“MAGIC CITY” Season One (2012) Episode Ranking

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Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of the Starz Channel’s series called “MAGIC CITY”. Created by Mitch Glazer, the series starred Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko and Danny Huston:

“MAGIC CITY” SEASON ONE (2012) EPISODE RANKING

1 - 1.05 Suicide Blonde

1. (1.05) “Suicide Blonde” – Hotel owner and boss Ike Evans goes through great lengths to save the life of prostitute and murder witness Judi Silver from Miami mobster Ben Diamond. Ike’s second wife Vera tries to get pregnant, while a bond forms between Ike’s second son Danny and Mercedes Lazaro, the daughter of the hotel’s manager.

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2. (1.07) “Who’s the Horse and Who’s the Rider?” – Danny confronts older brother Stevie Evans about the latter’s affair with Ben Diamond’s new wife, Lily. State Attorney Jack Klein confronts Ike with damning evidence. And the latter is forced to make a deal with Diamond.

3 - 1.06 The Harder They Fall

3. (1.06) “The Harder They Fall” – Ike and Diamond bet on a boxing match. Danny stumbles across blackmailing photos of Stevie and Lily. And Klein stumbles something that might prove to be a threat to Ike.

4 - 1.01 The Year of the Fin

4. “The Year of the Fin” (1.01) – The series premiere begins on New Year’s Eve 1958 and introduces Ike, his family and his situation with Diamond. Ike’s conflict with union representative Mike Strauss takes a deadly turn. And Stevie begins an affair with Lily, unaware of her marriage to Diamond.

5 - 1.08 Time and Tide

5. (1.08) “Time and Tide” – In the season finale, Judy falls into Klein’s hands, hotel manager Victor Lazaro and his daughter Mercedes receive bad news from Cuba, and Ike’s future becomes uncertain.

6 - 1.03 Castles Made of Sand

6. (1.03) “Castles Made of Sand” – Ike tries to convince government officials to legalize gambling in Florida and asks former sister-in-law Meg Bannock for financial help. And Diamond begins to worry that Lily is sleeping around.

7 - 1.02 Feeding Frenzy

7. (1.02) “Feeding Frenzy” – Ike is forced to deal with the aftermath of Strauss’ disappearance. Also, Stevie continues his affair with Lily after discovering her true identity.

8 - 1.04 Atonement

8. (1.04) “Atonement” – While Ike deals with a break-in at the hotel; Vera plans an extravagant charity function that she hopes will attract the attention of Jackie Kennedy and Victor struggles to get his wife out of Cuba.

“THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” (1969) Review

“THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” (1969) Review

Back in 1965, filmmaker Ken Annakin and 20th Century Fox studio chief released a all-star comedy about an international air race between London and Paris in 1910. “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” not only proved to be a major hit, it also received numerous movie award nominations in both the United States and Great Britain. Four years later, Ken Annakin created a sequel to the 1965 movie called “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” (aka “MONTE CARLO OR BUST”).

“THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” told the story about a group of international racing car drivers who participate in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1929. Superficially, one would not view this movie as a sequel to“FLYING MACHINES”, since it is about a road race, not an air race. But the movie was made by the same producer/writer/director as the first film, Ken Annakin. It possessed its own jaunty theme song – “Monte Carlo or Bust”, which was performed by Jimmy Durante. The movie also featured three actors from the 1965 movie – Terry-Thomas, Eric Sykes and Gert Fröbe. More importantly, Thomas’ character, Sir Cuthbert Ware-Armitage, proved to be the son of Thomas’ character from “FLYING MACHINES”, namely Sir Percival Cuthbert Ware-Armitage. In fact, Sir Cuthbert’s reason for participating in the Monte Carlo Rally stemmed from a mistake committed by his late father. So, yes . . .“JAUNTY JALOPIES” is a sequel to the 1965 film.

The Monte Carlo Rally began as an endurance test for many drivers and the vehicles they drove. The competitors would set off from different locations in Europe and meet in Monaco. The day after the competitors reach Monte Carlo, they would end up racing each other via a road that threads through the Maritime Alps and back to Monte Carlo and the finish line. Although “JAUNTY JALOPIES” indicated that the race began at five different European locations, the movie featured competitors starting at three:

*From John O’Groats, Scotland – Wealthy American automobile magnate Chester Scofield won half of the Ware-Armitages’ automobile factory in a poker game with Sir Percival Armitage-Ware. Following the latter’s death, his son Sir Cuthbert challenges Chester to enter the Monte Carlo Rally. Whoever crosses the finish line first – officially – wins as sole owner of the company. Sir Cuthbert blackmails his company foreman Perkins into serving as his co-driver. And Chester, who began the race alone, acquires a co-driver in the form of an English aristocratic beauty named Betty (surname unknown).

*From Stockholm, Sweden – Eccentric British Army officer Major Digby Dawlish and his aide Lieutenant Kit Barrington enter the Rally to advertise Dawlish’s odd inventions for his car. Both end up clashing with a German convict/race driver Willi Schickel (who is impersonating a murdered driver named Horst Mueller and his co-driver Otto Schwartz, who have entered the Rally to smuggle stolen gems for an exiled Russian aristocrat named Count Levinovitch.

*From Ragusa, Italy – Two Roman police officers named Angelo Pincelli and Marcello Agosti enter the Rally to earn a big enough reward for Angelo to avoid marrying the promised daughter of a supervisor. They end up mainly competing against a French doctor named Marie-Claude and her two co-drivers, medical students Pascale and Dominique; who enter the Rally in the name of Women’s Rights.

While reading a few articles about “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES”, I noticed that many bloggers and critics tend to compare this film with the 1965 movie . . . and to the former’s detriment. Many regard“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THE FLYING MACHINES” as superior to “JAUNTY JALOPIES”, regardless of whether they liked the latter or not. I recall one major criticism that film critic Leonard Maltin made about “JAUNTY JALOPIES”. He claimed that the 1969 movie failed to completely re-capture the atmosphere of the late 1920s in the way “FLYING MACHINES” managed to re-capture the late Edwardian era. And I am afraid he is right. Despite the mid-1960s beehive hairdos worn by the actresses, watching “FLYING MACHINES” made me feel as if I had stepped back into those last years before the outbreak of World War I. On the other hand, “JAUNTY JALOPIES” did not exactly re-capture the atmosphere of the late 1920s. Mind you, Production Designer Ted Haworth and Costume Designer John Furniss gave it their all. Their work certainly contributed to the movie’s late 1920s setting. But in spite of their work, the movie still failed to fully re-capture the era of its setting. One person I cannot help but blame is composer Ron Goodwin. Although Goodwin had wrote an entertaining score that emphasized the movie’s comedy and sense of travel, it failed to invoke a sense of the Roaring Twenties – at least in Europe. And unlike “FLYING MACHINES”, which featured several scenes in which the competitors and other characters managed to socialize; “JAUNTY JALOPIES” only featured one scene that featured all of the competitors together. I am referring to the scene in which the competitors meet at an inn in Chambéry, France for an overnight stay, before they set on the road to Monaco. “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” also had one or two scenes that seemed to have been cut rather quick by the film’s editor, Peter Taylor. I got the feeling both Ken Annakin and Taylor were trying to rush the movie’s narrative along – especially before the last sequence of the race. And although I liked the movie’s pre-credit sequence that introduced the Digby Dawlish and Kit Carrington characters in British Indians, I found the sequence’s portrayal of Indians a little tacky and racist . . . even if it was spoofing British Imperialism and characters like Dawlish and Carrington.

But despite the movie’s naysayers and some of its flaws, I liked “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES”. Actually, it is one of my favorite movies released in the 1960s. And I also like it more than “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES”, of which I am a big fan. One, it has the advantage of being a movie about a road trip. In the case of “JAUNTY JALOPIES”, it starts out as three road trips that merge into one. The humor featured in this film is very similar to the humor featured in “FLYING MACHINES”. Another reason why it enabled me endure it a lot more is that the major characters struck me as more rounded and complex than most of those featured in the 1965 film. A good comparison would be the characters portrayed by Gert Frobe in both films. His Colonel Manfred Von Holstein character from “FLYING MACHINES” has always struck me as the cliché of a typical high-ranking German Army officer and a very narrow one. On the other hand, Frobe portrayed a former German race driver-turned-criminal in “JAUNTY JALOPIES” named Willi Schickel, who seemed a lot more complex (and clever) than the one-dimensional character he had portrayed in “FLYING MACHINES”. Even Eric Sykes’ role as Terry-Thomas’ subordinate and plant manager in this film struck me as an improvement over the sniveling chauffeur he portrayed in the 1965 film. “JAUNTY JALOPIES” also benefited from better on-screen romances. Hell, the romances featured in this film – either between Chester and Betty, or Marcello and Marie-Claude – were MAJOR improvements over the romances from the first movie.

In my opinion, the biggest virtue that “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” possessed over“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” proved to be its narrative. If I must be frank, the second film possessed tighter writing. To this day, I remain frustrated that the air race featured in the 1965 film only lasted during its last 45 minutes – one third of the film. Due to Ken Annakin and Jack Davies’ screenplay and the movie’s setting, the Monte Carlo Rally was featured in MOST of the film’s narrative – aside from the first 15 to 20 minutes that introduced the major characters and the sequence in Chambéry. Not only did I find this to be a big improvement over the 1965 film’s narrative, I am grateful that most of “JAUNTY JALOPIES” is set during the actual race. And I am surprised that not one other blogger or film critic has ever noticed this.

I tried to recall if I found any particular performance off putting. And if I must be honest, I did not. “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” featured some funny and excellent performances. Tony Curtis was very charming, yet zany as American driver Chester Scofield. I liked how he balanced Chester’s aggressive ambition with a shy sweetness toward his leading lady. Speaking of her, I really enjoyed Susan Hampshire’s portrayal of the complex and aristocratic Betty. In fact, due to her charming and manipulative nature, I found her to be the most interesting female character in both movies. One would expect Terry-Thomas’ portrayal of Sir Cuthbert Armitage-Ware to be an exact replica of the character’s father, the mustache-twirling Sir Percival. Yet, I found his Sir Cuthbert to be more subtle and manipulative than his father . . . and better company, despite his villainy. Eric Sykes, who also appeared in the 1965 film, got a chance to portray a more rounded character as Perkins, Sir Cuthbert’s semi-brave factory manager, who ends up being blackmailed by his employer to serve as a co-driver.

What I found interesting about “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” were the screen pairings that seem to dominate the film. And they all clicked so well. Gert Frobe’s portrayal of the extroverted Willi Schickel contrasted very well with Peter Schmidt, who gave a nice performance as the former’s reserved and slightly nervous co-driver and fellow convict, Otto Schwartz. Among the movie’s cast were Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, who portrayed the two British officers, Major Dawlish and Lieutenant Kit Barrington. Cook and Moore were already a screen team when they made this movie. And both proved in this movie that their chemistry was as strong and funny as ever. Mireille Darc, Marie Dubois and Nicoletta Machiavelli made a charming and intelligent trio as the three French drivers who entered the Rally on behalf of women’s rights. But I was very surprised by the chemistry between Walter Chiari and Lando Buzzanca, who portrayed the two Italian policemen, Angelo Pincilli and Marcelo Agosti. Not only did they proved to be a very effective screen team, I found them just as funny as Cook and Moore. I should not have been surprised, considering that they had worked together before. Bourvil portrayed the pompous, yet sarcastic Rally official, Monsieur Dupont. And I found him especially funny in a scene with Mireille Darc, as her character convinces him to allow women to participate in the Rally and in that bizarre, yet hilarious scene at the Rally’s finish line.

As I had stated earlier, there are many who regard “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” as not only inferior to 1965′s “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES”, but something of a loss in the end. However, I am not one of them. It has its flaws. But there are too many aspects of the 1969 film that struck me as an improvement over the 1965 film. More importantly, I found “JAUNTY JALOPIES” so entertaining that it has become one of my favorite comedies . . . and movies that was released during the 1960s. I have to thank writer-director Ken Annakin, along with the all-star cast led by Tony Curtis, Susan Hampshire and Terry-Thomas for making this movie so entertaining for me.

TIME MACHINE: Battle of Bladensburg

Battle of Bladens-Waterhouse Painting

TIME MACHINE: BATTLE OF BLADENSBURG

August 24, 2014 marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bladensburg, which was a major conflict fought during the War of 1812. The battle was fought on August 24, 1814 in Bladensburg, Maryland; and played a major role in the fate of the United States’ capital, Washington D.C. and a future battle fought around Baltimore, Maryland.

Although the Royal Navy had controlled the Chesapeake Bay region since early 1813, the lack of substantial British troops due to the Napoleonic Wars had limited to mounting small-scale raids. However, Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by April 1814, leaving the British Army to focus full attention to the war on the North American continent. Major General Robert Ross, assumed command of veterans from the Duke of Wellington’s army and other British troops serving along the East Coast. They were transported to Chesapeake Bay to create a diversion from a British invasion of New York, led by Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Canada and commander in chief in North America. Although Ross commanded the troops, the point of attack was to be decided by Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s North American Station.

When Ross and Cochrane’s forces arrived at the town Benedict, along the Patuxent River, President James Madison sent Secretary of State James Monroe to reconnoiter. President Madison received a dispatch from Secretary Monroe on August 23 that stated – “The enemy are in full march to Washington, Have the materials prepared to destroy the bridges, PS – You had better remove the records.” Unfortunately, Madison and his advisers ignored Monroe’s warning and reports. The Washington and Baltimore area served as the Tenth Military District and it was under the command of General William H. Winder, who had been an attorney before the war broke out. In theory, Winder was supposed to have at least 15,000 militia troops, but he actually had only 120 Dragoons and 300 other Regulars, plus 1,500 poorly trained and under-equipped militiamen at his immediate disposal. Secretary of War John Armstrong, Jr. and other advisers incorrectly assumed that the British were destined for Baltimore and that Washington would not be attacked since he deemed it strategically unimportant.

Winder ordered the destruction of the two bridges across the Anacostia River as a precaution to protect the Capital. This act left a route through Bladensburg as the logical approach. He also sent troops to Marlborough to intercept the British at Upper Marlboro on August 20. Unfortunately, those troops quickly returned when the Americans learned that British troops were already entering Blandesburg. Following a brief clash with Ross’ leading forces on August 22, Winder ordered a hasty retreat. Several Maryland militia regiments were summoned from Baltimore to defend Washington. Winder ordered Brigadier General Tobias Stansbury to move from Baltimore to Bladensburg and take the best position in advance of Bladensburg in order to resist as long as possible. The latter deployed his force atop Lowndes Hill, just east of Bladensburg. The road from Annapolis crossed the hill, and the road from Upper Marlboro ran to its south and west. Furthermore, the roads to Washington, Georgetown, and Baltimore all intersected behind between it and Bladensburg. From this position, Stansbury dominated the approaches available to the British while controlling the lines of communication. Then on August 23, Stansbury received a message from Winder, informing the former that he had withdrawn across the Eastern Branch and he intended to fire the lower bridge. A surprised Stansbury was seized by an irrational fear that his right flank could be turned. Instead of strengthening his commanding position, he immediately removed his exhausted troops and marched across Bladensburg bridge, which he did not burn. Stansbury ended up tossing away almost every tactical advantage available to him.

The British forces reached Bladensburg on August 24, around noon. Around noon on 24 August, Ross’s army reached Bladensburg and Stansbury’s tactical errors quickly became apparent. Had he continued to hold Lowndes Hill, Stansbury could have made the British approach a costly one. With the use of Bladensburg’s brick structures, which were ready-made mini-fortresses, Stansbury might have drawn Ross’s troops into bloody street fighting. Since Stansbury failed to burn the bridge, he was forced to defend it. Stansbury’s infantry and artillery were posted too far from the river’s edge to contest an effective crossing. The British sweep across the Bladensburg Bridge proved to be very strong. Although the Americans repulsed the British forces three times by artillery fire and launched a counter-attack led by U.S. Naval officer Commodore Joshua Barney and his almost 600 seasoned Marines and sailors. Despite their valiant repulse, the authorities in Washington simply forgot about Barney for several days. Without orders they were tardy arrivals on the field of contest. Had they been supplied with sufficient ammunition and supporting infantry, the course of the battle could have been changed. But in the end, Barney and his men were flanked and overwhelmed by British forces. Barney was wounded and captured.

Although the British had suffered heavier casualties than the Americans, thanks to Barney’s guns; they had completely routed the defenders. The British are believed to suffer casualties of 64 dead and 185 wounded. Some of the British dead “died without sustaining a scratch. They collapsed from heat exhaustion and the strain of punishing forced marches over the five days since landing at Benedict. General Winder had not given any instructions to his commanders before the battle in regard to a possible retreat. When the American militia left the battlefield, he issued contradictory orders – either to halt and reform, fall back on the Capitol where Secretary of War Armstrong hoped vainly to make a stand using the Federal buildings as strong points, or retreat through Georgetown to Tenleytown. Most of the militia simply fled the field with no destination in mind, or deserted the ranks to see to the safety of their families. The Americans actually fled through the streets of Washington, D.C. President Madison and most of the rest of the federal government had been present at the battle, and had nearly been captured. They too fled the capital, and scattered through Maryland and Virginia. That same night the British entered Washington unopposed and set fire to many of the government buildings in what became known as the Burning of Washington.

“THE WOMAN HE LOVED” (1988) Review

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“THE WOMAN HE LOVED” (1988) Review

I have come to the conclusion that any movie producer willing to do a project on Wallis Warfield Simpson, later the Duchess of Windsor would eventually realize that said project is bound to generate a great deal of emotion – not only in Great Britain, but even in the United States. I have never come across a female historical figure who has polarized the public the way this 20th century American-born socialite has.

The first screen production about Wallis Simpson and her romance with Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor I ever saw was the 1978 BBC miniseries, “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”. But I have seen screen portrayals of both Mrs. Simpson and Edward VIII in other productions, including this television movie called “THE WOMAN HE LOVED”. The television movie aired on CBS in 1988. I wish I could say this movie was the best on-screen interpretation of the infamous romance that rocked the British monarchy back in the mid-1930s. However, I would be lying if I did. But I certainly do not believe it is the worst.

“THE WOMAN HE LOVED” told the story of the famous romance mainly from Mrs. Simpson’s point-of-view, via flashbacks. The movie began in 1972 with her arrival in Britain for the first time in years to attend the funeral of her third and final husband, the Duke of Windsor. While the recently widowed Duchess seeks solitude inside Buckingham Palace as a guest of the Royal Family, she reminisces about about her marriage to American-born businessman Ernest Simpson in 1928 and how it led to her entry into British high society and to her relationship with Edward Windsor. Aside from the 1972 flashbacks, most of the movie began with Wallis’ marriage to Simpson and ended with her marriage to the newly created Duke of Windsor in May 1937. It also covered Wallis and Edward’s affair, which began when he was Prince of Wales and continued after he became King Edward VIII. Also, Wallis’ marital problems with Simpson, along with their divorce and the Abdication Crisis, which occurred during the fall of 1936 were also covered in this film. This is not surprising, considering this is the narrative formula that is used in most productions about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

How did I feel about the movie? Well . . . I did not hate it. But I did not exactly love it. I must admit that its production values were top notch for a television film with a foreign setting. One has to give Kenneth Sharp credit for a detailed re-creation of London and Great Britain between 1928 and 1936. If there is one thing I can say about “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” is that it is a beautiful looking period drama. Sharp’s work was ably assisted by Brian Morgan’s sharp and colorful cinematography. Hell, his work looked better than many period dramas I have seen on both the small and large screen. Although I found Allyn Ferguson’s score not particularly memorable, I thought he and director Charles Jarrott did an excellent in selecting certain tunes that added to the movie’s 1930s setting. But one aspect of the movie’s technical aspect that really blew my mind was Robin Fraser-Paye’s costume designs. Can I say . . . WOW? Or better yet, below are images of Fraser-Paye’s work:

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On the other hand, William Luce’s screenplay failed to have the same effect upon me. As I had hinted earlier, the screenplay for“THE WOMAN HE LOVED” was the basic narrative used for most productions about the historic couple. I would go even further to say that Luce’s work was basically a paint-by-the-numbers job. There were moments that did impress me. Most of those moments featured conversations between Wallis and Simpson – especially when their marriage was breaking apart. I was especially amused by one particular quarrel between them that ended with Wallis sharply ordering their dog from her bed. Some of the biggest problems I had with “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” is that Wallis and Edward’s story was treated solely as a movie adaptation of a romance novel. And I am not a fan of romance novels. I did not expect the movie to be some Charles Higham-style trashy revelation about the Windsor couple. I have seen plenty of recent productions – “UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS (Season One)” and “THE KING’S SPEECH” – that portray Wallis as some kind of gauche, gold digging whore. Unfortunately, “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” went to another extreme – painting Wallis as some kind of American-born Cinderella and Edward as this poor, misunderstood prince who had been denied some sliver of happiness due to royal tradition. The movie did offer crumbs of the couple’s ambiguity – Wallis’ affair with Edward and the latter’s determination to steal another man’s wife. But despite these moments of ambiguity, “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” was simply an exercise in romantic gloss.

“THE WOMAN HE LOVED” featured the screen reunion of Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews, who first co-starred with each other in the 1982 television costume movie, “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL”. Both were outstanding in that film. I wish I could say the same about their performances in “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” . . . but I cannot. I am not saying they gave bad performances. Their screen chemistry remained intact. And both Seymour and Andrews offered some examples of their talent in a few scenes. Most of Seymour’s best scenes were with actor Tom Wilkinson, who portrayed Ernest Simpson. Perhaps her performances in these scenes led to her Emmy nomination. Perhaps. However, I found it easy to question this nomination, due to Seymour being forced to portray Mrs. Simpson as an occasionally star-struck adolescent. I could blame her questionable Upper South accent (the American socialite came from an old Baltimore family), but I never believed that a bad or questionable accent could really harm a performance. Andrews had a particularly effective scene in which his Edward angrily expressed his frustration with the British Establishment, who refused to accept Wallis as his future wife. I found this scene to be a breath of fresh air, considering most of his consisted of dialogue that struck me as wooden. But in the end, both actors were simply hampered by Luce’s romantically one-note screenplay.

Olivia De Havilland also received an Emmy nomination – a Best Supporting Actress nod for her portrayal of Wallis’ aunt, Bessie Merryman. And if I must be honest, I find this puzzling. I am not criticizing De Havilland. I thought she gave a solid performance, considering the slight amount of screen time given to her. But there was nothing about it that dazzled me. Lucy Gutteridge portrayed Edward’s previous mistress, the American-born Thelma, Viscountess Furness. By some ironic twist, Gutteridge portrayed Furness’ twin sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, in the 1982 television movie, “LITTLE GLORIA, HAPPY AT LAST” and earned an Emmy nomination. As for her portrayal of Thelma, it was pretty solid, but not particularly mind dazzling. In fact, none of the other supporting performances in the movie – Julie Harris, Robert Hardy, Phyllis Calvert and David Waller – did not strike me as particularly memorable. I must admit I was surprised to see Waller reprise his role as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, which he had originated in “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”. Only Tom Wilkinson’s wry and cynical portrayal of the cuckolded Ernest Simpson came close to really impressing me. While everyone else seemed to be a bit too theatrical or simply going through the motions, Wilkinson made the low-key Simpson a rather interesting personality.

I really do not know what else to say about “THE WOMAN HE LOVED”. I cannot deny that visually, it is a very beautiful looking movie that did an excellent job of re-creating Great Britain during the two decades between the two world wars. But instead of providing a balanced and ambiguous portrait of Wallis Simpson and her third husband, King Edward VIII; director Charles Jarrott and screenwriter William Luce decided to portray their relationship as some kind of cinematic romance novel. And I believe their work may have hampered the performances of the cast led by the usually talented Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews. If you want a realistic feel of the Wallis Simpson/Edward VIII affair, this may not be your movie. But if it is a onscreen fairy tale romance you are looking for, this might be your cup of tea.

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “BABYLON 5″ (Season Two: “The Coming of Shadows”)

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Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Two (1994-1995) of “BABYLON 5″. Created by J. Michael Straczynski, the series starred Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle and Mira Furlan:

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “BABYLON 5″ (SEASON TWO: “THE COMING OF SHADOWS”)

1-2.20 The Long Twilight Struggle

1. (2.20) “The Long, Twilight Struggle” – In this chilling episode, the Narn-Centauri War comes to an end with the Centauri war machine’s brutal defeat of the Narn homeworld, aided by the Shadows.

2-2.16 In the Shadow of Zhahadum

2. (2.16) “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” – Babylon 5′s new commanding officer, Captain John Sheridan, discovers a connection between his late wife Anna and the mysterious courier M.r Morden; and makes enemies of everyone around him when he has the latter detained.

3-2.18 Confessions and Lamentations

3. (2.18) “Confessions and Lamentations” – When a deadly plague threatening the Markab race with extinction reaches Babylon 5, Dr. Stephen Franklin and a Markab colleague, Dr. Lazarenn race against time to find a cure to save the Markab inhabitants on the space station in this heart wrenching episode.

4-2.15 And Now For a Word

4. (2.15) “And Now For a Word” – ISN reporter Cynthia Torqueman hosts a documentary that takes a look at the inhabitants of and life on Babylon 5, and the Narn-Centauri War raging beyond.

5-2.09 The Coming of Shadows

5. (2.09) “The Coming of Shadows” – This episode about the state visit of Centauri Emperor Turhan and the beginning of the Narn-Centauri War led to the series’ first Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1996.

“KATE AND LEOPOLD” (2001) Review

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“KATE AND LEOPOLD” (2001) Review

I am a big fan of time travel movies. Especially well written movies featuring time travel. Mind you, not all of the films and television episodes featuring this genre have impressed me. But once in a while, I have come across a handful that I have found particularly appealing.

I never saw “KATE AND LEOPOLD” when it first appeared in movie theaters during the Christmas holidays in 2001. Looking back, I wondered why I never bothered to go to the theaters to see it. When I saw the original release date, I realized that I was more interested in watching “LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING”. In fact, I became so obsessed with that movie that I forgot all about “KATE AND LEOPOLD”. I did not see the latter until it was released on DVD.

Co-written and directed by James Mangold, “KATE AND LEOPOLD” is a romantic-comedy fantasy about an English duke who accidentally travels through time from New York in 1876 to the present and falls in love with a career woman in early 21st century New York. The movie begins with Leopold Alexis Elijah Walker Thomas Gareth Mountbatten, Duke of Albany attending a ceremony for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1876, where he spots amateur physicist Stuart Besser reacting to engineer Washington Roebling’s speech. Upon his return to his Uncle Millard’s Manhattan manor, Leopold is informed that his family’s depleted fortune needs to be replenished with a marriage to a wealthy American heiress. During a ball held in his honor, Leopold spots Stuart observing him. The 19th century aristocrat and tries to save the 21st century scientist from falling off the unfinished bridge; only to fall with the latter into a temporal portal between centuries. Leopold awakens in 21st century New York.

During his sojourn in 21st century New York, Leopold becomes acquainted with Stuart’s ex-girlfriend, a slightly cynical market researcher named Kate McKay and her younger brother Charlie, a cheerful, yet somewhat gauche and ambitious actor; after Stuart falls down his apartment building’s elevator shaft. Although Leopold has less trouble befriending the very friendly Charlie, he seemed to clash a good deal with Kate, who remains bitter over her breakup with Stuart. However, both Kate and Leopold grow closer after she arranges for him to appear in a margarine commercial. Friendship eventually develop into love, when Kate becomes aware of Leopold’s jealousy toward her relationship with her boss, J.J. Camden. But a bitter quarrel between the lovers over the margarine commercial, along with Stuart’s realization that Leopold needs to return to 1876 threaten to tear them apart.

“KATE AND LEOPOLD” could have easily become one of those sweet, treacly love stories more suited for infatuated fangirls. The movie’s ending certainly seemed to hint a love story, straight from a romance novel. But the rest of Kate and Leopold’s romance proved to be a solid balance of romance, cynicism, slapstick humor and a touch of bitterness. Mangold and co-writer Steven Rogers’ screenplay allowed the story to rise above the usual schmaltz, thanks to their main characters. Kate McKay seemed like a far cry from the usual leading lady in a romantic comedy. Thanks to Mangold and Rogers’ writing and a sharp performance from Meg Ryan, Kate is an ambitious and cynical woman, who not only has a penchant for brutal frankness, but seems incapable of moving past her embittered breakup with Stuart. Leopold Mountbatten/Duke of Albany seemed more like a typical leading man in a romance. He is an English aristocrat with handsome features and impeccable manners. However, Hugh Jackman did an excellent job in conveying Leopold’s priggish and self-righteous personality, with a surprising penchant wallowing in illusions. Not what I would consider typical leads in a romantic comedy. Perhaps the Hollywood Foreign Press Association thought so, when they nominated Jackman for the Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Mangold and Rogers’ list of interesting characters continue with Kate’s ex-boyfriend, Stuart Bessner. Ex-boyfriends in a romantic comedy are usually assholes who make life difficult for the leading ladies. Stuart was not an asshole. But Liev Schreiber did such a marvelous job in not only conveying Stuart’s annoying traits – his verbosity, professional obsessions and lack of responsibility toward his personal life – but also allowing the audience to discover a very likable man beneath the irritating traits. I do not know about others, but I cheered when Stuart ended up with his own little romance by the end of the film. Now, if I had to choose the most irritating character in the movie, it would be Kate’s younger brother, Charlie McKay. I have not seen Breckin Meyer in anything else, but I have to give kudos to him for not only capturing Charlie’s irritating and boorish personality, but also making him very likable. Both Meyer and Ryan provided a marvelous and poignant moment in the film in which the two McKays bid each good-bye for the last time. It always leaves tears in my eyes. If there was one character who could have easily been labeled as the movie’s asshole, it would be Kate’s boss, J.J. Camden. Thanks to Bradley Whitford’s entertaining performance, J.J. is slightly boorish, controlling, and an egotist. Yet . . . he is not only likable, but also very forgiving. Despite his humiliation by Leopold, Kate not only kept her job, but also received a well-deserved promotion by a forgivable J.J. He turned out to be a decent sort in the end.

The movie also featured some memorable supporting performances. The American-born Philip Bosco gave a convincing performance as Leopold’s dependable valet, Otis. Paxton Whitehead was excellent as Leopold’s frank and disciplined Uncle Millard. In fact, I get the feeling that once Uncle Millward recover from his disappointment over Leopold’s marriage to Kate, he might come to admire her practicality, discipline and ambition. Natasha Lyonne gave a charming performance as Kate’s sweet secretary Darci, who happens to be a big fan of romance novels. Ebony Jo-Ann was wonderful as Stuart’s no-nonsense hospital attendant, Nurse Ester. Kristen Schaal was equally charming as Miss Tree, the wealthy American heiress whom Uncle Millard had marked as Leopold’s future wife. And I found it very difficult to view her as an unattractive woman, no matter how hard she tried to convey that image. The movie also featured Leopold’s funny quarrel with a NYPD beat cop over Stuart’s dog relieving himself on the city street. The cop was portrayed by none other than Viola Davis, who provided a sneak peak of those impressive acting skills that would make her a star before the decade ended.

There were other aspects of “KATE AND LEOPOLD” that I enjoyed. I found Stuart Dryburgh’s photography of New York City – past and present – very impressive and colorful. I was especially impressed by his work in the 1876 sequences. His photography was helped by Stephanie Carroll’s set decorations, Jess Gonchor’s art direction and especially Mark Friedberg’s production designs for this particular sequence. Their combined worked helped Mangold do an exceptional job in re-creating 1870s New York City. I could also say the same about Donna Zakowska’s costume designs. I found them very attractive and an excellent reflection of the Gilded Age, as reflected in the image below:

K-L-kate-and-leopold-8885399-580-380

As much as I enjoyed “KATE AND LEOPOLD”, I must admit I had a major problem with it. My biggest problem with the script turned out to be the mode in which three of the characters used to time travel between 1876 and 2000 (or 2001). What did Mangold and Rogers used? A temporal portal situated mid-air around the Brooklyn Bridge. In order to access this portral, the time travelers had to fall from a high height – either from a scaffold in 1876 or one of the bridge’s steel girder in the 21st century. I realize that the two writers were trying to add some suspense and drama to the story’s method of time travel, but I thought it was a bit too much to force the characters to utilize what I feel is an unnecessarily difficult mode. I also found it odd that Mangold and Rogers would choose Mountbatten as Leopold’s surname. The name was adopted by the English branch of the Battenberg family in 1917, to counter the rising tide of anti-German sentiment during World War I Britain. It did not exist in 1876.

“KATE AND LEOPOLD” would never make my list of top ten favorite time travel movies. I had no problems with James Mangold and Steven Rogers’ screenplay, despite its flaws, Mangold’s excellent direction or the marvelous cast led by Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber. Frankly, I thought the movie had a very entertaining and charming story filled with some complex and interesting characters. But it is more of a romance film, instead of a time travel film. And that is why I view it as one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time.

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga” – Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi

Here is the fourth article on moral ambiguity found in the STAR WARS saga:

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga”

Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi

If examining the moral ambiguity of Jedi masters and knights such as Yoda might be considered controversial, then focusing upon the well-liked Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi could be viewed as a mine trap on my part. Aside from the main three protagonists from the Original Trilogy, there is no one more beloved by many STAR WARS fans than Master Kenobi.

As far as these fans are concerned, Obi-Wan is the ideal Jedi Knight/Master. Or close to being the most ideal. He is not viewed as the most powerful. I suspect that Master Yoda holds that honor in STAR WARS fandom. But I have noticed that many view Obi-Wan as noble and pure. He might as well be the Sir Galahad of the Jedi Order. And while these fans are willing to allow Obi-Wan being capable of a few mistakes, the prevailing attitude seemed to be ideal. However, not all STAR WARS fans harbor this view of Obi-Wan. Some see him as an individual with good intentions and plenty of flaws. And I count myself as among the latter.

The phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” could have been created for many of the Prequel Trilogy characters – especially with Obi-Wan Kenobi in mind. Before one accuses me of viewing the Jedi Master as ineffectual . . . I do not. Obi-Wan had his moments of great wisdom and common sense. But like many other characters in the saga, Obi-Wan had his flaws.

I am still amazed that Obi-Wan managed to have such an unconventional personality like Qui-Gon Jinn as his Jedi master and remain so conventional after so many years. More than any other character in the STAR WARS saga, Obi-Wan seemed to embody the belief in adhering to the rules and philosophies of the Jedi Order. He also seemed to be a fervent supporter of blind obedience of authority figures. Well, I take that back. Obi-Wan seemed to have no problems with questioning Qui-Gno’s authority . . . especially when the latter went against the dictates of the Jedi Order. In short, Obi-Wan seemed to demand that his Jedi master behave in a conventional manner and not question the Order’s ruling body, the Jedi Council.

Obi-Wan turned out to be one of several characters in the saga that suffered from arrogance. This was especially true in his attitude toward the Gungan outcast, Jar-Jar Binks, and the nine year-old Anakin Skywalker in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. In one sentence, he managed to express this arrogant attitude in one sentence after discovering Qui-Gon’s intentions of bringing Anakin along with them to Coruscant:

“Why do I sense we’ve picked up another pathetic life form…?”

However, Obi-Wan’s biggest mistake turned out to be his decision to train Anakin, following Qui-Gon’s death at the hands of Sith apprentice, Darth Maul. I realize that he merely wanted to follow his late master’s wishes. Following his last meeting with the Jedi Council, Qui-Gon believed that its members would never allowed Anakin to be trained. But when the Council allowed the nine year-old into the Order following his performance during the Battle of Naboo, Obi-Wan insisted upon training him. The newly promoted Jedi Knight had allowed his feelings toward Qui-Gon to blind him from the realization that he might be too young, too inexperienced and too much of a conformist to be the right Jedi mentor for an independent thinker like Anakin.

By “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”, Obi-Wan’s attitude toward “pathetic life forms” seemed to have disappeared, as his friendship toward a short-order cook named Dexter Jettster seemed to attest. But the arrogance remained. Many fans have complained about Anakin’s arrogant tendency to ignore Obi-Wan’s teachings. I believe they had failed to notice how Obi-Wan’s own arrogance had led him to become an ineffectual mentor for the volatile 19 year-old padawan. How can I say this? I feel that Obi-Wan proved to be a lousy Jedi teach for Anakin. Their quarrel inside Former Queen/now Senator Padme Amidala’s Coruscant apartment was not only a testament to Anakin’s penchant for questioning authority. The scene also provided a strong indication of Obi-Wan’s methods as a teacher. For him, it was important that Anakin blindly accept the rules and methods of the Jedi Oder, but also every opinion or statement that left his mouth. Obi-Wan seemed incapable of teaching Anakin how to find an individual path to self-realization or the Force. Instead, he seemed determined to mold his padawan into an ideal image of a Jedi Knight . . . unaware that such a being did not exist.

Obi-Wan’s arrogance also reared its ugly head in his first confrontation with the former Jedi Master-turned-Sith apprentice named Count Dooku aka Darth Tyrannus. When the latter revealed that a Sith master controlled the Galactic senate to Obi-Wan on Geonosis, the younger man quickly dismissed the idea without bothering to consider it. Either he assumed that Dooku was trying to manipulate him, the Jedi Council would have immediately sensed the presence of the Sith, or both.

I found it ironic that as a Jedi disciple, Obi-Wan had been trained never to act as an aggressor in a conflict. Yet, both he and Qui-Gon ended up as the aggressors in their duel against Darth Maul in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. After the Sith apprentice struck down Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan allowed his aggression and anger to get the best of him and attacked Darth Maul. His anger proved to be temporarily effective and in the end, led to Obi-Wan’s lack of control and Maul’s near victory over him. Obi-Wan’s aggression failed to serve him and he had to calm down in order to finally defeat the Sith apprentice. His aggressive behavior failed to serve him on three occasions in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” – his attempt to arrest bounty hunter Jango Fett on Kamino, his battle against an acklay in the Geonosis area, and during his and Anakin’s duel against Count Dooku on the same planet. By “REVENGE OF THE SITH”, Obi-Wan’s aggression transformed into arrogance that he saved for combat situations. During his and Anakin’s rescue of Chancellor Palpatine from Count Dooku and General Grievous, Obi-Wan’s comment about the Sith being the Jedi’s speciality clearly expressed this arrogance . . . moments before his quick defeat at the hands of Dooku. “Pride comes quickly before the fall . . . eh?”

“REVENGE OF THE SITH” also marked the period in which the Jedi Order finally realized that someone within Chancellor Palpatine’s circle was the other Sith Lord they had been searching for quite some time. This realization, along with the thinning of the Jedi’s ranks after three years of war led some of the Jedi characters to resort to desperate measures for the Order’s survival. One of those measures included Obi-Wan’s attempt to convince Anakin to spy upon Palpatine. He claimed that he had been initially against what he considered to be a distasteful plan. But Obi-Wan’s later conversation with Jedi Masters Yoda and Mace Windu saw him trying to convince the two Jedi Masters to accept Anakin as a spy for the Order. Perhaps many would disagree, but I suspect that Obi-Wan had lied to Anakin, so that the latter would act as a spy. Worse, he failed to heed Anakin’s warning that the entire suggestion was a bad idea.

Obi-Wan’s lies to Anakin about the spy plan proved to be nothing in compare to his actions on Mustafar. First of all, both he and Yoda had decided to take on Palpatine and Anakin in order to rid the galaxy of the Sith once and for all. Yoda failed to kill Palpatine during their confrontation inside the Senate building on Coruscant. Obi-Wan proved to be more successful . . . somewhat. He managed to track down Anakin to Mustafar, by using Padme. Despite Anakin being more powerful, Obi-Wan managed to hold his own during their duel by keeping his cool. Yet, once Obi-Wan finally defeated his former apprentice, his cool ration seemed to disappear. After ranting angrily, Obi-Wan left the badly wounded Anakin to slowly burn to death on a lava bank. Many Obi-Wan fans claimed that he could not bring himself to kill his former apprentice. I disagree. I suspect that Obi-Wan wanted to punish Anakin for becoming a Sith by allowing the latter to suffer a slow and agonizing death. Once again, I feel that Obi-Wan’s anger got the best of him . . . and failed him. Palpatine and a handful of storm troopers arrived on Mustafar in time to save Anakin from a slow death.

Aboard Senator Bail Organa’s starship, Master Yoda advised Obi-Wan to seek out Qui-Gon’s Force ghost and resume his studies in the way of the Force. Obi-Wan must have taken his advice. He proved to be a more patient and open-minded mentor to Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker, in “A NEW HOPE”. A good deal of his advice and lessons regarding the Force seemed to reflect those views of the very flexible Qui-Gon Jinn. More importantly, Obi-Wan was willing to sacrifice his life to help Luke and the latter’s friends – Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa – to escape from the Death Star during his final duel against Anakin aka Darth Vader. As a Force Ghost, Obi-Wan advised Luke on how to use the Force during the Battle of Yavin. And in “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, his ghost form advised Luke to contact Yoda for further Jedi training on Dagobah.

Unfortunately, Obi-Wan still managed to commit his shares of mistakes and prove that he had retained some of his old absolutist thinking after two decades. One, he lied to Luke about Anakin’s fate, claiming that the latter had been “murdered” by one Darth Vader. It seemed as if he and Yoda had hoped to manipulate Luke into committing fratricide before the latter could learn the truth. Some fans claimed that both had planned to tell Luke the truth when the latter finished his Jedi training. But in “RETURN OF THE JEDI”, Obi-Wan seemed very disappointed by Luke’s refusal to kill Anakin/Vader. On the other hand, Obi-Wan seemed convinced that his old padawan was beyond saving, ignoring the very words that Padme had whispered to him before her death. The Skywalkers proved otherwise during their confrontation aboard the second Death Star.

In the end, Obi-Wan Kenobi learned a very valuable lesson about the Force, his lack of flexibility and quite possibly, his arrogance. And he did so, thanks to the actions of his two former apprentices Anakin and Luke Skywalker.

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