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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

“CHARMED” RETROSPECT: (6.11) “Witchstock”

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“CHARMED” RETROSPECT: (6.11) “Witchstock”

During its eight season run, the fantasy-drama “CHARMED” has occasionally featured an episode dealing with the topic of time travel. These time travel episodes usually prove to be well-written or exceptional. However, there comes a time when the series produced a time travel episode that end up being a dud. The series’ Season Six episode, (6.11) “Witchstock” proved to be the latter.

Directed by James A. Contner and written by Daniel Cerone, “Witchstock” begins at least a month or two following the first-rate (6.10) “Chris-Crossed”. At the end of the previous episode, oldest sister Piper Halliwell had suggested that younger sister Phoebe and even younger half-sister Paige Matthews leave the family’s manor to pursue their romantic desires. Phoebe left San Francisco to live with her boyfriend, the very wealthy Jason Dean, in Hong Kong. And Paige left the manor to live with her own wealthy boyfriend, a male witch named Richard Montana. However, the sisters’ separation proves to be a little problematic, since they have to deal with a magic-sucking slime found inside a local warehouse. Their new whitelighter from the future Chris Perry (in reality Halliwell) manages to bring Phoebe back from Hong Kong to vanquish the slime, but was not able to find Paige. Piper and Phoebe achieve their mission . . . somewhat. A piece of the slime manages to attach itself to Chris, and the latter inadvertently transport it back to the Manor.

When Paige shows up, she explains that she tried to leave Richard’s manor without teleporting, due to his addiction to magic. During this conversation, Piper finds a pair of red go-go boots that once belonged to their grandmother, Penelope Johnson Halliwell. She gives them to Paige, who tries them on. Seconds later, Paige finds herself transported back to January 1967, due to the spell her grandmother had put on the boots. She also discovers that both her grandmother and grandfather (Jack or Allen Halliwell) were peace-loving hippies on a crusade to rid the world of evil through the magical power of love. They had also transformed the manor into a “magical be-in”, unaware that one of their guests is a warlock. Meanwhile, Piper and Phoebe summon the ghost of their now dead grandmother to explain what happened. Grams informs them about her past as a hippie and the tragic circumstances that led to her first husband’s death at the hands of a warlock. Piper and Phoebe realize they have to travel back to 1967 and prevent Paige from inadvertently changing the past. Meanwhile, Grams helps Chris and Piper’s ex, former whitelighter-turned-Elder Leo Wyatt deal with the demonic slime that threatens to take over the manor.

Sounds exciting, right? I wish I could say that “Witchstock” was exciting. In the end, the episode proved to be a piece of crap. First of all, screenwriter Daniel Cerone failed to make any real connection between the demonic slime first introduced in the pre-titled sequence and Paige’s initial trip back to the Age of Aquarius. The main villains of the episode – two warlocks portrayed by Jake Busey and Kam Heskin – proved to be rather lame. The demonic sponge featured in the early 21st century scenes proved to be even more lame. In fact, the demonic sponge reminded me of the lame electrical demon that the sisters had vanquished in Season Four’s (4.07) “A Knight to Remember”. Talk about lack of originality.

Cerone also failed to create any real emotional connection between the sisters – especially newbie Paige – and their grandparents. The sisters seemed flabbergasted by Penny Halliwell’s hippie persona, which was a far cry from the militant demon hunter who raised Piper, Phoebe and the now dead Prue. The episode had a chance for Paige to really get to know her grandparents – especially her grandmother – and it failed on all counts. Piper turned out to be the only sister who witnessed their grandfather’s death. Yet, she reacted with very little or hardly any emotion. I realize that she had never met her grandfather during her lifetime. But the man was blood. The family carried his surname. Holly Marie Combs could have expressed some emotion . . . some sadness over the passing of her character’s flesh-and-blood. Unfortunately, that never happened. Cerone’s script was too busy treating the hippie personas of Penny, husband Allen (or Jack), and whitelighter Leo as jokes. Watching 1967 Leo act high and hit on Paige was embarrassing to watch. I felt sorry for Brian Krause in these scenes. I also felt sorry for Dorian Gregory, who was forced to portray Black Panther Luther Morris, who not only found himself in the same jail cell as Piper and Phoebe in a very cringe worthy scene; but also turned out to be the father of the Halliwells’ police detective friend, Darryl Morris.

The worst aspect of “Witchstock” proved to be the mistakes that heavily tainted this episode. In one early scene; Phoebe, who had become fascinated with Chinese astrology, informed younger sister Paige that the latter was born in the year of the Ox. WRONG! Paige was born in early August 1977, which meant she was born in the year of the Snake. The screenwriter could have easily looked this up . . . or else he failed to remember that Paige was born in 1977, not 1973. Also, Grams should have been portrayed by an actress old enough to pass for a woman in her mid-30s. This episode was set in January 1967. Which meant that Grams should have been 35 or 36 at the time. After all, her daughter Patty was born in 1950. And the episode was set three to four years before the birth of the latter’s oldest daughter, Prue. Actress Kara Zediker, who portrayed the younger Grams, barely looked 30 years old. And I find the idea of a mid-30s Grams and her slightly older husband as hippies. Perhaps there were hippies from their generation. But their fellow witches all seemed to be five to fifteen years younger. Worse, you can hear Rare Earth’s version of “Get Ready” being played in the background in one of the earlier 1967 scenes. This should be difficult, considering that Rare Earth’s version of the song was released in 1969 . . . over two years after the setting of this episode. The latter should have featured the Temptations’ 1966 version . . . or another song from 1966/67.

Was there anything about “Witchstock” that I liked? Well . . . thanks to Rose McGowan, I found Paige’s initial reaction to the “Manor of Love” rather amusing and managed to chuckle at her handling of a womanizing Leo. Despite my dislike of the Penelope Halliwell character, Jennifer Rhodes injected a breath of fresh air into the episode. She also managed to create a nice chemistry with both Brian Krause and Drew Fuller; as Grams, Leo and Chris dealt with the demonic sponge. And Holly Marie Combs had a nice moment of personal angst for Piper, who silently lamented over her sisters’ departure and her new-founded loneliness.

But despite these positive little moments, “Witchstock” was a disaster to me. Was it the worse “CHARMED” episode I have ever seen? Fortunately for director James A. Contner and screenwriter Daniel Cerone, my answer is no. I have seen worse from earlier seasons. And all I have to do is watch the series’ Season Eight. There were plenty of horrors from that season to form a list of the series’ worst episodes. But “Witchstock” was not a pleasure to watch. Not by a long shot.

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND” (2013-2014) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes of “ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND” (2013-2014). The series was created by Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Zack Estrin, and Jane Espenson:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND” (2013-2014) Episodes

1 - 1.13 And They Lived . . .

1. (1.13) “And They Lived . . .” – The series ended with this very satisfying and emotional episode in which Alice and her friends gather to prevent a very powerful Jafar from taking control of Wonderland.

2 - 1.07 Bad Blood

2. (1.07) “Bad Blood” – While Alice and Will/Knave of Hearts plan to rescue Cyrus from Jafar’s floating island, the latter uses Alice’s father to coerce her into using her second wish. Flashbacks reveal how Jafar’s tumultuous relationship with his father led him into becoming a villain.

3 - 1.11 Heart of the Matter

3. (1.11) “Heart of the Matter” – Alice and Cyrus discover alarming information involving Jafar’s prisoners. Meanwhile, Will, who is now a genie, can help an endangered Anastasia (the Red Queen) by surrendering desperately needed information to Jafar. Flashbacks reveal Anastasia’s burgeoning friendship with Cora Mills (Queen of Hearts) before her marriage to the Red King.

4 - 1.04 The Serpent

4. (1.04) “The Serpent” – The Queen of Hearts kidnaps Will on Jafar’s behalf, who wants him publicly beheaded in order to force Alice to make a wish. Flashbacks reveal how Jafar became a magic practitioner and why he wants Cyrus’ genie powers.

5 - 1.08 Home

5. (1.08) “Home” – The Red Queen’s collaboration with Jafar breaks apart, while Alice and Will plan to reunite with Cyrus. Meanwhile, the latter ceases to become a genie, thanks to a wish that Alice had given to Will and he had cast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“ANGELS AND INSECTS” (1995) Review

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“ANGELS AND INSECTS” (1995) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten Favorite HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

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Below is a list of my favorite history documentaries:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

1 - Ken Burns The Civil War

1. “The Civil War” (1990) – Ken Burns produced this award-winning documentary about the U.S. Civil War. Narrated by David McCullough, the documentary was shown in eleven episodes.

 

2 - Supersizers Go-Eat

2. “The Supersizers Go/Eat” (2008-2009) – Food critic Giles Coren and comedian-broadcaster Sue Perkins co-hosted two entertaining series about the culinary history of Britain (with side trips to late 18th century France and Imperial Rome).

 

3 - MGM - When the Lion Roared

3. “MGM: When the Lion Roared” (1992) – Patrick Stewart narrated and hosted this three-part look into the history of one of the most famous Hollywood studios – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

 

4 - Africans in America

4. “Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery” (1998) – Angela Bassett narrated this four-part documentary on the history of slavery in the United States, from the Colonial era to Reconstruction.

 

5 - Queen Victoria Empire

5. “Queen Victoria’s Empire” (2001) – This PBS documentary is a two-part look at the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria. Donald Sutherland narrated.

 

6 - Motown 40 - The Music Is Forever

6. “Motown 40: The Music Is Forever” (1998) – Diana Ross hosted and narrated this look into the history of Motown, from its inception in 1958 to the 1990s.

 

7 - Ken Burns The War

7. “The War” (2007) – Ken Burns created another critically acclaimed documentary for PBS. Narrated by Keith David, this seven-part documentary focused upon the United States’ participation in World War II.

 

8 - Manor House

8. “The Edwardian Manor House” (2002) – This five-episode documentary is also a reality television series in which a British family assume the identity of Edwardian aristocrats and live in an opulent Scottish manor with fifteen (15) people from all walks of life participating as their servants.

 

9 - Elegance and Decadence - The Age of Regency

9. “Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency” (2011) – Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley presented and hosted this three-part documentary about Britain’s Regency era between 1810 and 1820.

 

10 - Ken Burns The West

10. “The West” (1996) – Directed by Steven Ives and produced by Ken Burns, this eight-part documentary chronicled the history of the trans-Appalachian West in the United States. Peter Coyote narrated.

 

HM - Fahrenheit 9-11

Honorable Mention: “Fahrenheit 9/11″ (2004) – Michael Moore co-produced and directed this Oscar winning documentary that took a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media.

“The Problems of a Savior Complex”

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“THE PROBLEMS OF A SAVIOR COMPLEX”

The Season Three finale of ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” ended on a curious note. The finale consisted of two episodes – (3.21) “Snow Drift” and (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home” – in which two of the series’ protagonists, Emma Swan and Killian Jones aka Captain Hook, found themselves transported back in time and to the Enchanted Forest due to circumstances beyond their control.

Let me make this brief. The main villain of Season Three’s second half turned out to be Regina Mills’ older half-sister Zelena, who was also known as the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz”. Due to Zelena’s jealousy of her younger half-sister’s privileged life, which included being raised by their mother Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts, she wanted to go back in time and erase Regina from existence. Although Zelena managed to set up a portal to convey her back in time, Regina managed to defeat her. Unfortunately . . . an angry Rumpelstiltskin ended up murdering an incarcerated Zelena for the death of his son, Neal Cassidy aka Baefire. Zelena’s spirit ended up re-opening the time travel portal. And both Emma and Hook got sucked into the portal and into the past.

During the pair’s adventures in the Enchanted Forest of the past, Emma nearly ruined the first meeting between her parents – Snow White and David, Prince Charming. She and Hook, with Rumpelstiltskin’s help, set out to repair the timeline and ensure that her parents will not only meet, but fall in love. Their efforts to do so led to Emma’s capture during the wedding party of Charming and Princess Abigail by Regina, also known as the Evil Queen. Inside the Queen’s jail cell, Emma met a woman who had been incarcerated for helping Snow White flee Regina’s wrath. With her and the woman set to be executed the following morning, Emma managed to break out of the cell. Hook, who had earlier warned Emma about changing the timeline, reacted with slight dismay when he discovered that she helped the woman escape. And yet . . . when Emma wanted to bring the woman with her and Hook to Storybrooke, Hook agreed to help her, arguing that the woman’s family thought she was dead and they need to continue to believe it. The woman refused to go with Emma and Hook to Storybrooke, so the former knocked her unconscious and with Hook’s help, brought her with them. As it turned out, the woman proved to be Maid Marian, Robin Hood’s wife. And Marian’s presence in Storybrooke brought an end to Robin’s newly found romance with Regina Mills.

Judging from Regina’s angry reaction to Emma and Hook’s actions, many fans reacted in different ways to this new twist in the story arc between the two women. Many fans continue to assume that Regina will fall back on her old evil ways and seek revenge against Emma for ruining her romance with Robin. Some believe she will be tempted, but continue her redemption arc and eventually forgive Emma. What is interesting about all of this is that most of the fans seemed to be interested in how Regina will react to the loss of Robin in the upcoming fourth season. Only a few fans have even bothered to criticize Emma and Hook for their actions. Yet, despite these criticisms, other fans came to Emma’s defense by stating that she was right to save Marian from being executed by Regina. I am tempted to discuss this situation from Regina and Robin’s point of view. But right now, I am more interested in what led Emma to change the timeline in the first place.

I can image the response to the last sentence in the previous paragraph. What led Emma to change the timeline? To save Marion’s life, that’s why! Emma Swan is supposed to be “the Savior”. As fan as the series and many of the fans are concerned, this is what she is supposed to do. I wish I could agree with that sentiment. I really do. But considering her actions in “There’s No Place Like Home”, I wish it were not so. Emma became labeled as “the Savior” back in Season One, when it was revealed that she was the person destined to break the curse that found many of the Enchanted Forest’s inhabitants in “the Land Without Magic” – namely Storybrooke, Maine – thanks to Rumpelstiltskin’s creation of it and Regina’s willingness to cast it. After spending nearly a season refusing to believe in the curse, let alone the idea that the town’s inhabitants came from a fairy tale world, Emma finally broke the curse with a “true love” kiss to her son Henry, who was trapped in a sleeping curse. And the only reason Emma found herself in this role as everyone’s “savior” was because Rumpelstiltskin manipulated events so they would lead to this moment. And why? Because he wanted to find his son Baefire, whom he discovered had ended up in our world. Now, if the only reason Emma had been set up as “the savior” who break that first curse . . . why did everyone else continued to regard her as “the savior” after she broke it? Why did she, for that matter?

One would think I am accusing Emma Swan of developing a bad ego trip. And you know what? They would be right. I am well aware of the fact that Emma reacted with a great reluctance and wariness to the idea of her being “the savior”. I am also aware of the fact that she was willing to flee Storybrooke (with Henry) in the Season One episodes, (1.20) “The Stranger” and (1.21) “An Apple Red as Blood” because she could not face the responsibility of being responsible for the lives of Storybrooke’s citizens. But once she broke the curse in (1.22) “A Land Without Magic”, Emma ended up embracing her “savior” role with a vengeance . . . despite her continued wariness. This was especially apparent in three episodes from Season Two and Three. After she, Snow White, Mulan and Aurora ended up captured by Cora and Hook in Season Two’s (2.09) “The Queen of Hearts” in the present day Enchanted Forest, the following exchange occurred between the four women:

(Emma is futilely banging the door of the cell with her sword, while the rest of them watch.)

Snow White: We aren’t going to break it down, Emma. It was enchanted to hold Rumpelstiltskin. We don’t have a chance.

Aurora: This is my fault.

Mulan: No, it’s mine. Cora stole your heart because I failed to protect you.

Emma: That’s very sweet, but I believe it’s my fault. I’m the saviour, and I’m not doing much saving, am I?

When I first saw this episode during the fall of 2012, I thought nothing of Emma’s words. But when I recently viewed the episode from my copy of the series’ Season Two DVD box set, her comment stunned me. I could not believe what I had just heard. For the second time, Emma expressed her deep-seated view to her mother Snow White that she would always be destined to be “the savior” in the Season Three episode, (3.11) “Going Home”. In this episode, Rumpelstiltskin had defeated his father Malcolm aka Peter Pan and Regina had to permanently destroy the curse by ripping the scroll that contain the words to it. Because Henry was born in “the Land Without Magic” and Emma managed to avoid the first curse, they were able to avoid being sent back to the Enchanted Forest. Before Regina destroy the scroll, both Regina and Snow White hinted that since Emma was “the savior”, she was supposed to remain behind and take Henry away. Emma responded to Snow White with the following words:

“I’m the savior, right? I’m supposed to bring back all the happy endings.”

Dear God. Emma’s belief in her role as “the savior” truly reached egotistical heights in her conversation with Hook in “Snow Drift” in which both discussed Emma’s plans to return to New York with Henry:

Hook: Don’t listen to me, listen to your son. (He takes the storybook from his satchel and hands it to Emma.) He thought this might remind you of what you’re leaving behind–your family.

Emma: Henry is my family and I am taking him where he is safe.

Hook: No, Swan. The safety-first nonsense is just that. You defeated the bloody Wicked Witch. You defeated Pan. You broke the curse. And you keep running. What are you looking for?

What I found amazing about Hook’s words is that he had credited the defeats of Peter Pan and Zelena to Emma. Apparently, he had forgotten that Regina was the one who saved Henry’s heart from Pan back in Neverland. Hook had forgotten that Rumpelstiltskin was the one who ultimately defeated Pan . . . and that Regina was the one who defeated Zelena. The only thing Hook got right was the fact that Emma had broken the curse. Some fans claim that Hook was merely trying to bolster Emma’s self esteem. Emma’s self esteem was not on Hook’s mind. Emma’s reluctance to live in Storybrooke with her parents WAS the topic between them. Hook merely slipped in Pan and Zelena’s defeats into the conversation. And what I found even more amazing . . . and scary is that Emma never bothered to correct him. By this time, Emma had incorporated the idea of her being “the savior” so much that she ended up wallowing in illusions over who had really defeated the Big Bads of Season Three.

As for the situation with Maid Marian . . . I can only shake my head in disbelief. I realize that many fans believe that Emma should have chosen saving a woman’s life over maintaining the timeline. I do not. Throughout most of “Snow Drift”, Hook had warned Emma about changing the timeline . . . for any reason. This reminds me of an episode from the 1998-2006 supernatural series, “CHARMED”. In the latter’s Season One episode called (1.17) “That ’70s Episode”, the Halliwell sisters traveled back in time to 1975 in order to prevent their late mother from being coerced into making a pact with a warlock – a pact that might have deadly circumstances for them. The youngest sister (at the time) Phoebe Halliwell gave into temptation and left a warning to her mother on how the latter would die nearly three years later. Realizing that she would end up changing the timeline, Phoebe tore up the letter before she and her sisters returned to 1999. As much as Phoebe wanted to save her mother, she realized that maintaining the timeline was the right thing to do . . . even if it meant her mother’s early death.

Despite the constant warnings from Hook about changing the timeline, Emma ignored him and saved Maid Marian from the cell. While I might admire her willingness to save someone, I wish she had realized that one cannot save everyone all of the time. And sometimes, it is not a good idea. But in her arrogance and misplaced belief that she had to save everyone, Emma decided to change the timeline. To make matters worse, she forced Marian to accompany her and Hook back to Storybrooke, despite the fact that Marian wanted to remain in the Enchanted Forest and find her family. And Hook’s argument that Robin and the others probably thought she was dead did not sit well with me. Emma had already screwed up the timeline by saving Marian. I did not see how dragging the latter back to Storybrooke was going to help the matter. As it turned out, it did not.

After what I saw in “There’s No Place Like Home”, I have come to the conclusion that Emma has absorbed the idea that she is “the savior” to such a degree that she has become slightly illusional in her belief. Emma’s role as Now that I think about it, I believe that the series’ creators, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, have become illusional in this belief that Emma is always supposed to be “the savior”. Unless they were planning for Emma to develop some kind of complex over her role as “the savior” in later seasons, I suspect that Horowitz and Kitsis will never allow Emma to face the consequences of her action in There’s No Place Like Home”, aside from a few angry rants from Regina. And I suspect that Regina’s anger will not last very long. I have complained about this in an earlier article that when it comes to Emma and her family, Horowitz and Kitsis have a bad habit of not allowing them to consider or face the consequences of their actions . . . with the exception of Snow White, who had committed murder. And the consequences she faced proved to be mild and rather brief.

I must admit that I am getting weary of Emma constantly being labeled as “the savior”. This is a label that should have dropped after she had broken the original curse in “A Land Without Magic”. The only reason she was fixed with “the savior” role in the first place was because Rumpelstiltskin had arranged for her to be the one to break that curse. The longer this series continues to label Emma as “the savior”, the more I will become convinced that she has developed serious complex issues over this role.

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