome, bearded pilot. “I’m not that desperate,” she retorted bitingly. “If you’re longing for company tonight, I suggest that you pay a visit to the Blue Orchid. I’m sure that Umekei Sun would be more than happy to see you.” Vi’dal spoke of Mako’s regular patronage of the spaceport’s most prosperous pleasure house. The older Corellian’s face turned scarlet.

Anakin smirked at Mako’s discomfort. He never really liked the Corellian. Nor did he see any reason to pretend otherwise and be a hypocrite. Besides, even Han – who happened to be friends with Mako – smirked. “Anyone for a piece of cake?” the younger Corellian asked. “I’m starved.”

——–

Nearly a half hour later, the two partners strolled out of the private room and made their way across the casino’s floor. “Not a bad haul, huh?” Han indicated the bag filled with birthday presents. “Even Bascko gave me power converters. And I didn’t think that he liked me.”

“Of course he does,” Anakin reassured the younger man. “Bascko likes those who don’t bother to agree to everything he says.” Bascko happened to be a local merchant and a Verpine from the Roche asteroid belt. Both Han and Anakin were amongst his regular clients.

A brief silence followed before Han surreptiously added, “Are you referring to Mako?”

Contempt flickered in Anakin’s blue eyes. “I don’t recall Bascko ever giving him a birthday present.”

Han remained silent. He viewed Mako Spince as a very close friend. Scion of a prominent senator from Corellia, Mako had ended up expelled from the Imperial Academy due to a dangerous prank he had pulled. Disgraced and estranged from his family, Mako used his trust fund and a few connections from the Academy to become a smuggler. With Mako, Han had someone with whom he could enjoy nights at popular establishments like the Triple Nova Casino. Anakin might be a brother and mentor to him, but the former Jedi had never developed the habit of frequenting the galaxy’s many pleasure spots on a regular basis. And although Anakin never protested against his friendship with Mako, his partner never did warm up to the older Corellian.

In an attempt to change the subject, Han asked, “Why didn’t you take up Vi’dal’s offer?”

“What?” Anakin looked startled by Han’s sudden change of the subject.

“Vi’dal,” Han repeated. “Why didn’t you take up her offer? She likes you. And you obviously like her.”

One of Anakin’s brows arched. “Obviously?”

Han rolled his eyes. “I’m not blind, Anakin. I saw the way you two were staring at each other, tonight. I mean . . . why deny yourself?”

A long, suffering sigh left Anakin’s mouth. “Look, I’m just not that interested in Vi’dal . . . in that way. Yes, she’s a beautiful woman, but I only think of her as a friend. Nothing else.”

“Uh-huh.” The two men passed one of the gaming tables, where they spotted a Rodian yelling with glee. Han added, “So, what you’re trying to tell me is that your devotion to your old hokey religion has nothing to do with this decision to act like a monk.”

Anakin shot a dark look at the younger man. “Since when did my Jedi beliefs become ‘a hokey religion’? Since Ylesia?”

The mention of Ylesia brought back painful memories for Han. While Anakin was on Dantooine for a retreat, two years ago, Han did a private smuggling job for the Tatooine gangster, Jabba the Hutt that led him to a tropical planet called Ylesia. There, he discovered that a fellow Corellian had escaped an arranged engagement to join a religious cult operated by the Besadii clan. Han promptly fell in love with the beautiful, red-haired Bria Tharen. After exposing the Besadii’s cult as a hoax to Bria, he helped her escape from Ylesia with guns blazing and a sack full of precious antiquities that belonged to one of the cult’s high priests. The pair eventually made their way to Coruscant via stops at Corellia and Togoria. There, Bria eventually abandoned the love-struck Han before the latter eventually made his way to Dantooine . . . and Anakin.

“My trip to Ylesia has nothing to do with my opinion of your old order,” Han firmly retorted. He added in a mumbling voice, “I’ve just never been the religious type. That’s all.” Then his voice reasserted itself. “Besides, I only wanted to know why you won’t consider the time of day with Vi . . .”

Anakin interrupted, “Because I’m not ready for another relationship, Han. At least one with the opposite sex. And I don’t think I’ll ever be. I’m ju . . .” He sighed, as a faraway look gleamed in his eyes. “Maybe I’m not one for casual relationships.”

It never ceased to amaze Han that despite being a good twelve years younger than Anakin, his experience with women has been more extensive. “Okay,” the Corellian said, “I can accept . . .” Han broke off, as a third figure rushed toward the pair.

“Han! Set!” Mako Spince halted before the two men, breathing heavily. The casino’s fluorescent lights highlighted his light-brown hair. “I need to speak to both of you.”

Han shrugged his shoulders. “So speak.”

“Not here.” Mako glanced around the casino, as if expecting to be overheard by an eavesdropper. “Outside.” He led the two partners outside, until he halted next to a marble balustrade that overlooked a wide, blue canal filled with boats of all kinds. Le Yer boasted a series of water canals that made the entire city very popular with tourists and other visitors.

Anakin brusquely added, “Okay, we’re alone. What do you want?”

Mako took a deep breath. “I have a business proposition. This business . . .” He paused dramatically. “Actually, he’s a Quarren named Sekka Verdu. It turns out that he’s a . . . representative of Garulla the Hutt and he needs pilots to fly a large shipment of Glitterstim from Kessel to Maldore.”

“Glitterstim?” Anakin frowned.

An exasperated sigh left Mako’s mouth. “C’mon Horus! Don’t tell me that a successful smuggler like you has something against shipping spice! Haven’t you done it before?”

“Of course I have!” Anakin retorted. “But you’re talking about the Kessel Run! It’s heavily patrolled by Imperial ships and the Empire has grown less tolerant of spice during the last few years.”

Mako nodded. “I understand. That’s what I had said to Verdu. But we’re talking about a large shipment of spice worth at least two million credits. Verdu is willing to pay one hundred thousand credits to fly it to Maldore. That’s fifty thousand for me and fifty thousand for the both of you.”

Han frowned at his friend. He and Anakin would have to split one-half of the fee? Not if he could help it. “Why can’t we split the one hundred thousand in three ways?” he demanded.

“Because three starships won’t be involved,” Mako coolly replied. “Fifty thousand per ship. It’s only fair. I would have made the run myself, but my cargo hold isn’t big enough for the entire shipment. I need another starship to conclude the deal.”

Han saw the word “no” form on Anakin’s lips. Fifty thousand credits would greatly make up for the money they had recently spent on repairs for the Javian Hawk. “Just a minute,” he said, taking Anakin by surprise. “Uh . . . Set and me need to discuss this.” He drew the older man aside.

“You’re not serious about this, are you?” Anakin immediately demanded in a low voice.

Han shot back under his breath, “C’mon Anakin! We need the money. Those repairs for the Hawk took a lot out of our account. Besides, what do you have against this deal?”

“Simple. It was proposed by Mako. He’s part of the deal.”

The younger man shot back, “Look, I realize that you don’t like the guy – why, I don’t know – but this is a sweet deal. And Mako hasn’t done nothing . . .”

“Anything,” Anakin immediately corrected.

With a sigh, Han re-phrased his last word. “Like I said, he hasn’t done anything to give us a reason to distrust him.” He paused. “Unless you know something . . .”

“No, I didn’t,” Anakin snapped. Looking defeated, he shook his head. “I know I’m going to regret this, but okay. I’m willing to accept Spince’s offer.”

Relief filled Han’s mind. “Great!” he crowed. Then he returned to Mako. “We’ll do it. As for the fee . . . that hundred thousand credits have to be divided three ways. We’ll all be taking the risk, no matter how many ships are involved.”

Mako looked slightly taken aback. “Wait a minute. I mean . . . I’m the one had approached you about this deal. I think . . .”

“Take it,” Han insisted. “Or find yourself a new partner.”

The older Corellian sighed. Han deduced from that sigh that Mako had been unable to find another pilot to accompany him on this venture. “All right. We’ll split the money three ways. By the way, I suggest that we all leave for Kessel, tomorrow morning.”

“See you tomorrow, then.” Han watched his friend walk back into the casino. Then he approached Anakin. “The deal is on.”

Doubt flickered in the older man’s eyes. “I only hope that we won’t end up regretting this.”

END OF CHAPTER ONE

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Consequences”

 

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CONSEQUENCES”

Has anyone noticed something odd about the main characters in the 2007 movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”? Most or all of them either ended up with a less than happy ending or with their fates up in the air.

If one must be brutally honest, the franchise’s main characters had committed some kind of questionable act or one dangerous to others. Jack Sparrow was a pirate, who had no qualms about using others for his own personal gain. And that included bartering the former blacksmith apprentice Will Turner to Davy Jones in 2006’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST” in order to avoid paying his debt to Jones . . . and lying to Will’s fiancee, Elizabeth Swann, about it. Captain Hector Barbossa, as well all know, was a murderous pirate who led a mutiny against Jack, threatened the lives of many and also double-crossed sorceress Tia Dalma by tossing her into the Black Pearl’s brig in “AT WORLD’S END”. And then there is the straight arrow Will, who turned out to be not so straight in terms of morality. He had left Jack to the mercies of Barbossa and the latter’s crew in 2003’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” and double-crossed the Pearl’s crew to pirate Captain Sao Feng and the East India Trading Company in order to get his hands on the ship in the 2007 movie. Will’s beloved and future Pirate King – Elizabeth committed one of the worst acts by leaving Jack shackled to the Black Pearl in order for the latter to be killed by Davy Jones’ pet, the Kracken, near the end of “DEAD MAN’S CHEST”. And in that same movie, former Royal Navy commodore James Norrington betrayed his new crew members from the Black Pearl, by stealing Davy Jones’ heart and handing it over to the villainous Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company in order to regain his military position in society.

Not exactly a sweet bunch, are they? Many societies, religious and what-have-you, seemed to believe in the old adage of what goes around, comes around. Or paying the consequences of one’s actions. My favorite happens to be – “Payback’s a bitch”. And judging from the fates of the major characters in the franchise, all of them – in one form or the other – seemed to have paid the consequences of their actions.

For Norrington, payback came in the form of death at the hands of Will’s poor deluded pirate father “Bootstrap” Bill Turner, when he helped Elizabeth and Sao Feng’s crew escape from the Flying Dutchman’s brig. After marrying Will during a battle against Jones and his crew, Elizabeth found herself nearly a widow and facing ten years of marriage . . . without her husband. And where was Will? During that battle, Jones stabbed him with the sword he had made for Norrington. And when Jack helped him stab Jones’ heart before he could die, Will became the new captain of the Flying Dutchman, ferrying souls lost at sea to “the other side” . . . and apart from Elizabeth for ten years. Barbossa seemed to have had it made in the end. He managed to get back the Black Pearl from Jack. Unfortunately, he found himself facing a possible mutiny due to Jack’s theft of Sao Feng’s chart that could lead them all to a new treasure. Later, he lost both the Black Pearl and his leg to the even more notorious pirate, Blackbeard in the 2011 film, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”, and went through a great deal of trouble to get revenge. And what about dear old Jack? Well . . . he found himself left behind at Tortuga, after Barbossa took the Black Pearl from him again. It took him quite a while to get the Black Pearl back, but not without being hunted by British justice and shanghaied by Blackbeard, who needed Jack to find the Fountain of Youth

Mind you some of the characters like Norrington and Will suffered a more severe consequence than the other characters. But not one of them had the glowingly “happily ever after” that was seen in the conclusion of “AT WORLD’S END”. Even though Will and Elizabeth were finally reunited in the film’s post-credits scene, I wonder if there were some problems in their reunion. After all, Will and Elizabeth had to adjust being married. And Will had to learn to be a father . . . something of which Elizabeth already had ten years of experience.

“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART II” (2015) Review

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“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART II” (2015) Review

Some five or six years ago, Warner Brothers Studios began a new tradition when its executives made a decision to split its adaptation of the last “HARRY POTTER” film into two novels. A year later, Summit Entertainment continued this tradition by splitting its adaptation of the last “TWILIGHT” novel into two films. And now Lionsgate has done the same by adapting Suzanne Collins’ last novel in her “The Hunger Games”trilogy with two movies. The studio ended the movie franchise with the release of “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II”.

This last film, which is based upon the second half of Collins’ 2010 novel, picked up where the 2014 movie left off – with Katniss Everdeen aka “The Girl on Fire” recovering from being attacked by her close friend, Peeta Mallark, after he had been brainwashed by the Capitol into regarding her as an enemy. After being attacked by a supporter of Panem’s President Snow during a propaganda campaign in District 2, Katniss is frustrated by rebel leader Alma Coin’s insistence that she stay away from the battlefields. Fellow tribute from the 75th Quater Quell Games, Johanna Mason, quietly suggests that she sneak aboard a supply ship leaving for the Capitol, where Commander Paylor is planning an invasion, during the wedding of former tributes Finnick Odair and Annie Cresta. Unable to control Katniss, Coin decides to assigned her to the “Star Squad”; along with childhood friend Gale Hawthorne, Finnick, and documentary director Cressida and her team. Led by Katniss’ former bodyguard, Boggs, the squad is order to remain in safety behind the actual invasion of the Capitol and provide video clips of their incursion for propaganda purposes. But Katniss and her fellow combatants encounter a great deal of danger from Capitol soldiers, explosive pods and mutated animals. Coin also assigns Peeta to the squad, despite the fact that he has not completely recovered from his conditioning. What starts out as a propaganda campaign for the squad, eventually becomes a dangerous and bloody mission that ends in tragedy and a great surprise.

This last “HUNGER GAMES” movie received a great deal of praise. But at the same time, these same critics expressed dismay that the last novel in the franchise had been split into two films. Surprisingly, I had no problems with how the adaptation of “Mockingjay” resulted in two films. Unlike the last “HARRY POTTER”and “TWILIGHT” adaptations, the two-part adaptation for this particular movie seemed to break at the right moment – namely the rescued Peeta Mellark’s attack on protagonist Katniss Everdeen. However, I did have a few problems with “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II”. I wish the screenwriters and director Francis Lawrence had featured a few scenes of Panem citizens rebelling against the Capitol . . . just as they had done in “PART I”. In fact, I wish they could have featured a few scenes of the rebels inching towards the Presidential mansion, before Katniss and close friend Gale Hawthorne had reached it. The movie seemed so fixed upon Katniss’ point-of-view (POV) that the entire sequence featuring the massacre of the Capitol citizens, Peacekeepers and rebel medics from bombs seemed slightly disjointed and confusing. I also wish that the screenplay had included a scene from the novel in which Katniss and her mother, Mrs. Everdeen, said good-bye to each other over the telephone. I never understood why they did not include that scene in the film. It would have been a great moment for both Jennifer Lawrence and Paula Malcomson.

Quibbles aside, I must admit that I really enjoyed “MOCKINGJAY, PART II”. I thought director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Danny Strong and Peter Craig did a very good job of adapting the second half of Collins’ novel. I had worried that Lion’s Gate Studios would insist that the screenwriters and Lawrence drastically change the story by giving it a less bittersweet ending. Lo and behold, no such thing happened.“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” – especially its ending – literally wallowed in moral ambiguity. More importantly, story allowed its heroine, in the end, to succumb to her worst instincts in a way that made sense to the saga that began in the first chapter. I believe it took balls for Suzanne Collins to end Katniss Everdeen’s struggles against the Capitol on that note. And I can say the same for Lawrence, Strong, Craig and the film’s producers.

I was also impressed by the movie’s portrayal of Peeta Mallark in this chapter of the saga. As many know, Peeta had spent most of “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART I” as a captive of the Capitol. He had been tortured and brainwashed via a tracker jacker venom into making an attempt on Katniss’ life. The filmmakers could have easily ignored Collins’ story and allowed Peeta’s recovery to be a quick job before he joined Katniss’ squad in the Capitol’s streets. Instead, they decided to follow Collins’ story and allowed Peeta’s recovery to be slow. By doing this, they allowed Peeta’s presence in the squad to not only endanger everyone, but have an impact on Katniss’ relationship with the Rebellion’s leadership.

More importantly, “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” continued the saga’s theme of the impact war has human beings. After all, this theme has been present since Katniss and Peeta found themselves in 74th Hunger Games arena in the first movie. But in these last two movies, audiences see how war impacts everyone and not just a group of tributes coerced into playing out a lethal war game for the sake of television ratings. The war eventually has an impact upon Katniss’ various relationships – especially with Peeta, her best friend Gale Hawthorne, her family and the Rebellion’s leadership . . . and also upon her psyche. What I found interesting in the combat featured in this film is that Katniss and her fellow combatants not only have to deal with the traditional weapons of war, but also the muttations and other technical wonders usually reserved for the Hunger Games. The most harrowing examples of the Capitol’s use of muttations were the flood of black tar on the Capitol’s streets and the lizard mutts’ attack upon the squad inside the Capitol’s sewer system. I found this sequence rather difficult to watch, due to the scary images, the level of violence and the devastating impact upon the squad. But I must say . . . I thought it was one of the most frightening scenes in the entire saga. And due to Lawrence’ direction, the cast’s performances, the editing team of Alan Edward Bell and Mark Yoshikawa, cinematographer Jo Willems, and the special effects team; I also found it very effective.

Speaking of the performances, there is not enough I can say about them. I could not find a misstep made by any member of the cast. “MOCKINGJAY, PART II” featured some really solid performances from the likes of Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Evan Ross, Stef Dawson, Sarita Choudhury, and Meta Golding. Natalie Dormer continued her excellent portrayal of television director Cressida. Patina Miller gave a more subtle performance as District 8’s Commander Paylor, who ends up playing a major role at the end of the rebellion. Although her screen time was somewhat limited in the movie, Jena Malone continued to give a colorful performance as former tribute Johanna Mason. Actually, she was not the only one whose screen time was limited. I could also say the same about Woody Harrelson, who portrayed Katniss and Peeta’s mentor Haymitch Abernathy; Jeffrey Wright as former tribute and the Rebellion’s tech man Beetee Latier; Elizabeth Banks as Katniss and Peeta’s escort Effie Trinket; Paula Malcomson as Katniss’ delicate mother Mrs. Everdeen; Willow Shields as Katniss’ quiet and highly determined sister Primrose; and Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman. Thankfully, they were all top-notch, as usual.

There were cast members who given opportunities to strut their stuff in one or two scenes. There was an excellent moment for Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, who as Rebellion commander Bogg, tries to warn Katniss about President Alma Coin’s true goals in a heartbreaking scene. Sam Claflin continued his excellent performance as former tribute Finnick Odair – especially in two scenes. One of them featured his character’s wedding to another former tribute Annie Cresta. And other featured his attempts to placate the still hijacked Peeta. One scene that featured an intense performance by Michelle Forbes, who portrayed Boggs’ second-in-command, Lieutenant Jackson. However, Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore received a good number of opportunities to showcase their talent. As President Coriolanus Snow of Panem and President Alma Coin of the Rebellion, the two performers gave interesting, yet contrasting takes on presidential villainy. Sutherland’s performance struck me as verbose, but with a slight edge of desperation, as his character struggle to deal with the possibility of defeat. On the other hand, Moore’s performance seemed a good deal more subtle . . . cool. I got the impression of observing a personality that proved to be a lot more manipulative than Snow’s and just as murderous in the occasional flash in her eyes.

The movie also featured superb performances from the three leads. Liam Hemsworth gave an interesting performance as rebel Gale Hawthorne. Very interesting. Hemsworth skillfully expressed Gale’s fervent aggression against Snow’s administration, but also a disturbing willingness to resort to any means necessary to end the war in the rebels’ favor. But for me, his best scene featured that moment when his character was unable to verify whether one of his weapon designs was used in an attack in front of the Presidential mansion. Hemsworth barely said a word, but his stark emotion is perfectly clear on his face. I think Josh Hutcherson had the most difficult role in this movie. He had to take the Peeta Mellark character on a journey from the murderous and brainwashed young man to someone who managed to find some semblance of peace in the wake of two Hunger Games and a violent war. Thanks to the screenwriters and Hutcherson’s performance, Peeta’s journey was not rushed into some futile effort to resume his old relationship with Katniss as quickly as possible. And this journey resulted in a beautiful scene in which Peeta finally told Katniss how she was needed to end this war against Snow – a scene that Hutcherson not only acted his ass off, but also brought tears to my eyes. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen seemed a bit more subtle than usual in this movie. I found this surprising, considering her role as the movie’s lead. I suspect that Katniss’ unusual subtlety came from having the brainwashed Peeta in her midst. I also suspect that Katniss’ unease toward Gale’s “by any means necessary” attitude toward the use of violence may have contributed to that unease. Lawrence really kept her performance under control in this film. But there was one scene in which Lawrence’s performance blew me away, when she openly expressed Katniss’ rage and grief against the tragedies she had experienced during the war.

I understand that “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” made less money than the previous three movies. Personally, I do not see this as a reflection of the movie’s quality. Sure, it had a few bumps in the narrative and the production. But so did the other three films. Frankly, I thought it was an outstanding conclusion to one of the best movie franchises I had the good fortune to see. And one can thank not only Suzanne Collins’ imagination and talent, but also Francis Lawrence’s first-rate direction, a well-written script by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, and a talented cast led by the always superb Jennifer Lawrence that brought Collins’ story to life.

 

Five Favorite Episodes of “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Four (2014-2015)

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Four of “ONCE UPON A TIME”. The series was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ONCE UPON A TIME” – SEASON FOUR (2014-2015)

1 - 4.16 Best Laid Plans

1. (4.17) “Best Laid Plans” – While Rumpelstiltskin and the Queens of Darkness continue their search for the “Author” of the town’s Fairy Tale Book, Snow White and Prince David “Charming” try to stop them in order to keep their daughter Emma Swan from discovering their past misdeed, which is finally revealed in flashbacks.

2 - 4.12 Darkness on the Edge of Town

2. (4.13) “Darkness on the Edge of Town” – Rumpelstiltskin aka Mr. Gold returns to Storybrooke with Ursula and Cruella De Vil in tow. Meanwhile, the Charmings, Regina Mills and Killian Joneaka Captain Hook set about freeing the fairies from the Sorcerer’s hat and deal with a threatening Chernabog demon, which was also freed.

3 - 4.17 Heart of Gold

3. (4.18) “Heart of Gold” – Emma, angry over the discovery of her parents’ misdeed, joins the search for the Author. Meanwhile, a captured Regina learns from Rumpelstiltskin on how Robin Hood ended up in the clutches of her allegedly dead sister Zelena Mills in New York City. And Robin has his first encounter with Zelena in the past Land of Oz, as he sets about stealing a magical elixir for Rumpelstiltskin.

4 - 4.07 The Snow Queen

4. (4.07) “The Snow Queen” – The origins of Ingrid, the Snow Queen in Arendelle, are revealed in flashbacks, along with her relationships with her two sisters. In the present, Ingrid manipulates Emma into losing control of her magic in order to make the Charmings fear her.

5 - 4.22 Operation Mongoose Part 1

5. (4.22) “Operation Mongoose, Part 1” – In the first half of the season finale, Henry Mills tries to undo the changes in the universe created by Rumpelstiltskin and Isaac Heller aka the Author.

HM - 4.04 The Apprentice

Honorable Mention: (4.04) “The Apprentice” – Killian blackmails Rumpelstiltskin into giving him a genuine hand for the former’s first date with Emma and ends up facing consequences. And Emma is constantly taunted by Ingrid about the former’s relationship with her parents. Flashbacks reveal Princess Anna of Arendelle’s encounters with both Rumpelstiltskin and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.