“THREE ACT TRAGEDY” (2010) Review

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“THREE ACT TRAGEDY” (2010) Review

When I was in my early teens, I had shifted my attention from Nancy Drew mysteries to those novels written by Agatha Christie. And I have not stopped since. I confess that this shift in reading material was the result of seeing the 1978 movie, “DEATH ON THE NILE”, for the first time. Properly hooked on Christie’s works, I focused my attention on her 1934 novel, “Murder in Three Acts”, also known as “Three Act Tragedy”

I have seen two adaptations of Christie’s 1934 novel. The first was television adaptation in the mid 1980s, titled “MURDER IN THREE ACTS”, which starred Christie veteran Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot. Although I enjoyed it, I had hoped to see an adaptation of the novel in its original 1930s setting. I had to wait many years before the ITV series, “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”granted my wish with an adaptation that not only retained the original setting, but also the original title, “THREE ACT TRAGEDY”.

The story begins on the coast of Cornwall, where Hercule Poirot attends a dinner party at the home of famed stage actor, Sir Charles Cartwright. The latter’s guests also include:

*Dr. Sir Bartholomew Strange – Sir Charles’ old childhood friend and a nerve specialist
*Lady Mary Lytton-Gore – a Cornish neighbor of Sir Charles, who is from an impoverished old family
*Hermione “Egg” Lytton-Gore – Lady Mary’s young daughter, with whom Sir Charles is in love
*Muriel Wills – a successful playwright also known as Anthony Astor
*Captain Freddie Dacres – a former Army officer and gentleman gambler
*Cynthia Dacres – Captain Dacres’ wife and a successful dressmaker
*Reverend Stephen Babbington – the local curate and Sir Charles’ Cornish neighbor
*Mrs. Babbington – Reverend Babbington’s wife near Sir Charles’s home in Cornwall.
*Oliver Manders – a young Cornish neighbor of Sir Charles’, who is interested in Egg
*Miss Milray – Sir Charles’ secretary

The guests gather in Sir Charles’ drawing-room for a round of pre-dinner cocktails. The party is marred when one of the guests, Reverend Babbington, collapses and dies after drinking his cocktail. An inquest rules his death as a result from natural causes. However, Sir Charles believes that Reverend Babbington may have been murdered, but Poirot is not convinced. About a month or so later, Poirot is vacationing in Monte Carlo, when he encounters Sir Charles. The latter reveals via a newspaper article that Dr. Strange had died from similar circumstances, while hosting a dinner party at his home in Yorkshire. Most of the guests who had attended Sir Charles’ party had also been there, with the exception of Mrs. Babbington and Miss Milray. Unlike Reverend Babbington, Sir Bartholomew’s death has been ruled as a homicide. Both Poirot and Sir Charles return to Britain to investigate the two deaths.

Although “Three Act Tragedy” was one of the first Christie novels I had read, it has never been a favorite of mine. I liked it, but I did not love it. Screenwriter Nick Dear made some changes to the story that I either found appropriate or did not bother me. Dear removed characters like society hound like Mr. Satterthwaite and stage actress Angela Sutcliffe (and one of Sir Charles’ former lovers). I did not miss them. One change really improved the story for me. One aspect of the novel that I found particularly frustrating was the minimized presence of Poirot. The lack of Poirot almost dragged the novel into a halt. Thankfully, Dear avoided this major flaw by allowing Poirot’s presence to be a lot more prominent. He achieved this change by making Poirot a friend of Sir Charles and removing the Mr. Satterthwaite. Dear also made one other major change in Christie’s story, but I will get to it later.

Visually, “THREE ACT TRAGEDY” is a gorgeous movie to watch. Peter Greenhalgh, who had passed away last year, provided the production with a colorful photography that I found particularly beautiful. My only complaint about Greenhalgh’s photography is that it struck me as a little fuzzy at times to indicate the story’s presence in the past. Another dazzling aspect of “THREE ACT TRAGEDY” were the production designs created by Jeff Tessler, who more orless served as the production designer for “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” between 2005 and the series’ end in 2013. Judging by the admirable way he managed to re-create not only the movie’s 1930s setting, but also various locations, only tells me that he had been doing something write. I certainly had no complaints about the costumes designed by Sheena Napier. Like Tessler, she worked for “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” for a long period of time . . . even longer than Tessler. Although I am no expert on early 20th century fashion, I thought Napier excellent job in creating costumes for the production’s setting and the different characters.

The performances featured in “THREE ACT TRAGEDY” were first-rate. I did not find anything exceptional about David Suchet’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot, but I thought he gave his usual more-than-competent performance. Martin Shaw gave a very solid performance as the charming, yet intelligent Sir Charles Cartwright, who was the first to sense something wrong about the first murder. I was also impressed by how the actor conveyed his character’s insecurity over a romance with a much younger woman. Kimberly Nixon seemed like a ball of fire, thanks to her portrayal of the vibrant and charming Egg Lytton-Gore, who found herself torn between two men. I also enjoyed Art Malik’s portrayal of the extroverted Dr. Sir Bartholomew Strange. Although there were times when his performance struck me as a touch too jovial. Ronan Vibert gave a rather insidious, yet oddly charming performance as “gentleman” gambler Captain Freddie Dacres. The one performance that really impressed me came Kate Ashfield who gave a very interesting performance as playwright Anthony Astor aka Miss Muriel Wills. Ashfield did an excellent job in recapturing Miss Wills’ secretive, yet uber observant personality. The production also featured solid performances from Anastasia Hille, Tom Wisdom, Anna Carteret, Suzanne Bertish, and Tony Maudsley.

I do have a complaint about “THREE ACT TRAGEDY”. I really wish that Nick Dear had not changed the murderer’s main motive for the killings. I have heard rumors that there are two different versions of the story’s resolution. My literary version of “THREE ACT TRAGEDY” questioned the murderer’s sanity, making the murders a lot more interesting to me. Unfortunately, Nick Dear used the other resolution, one that struck me as a lot more mundane and not very interesting. Too bad.

Aside from changing the killer’s motive for the murders, I rather enjoyed “THREE ACT TRAGEDY”. I am thankful that screenwriter Nick Dear had made Hercule Poirot’s presence in the story more prominent than it was in the novel. After all, he is the story’s main investigator. But despite excellent acting and solid direction by Ashley Pearce, I would never regard it as one of my favorite productions from “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. It was simply a pretty good adaptation of a solid Christie novel. There is nothing else for me to say.

“BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Buffy and Riley”

Below is an article I have written about the breakup of Buffy Summers and Riley Finn in the Season Five episode of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” called, (5.10) “Into the Woods”

“BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: BUFFY AND RILEY”

I have read many opinions regarding the breakup of vampire slayer Buffy Summers and her Season Four/Season Five boyfriend, Riley Finn on many discussion forums, blogs and message boards about ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. The prevailing viewpoint seemed to be that Riley had ruined the relationship with his behavior and attitude in Season Five. I might be one of the few fans of the show who might harbor another opinion. Then again, I might not. Let me explain.

At the end of Season Three, Buffy’s vampire paramour – Angel – had decided it would be safer for her if he left Sunnydale and her for good. Following Buffy’s graduation from high school, she enrolled in the University of California at Sunnydale. And not long after starting school, she met Riley Finn inside a student bookstore for the first time. As it turned out, Riley was not only a Teacher’s Assistant for one of the university’s instructors (Maggie Walsh), he was also an Army officer and demon hunter for a government-sponsored organization called ’The Initiative’. And unbeknownst to both Buffy and Riley, his mentor Dr. Walsh had been feeding him drugs to enhance his physical prowess. Not only did the couple spend most of Season Four coming to terms with Riley’s participation in the Initiative, but also dealing with Maggie Walsh’s other experiment – namely a human/demon cyborg hybrid named Adam. But after their adventures with the Initiative, Adam and other demons; Riley resigned from the Army and became part of the Scoobies.

But all was not as well as it seemed by the beginning of Season Five for Buffy and Riley. Buffy began sneaking away from Riley at nights to engage in her usual Slayer activities. She suddenly found herself the older sister of a fourteen year-old adolescent girl named Dawn, who was in reality a mystical object known as the Key transformed into human for by a group of monks and sent to Buffy from protection from a hell god named Glory. The drugs that Maggie Walsh had fed into Riley began having a deteriorating effect upon his health. Riley had the drugs removed from him via an operation by a former Initiative doctor and became slightly weaker. Buffy discovered that her mother, Joyce Summers, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Worst of all, Riley began harboring suspicions that the blond vampire slayer did not really love him. It finally ended for Buffy and Riley in (5.10) “Into the Woods”when two things happened: 1) Riley was approached by his old friend, Graham Miller, to consider rejoining the Army and a new version of the Initiative; and 2) Buffy learned via chipped vampire Spike that Riley was seeing vampire whores who suck his blood for money. After a bitter fight between the two, Riley left Buffy and Sunnydale for good.

Ever since ”Into the Woods”, many ”BUFFY” fans have placed either most or all of the blame of the couple’s breakup upon Riley’s shoulders. First of all, many have accused his character of over-the-top machismo. They claimed that Riley could not handle being physically weaker than Buffy after his operation in (5.04) ”Out of My Mind”. They used his actions with the vampire whores as example that Riley tried to be “monstrous” enough to be a worthy mate for Buffy . . . and fell short.

I must admit that I found the above claims about Riley very hard to accept. Granted, he possessed a black-and-white view of the world before meeting Buffy. And this conservative viewpoint led him to join the Army, allow Maggie Walsh to recruit him into the Initiative and help the latter capture Oz in (4.19) “New Moon Rising”, despite Buffy’s protests. But Riley made bigger mistakes. After resigning his Army commission, Riley should have taken the time to make a life for himself outside of Buffy. He could have continued his studies at UC Sunnydale or try to become a teacher. Perhaps one of the reasons he failed to pursue another profession was that the only life he really wanted was in the military. I see nothing wrong with that. As long as Riley went through life with his eyes opened and without the naivety that Maggie Walsh had exploited in the past . . . he could be on the right track.

But Riley tried to make his life all about Buffy (just as Spike would attempt to do so between late Season Five and Season Seven) and it was another mistake on his part. Even worse, he failed to inform Buffy of his true feelings about everything – his lack of a direction in his life, the vampire whores and Buffy’s growing emotional distance – until it was too late. Quite simply, Riley made three major mistakes. He failed to make a new life for himself outside of Buffy, he cavorted with vampire whores in order to explore his inner darkness and most importantly, he failed to communicate with Buffy.

On the other hand, Buffy also contributed to her breakup with Riley. I suspect that she had been using Riley as rebound from Day One of their relationship. She was not only rebounding from Angel’s departure, but also from the idea of a relationship with a supernatural being. To her, Riley was her ”Joe Normal”. And this was a mistake. There is a chance that some part of Buffy had deep feelings for him, but I doubt that it was enough for a long term relationship.

But the one thing that really annoyed me was Buffy’s habit of treating Riley like fine china, following the operation to remove his physical enhancements in “Out of My Mind”. So what if he had lost some of his strength? He was still a competent demon hunter. He certainly proved that in (5.07) “Fool For Love”. Instead, Buffy treated him like a damsel-in-distress by insisting that the Scoobies help him hunt down the vampire that attacked her. In other words, she became ridiculously macho when it came to Riley. She failed to remember that Riley was an experienced demon hunter, who could help her deal with vampires, demons, etc. a little more effectively than the other Scoobies. It almost seemed as if Buffy was treating Riley with a patriarchal air. And that was a major mistake for her to make with a strong-willed personality like Riley. Another major mistake that Buffy made was like Riley, she failed to communicate with her. Many fans pointed out that Buffy was too busy dealing with Joyce’s illness and the appearance of a new sister to deal with Riley’s demons. But if Buffy could confide with Spike about Joyce’s illness in (5.08) “Shadow”, why did she wait so long to do the same with Riley? Why did she confide in Spike first?

I suspect that in the end, the real problem with Buffy and Riley was that emotionally, they were too similar to each other. Each, in their own way, possessed a . . . reserved, yet occasionally aggressive personality that made them too similar. And instead of creating a balance between two people, it created conflict in the end. Neither of them were really honest with each other. Both had a problem with communicating with each other. Is it any wonder that the relationship failed in the end?

“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE” [PG-13] – Chapter Nine

 

“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”

CHAPTER NINE

WORLPORT, ORD MANTELL

Anakin glanced out of the window of his hotel room and watched the rain beat upon the windowpane. Apparently the rain had failed to cease, despite a new day. He wondered if it would ever stop before his departure from Ord Mantell. Twenty-five years ago, he would have rejoiced at such weather after dealing with Tatooine’s hot and dry climate. But he had not set foot upon Tatooine in eleven years. And advancing age and experience has taught him to appreciate . . . variety. 

A quick glance at the chronometer informed Anakin that it was now eight minutes past seven in the morning. The hotel’s restaurants should have opened by now. Familiar with Ord Mantell, Anakin knew of a quaint café located eighty centimeters east of the Hotel Grand. Like The Burning Musk in Corellia’s capital, the Blue Jewel Café provided abundant meals at a low cost. The small restaurant happened to be a favorite of both Anakin and Han’s.

After an early morning shower and a change of clothes, Anakin left his bedroom and made his way into the suite’s living room. Normally, he and Han would not have checked into such an expensive room. But Senator Dahlma had wanted them nearby and was generous enough to pay for half of the suite’s rates.

The living room remained semi-dark, despite the glimmer of light from the rain-stained windows. Loud snores drifted from inside the suite’s other bedroom. Anakin allowed himself a brief smile. His young Corellian partner remained asleep. As he inched toward the door, Anakin nearly stumbled across a pair of long legs stretched across the floor. The former Jedi Knight closed his eyes to sense the presence of the legs’ owner. Chewbacca.

Anakin finally made it to the door and stepped out of the suite and into the corridor. He glanced to his right and spotted a petite, dark-haired female with her back facing him. For a moment, Anakin believed her to be Igraine Colbert. Until he recalled that the Maldarian woman and her employer resided in the suite to his left. Anakin frowned at the woman’s back. A tingling sensation raised the hair on the back of his neck. Why did she look . . .?

A loud thump from inside the suite interrupted his thoughts. Anakin turned away from the woman and opened the suite’s door. “. . . careful with those legs, you big furball!” Han’s voice boomed. “I nearly broke my neck!” A loud roar followed.

Anakin heaved a long-suffering sigh. Apparently, Han and Chewbacca had finally awaken. And it also looked as if the addition of the Wookie to their crew promised to make their lives a lot more interesting. Anakin re-entered the suite, as he prepared to act as mediator between the Corellian and Chewbacca.

——–

The loud thump from behind startled Padme as she prepared to lock her hotel room. A man’s voice cried out, “. . . careful with those legs, you big furball!” A roar or a fearsome growl followed.

Padme frowned. That last voice sounded like it belonged to a Wookie. She had not laid eyes upon one since her years as a Galactic senator. Senator Yarua of Kashyyyk had been one of the Galactic Senate’s more distinguished members. She whirled around and spotted a tall man clad in dark clothes enter one of the rooms along the corridor. A tingling sensation pricked the back of her neck. The man had a familiar air about him – his height, his stance and the color of his ha . . .

“Ready for breakfast, I see!” a familiar voice boomed. Padme glanced over her shoulder and found Bail and Master Olin striding toward her. The Alderaanian prince frowned. “Is there something wrong, Milady? You seem . . . perturbed.”

Padme allowed herself a brief smile. “Good morning, gentlemen.”

Bail returned her greeting. “Good morning. Is there something wrong? Just a minute ago, you had this odd expression on your face.”

Padme glanced at the former Jedi padawan and noticed the dazed expression on his face. “You mean, like Master Olin?”

“Ye . . .” Bail paused, as he stared at Olin. “Ferus, is there a problem?”

With the slight frown still stamped on his face, the former Jedi answered, “I don’t know. I had sensed something. Someone. A presence I have not felt in . . . years.”

“You too?” The two men directed their gaze at Padme. She added. “I felt a similar sensation.”

Bail released a gust of breath. “Well, this is very odd. Why don’t we all discuss this during breakfast, downstairs?”

Padme wanted to investigate the man she had briefly spotted a few minutes ago. But she decided that Bail’s idea seemed the best course of action. Knocking on some stranger’s door to learn whether she knew him seemed out of place for someone of her character. She gave Bail a warm smile. “Breakfast, it is.”

Nearly twelve minutes later, the trio found themselves sitting at a table in one of the hotel’s restaurants on the ground floor. Master Olin glanced uneasily around the dining room. “Are you sure that it is wise to have breakfast in such a . . . public place, Your Highness?”

“Don’t worry Ferus,” Bail replied with a reassuring smile. “This restaurant has just opened and there is barely a soul, here. Besides, it has been eleven years since Senator Amidala has been seen in public. She is not dressed to attract attention. I doubt that anyone, aside from a Jedi, would recognize her. Especially in a haven for smugglers like Ord Mantell.”

The former Jedi nodded. “And what about you, Your Highness? You’re still a highly visible public figure.”

Amusement glittered in Bail’s dark eyes. “I must say that you are vigilant, Ferus. I have picked the right man for the job. Don’t worry. I have a cover story . . . in case someone does recognize me.”

Olin responded with a wan smile. But it seemed clear to Padme that he was not appeased by Bail’s assurances. A waitress appeared at their table and asked for their order. Once the waitress left, Padme spotted Zoebeida Dahlma and another woman entering the restaurant. The Maldarian senator acknowledged Padme and Bail with a polite smile and continued on to another table.

Bail’s gaze remained fixed on the Maldarian women. “Padme, do you have any Maldarian ancestry, by any chance?”

“Not that I know of,” Padme replied. “Why?”

“You and Zoebeida Dahlma’s aide strongly resemble each other. Perhaps she has Nabooan ancestry.”

Padme glanced at Dahlma’s aide. The young woman seemed to possess her height, coloring and full mouth. But Padme saw a difference. “You really think so? Her eyes are different. Green. And they’re smaller. In fact, she reminds me of Queen Apailana.”

Bail shook his head. “Poor Apailana. When I had learned of her death, I thought it was a shame that she had died so young. How old was she?”

A small ball of guilt wormed its way into Padme’s chest. “She had been twelve when she had succeeded Jamilla as Naboo’s queen.” She sighed. “I’ve always regretted convincing Apailana to call for an election in order to force Jamilla from the throne.”

“Why did you do it?” Bail asked.

“I began to suspect Jamilla of developing sympathies toward the Separatists.” Padme allowed herself a slight, bitter smile. “I thought she would lead Naboo against the Republic. Little did I know that I would harbor similar sympathies within a year. And poor Apailana would end up being assassinated by the Empire at such a young age.”

A frowning Bail shook his head. “Exactly how did you learn that the Empire had killed her? I thought only a few of us knew, considering the official word was that she had been assassinated by terrorists.”

“Someone . . . a close acquaintance had informed me.” Inwardly, Padme recalled learning the news from her family during a secret trip to Naboo. “My grandmother had died around the same time.”

To Padme’s surprise, Master Olin added, “I was there. When Queen Apailana had been killed. His Highness is aware of this.”

Bail nodded. “Ferus was with a group of Jedi fugitives, at the time. Their presence attracted the attention of Lord Rasche.”

“The Emperor’s apprentice had killed her?” Padme demanded.

Olin shook his head. “No, it was a sharpshooter. A member of the 501st Legion under Rom . . . Lord Rasche’s command.” The former Jedi revealed how the Imperials had captured him on Coruscant, during an attempt to seek another Jedi fugitive. “I had met someone named Inquisitor Malorum, who was interested in you, Senator Amidala. He believed that you had given birth to a child before your death. A friend helped me escaped and we learned that Malorum was on his way to Naboo to question your family. I suspect . . .” He paused, wearing a grave expression. “I suspect that Malorum was responsible for your grandmother’s death.”

Padme felt her heart twist. Once again, her actions ended up having a negative impact upon someone close to her. This time . . . her grandmother. Her family had revealed that an inquisitor had been responsible for Ryoo Thule’s death. But she had no idea that her marriage to Anakin and her children’s existence was responsible.

According to Olin, the Empire became aware of the Jedi presence on Naboo. “We befriended a Gungan pilot, who introduced us to his leader, a Boss . . .”

“Boss Nass.” Padme nodded. “Yes, he is an old friend of mine.”

Olin continued, “Boss Nass and I decided to acquire Queen Apailana’s help in getting rid of Malorum and the Imperial presence on the planet.” His face grew tight, as he looked away. “Although I did managed to kill Malorum, the Empire managed to defeat us. They killed the Queen and the Jedi with her. We left Naboo, after that.”

Bail heaved a mournful sigh. “Poor Apailana. I’m surprised that the Emperor did not place a strong military presence on Naboo.”

Padme quietly said, “According to my contact, the new queen Kylantha had decided to openly accept the Imperial explanation that a terrorist group had killed Apailana. I can only assume that she did not want to deal with a heavy Imperial occupation.” She turned to Olin. “What happened to you, once you left Naboo?”

The former Jedi stiffly replied, “Nothing much. I simply continued my activities against the Empire. Until I . . . parted ways from my friends.” A gust of breath left his mouth. “Will you please excuse me? I am not feeling hungry at the moment.” Olin bowed at the two friends. “Your Highness, Milady.” And he walked away.

Padme’s eyes remained fixed upon the former padawan’s retreating figure. “Something is bothering him. And it has nothing to do with Naboo.”

“Perhaps it is that familiar presence he had earlier spoke of,” Bail suggested.

“Perhaps.” Padme took a sip of water. “But there is also the matter of Mon. Remember? She claimed to have seen Master Olin on Coruscant.” Padme paused. “Recently, I might add.”

Bail’s dark eyes bored into Padme’s. “Are you suggesting that Ferus Olin might be an Imperial spy?”

The incredulous expression on Bail’s face led Padme to wonder if she had been mistaken. Until she recalled Master Olin’s uncomfortable expression when Mon Mothma had questioned him about Coruscant . . . and his reluctance to discuss his life following his experiences on Naboo. “I realize the man is a former Jedi, Bail,” she continued, “but my gut feeling tells me that he has something to hide.”

A sigh left Bail’s mouth. “Padme, Master Olin has lived on Alderaan for almost four years. And ever since Lord Rasche’s unexpected appearance, ten years ago, we have kept a close surveillance on any outbound communication between Alderaan and other systems. It was Cousin Raymus who had suggested that Ferus accompany me on this trip.”

In other words, Ferus Olin could not have recent contact with Coruscant . . . or be an Imperial agent. Padme felt slightly embarrassed. “Oh dear,” she murmured. “My mistake.”

“I understand. You’re simply being careful.”

Padme added, “Or perhaps eleven years as a fugitive has made me . . . paranoid.” She glanced to her left and spotted their waitress. “Oh look. Our breakfast has arrived.” On that note, the two friends ceased their discussion of their Jedi protector and began to discuss another topic.

———

MALAG, MALDORE

Mako Spince descended the Alastian Star’s ramp, as his new client entered the hangar. “Here she is!” he declared. “The Alastian Star. One of the fastest ships in the galaxy.” Then he stared pointedly at the other man. “And you’re fifteen minutes late.”

Looking slightly pinched, Chattal Rahm responded in a tight voice, “I had no choice. The Imperials are still in the city and I believe they are searching for me. The sooner we leave the bet . . .” A slight thump interrupted his last words. The Maldarian frowned. “What as that sound?” He stared at Mako. “Didn’t you hear it?”

A perturbed Mako sharply replied, “Yeah I did. And I think you better board the ship. Now!”

Rahm had not taken two steps toward the Alastian Star before a squad of Imperial stormtroopers materialized from behind columns of crates, stacked near the wall. The Maldarian whipped out a blaster pistol and began to fire. Mako followed suit. At least two troopers caught the blasts of their weapons before a third trooper shot Rahm squarely in the chest. The Maldarian fell to the ground with a cry on his lips.

Mako shot a horrified look at his fallen client and rushed toward the Alastian Star’s ramp. He overheard a voice from behind cry out, “Stun him!” Before the Corellian could reach the boarding ramp, he felt a blast of hot energy strike him in the back. A grunt escaped his lips before everything went black.

END OF CHAPTER NINE

“STAR TREK BEYOND” (2016) Review

“STAR TREK BEYOND” (2016) Review

I might as well place all my cards on the table. I am not a fan of J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “STAR TREK” franchise. I heartily dislike the 2009 movie of the original title. And I also dislike – to a lesser degree, 2013’s “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”. So when I learned there was to be a third movie in this new franchise . . . needless to say I was not enthusiastic over the news. 

The second thing I learned about this third TREK film, “STAR TREK BEYOND”, was that it was not directed by J.J. Abrams. Justin Lin, who had helmed the fourth, fifth and sixth “FAST AND FURIOUS” movies; served as director. And for once, Simon Pegg, who also co-starred as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, and Doug Jung served as the movie’s screenwriters; instead of Abrams’ usual scribes – Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. No disrespect to Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman, but I did not miss their presence in this production. If anything, I managed to enjoy the TREK reboot for the first time since it began in 2009.

“STAR TREK BEYOND” begins with the arrival of the U.S.S. Enterprise at the Federation Starbase Yorktown for new supplies and shore leave for the crew. Not long after its arrival at Yorktown, an escape pod drifts out of a nearby uncharted nebula. The survivor, Kalara, claims her ship is stranded on Altamid, a planet within the nebula. The rescue turns into an ambush when the Enterprise is quickly torn apart by a massive swarm of small ships. Krall and his crew board the ship, and unsuccessfully search for a relic called an Abronath that Kirk had obtained for a failed diplomatic mission. Krall captures and removes many crew members from the ship. Kirk then orders for the crew to abandon ship as the Enterprise’s saucer section hurtles towards the planet. After more crew members are captured, including Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, Kirk is forced to find those who have not been captured and find a way to stop Krall from carrying out his plans against the Federation.

If I must be honest, “STAR TREK BEYOND” is not perfect. I believe that it has a major flaw and it centered around the main antagonist, Krall. How can I put this? I found both his true identity and the reason behind his main goal – the destruction of the Federation with the use of a bio weapon – a bit on the lame side. Apparently, Krall was a former Human captain from the pre-Federation era named Captain Balthazar Edison, whose ship had crashed on Altamid. Believing the newly formed Federation had abandoned him, Edison and his surviving crew had used the technology of the Altamid’s natives to prolong their lives and mutate their physiology. I am sorry, but that seemed to reaching a bit. And the reason for Krall/Edison’s desire to destroy the Federation – the belief that the latter had deliberately abandoned him and his crew – definitely seemed a bit lame to me.

If the background of the film’s main villain and his reason to destroy the Federation seemed a bit lame, then why did I like this film? Whatever weaknesses that “STAR TREK BEYOND” had, I can honestly say that it lacked the multiple plot holes that marred 2009’s “STAR TREK” and that ridiculous final half hour from 2013’s “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”. The flaws for this film seemed minor in compare to the first two films. I also liked the fact that the characters seemed more mature and established in this movie. Even Krall seemed like an improvement over the first two villains. He did not engage in a convoluted plot that involved time travel. Nor was his character whitewashed and engaged in another ridiculously convoluted plot. Although Krall’s reason to destroy the Federation seemed a bit thin, at least his actual plot – involving the creation of a bio weapon – seemed to be on solid. And for that, I have to thank screenwriters Simon Pegg and Donny Jung.

I have to admit that when it comes to action sequences, the new STAR TREK movies never fail to deliver. There were a handful of sequences in “STAR TREK BEYOND” that definitely impressed me. First and foremost was the attack on the U.S.S. Enterprise by Krall’s fleet and the crash landing on Altamid that followed. Honestly, I feel that director Justin Lin really outdid himself in that particular sequence. I found the minor scenes featuring the Enterprise crew’s efforts to survive on Altamid very engrossing and once again, well handled by Lin. Now that I think about it, just about all of the movie’s actions scenes impressed me – including Kirk and the other non-captured crew members’ efforts to free those who had been captured, the Enterprise crew’s efforts to prevent Krall/Edison from using his new weapon to destroy the Federation’s massive space station, Starbase Yorktown; and Kirk’s final confrontation with the main villain. I also liked the fact that the movie’s two major female characters – Lieutenant Uhura and a castaway named Jaylah – also took part in many of the film’s action sequences. And both seemed more than capable of taking care of themselves.

“STAR TREK BEYOND’ marked a major improvement in the franchise’s characterizations. For the first time, the main characters seemed to be truly comfortable with each other. And all of them seemed to be more mature and believable as Starfleet officers. This especially seemed to be the case for Chris Pine’s performance as James T. Kirk. For the first time, I found it easy to see his Kirk as a worthy captain for the U.S.S. Enterprise. The prat boy from the 2009 and 2013 movies was gone. Zachary Quinto also seemed very comfortable in his role as the Enterprise’s First Officer, Commander Spock. I also enjoyed how both he and Karl Urban, who portrayed Medical Officer Dr. Leonard McCoy, managed to establish a strong and rather funny screen chemistry – something that I do not recall from the two previous films. Quinto’s Spock seemed even more comfortable than ever with Zoë Saldana’s Nyota Uhura. First of all, both had the chance to enact a private drama between Spock and Uhura that did not come off as forced. I find it hard to believe that I had once found the idea of a romance between the two as unbelievable.

The movie also featured solid performances from Idris Elba as the movie’s main antagonist, Krall aka Balthazar Edison, who managed to thankfully convey his character’s emotional nature without engaging in any histrionics. I also enjoyed one particular scene between Elba and Uhura that struck me as both tense and effective, thanks to the actors’ performances. I also enjoyed the performances of John Cho, who always managed to give a cool, yet wry portrayal of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu; Anton Yelchin, whose Pavel Chekov seemed more controlled and mature than he did in the previous films; Simon Pegg, whose portrayal of Lieutenant-Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott seemed a great deal more controlled and still funny; and Sofia Boutella gave an intense and skillful performance as an alien castaway/scavenger named Jaylah with a grudge against Krull.

I understand that “STAR TREK BEYOND” had not performed well at the U.S. box office. Some critics claimed that the movie was not as good as the 2009 movie. When I heard that, I nearly coughed up a lung. Frankly, I think it is a lot better than the two previous films. I thought Justin Lin did a great job as the movie’s director. And he was ably supported by Simon Pegg and Donny Jung’s screenplay, along with a first-rate cast led by Chris Pine. As for why many moviegoers stayed away, I do not have the foggiest idea. What matters is my own personal opinion.

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

R.I.P. Anton Yelchin (1989-2016)

“SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Review

 

“SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Review

The year 2016 has proven to be a strange one for Warner Brothers Studios and fans of DC Comics. Their creation – the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise had released two films that proved to be box office hits, yet critical flops. One of those movies was the Zack Synder film, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. And the other was the summer film, “SUICIDE SQUAD”

Three years before the release of these two films, the DCEU franchise witnessed its kickoff with the release of “MAN OF STEEL”, another origin tale of Clark Kent aka Superman. Whereas “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN” seemed to be more of a direct sequel to the 2013 movie, the narrative for “SUICIDE SQUAD” seemed to be something of a reaction to Superman’s death in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”.

Written and directed by David Ayer, “SUICIDE SQUAD” began several months after the previous film. Amanda Waller, director of the Federal agency Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans (A.R.G.U.S.), convinces the Defense Department to allow her to assemble “Task Force X”, a team of dangerous criminals imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison in Louisiana, to engage in high risk black ops missions. The criminals that she has selected are:

*Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot – an elite marksman and professional assassin, who has a warm relationship with his only daughter

*Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn – a former psychiatrist and crazed supervillain who is in a relationship with the psychotic gangster “the Joker”

*Chato Santana aka El Diablo – a former Los Angeles based gang member with a powerful pyrokinetic ability, who had turned himself in after accidentally killing his wife and children

*George “Digger” Harkness aka Captain Boomerang – an Australian-born thief with an unpredictable personality and a talent with deadly boomerangs and knives

*Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc – a supervillain who suffers from a skin condition that causes him to develop reptilian features and a powerful strength

*Dr. June Moone aka Enchantress – an archaeologist who is possessed by an ancient evil force that transforms her into a powerful sorceress

*Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot – a mercenary and assassin who specializes in tactical grappling and scaling

Waller assigns an Army Special Forces officer named Colonel Richard “Rick” Flagg to lead the squad into the field. He is assisted by a group of Navy SEALS led by GQ Edwards, and a widowed Japanese vigilante and martial arts expert named Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, who also happens to be a friend of Flagg’s. While Waller and Dr. Moore are in Midway City, the latter transforms into the Enchantress and manages to escape from the former’s control. The Enchantress then frees her brother Incubus from a South American artifact, allowing him to take control of a Midway City businessman’s body. While both the Enchantress and Incubus besiege the city, the former transforms many of its citizens into her monstrous minions and decides to build a mystical weapon to eradicate mankind. Meanwhile, Waller finally decides to deploy the squad to extract a high-profile mark from the besieged Midway and from possible capture by the Enchantress.

As I had earlier pointed out, the moment “SUICIDE SQUAD” hit the theaters, most of the critics trashed it. I must admit that I was baffled by their reactions. It is one thing to trash the DCEU’s earlier entry, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, even though I did not agree with their negative opinions. But “SUICIDE SQUAD” got trashed as well? Two DCEU movies in one year?

“SUICIDE SQUAD” was not perfect. One of the problems I had with the movie’s narrative is that the setting struck me as a bit constricted, considering its 123 minutes running time. At least two-thirds of the film was set during one night in the downtown area of a major city. Also, I never understood why Amanda Waller and Rick Flagg went out of their way to keep the identity of the high-profile mark that the squad had to rescue a secret. Even if they had revealed the truth to Deadshot and the squad’s other members, the latter would have been forced to go ahead with the rescue, due to the nano bombs injected into their necks that coerced the squad to cooperate.

Speaking of the nano bombs, I found myself thinking about the character portrayed by Adam Beach, Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot. I hate to say this, but David Ayer really wasted his role. Unlike the other members of the Suicide Squad, there were no glimpses of his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, his name was not even mentioned in the scene in which Amanda Waller introduced her scheme to create the squad. Nor was he seen in the sequence in which Waller and Flagg “recruited” the other members. Audiences knew nothing about Slipknot’s role in the film, until he made his first appearance at a military base, where the other squad members had gathered. So . . . what was the point of Slipknot’s role in the movie? Utilizing a scene from one of the comic books for “Suicide Squad” in which Captain Boomerang managed to convince Slipknot to join him in an escape attempt from the military, he was merely used as a plot device to show what would happen to the squad’s other members if they try to escape. Death by an explosion from an injected nano bomb. That is all.

Despite the above problems I had with this film, overall, I liked it very much. Okay, who am I kidding? Hell, I loved this movie! It was a hell of a ride and a lot of fun. And it did a great job in expanding the DCEU even more. Just as Zach Synder had connected “MAN OF STEEL” with “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, David Ayer did the same by connecting the latter with “SUICIDE SQUAD”. More importantly, he also connected this movie with one of the upcoming DCEU films, “JUSTICE LEAGUE” in one scene featuring Captain Boomerang getting arrested by Barry Allen aka the Flash in a flashback and in a post-credit scene featuring Amanda Waller and Bruce Wayne aka Batman. The latter scene proved to be a special connection between Waller’s failed attempt to make the Enchantress a part of the squad, her files on other meta humans like the Flash and Aquaman, and Bruce Wayne’s government contacts that would allow her to avoid any consequences from the whole Enchantress/Midway City debacle.

I also enjoyed how “SUICIDE SQUAD” began with the introduction of the squad’s “recruits”. While Amanda Waller narrated, the movie embarked upon a series of entertaining flashbacks that revealed the squad members’ talents, crimes and how they were captured. Naturally, my two favorite backstories were about Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Both of them revealed how their encounters with Batman led to their incarceration. I was surprised to see another member of the future Justice League of America, namely the Flash, in Captain Boomerang’s flashback.

Another aspect of “SUICIDE SQUAD” that I found interesting was how the squad’s members managed to form a well tight unit on their own, even when their ties to others were either disconnected like Deadshot’s to his daughter Zoe during his time in prison; questionable like Harley Quinn’s disturbed and abusive romance with the Joker; and in the case of three other members, non-existent. El Diablo has spent most of his time in prison mourning over the family he had killed and indulging in self-isolation. Killer Croc’s reptilian appearance has led him to be isolated and reviled by his fellow criminals and society at large. As for Captain Boomerang, he made it quite clear in a flashback when he double-crossed a colleague that he preferred to work alone. Despite these disparate situations, the squad learned to work together. More importantly, they even learned to work with Rick Flagg, Katana and the Navy SEALs, despite the distrust between the squad and their military watchdogs.

There had been a good deal of criticism from critics and some fans about how Ayer dealt with the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. Many seemed to believe that Ayer had whitewashed the abusive nature of their relationship. That is not the relationship I had seen on screen. It really was not that difficult for me to notice how the Joker seemed to be in control of their relationship. Flashbacks revealed how he had exploited her infatuation for him. I also noticed his disturbing penchant for infantilizing her at times. Even the wardrobe that Harley wore to Midway City seemed to indicate that the Joker regarded her as his possession – namely her “Daddy’s Lil Monster” T-shirt and “Puddin” choker:

And yet, I do not recall the Joker wearing any clothing or accessories hinting that he is Harley’s possession. Curious. In fact, the controlling nature of their relationship seemed indicative in other relationships in the movie. The Enchantress proved to be something of a control freak. Brimming with resentment over humanity for imprisoning her and her brother Incubus, the sorceress decides to mankind. And yet . . . she transformed many of Midway City’s citizens into her minions and seemed to be the dominant half of her relationship with Incubus. On the other hand, Amanda Waller seemed to be the “Queen of Control” in “SUICIDE SQUAD”. She uses her position as Director of A.R.G.U.S. to assume control of the criminals who form the squad. And to insure that they will cooperate, she has small nano bombs implanted in their necks. She also tried to use her possession of the Enchantress’ heart to control the latter. And she encouraged a romance between Rick Flagg and the Enchantress’ human identity, Dr. June Moone, to guarantee Flagg’s undivided cooperation.

What can I say about the cast? Personally, I thought the cast members were the best thing about “SUICIDE SQUAD”. I have not seen Will Smith in a really good movie since 2012’s “MEN IN BLACK III”. And I really enjoyed his entertaining, yet first-rate and ambiguous portrayal of sharpshooter Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot. Margot Robbie gave what has turned out to be a superb performance as the hilarious, yet somewhat insane Dr. Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn. Frankly, I think her performance was one of the best in the movie. Another performance that really impressed me came from Viola Davis, who nearly ruled above the others as the ruthless and diabolical Amanda Waller, Director of A.R.G.U.S. The ironic thing is that Waller’s character was not the movie’s main antagonist, yet Davis’ portrayal of her was so scary that she might as well have been.

Jay Hernandez was marvelous as the emotionally tortured Chato Santana aka El Diablo, whose guilt over his family’s deaths have led him to be reluctant to participate in the fight against the Enchantress. Karen Fukuhara was equally marvelous as Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, the expert martial artist/swordswoman, who guarded Rick Flagg and mourned her dead husband with the intensity of El Diablo’s flames. Speaking of Rick Flagg, it is amazing that I have never noticed Joel Kinnaman before this movie. I was surprised to learn that he was not the first choice for the role, for I believe he fitted it like a perfectly well-tailored suit. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s role as Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc was not as big as I would have liked. But the British actor still managed to give a great performance as the isolated supervillain, who managed to maintain a healthy attitude about his own self-esteem . . . despite what others may have thought about him. The biggest surprise proved to be Jai Courtney’s portrayal of Australian criminal George “Digger” Harkness aka Captain Boomerang. I have seen Courtney portray a series of intense characters – both heroes and villains. I never knew that he had a talent for comedy. Because . . . dammit! The man was funny as hell.

I thought Jared Leto gave one of the most interesting and original portrayals of the D.C. Comics supervillain, the Joker, I have ever seen. It was . . . well, very dangerous, but in a very sexy way. A sexy Joker. I never thought I would ever say that about the famous villain. But Leto did give a rather sexy and entertaining performance. “SUICIDE SQUAD” also featured some solid supporting performances from the likes of Cara Delevingne as Dr. June Moone aka the Enchantress, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne aka Batman, David Harbour as a Federal official named Dexter Tolliver, Shailyn Pierre-Dixon as Zoe Lawton, Corina Calderon as Grace Santana, Scott Eastwood as Navy SEAL GQ Edwards, Common as a Gotham City criminal named Monster T and yes, even Adam Beach as Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot . . . despite his limited appearance.

Although I had a problem with director David Ayer’s use of the Slipknot character and other minor aspects of the narrative for “SUICIDE SQUAD”, I must admit that I enjoyed the movie a lot. Very much. In fact, it has become my favorite movie from the summer of 2016 and one of my favorite movies of the summer. Despite what other critics may have thought about it, I thought it was one hell of a film. I look forward to a sequel.

“BAND OF ANGELS” (1957) Review

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“BAND OF ANGELS” (1957) Review

I have been a fan of period dramas for a long time. A very long time. This is only natural, considering that I am also a history buff. One of the topics that I love to explore is the U.S. Civil War. When you combined that topic in a period drama, naturally I am bound to get excited over that particular movie or television production. 

I have seen a good number of television and movie productions about the United States’ Antebellum period and the Civil War. One of those productions is “BAND OF ANGEL”, an adaptation of Robert Warren Penn’s 1955 novel set during the last year of the Antebellum period and the first two years of the Civil War.

The story begins around 1850. The privileged daughter of a Kentucky plantation owner named Amantha Starr overhears one house slave make insinuations about her background to another slave. Before Amantha (or “Manthy”) could learn more details, she discovers that Mr. Starr had the offending slave sold from the family plantation, Starwood. He also enrolls her in a school for privileged girls in Cinncinati. A decade later in 1860, Amantha’s father dies. When she returns to Starwood, Amantha discovers that Mr. Starr had been in debt. Worse, she discovers that her mother had been one of his slaves, making her a slave of mixed blood. Amantha and many other Starwood slaves are collected by a slave trader and conveyed by steamboat to New Orleans for the city’s slave mart.

Upon her arrival in New Orleans, Amantha comes dangerously close to be purchased by a coarse and lecherous buyer. However, she is rescued by a Northern-born planter and slave owner named Hamish Bond, and becomes part of his household as his personal mistress. She also becomes acquainted with Bond’s other house slaves – his right-hand-man named Rau-Ru, his housekeeper and former mistress Michele and Dollie, who serves as her personal maid. Although Amantha initially resents her role as a slave and Bond’s role as her owner, she eventually falls in love with him and he with her. But the outbreak of the Civil War and a long buried secret of Bond’s threaten their future.

Many critics and film fans have compared “BAND OF ANGELS” to the 1939 Oscar winner, “GONE WITH THE WIND”. Frankly, I never understood the comparison. Aside from the setting – late Antebellum period and the Civil War, along with Clark Gable as the leading man, the two films really have nothing in common. “GONE WITH THE WIND” is a near four-hour epic that romanticized a period in time. Although “BAND OF ANGELS” have its moments of romanticism, its portrayal of the Old South and the Civil War is a bit more complicated . . . ambiguous. Also, I would never compare Scarlett O’Hara with Amantha Starr. Both are daughters of Southern plantation owners. But one is obviously a member of the Southern privileged class, while the other is the illegitimate and mixed race daughter of a planter and his slave mistress. Also, Gable’s character in “BAND OF ANGELS” is a Northern-born sea captain, who became a planter; not a semi-disgraced scion of an old Southern family.

Considering the political ambiguity of “BAND OF ANGELS”, I suppose I should be more impressed with it. Thanks to Warren’s novel, Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts’ screenplay and Raoul Walsh’s direction; the movie attempted to provide audiences with a darker view of American slavery and racism. For instance, Amantha’s journey from Kentucky to Louisiana as a slave proved to be a harrowing one, as she deals with a slave trader with plans to rape her, a traumatic experience at the New Orleans slave mart, Bond’s lustful neighbor Charles de Marigny and her attempts to keep her African-American ancestry a secret from a Northern beau later in the film. The film also touches on Rau-ru’s point of view in regard to slavery and racism. Despite being educated and treated well by Hamish Bond; Rau-ru, quite rightly, is resentful of being stuck in the role of what he views as a cosseted pet. Rau-ru also experiences the ugly racism of planters like de Marigny and slave catchers; and Northerners like some of the Union officers and troops that occupied New Orleans and Southern Louisiana in the movie’s last half hour. I also noticed that the movie did not hesitate to expose the ugliness of the slave trade and the system itself, and the fate of a great number of slaves who found themselves being forced by Union forces to continue toiling on the cotton and sugar plantations on behalf of the North.

There are other aspects of the movie that I found admirable. Not all of “BAND OF ANGELS” was shot at the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. A good of the movie was shot on location in Louisiana. I have to give credit to cinematographer Lucien Ballard for doing an exceptional job for the film’s sharp and vibrant color, even if the film lacked any real memorable or iconic shot. If I must be honest, I can say the same about Max Steiner’s score. However, I can admit that Steiner’s score blended well with the movie’s narrative. Marjorie Best, who had received Oscar nominations for her work in movies like “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN”and “GIANT”, served as the movie’s costume designer. I was somewhat impressed by her designs, especially for the male characters, ironically enough. However, I had a problem with her costumes for Yvonne De Carlo. Nearly every dress that the Amantha Starr character possessed featured a low cut neckline that emphasized her cleavage. Even her day dresses. Really?

After reading a few reviews about “BAND OF ANGELS”, I noticed that some movie fans and critics were not that impressed by the film’s performances. I have mixed feelings about them. Clark Gable seemed to be phoning it in most of the film. But there were a few scenes that made it easy to see why he not only became a star, but earned an Academy Award as well. This was apparent in two scene in which the Hamish Bond character recalled the enthusiasm and excitement of his past as a sea captain and in another in which he revealed the “more shameful” aspects of his past. At age 34 or 35, I believe Yvonne De Carlo was too old for the role of Amantha Starr, who was barely into her twenties in the story. Some would say that the role could have benefited being portrayed by a biracial actress and not a white one. Perhaps. But despite the age disparity, I still thought De Carlo gave a very strong performance as the passionate and naive Amantha, who suddenly found her life turned upside down. Ironically, I thought her scenes with Sidney Poitier seemed to generate more chemistry than her ones with Gable. Speaking of Poitier . . . I might as well say it. He gave the best performance in the movie.  His Rau-ru bridled with a varying degree of emotions when the scene called for it. And the same time, one could easily see that he was well on his way in becoming the Hollywood icon that Gable already was at the time.

There were other performances in “BAND OF ANGELS”, but very few seemed that memorable. The movie featured solid performances from Rex Reason, who portrayed Amantha’s Northern-born object of her earlier infatuation Seth Parson; Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who not only portrayed Amantha’s later suitor Union officer Lieutenant Ethan Sears, but was already on the road as a television star; Carroll Drake, who portrayed Hamish Bond’s introverted and observant housekeeper Michele; Andrea King, who portrayed Amantha’s hypocritical former schoolmistress Miss Idell; William Schallert, who had a brief, but memorable role as a bigoted Union Army officer; and Torin Thatcher, who portrayed Bond’s fellow sea captain and friend Captain Canavan. Many critics had accused Patric Knowles of bad acting. Frankly, I found his performance as Bond’s neighbor and fellow planter Charles de Marigny effectively slimy . . . in a subtle way. Ray Teal was equally effective as the slimy and voracious slave trader Mr. Calloway, who conveyed Amantha to the slave marts of New Orleans. The only performance that hit a sour note from me came from Tommie Moore, who portrayed one of Bond’s house maids, the loud and verbose Dollie. Every time she opened her mouth I could not help but wince at her over-the-top and if I may say so, cliched performance as Dollie. I think I could have endured two hours in the company of Prissy and Aunt Pittypat Hamilton from “GONE WITH THE WIND” than five minutes in Dollie’s company. I guess I could have blamed the actress herself. But a part of me suspect that the real perputrators were screenwriter and director Raoul Walsh.

I wish that was all I had to say about “BAND OF ANGELS”. I really do. But . . . despite the movie’s portrayal of the ugliness of slavery and racism, it ended up undermining its attempt. Quite frankly, I found “BAND OF ANGELS” to be a very patronizing movie – especially in regard to race. And the figure of this patronizing was centered around the character of Hamish Bond. Someone once complained that although the movie initially seemed to revolve around Amantha Starr, in the end it was all about Bond. I do not know if I could fully agree with this, but I found it disturbing that the character “growths” of both Amantha and Rau-ru revolved around Bond and their opinion of him.

One aspect of “BAND OF ANGELS” that I found particularly bizarre was Amantha’s opinion of Hamish Bond’s connection to slavery. At first, she simply resented him for being her owner. But she eventually fell in love with him and opened herself to being his mistress. Amantha certainly had no problems with that ridiculous scene featuring Bond’s field slaves lined up near the river side to welcome him back to his plantation with choral singing. Really? This was probably the most patronizing scene in the movie. Yet, when Amantha discovered that his past as a sea captain involved his participation in the Atlantic slave trade, she reacted with horror and left him. Let me see if I understand this correctly. Once she was in love with Bond, she had no problems with being his slave mistress or his role as a slave owner. Yet, she found his participation in the slave trade to be so awful that she . . . left him? Slave owner or slave trader, Hamish Bond exploited the bodies of black men and women. Why was being a slave trader worse than being a slave owner? Not only do I find this attitude hypocritical, I also noticed that it permeated in a good deal of other old Hollywood films set in the Antebellum era. Even more disturbing is that after becoming romantic with an Union officer named Ethan Sears, Amantha has a brief reunion with her former object of desire, Seth Parsons. He reveals that knows about her mother’s ancestry and her role as Bond’s mistress; and tries to blackmail her into becoming his. In other words, Seth’s knowledge of her racial background and her history with Bond leads Amantha to run back into the arms of Bond. And quite frankly, this makes no sense to me. Why would Seth’s attempt to blackmail lead Amantha to forgive Bond for his past as a slave trader? The movie never really made this clear.

I found the interactions between Rau-ru and Hamish Bond even more ridiculous and patronizing. Rau-ru is introduced as Bond’s major-domo/private secretary, who also happens to be a slave. Despite receiving education from Bond and a high position within the latter’s household, Rau-ru not only resents Bond, but despises him. And you know what? I can understand why. I noticed that despite all of these advantages given to Rau-ru, Bond refuses to give him his freedom. Worse, Bond treats Rau-ru as a pet. Think I am joking? I still cannot think of the scene in which Bond’s friend, Captain Canavan, visited and demanded that Rau-ru entertain him with a song without any protest from Bond without wincing. This scene was really vomit inducing. What made the situation between Rau-ru and Bond even worse is that the former made an abrupt about face about his former master during the war . . . all because the latter had revealed how he saved Rau-ru’s life during a slave raid in Africa and – get this – some bigoted Union Army officer tried to cheat Rau-ru from a reward for capturing Bond. The former sea captain/planter ended up leaving his estate to Rau-ru in a will. How nice . . . but I suspect he did so after Amantha left him. If not, my mistake. And why did Bond failed to give Rau-ru his freedom before the outbreak of war? Instead, Rau-ru was forced to flee to freedom after saving Amantha from being raped by Charles de Marigny. In Robert Warren’s novel, Rau-ru eventually killed Bond. Pity this did not happen in the movie.

Overall, I see that my feelings for “BAND OF ANGELS” is mixed. There are some aspects of the movie that I found admirable. I might as well admit it. The movie especially benefited from Lucien Ballard’s colorful photography, an interesting first act and an excellent performance by Sidney Poitier. Otherwise, I can honestly say that “BAND OF ANGELS” focused too much on the Hamish Bond character and was a bit too patronizing on the subject of race and slavery for me to truly enjoy it.

“Crossroads of the Force” (PG-13) – Chapter Eight

“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”

CHAPTER EIGHT

MALAG, MALDARE

“Corellian ale!” Mako Spince barked at the bartender. The latter nodded at the smuggler and turned away. He returned a few minutes later with a mug of Corellian ale. 

Mako grabbed the mug. He took several swigs of the ale before he allowed his eyes to peruse his surroundings. The Omega Hole did not seem like much in compare to the Lumati Hotel’s swankier establishment, the Twilight Star. But the former happened to be one of Mako’s favorite bars throughout the galaxy. It was the type of place where a smuggler could make contact with new clients. Only . . . no one seemed interested in hiring him, tonight.

Several more swigs of ale followed before Mako’s mind settled upon the dark-haired young woman who had interviewed him, last night. The Corellian had hoped that a little charm would convince her to hire him for whatever job she had planned. But apparently the old Spince charm seemed to have lost its luster.

Or had the woman’s employer recognized him as the disgraced son of her colleague, Senator Ticho Spince? Mako had certainly recognized Senator Dahlma, when he spotted her and the young woman approaching Set Horus’ ship in the hangar, this morning. So Dahlma’s aide had hired Horus and Han. The revelation had left Mako feeling stunned and a little resentful. It irked him that the senator decided to hire the pair over him.

As Mako reached for his mug, a man appeared at his side and slid upon the empty stool next to his. The Corellian immediately recognized his new companion – the same man who had recruited him for an interview with Senator Dahlma’s aide. Only now, the man looked nervous. And slightly desperate.

“Still searching for a spacer?” Mako politely asked. He took a swig of his ale. “Or have you found your man?”

The stranger gave Mako a sharp glance. “Excuse me?”

Mako allowed himself a knowing smile. “You don’t remember me, do you? You tried to recruit me for a job, but apparently I didn’t satisfy your employer.” He paused, as he took in the man’s growing desperate air. A thought came to him. “Or maybe you’re looking for another spacer. Need to get off this rock?”

Recognition finally gleamed in the man’s eyes. “Oh, now I remember you.”

“I should think so.” Mako’s smile disappeared. “Perhaps you remember taking me to one of the suites at the Lumati Hotel, last night. To be questioned by a young woman, who was in need of a pilot.” Again, he paused. “Only I never heard from either of you.”

The man’s face turned slightly red. “Oh yes. Um . . . apparently my mistress had someone else . . . in mind.”

“And may I assume that your mistress happens to be Senator Zoebeida Dahlma of this . . . illustrious rock?”

Surprise flicked in the man’s eyes. “How did you . . .?” He broke off and shot a suspicious stare at the pilot. “How did you know? You never got a chance to meet her.”

Mako revealed that he had seen the good senator and her aide board a freighter, earlier this morning. “From what I had overheard, they were bound for Ord Mantell. Now why would a prominent senator want to visit a disreputable place like that?”

Casting a furtive glance over his shoulder, the man replied, “Look, you were right. I am looking for a pilot. I need to leave Maldare as soon as possible. And since you happened to be a pilot, perhaps I can hire you to fly me to Ord Mantell. We can leave tonight.”

“Tonight?” Mako scoffed at the man’s suggestion. “It’s nearly morning. Midnight. I’ll need at least a few hours sleep, first. We leave in the morning.”

The stranger’s mouth formed a thin line. “Fine. I’ll simply find myself another pilot.”

“Good luck,” Mako retorted with a snort. “As you can see, this place is nearly empty. And right now, most pilots are either barely sober, sleeping off their drink or indulging in other nocturnal activities.”

A heavy sigh left the man’s mouth. “All right. We leave tomorrow. Unless you have a problem. I’m willing to pay you five hundred credits.”

The fee satisfied Mako. He instructed his new client to meet him at the Vox Avenue hangar in the morning. “My ship, the Alastian Star, should be the only one there.”

The man gave Mako a hesitant nod. “Thanks. For your help.”

Anxious to return to his drinking, Mako waved the man away. “Yeah. Sure thing.” The two men bid each other good night. After his new client left, Mako summoned the bartender. “Get me another mug of Corellian ale. And this time, leave the bottle.”

———-

WORLPORT, ORD MANTELL

“This . . . friend of yours has two children?” Inside the casino nightclub, Anakin stared at his companion in disbelief. “And what exactly am I expected to do with them?”

Voranda Sen shrugged. “Become their friend? I don’t . . .”

“Oh no! Thanks, but no thanks” Anakin retorted. “I have just spent nearly a decade raising Han. As far as I’m concerned, my stint with fatherhood is over.”

With a snort, Voranda shot back, “As long as Han continues to breathe, fatherhood will never be over for you, Set.”

“Perhaps you’re right. But I do not need more responsibilities in my life. I love Han like a son, but one is enough.”

Another dancer appeared on stage and began to perform. The wild orange-red hair, the close-fitting body suit and hoofed feet allowed Anakin to recognize her as a Human-Theelin hybrid. She struck him as a competent dancer, but not as sensuous as the Twi’lek. Bored, he eventually looked away.

Voranda continued to regard Anakin with knowing eyes. “You know, for a man of your temperament, you seem very determined to distance yourself from life. It almost seems as if you don’t care.”

“Perhaps life . . . or the galaxy is better off if I don’t care.” Then Anakin clamped his mouth shut, realizing that he had said too much.

Green eyes narrowed with curiosity. “Now what made you say that?”

Fortunately for Anakin, salvation arrived in the form of a grinning Han and Chewbacca. The young Corellian immediately sat down in an empty chair and declared, “You’re looking at the proud winner of 20,000 credits.” He turned to the table’s sole female with a nod. “Voranda! Good to see you, again.”

Smiling, Voranda replied, “The same to you, Han. You’re looking handsome than ever.” Her smile widened, as Han’s face turned slightly red.

Anakin decided to come to his young partner’s rescue, aware of Voranda’s habit of flirting with the Corellian. “I guess that game of sabacc turned out pretty lucky for you.”

“It was more than luck,” Han boasted. “It was my skill as a gambler. There was no stopping me.”

Amused by the younger man’s cockiness, Anakin rolled his eyes. Then he noticed that Chewbacca had remained standing. He pulled out the last empty chair. “Have a seat.” The Wookie nodded gratefully at the former Jedi and sat down. Anakin then introduced him to the red-haired pilot. “Chewbacca, this is an old friend of ours, Voranda Sen. Voranda, meet our new partner and co-pilot, Chewbacca.”

Voranda and the Wookie exchanged friendly nods. “How long have you been with Set and . . .” She paused, as her eyes narrowed. “Wait a minute! You look slightly familiar. Have we met?”

Chewbacca gave her a questioning stare and growled. Han translated. “He wants to know where you know him from.”

“Perhaps we’ve never actually met,” Voranda explained to Chewbacca. “But you do look familiar. I believe it was somewhere in the Abrion Sector, about a year ago. Were you ever with the crew of a freighter called the Drunken Dancer?”

Nodding, Chewbacca growled. Anakin glanced at Han, who said, “Chewie was with the Drunken Dancer, until he fell into the hands of the Imperials, three months ago. Uh . . . Set and I helped liberate him from slavery.” Han shot a look at Chewbacca. “Um, he wants to know you know of the ship’s most recent whereabouts.”

“On Tatooine, I heard that the Drunken Lady’s crew had recently disbanded,” Voranda replied. Anakin noticed the dismayed expression on Chewbacca’s face. The redhead continued, “Apparently they had been searching for a missing crewman, until a close encounter with an Imperial ship in the Alderaan Sector had convinced the captain to disband the crew.” She paused before adding, “Did you know that the captain’s daughter and several of the crewmen were former Jedi?”

Both Anakin and Han exchanged startled looks. “Really?” Han finally asked. “What was her name? The captain’s daughter?”

With a shrug, Voranda replied, “Honestly, I forgot.” She nodded at Chewbecca. “Perhaps he knows.” Anakin glanced at Chewbecca, who seemed lost in his own thought. The redhead added, “However, I have another matter to discuss.”

“Which is?” Anakin asked.

After a brief pause, Voranda continued, “I plan to hold a meeting, tomorrow afternoon. With a few pilots I’ve encountered here in Worlport. It’s regarding a matter I want to propose to all of you. It should prove to be very profitable.”

Han frowned. “What is it? A smuggling job?”

“More like a smuggling operation,” Voranda corrected. “Possibly a long term operation for several years.”

Again, the two partners exchanged looks. Although Anakin felt leery of being part of a long term operation, he also saw the potential for greater profit. He asked, “When is this meeting?”

The redhead replied, “Tomorrow afternoon. In one of the casino’s private rooms, around three o’clock.”

Anakin nodded. “Fine. I’ll be there.” He stared at his two colleagues. “Han? Chewbacca?”

“I’m game,” Han said. The Wookie growled. “And Chewie says the same.”

A bright smile illuminated Voranda’s face. “Great! I’ll see you three, tomorrow.” She stood up and directed a flirtatious smile at Han. “By the way Solo . . . congratulations.” And she walked away.

The two men and the Wookie watched the red-haired pilot recede into the nightclub’s crowd. “You know,” Han began, “I have this odd feeling that she’s interested in me.”

A smile touched Anakin’s lips. “And is that a bad thing?”

“I’m at least twenty years younger than her! Are you serious?” Han retorted.

“So? She looks very attractive for a woman twenty years your senior,” Anakin slyly continued. “Since when have you ever been averse to older women?”

Han shot back, “When they’re old enough to be my mother!”

Still smiling, Anakin said, “Really Han! You need to be a little more open-minded.”

Han dismissed Anakin’s teasing with a wave of his hand. “And what about this job of hers? The last thing I want is to get involved in some big smuggling operation on a permanent basis.”

“Who said it was permanent?” Anakin replied. “Voranda has not told us everything.” His eyes fell upon the stage. The Twi’lek dancer had returned. Anakin felt an inclination to remain in the nightclub. But the fatigue in his body reminded him that he needed sleep. “I don’t know about you two, but I’m going to bed. Good night.”

Both Han and Chewbacca bid him goodnight. Anakin shot one last glance at the dancer and slowly made his way out of the lounge.

——-

MALAG, MALDORE

Three Imperial stormtroopers entered The Omega Hole’s empty barroom. One of the them headed straight toward the pudgy-faced bartender, who was in the process of cleaning the bar’s long countertop.

“Hey! You!” the senior stormtrooper barked. “We’re looking for someone. A human. This is him.” He switched on a small holoemitter that projected the image of a stocky man with dark, curly hair. “His name is Chattal Rahm. Have you seen him?”

The bartender immediately recognized the image. Despite his instinct to lie, he remembered his employer’s policy regarding the authorities – cooperate at all times. The bar came first – especially over any customer in trouble with the authorities. “Yeah, I’ve seen him,” he replied wearily. “Nearly two hours ago. He had been talking to another customer.”

The stormtrooper demanded, “Where did Rahm go?”

“How would I know?” the bartender retorted. “I didn’t follow the guy.”

A small stretch of silence followed. Then the stormtrooper asked, “What about the other customer? What were he and Rahm talking about?”

“What makes you think the other customer was a man?”

The stormtrooper removed his helmet and glared at the bartender with dark and intimidating eyes. He reminded the latter of a Mandalorian bounty hunter he had not laid eyes upon in over a decade. “Don’t play games with me, Barkeep!” the trooper growled. “Who was this other customer and what were they talking about?”

The bartender sighed. He had done the best he could to protect Mako. “Okay, the other customer was a man. A spacer, I think. This Rahm fellow had hired him for passage. Don’t ask me where, because I didn’t hear everything.”

“What did you overhear?”

After a brief hesitation, the bartender answered, “Well, the spacer’s ship is located in the Vox Avenue hangar. It’s called . . . the Alastian Star, I think. And they’re supposed to leave tomorrow morning. I swear it’s all I know.”

The stormtrooper gave the bartender one long stare, before breaking into a cold smile. “Okay. Thanks for your . . . help.” He donned his helmet and barked at his companions, “Let’s go!”

The bartender heaved a sigh of relief, as the stormtroopers marched out of the Twilight Hole. Good riddance, he thought. Now, if only Mako Spince never learn who had ratted him to the Imperials.

END OF CHAPTER EIGHT