“STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” (1980) Review

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“STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” (1980) Review

From a certain point of view, I find it hard to believe that the 1980 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” has become the most critically acclaimed STAR WARS movie by the franchise’s fans. And I find it hard to believe, due to the film’s original box office performance. 

I was also surprised that “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” was released in the first place. Despite the ambiguous nature of villain Darth Vader’s fate in the 1977 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”, I had assumed that film’s happy ending meant the story of Luke Skywalker and his friends was over. But my assumption proved to be wrong three years later. Many other filmgoers and critics also expressed surprise at the release of a second STAR WARS movie. More importantly, a surprising revelation and an ending with a cliffhanger resulted in a smaller box office for “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” than either “A NEW HOPE” or the 1983 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Yet, thirty-three years later, the movie is now viewed as the most critically acclaimed – not just among the first three movies, but also among those released between 1999 and 2005.

“THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” begins three years following the events of ” A NEW HOPE”. Despite the Rebel Alliance’s major victory above the planet of Yavin and the destruction of the Galactic Empire’s Death Star, the rebellion continues to rage on. Luke Skywalker, now a wing commander at the Rebels’ base on Hoth, patrols beyond the base’s perimenter with close friend and former smuggler Han Solo. After the latter returns to base, Luke is attacked by a wampa and dragged into the latter’s cave. Meanwhile, Han receives word from Princess Leia, one of the Rebel leaders and a friend of both men, that Luke has not returned. He leaves the base to find Luke, while the latter manages to escape from the wampa’s lair. Luke stumbles into a snowstorm and before losing consciousness, receives a message from the Force spirit of his late mentor, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, to seek out another Jedi named Yoda on Dagobah for further training. Han eventually finds Luke before a Rebel patrol finds them both.

While Luke recovers from his ordeal, Leia and General Rieekan learn from Han and his Wookie companion Chewbacca have discovered an Imperial probe. They surmise that Imperial forces know the location of their base and might be on their way. The Rebel Alliance forces prepare to evacuate Hoth. But an Imperial presence on the planet served as a bigger problem for the heroes. Unbeknownst to them, Darth Vader seeks out Luke, following his discovery of the young man’s connection to the Force three years ago. Although the three friends will separate for a period of time and experience adventures of their own, Lord Vader’s hunt for Luke will result in great danger and a surprising revelation in the end.

I once came across a post on the TheForce.net – Jedi Council Forums message board that complained of the lack of a main narrative for “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. A part of me could understand why this person reached such an opinion. Despite the circumstances on Hoth and the finale on the Bespin mining colony, our heroes barely spent any time together. Following the Rebel Alliance’s defeat on Hoth, Luke and R2-D2 traveled to Dagobah, where the former continued his Jedi training under Master Yoda. Meanwhile, Han and Chewbacca helped Leia and C3-P0 evade Darth Vader and Imperial forces on Hoth and in space before seeking refuge on Bespin. I believe this person failed to realize that other than Luke’s Jedi training with Yoda, most of the movie’s narrative centered on Vader’s attempts to capture Luke – the Imperial invasion of Hoth, his pursuit of the Millennium Falcon with Leia and Han aboard, and their subsequent capture on Bespin. Even Luke’s Jedi training was interrupted by visions of his friends in danger and journeyed into the trap set by Vader. And this is why I found it hard to accept this complaint about “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”.

Most fans tend to regard the movie as perfect or near perfect. Despite my feelings for “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, I cannot agree with this view. I believe that the movie has its flaws. One could find cheesy dialogue in the movie, especially from Darth Vader. He possessed an annoying penchant for constantly using the phrase “It is your destiny” in the movie’s last half hour. Some of Leia and Han’s “romantic dialogue” in the movie’s first half struck me as a bit childish and pedantic. Speaking of those two – how did they end up attracted to each other in the first place? “A NEW HOPE” ended with Han making a brief pass at Leia during the medal ceremony. But she seemed to regard him as a mere annoyance and nothing else. Three years later, both are exchanging longing glances and engaging in verbal foreplay at least ten to fifteen minutes into the story. I would have allowed this to slide if a novel or comic story had explained this sudden shift toward romance between them. But no such publication exists, as far as I know. This little romance seemed to have developed out of the blue.

There were other problems. The movie never explained the reason behind Leia’s presence at the Rebels’ Hoth base. She was, after all, a political leader; not a military one. The base already possessed a more than competent military leader in the form of General Rieekan. Watching Leia give orders to the pilots during the base’s evacuation made me realize that she really had no business interfering in the Rebels’ military command structure. It would have been a lot easier if she had been a military officer or a spy for the Alliance. “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” also failed to explain why Han was being hunted by Jabba the Hutt after three years. I thought the payment he had received for delivering Leia and the Death Star plans to Yavin was enough to settle his debt to the Tattooine gangster. Apparently not. And the movie failed to explain why. Perhaps there is a STAR WARS novel or comic book story that offered an explanation. I hope so. For years, I never understood the symbolism behind Luke’s experiences inside the Dagobah cave during his Jedi training. And I am not sure if I still do. Finally, how long did Luke’s training on Dagobah last? And how long did it take the Millennium Falcon to reach Bespin with a broken hyperdrive? LucasFilm eventually revealed that both incidents took at least three months. If so, why did the movie failed to convey this particular time span?

Thankfully, “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” more than rose above its flaws. For me, it is still one of the best science-fiction adventure films I have ever seen. I am amazed that such a complex tale arose from two simple premises – Darth Vader’s hunt for Luke Skywalker and the continuation of the latter’s Jedi training. From these simple premises, audiences were exposed to a richly detailed and action-filled narrative, thanks to George Lucas’ story, Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay (which was also credited to Leigh Brackett) and Irvin Kershner’s direction. The movie featured many exciting sequences and dramatic moments that simply enthralled me. Among my favorite action sequences were the Millennium Falcon’s escape from Hoth, Yoda’s introduction, Han’s seduction of Leia inside the giant asteroid worm, the Falcon’s escape from the worm. For me, the movie’s best sequence proved to be the last – namely those scenes on the mining colony of Bespin. I would compare this last act in “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” to the Death Star sequence in “A NEW HOPE”or the Mos Espa podrace sequence in “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”. The Bespin sequence featured a few truly iconic moments. Well . . . if I must be honest, I would say that it featured two iconic moments – Han’s response to Leia’s declaration of love and Darth Vader’s revelation of his true identity.

Naturally, one cannot discuss a STAR WARS movie without mentioning its technical aspects. In my review of “A NEW HOPE”, I had failed to mention Ben Burtt’s outstanding sound effects. I will add that his work in “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” proved to be equally outstanding. I could also say the same for the movie’s sound mixing, which earned Academy Awards for Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Greg Landaker, and Peter Sutton. Composer John Williams’ additions to his famous STAR WARS score were not only outstanding, but earned him an Academy Award nomination. Those additions included a love theme for the Leia/Han romance and the memorable “Imperial March”, which is also known as “Darth Vader’s Theme” As far as I am concerned, the tune might as well be known as the Sith Order’s theme song. The team of Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, and Bruce Nicholson did an outstanding job with the movie’s visual effects – especially for the Battle of Hoth sequence. I can also say the same for Peter Suschitzky’s photography. However, my favorite cinematic moment turned out to be Luke’s initial encounter with Darth Vader on Bespin. Even to this day, I experience a chill whenever I see that moment when they meet face-to-face for the first time. Although John Mollo’s costumes caught Hollywood’s attention after “A NEW HOPE” was first released (he won an Oscar for his effort), his costumes for “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” seemed like a continuation of the same. In fact, I found the costumes somewhat on the conservative side, even if they blended well with the story.

It is interesting that the performances of both Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher garnered most of the attention when “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” first came out. The Leia/Han romance was very popular with fans. Mind you, both gave very good performances. But I believe that Mark Hamill acted circles around them. And not surprising, he won a Saturn Award for his performance as Luke Skywalker in this film. Billy Dee Williams also gave a first-rate performance as the roguish smuggler-turned-colony administrator, whose charming persona hid a desperation to do anything to save the inhabitants of Bespin from Imperial annihilation. James Earl Jones and David Prowse continued their outstanding portrayal of Darth Vader aka Anakin Skywalker, with one serving as the voice and the other, the physical embodiment of the Sith Lord. Julian Glover, who later appeared in “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE” made a brief appearance as the commander of the Imperial walkers, General Veers. Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Peter Mayhew continued their excellent work as C3-P0, R2-D2 and Chewbacca. But I was particularly impressed by Frank Oz’s voice work as the veteran Jedi Master Yoda, and Kenneth Colley as the Imperial Admiral Piett, whose caution and competency led him to rise in the ranks and avoid Vader’s wrath for any incompetence.

Is “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” my favorite STAR WARS movie of all time? Almost. Not quite. For me, it is tied in first place with one other movie from the franchise. But after thirty-three years and in spite of its flaws, I still love it, despite its flaws. And I have give credit to not only the talented cast and crew, but also director Irwin Kershner, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and especially the man behind all of this talent, George Lucas.

“DJANGO UNCHAINED” (2012) Review

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“DJANGO UNCHAINED” (2012) Review

Over three years following the release of his 2009 movie, “INGLORIOUS BASTERDS”, Quentin Tarantino courted success and controversy with a new tale set the past. Called “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, this new movie combined the elements of the Old West and Old South and told the story about a recently freed slave-turned-bounty hunter in search of his still enslaved wife. 

The movie begins with a gang of male slaves being transported across Texas by a group of slavers called the Speck brothers. The group encounter Dr. King Schultz, a German-born dentist, who also happens to be a bounty hunter. Schultz offers to purchase Django, whom he believes can identify a trio of murderous siblings called the Brittle brothers, who had worked as overseers for Django’s previous owner. The Specks become hostile and Schultz kills one of the brothers. He then frees Django and leaves the wounded brother behind to be killed by the newly freed slaves. Django and Schultz come to an agreement in which the latter will give the former freedom, a horse and $75 for helping him identify the Brittle brothers. Once the pair achieve their goal at a Tennessee plantation owned by one Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett, Schultz takes on Django as his associate and over the winter, collect a number of bounties. In the following spring, Schultz offers to help Django track down the latter’s wife, Broomhilda von Shaft. They discover that she is owned by a brutal, yet charming Mississippi planter named Calvin Candie. The pair realize that in order to rescue Broomhilda, they would have to pose as potential buyers of a fighter slave in order to secure an invitation at Candie’s plantation called Candyland.

Even before its initial release in movie theaters in late December, “DJANGO UNCHAINED” managed to attract a good deal of controversy. Producer/director Spike Lee declared the movie as an insult to his ancestors in a magazine article and his refusal to see it. Others have criticized the film for its violence and its use of the word “nigger”. And some have criticized the movie for historical inaccuracy. They claimed that the practice of fighting Mandingo slaves never existed and that Tarantino depicted the Klu Klux Klan a decade before its actual existence. And Jeff Kuhner of The Washington Timescomplained that: “Anti-white bigotry has become embedded in our postmodern culture. Take Django Unchained. The movie boils down to one central theme: the white man as devil — a moral scourge who must be eradicated like a lethal virus.”

Mind you, I have my own complaints about “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. Actually, I have three complaints. One, I found the movie’s chronological setting rather confusing. According to the movie’s opening, it began in “1858 – Two years before the Civil War”. Judging by the weather, Django’s first meeting with Schultz in Texas occurred in the fall. Which probably means that the movie began two-and-a-half years before the Civil War, not two years. Yes, I am being anal about this. However, Django and Schultz accompanied Candie to Candyland in early May 1858 . . . at least according to a scene that featured Candie’s head slave Stephen writing out a check for supplies. It is quite obvious that Tarantino got his time frame a little off. Was “DJANGO UNCHAINED” set between the fall of 1858 and the spring of 1859? Or was it set between the fall of 1857 and the spring of 1858? Only Tarantino can answer this. I also found the character of Broomhilda von Shaft slightly underdeveloped. Some have claimed that her character is passive. I would disagree, considering she was introduced being punished for attempting to run away from Candyland. But aside from a scene or two, I feel that Tarantino could have done a little more with her character. And three, I have mixed feelings about Tarantino’s use of flashbacks in this movie. Some of the flashbacks were well utilized – including those featuring Django’s memories of Broomhilda being whipped and branded as a runaway, Schultz’s trauma over witnessing the mutilation of a Candie slave named D’Artagnan, and Big Daddy organizing a group of night riders to attack Django and Schultz. But some of the flashbacks seemed to go by so fast that I found their addition to the film unnecessary.

As for the other complaints about the movie, I do have a response. Spike Lee is entitled to his decision not to see the movie. However, I do find his willingness to condemn the movie without seeing it rather strange. Criticism of Tarantino’s use of violence in his movies have become repetitive in my eyes. “DJANGO UNCHAINED” is a Quentin Tarantino movie. Can someone name one of his movies that did not feature any violence? Because I cannot. And his recent films do not strike me as violent as earlier films such as 1993’s “RESERVOIR DOGS”. Also, violence has played a part in many slave societies throughout history . . . including U.S. slavery. Yes, the Ku Klux Klan was first organized in the late 1860s, after the Civil War. But the Klan’s origins came from patrol riders, who were recruited by planters in many Southern states to maintain vigilance of both slaves and free black in local rural neighborhoods. So, the idea of “Big Daddy” Bennett organizing a group of local riders to attack Django and Schultz is not implausible.

In response to Jeff Kuhner’s accusation of anti-white bigotry, Tarantino not only created the German-born Schultz, who helped Django attain freedom and find Broomhilda; but also a Western sheriff portrayed by television veteran Lee Horsley (“MATT HOUSTON” anyone?), who seemed very friendly to both the German immigrant and the former slave. Tarantino also created Candyland’s head house slave, Stephen, who proved to be one of the film’s worst villains. So much for Kuhner’s accusation. A great deal of “DJANGO UNCHAINED” is set in the pre-Civil War South and its topic happens to be about American slavery. The use of “nigger” is historically accurate for the movie’s setting. And I am surprised that no one has complained about the slur being used in Steven Spielberg’s recent movie, “LINCOLN”. Hell, the word is used throughout productions such as the two “ROOTS” miniseries, the three “NORTH AND SOUTH” miniseries, “QUEEN”, the 1971 movie “SKIN GAME” and in a good number of other movie and television productions set in antebellum and Civil War America. Even the use of the slur in a production set in the 19th century North would be historically accurate. I also recall the use of racial slurs for whites in a few scenes. As for Tarantino’s use of Mandingo fighting slaves in the movie . . . I have no explanation for its presence in this film. There is no historical evidence of this particular sport. And I suspect that Tarantino was simply inspired by the 1975 movie, “MANDINGO” and Kyle Onstott’s 1957 novel upon which the latter was based.

So . . . how do I feel about “DJANGO UNCHAINED”? Frankly, I believe it is one of the best movies of 2012. And I also consider it to be another cinematic masterpiece by Quentin Tarantino. One of the aspects of “DJANGO UNCHAINED”was Tarantino’s ability to take a rather dark topic like slavery and fashioned it into a explosive mixture of action, drama, suspense and some comedy. Many have complained that the movie should have been a straight drama, considering its topic. But I disagree. Yes, “DJANGO UNCHAINED” could have been an effective straight drama. But Tarantino decided to take a rare and unique route in unfolding his tale. And in doing so, he managed to fashioned a fascinating story that allowed me to experience an array of emotions that left me more than satisfied by the movie’s last scene. In doing so, Tarantino won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

“DJANGO UNCHAINED” was not the first time comedy was used to reveal one of the darkest episodes in this country’s history. This has been done in “SKIN GAME” and in television shows such as “BEWITCHED” and the comedy sketch series, “KEY & PEELE”. Tarantino used the same mixture of pathos, horror, drama and comedy for many of his past movies – especially in “INGLORIOUS BASTERDS”. I found this use of humor especially effective in scenes that included the surviving Speck brother’s attempt to convince the slaves freed by Schultz not to kill him. I never knew that James Russo, who portrayed the surviving Speck brother, could be so funny. Django and Schultz’s little exchange regarding the former’s identification of the Sprittle brothers struck me as funny. I could say the same about Stephen’s reaction to Candie’s treatment of Django as a house guest and Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly’s (Candie’s sister) futile attempts to attract Schultz’s attention. But the funniest sequence has to be the flashback featuring “Big Daddy” Bennett’s recruitment of night riders for an attack on Django and Schultz. In fact, that particular scene practically had me rolling with laughter.

Some people have complained that “DJANGO UNCHAINED” is basically a revenge tale for African-Americans. I find this accusation rather odd, considering that Django’s main objective was to find Broomhilda and get her out slavery by any means possible. And despite the movie’s prevalent humor, Tarantino did not hold back in presenting not only the horrors and emotional traumas of slavery, but also racism. This was especially true in a handful of scenes in the movie. The opening scene featured an emotionally shell shocked Django being transported across Texas as part of a slave coffle. Other traumatic scenes include Candie’s little speech on the inferiority of blacks, the erruption of violence at Candyland that resulted in Django hanging from a barn’s roof, naked and bound and Stephen’s maleovelent revelation of Django’s fate as a slave for a Mississippi mining company. One horrifying scene that I found particularly brutal was a flashback featuring Broomhilda’s brutal whipping at the hands of the Brittle brothers, while Django desperately tries to convince one of the brothers to spare her.

I really do not know what to say about the performances featured in the movie. I realize there are no Academy Award nominations for ensemble casts. If there were, I would nominate the cast of “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. One, Tarantino cast old movie and television veterans in cameo roles. I have already mentioned Lee Horsley and James Russo. I also spotted the likes of Russ and Amber Tamblyn, Don Stroud, Tom Wopat, Cooper Huckabee, Robert Carradine, Michael Parks and a humorus special guest appearance by Franco Nero. Both Bruce Dern and M.C. Gainey (of “LOST”) were especially scary in their brief appearances as Old Man Carrucan (Django and Broomhilda’s former owner) and Big John Brittle. Both Dana Michelle Gourrier and Nichole Galicia gave solid performances as Cora and Sheba, Candie’s housekeeper and concubine respectively. And Dennis Christopher’s performance as Calvin Candie’s obsequious attorney, Leonide Moguy, struck me as spot-on.

Don Johnson provided a skillful combination of charm, menace and humor in his role as Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett, the Tennessee planter who served as the Brittle brothers’ current employer. Jonah Hill had a funny cameo as one of his night riders. I could say the same about Miriam F. Glover, who gave one of the movie’s funniest lines, while portraying one of Big Daddy’s house slaves. Ato Essandoh of A&E’s “COPPER” was very effective as D’Artagnan, the frightened fighting slave whose runaway attempt led to his brutal death. Laura Cayouette’s performance as Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly, Candie’s widowed sister, struck me as effective. On one hand, I found her attempts to seduce Schultz rather funny. On the other hand, her outrage over Candie’s attempt to display a naked Broomhilda during supper provided a great deal of tension in the scene. Walton Goggins gave a memorable and scary performance as one of Candie’s henchmen, Billy Crash. James Remar got to portray two intimidating characters – Ace Speck and Candie’s main henchman, Butch Pooch. And he did a damn good job with both roles.

Although I had been critical of Tarantino’s creation of the Broomhilda von Shaft, I must admit that Kerry Washington still managed to wring out a first-rate performance from the role. I especially impressed with her in scenes that featured Broomhilda’s tense encounters with Stephen; and her subtle, yet pleased reaction to Schultz’s purchase of her from Candie and her painful whipping by the Brittle brothers in one of the flashback. And I must admit that I found that last shot of her removing a shotgun from her saddle rather interesting. Perhaps after all that Broomhilda had endured, she was not taking any chances. I believe that the year 2012 will prove to be one of Samuel L. Jackson’s best years professionally. Aside from portraying Nick Fury in the year’s biggest hit, “THE AVENGERS”; he got to portray one of the most complex and villainous roles in “DJANGO UNCHAINED” as Candie’s trusted and malevolent head house slave, Stephen. Watching the movie, I was struck at how much Stephen reminded me of the Mr. Carson character from the British television series,“DOWNTON ABBEY”. Both characters possessed the same blinding loyalty, snobbery, jealousy over his position within the slave hierarchy, and anger toward anyone from their background who managed to rise higher than they (for example: Django). Jackson did a superb job in not only conveying Stephen’s penchant for utilizing the old “Puttin’ on Old Massa”routine publicly, but also his intelligence while in the private company of Django, Broomhilda or Candie. Jackson has a nice singing voice, but I do wish he had received an Oscar nomination for his performance. Many people have expressed surprise at Leonardo Di Caprio’s portryal of the villanous, yet charsmatic Calvin Candie. I was not that surprised, considering I have seen him portray a villain before – as the cold-blooded Louis XIV in 1998’s “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”. But I do believe that Candie not only proved to be a more memorable villain, but also one of the actor’s best roles ever. He was fantastic as the charming, yet brutal Candie . . . and at the same time rather contradictory. It was obvious that Di Caprio’s Candie fervently believed in the superiority of whites; yet at the same time, he had no problems with allowing Stephen to handle the plantation’s finances or accepting the elderly slave’s intelligence and sharp observations about Django, Schultz and Broomhilda with very little reluctance. Di Caprio received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. Unfortunately, he did not receive an Academy Award nomination. And I feel that both he and Jackson were unfairly denied one.

Instead of portraying a villain, Christoph Waltz portrayed Django’s friendly, yet ruthless mentor and partner; the German-born dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz. And he was fantastic. Waltz effectively portrayed Schultz’s cold-blooded pursuit of wanted criminals for profit, yet at the same time; conveyed the character’s disgust over the institution of slavery and open-mindedness toward Django, Broomhilda and other slaves. Waltz’s best moments proved to be Schultz’s encounter with the Speck brothers and Django in Texas, his taking down of the wanted Sheriff Bill Sharp (portrayed by Don Stroud), his reaction to D’Artagnan’s mauling and the revelation of his disgust toward Candie. Not only did Waltz received nominations for his performance, he also won both the Golden Globe and Academy Award Best Supporting Actor awards. And he proved to have great screen chemistry with Jamie Foxx. I believe that the latter’s portrayal of the title character has proven to be vastly underrated by the majority of film critics and some moviegoers. In fact, no one even considered Foxx for any acting nomination whatsoever. I felt disappointed, but not that surprised. Django turned out to be a somewhat introverted character that was not inclined to speak very much . . . whether as a slave or a free man. Critics and filmgoers are not inclined to pay much attention to non-showy characters. Since Django proved to be a such quiet character, Foxx resorted to good old-fashioned screen acting to convey most of the character’s non-speaking moments. And he did a superb job in portraying Django’s array of emotions – especially in the opening scene featuring the slave coffle in Texas, Schultz’s killing of the criminal, his first view of Broomhilda at Candyland, and the confrontation with Candie during the latter’s supper party. Ironically, another one of Foxx’s best moments proved to be quite verbal in which he attempts to con a group of slavers for a mining company to take him back to Candyland in order to collect on a fake bounty. In the end, Foxx did a superb job in developing Django from a slave in shock over the traumatized separation from his wife to the soft-spoken, yet self-assured man who could be very ruthless when the situation demanded it.

I also have to say a word about the movie’s behind-the-scene production. I was impressed by Sharen Davis’ costume designs. She did a solid job in re-creating the fashions of the late antebellum period. However, I noticed a few oddball designs for Candie’s slave mistress Sheba and a maid at a social club in Greenville, Mississippi; reflecting the planter’s penchant for anything French. I suspect this was a visual joke on Tarantino’s part. I was also impressed by J. Michael Riva’s production designs and Leslie A. Pope’s set decorations in the sequences for the Texas town featured in the movie’s first 10 to 20 minutes, Candie’s Napoleon Club in Greenville and especially the interiors for Candyland’s mansion. Robert Richardson did an excellent in capturing the beauty of California, Louisiana and especially Wyoming with his photography. As he had done for “INGLORIOUS BASTERDS”, Tarantino used already recorded music to serve as the score for his movie. I did notice that a few songs – especially one for the opening title sequence – seemed to have been written specifically for the movie. However, I do not know who may have written them.

It occurred to me that “DJANGO UNCHAINED” was Tarantino’s second period piece in a row. And I found myself wondering if he planned to write and direct a third period movie as part of some kind of semi-historical trilogy. Whether he does or not, I must say that I was impressed with “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. More than impressed. I believe it is one of the best movies I have seen released in 2012 and deserved the accolades it received during Hollywood’s award season for that year. And I feel that it is one of the writer-director’s more original works, due to superb writing, direction and an excellent cast led by Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz.

P.S. Check out this photo:

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Ohmigod! It’s Crockett and Tubbs!

Hangtown Fry

Below is an article on the 19th century California dish called “Hangtown Fry”

HANGTOWN FRY

The state of California is not known for its cuisine. In fact, it has developed a reputation for bland and uninspiring dishes. It is a pity since the state has created some memorable recipes over the decades. One of them is the 19th century dish called Hangtown Fry. The latter is an omlette dish that originated sometime between 1849 and 1853 during the California Gold Rush. Although the dish has three origin tales, everyone does agree that the it was created in mid-19th century California. Many also agree that the original dish was an omlette made from eggs, bacon and oysters.

According to the first origin tale, the Hangtown Fry was invented in Placerville, California – then known as Hangtown – in the saloon of the El Dorado Hotel, now known as the Cary House Hotel. When a prospector rushed into the hotel’s saloon, announcing he had struck gold along the banks of Hangtown Creek; he ordered the most expensive dish that the hotel could provide. Since the most expensive food in Gold Rush California were eggs – a delicacy that had to be carefully brought to the mining town, bacon shipped from the East Coast, and oysters brought from San Francisco on icewhich were delicate and had to be carefully brought to the mining town; bacon, which was shipped from the East Coast, and oysters, which had to be brought on ice from San Francisco, over 100 miles away – the hotel’s cook created the omlette known as the Hangtown Fry.

The dish’s second origin tale centered around a condemned prisoner awaiting execution inside a Placerville jail. The authorities asked what he would like to eat for his last meal. The prisoner quickly ordered an oyster omelet, aware that the oysters would have to be brought from San Francisco, over a hundred miles away by steamship and over rough roads. He had hoped the transport of the oysters would delay his execution for a day. And according to the third tale, a man named Parker opened a saloon called Parker’s Bank Exchange in San Francisco’s financial district in 1853. Following the saloon’s opening, he invented and served Hangtown Fry to his customers. Hangtown Fry became a very popular dish in California during the 1850s. It was popularized by Tadich Grill in San Francisco, where it has apparently been on the menu for 160 years. Over the years, cooks have made variations of the dish by adding bell peppers, onions and various spices to its recipe.

Below is a recipe for Hangtown Fry from the “Saveur” website:

Hangtown Fry

Ingredients

12 oysters, such as Bluepoint or Fanny Bay, shucked
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
¼ cup flour
7 eggs
½ cup bread crumbs
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Preparation

Pat oysters dry, and season with salt and pepper; set aside. Put flour, 1 beaten egg, and bread crumbs in 3 separate bowls. Dip each oyster in flour, then egg, then crumbs; place on a floured plate. Heat butter in a 12″ nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oysters; fry, flipping once, until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Whisk remaining eggs in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add eggs to pan with half the bacon and scallions. Cook until eggs are just set, about 3 minutes. Smooth over top; cover, and cook until top is set, about 5 minutes. Transfer omelette to a plate, and garnish with remaining bacon and scallions.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode Two “1844-1848” Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE TWO “1844-1848” Commentary

Unlike Episode One, the second episode of the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” covered a slightly longer time span. This episode focused on George Hazard and Orry Main’s personal and professional lives for a period of three years and five (or six) months – between the fall of 1844 and the early winter of 1848. This episode not only covered their last two years at the West Point Academy, but also their military experiences during the Mexican-American War

Episode Two opens during the fall of 1844, in which George and Orry have embarked upon their third year at the West Point Academy. Orry has been sleep walking through most of his courses, due to his unhappiness over his love Madeline Fabray’s recent marriage to his father’s neighbor, Justin La Motte. But Orry’s apathy over his personal life disappears when he and George begin to notice upperclassman Elkhannah Bent’s continuing abuse toward their fellow classmate, Ned Fisk. The two friends and classmates George Pickett, George McClellan and Thomas Jackson decide to do something about Bent by setting up the latter to get caught with a local prostitute, who happened to be a favorite of one of the Academy’s instructors, Lieutenant DeJong. Although their plan succeeds, George and Orry’s actions earn them Bent’s undying antipathy which will have long lasting consequences upon their families.

Bent’s first chance for revenge occurs during the Battle of Churubusco in August 1847, when he orders the pair to lead their platoons to impossible position that could leave them slaughtered. Bent’s orders also results in Orry getting seriously wounded in the leg. While George waits for Orry to recover right after the war’s official ending in February 1848, he meets and falls in love with his future wife – Constance Flynn, the daughter of Irish-born Army officer, Major Patrick Flynn. It does not take long for George to propose marriage to her. He also receives word of his father’s death and resigns his Army commission to help his family operate Hazard Iron. Due to his wound, Orry also leaves the Army and returns to South Carolina and Mont Royal, a despondent man with a permanently lame leg.

As usual, Episode Two features some changes from John Jakes’ 1982 novel. One, George met Constance in Texas, before his and Orry’s arrival in Mexico. And Constance’s father was an attorney, not a military doctor. The miniseries also dismissed George and Orry’s failed efforts to expose Bent as a brutal military leader before the Battle of Churubusco. Unlike the miniseries, Orry lost one of his arms in the novel. And when Orry returned to Mont Royal in the miniseries, his Cousin Charles had yet to make an appearance.

Like Episode OneEpisode Two was a first-rate chapter in the miniseries saga with a few flaws that more or less irritated me. However, I was very impressed at how director Richard T. Heffron and cinematographer Stevan Larner handled some of the episode’s major scenes – especially the ones that featured the Mains’ barbecue in honor of both Orry and George, the latter’s first meeting with future wife Constance Flynn at an Army ball in Mexico City, and especially the Battle of Churubusco. Three major crowd scenes in one 97-minutes episode. Very impressive. I especially enjoyed how he used the camera to take in all of the details of the Mains’ barbecue at Mont Royal, using Madeline and Justin LaMotte’s arrival to begin the scene. First of all, I would like to touch upon the episode’s costumes. Vicki Sánchez’s work continued to impress me – especially in two of my favorite costumes worn by both Wendy Kilbourne and Lesley-Anne Down:

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More importantly, Episode Two featured some first-rate dramatic scene. Two of them – ironically – featured slaves being punished. One of the Mains’ slaves, Priam, was punished for drunken behavior at the family’s barbecue in one particular scene. Heffron and Larner utilized unusual camera angles and lighting to emphasize the horror of Priam being branded on the cheek by overseer Salem Jones. Along with the above, the scene’s horror became even more effective, thanks to David Harris (Priam) and Tony Frank’s (Salem Jones) performances. The second scene featured Justin LaMotte’s whipping of a slave to discover if any of his slaves had information on Priam’s escape from Mont Royal. There were no unusual camera angles or lighting used in this scene, just casual brutality, thanks to Heffron’s direction and David Carradine’s performance. And a close look at Carradine’s costume would reveal flecks of blood on his white shirt.

This episode also featured other first-rate dramatic scenes. One of those scenes featured excellent performances by James Read and Patrick Swayze in an argument between George and Orry following Priam’s punishment. The irony of this argument is that Orry’s reaction to George’s criticism of slavery was a great deal more volatile than George’s reaction to his criticism of Northern wage slavery in Episode One. The LaMottes had their own memorable fight, following Madeline’s comments about slavery and secession at the Mains’ barbecue, thanks to Carradine and Lesley-Anne Down’s performances. Philip Casnoff’s memorably creepy performance as Elkhannah Bent added a great deal of depth to at least two scenes. One of them featured Bent’s personal declaration of war to both George and Orry after they had succeeded to get him kicked out of West Point. The second scene featured Bent seeking help from his illegitimate father – a Northern congressman – to get him a commission in the Army after being forced to leave the Academy. Gene Kelly gave a brief, yet excellent performance as Bent’s father and his obvious reluctance to view Bent as his son, along with Casnoff’s performance, produced a rare moment in which I actually felt a glimmer of sympathy for Bent.

There were other performances that impressed me. Mitchell Ryan was excellent as the no-nonsense Tillet Main who angrily defended his decision to punish Priam to Orry. Olivia Cole was allowed to display more of her excellent acting skills in an intense scene in which Maum Sally stops Madeline from interrupting LaMotte’s whipping of a slave. Robert Mitchum gave a charming performance as the observant and slightly roguish Army doctor, Major Patrick Flynn. Andy Stahl continued his first-rate performance as Ned Fisk in his second and last appearance in the 1985 miniseries. Episode Two also featured the introduction of Wendy Kilbourne as George Hazard’s love and future wife, Constance Flynn. Utilizing an Irish accent must have been difficult for her . . . at first. Her accent seemed a bit exaggerated in her first scene in which Constance meets George for the first time at the ball in Mexico City. But Kilbourne quickly adapted to the accent and came out smelling like a rose. More importantly, she infused both a charm and a sardonic wit that has made Constance one of my favorite characters in the saga.

I did have a major problem with Episode Two. Do not get me wrong. I have always thought Patrick Swayze and Lesley-Anne Down had a good, solid screen chemistry. But why oh why did the screenwriters insist upon forcing them to spew so much drippy dialogue? My God! How I grew to hate it! Viewers received a first hint of this at the end of Episode One. InEpisode Two, it simply got worse. Why? The dialogue became hammier and the episode featured two wince-inducing scenes between Orry and Madeline. Let me correct myself. Make that three. One featured a conversation between the two at the barbecue, the second at Salvation Chapel on the day after the barbecue, and the third at the end of the episode, following Orry’s permanent return to Mont Royal and Priam’s escape.

As it turned out, I had another problem . . . and it featured a scene between Madeline and Priam. After escaping from Mont Royal, the latter made his way to the slave quarters at Resolute, the LaMotte plantation. One of LaMotte’s house slaves summoned Madeline to her cabin, where the plantation mistress tried to convince Priam to return to Mont Royal before agreeing to assist him in his escape. This entire scene featured Priam in tears, while Madeline talked to him. And for the likes of me, I do not understand why he was crying? Why was Priam crying? Was this a reaction to Madeline’s initial attempt to convince him to return to Mont Royal? Or were his tears a sentimental reaction to the lose of those years before Salem Jones’ arrival at Mont Royal? Judging from his dialogue, his only reason for leaving the Mains’ plantation seemed to be their brutal overseer. What the hell? What happened to the literary Priam who not only hated Salem Jones, but also angrily resented the Main family for keeping him in bondage. It seemed as if Priam had lost his balls in his transition from John Jakes’ novel to the television screen. Why was it so important for the screenwriters to make Priam less aggressive in his attitude toward the Mains? How gutless.

Despite these flaws, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” seemed to march steadily on in this second episode with great dramatic moments and first-rate performances. With George at Mont Royal to get Orry to stand as his best man at his upcoming wedding to Constance, and Priam as a fugitive, Heffron and the screenwriters have given viewers sufficient incentives to look forward to the next episode.

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” (2001) Review

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“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” (2001) Review

One can categorize the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” television movies into two categories. The ones made between 1989 and 2001, featured the supporting characters Captain Arthur Hasting, Miss Lemon (Hercule Poirot), and Chief Inspector Japp. The ones made post-2001 sporadically featured the mystery writer, Adriande Oliver. The very last television movie that featured Poirot’s close friend, Hastings, turned out to be 2001’s “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”

Based upon Agatha Christie’s 1936 novel, “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” told of Hercule Poirot’s investigation into the murder of Louise Leidner, the wife of an American archeologist named Dr. Leidner. The story began with Poirot’s arrival in Iraq, who is there to not only visit his friend Captain Arthur Hastings, but also meet with a Russian countess of a past acquaintance. Hastings, who is having marital problems, is there to visit his nephew Bill Coleman, one of Dr. Leidner’s assistants. Upon his arrival at the dig, Poirot notices the tension between Mrs. Leidner and the other members of her husband’s dig – especially with Richard Carey and Anne Johnson, Dr. Leidner’s longtime colleagues.

Both Poirot and Hastings learn about the series of sightings that have frightening Mrs. Leidner. The latter eventually reveals that she was previously married to a young U.S. State Department diplomat during World War I named Frederick Bosner, who turned out to be a spy for the Germans. Mrs. Leidner had betrayed Bosner to the American government before he was arrested and sentenced to die. But Bosner managed to escape, while he was being transported to prison. Unfortunately, a train accident killed him. Fifteen years passed before Louise eventually married Dr. Leidner. Not long after Poirot learned about the lady’s past, someone killed her with a deadly blow to her head with a blunt instrument.

Many Christie fans claim that the 1989-2001 movies were superior to the later ones, because these movies were faithful to the novels. I have seen nearly every “POIROT” television movie in existence. Trust me, only a small handful of the 1989-2001 movies were faithful. And “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was not one of them. First of all, Arthur Hastings was not in the 1936 novel. Which meant that Bill Coleman’s was not Hasting’s nephew. Poirot’s assistant in Christie’s novel was Louise Leidner’s personal nurse, Amy Leatheran. In the 2001 movie, she was among the main suspects. There were other changes. Dr. Leidner’s nationality changed from Swedish to American. Several characters from the novel were eliminated.

I only had a few quibbles about “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. One, I found Clive Exton’s addition of Captain Hastings unnecessary. I realize that the movie aired during the last season that featured Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon. But what was the point in including Hastings to the story? His presence merely served as a last touch of nostalgia for many fans of the series and as an impediment to the Amy Leatheran character, whose presence was reduced from Poirot’s assistant to minor supporting character. Two, I wish that the movie’s running time had been longer. The story featured too many supporting characters and one too many subplots. A running time of And if I must be brutally honest, the solution to Louise Leidner’s murder struck me as inconceivable. One has to blame Agatha Christie for this flaw, instead of screenwriter Clive Exton. I could explain how implausible the murderer’s identity was, but to do so would give away the mystery.

But I still enjoyed “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. Clive Exton did the best he could with a story slightly marred by First of all, I was impressed by the production’s use of Tunisia as a stand-in for 1933-36 Iraq. Rob Hinds and his team did an excellent job in re-creating both the setting and era for the movie. They were ably assisted by Kevin Rowley’s photography, Chris Wimble’s editing and the art direction team – Paul Booth, Nigel Evans and Henry Jaworski. I was especially impressed by Charlotte Holdich’s costume designs that perfectly recaptured both the 1930s decade and the movie’s setting in the Middle East.

David Suchet gave his usual top-notch performance as Hercule Poirot. I am also happy to include that he managed to avoid some of his occasional flashes of hammy acting during Poirot’s revelation scene. Hugh Fraser gave his last on-screen performance as Arthur Hastings (so far). And although I was not thrilled by the addition of the Hastings character in the movie, I cannot deny that Fraser was first rate. Five other performances really impressed me. Ron Berglas was perfectly subtle as the quiet and scholarly Dr. Leidner, who also happened to be in love with his wife. Barbara Barnes wisely kept control of her portrayal of Louise Leidner, a character that could have easily veered into caricature in the hands of a less able actress. I also enjoyed Dinah Stabb’s intelligent portrayal of Anne Johnson, one of Dr. Leidner’s colleagues who happened to be in love with him. Christopher Bowen did an excellent job of keeping audiences in the dark regarding his character’s (Richard Mason) true feelings for Mrs. Leidner. And Georgina Sowerby injected as much energy as possible into the role of Amy Leatharan, a character reduced by Exton’s screenplay.

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was marred by a running time I found too short and an implausible solution to its murder mystery. But it possessed enough virtues, including an excellent performance by a cast led by David Suchet, an interesting story and a first-rate production team; for me to consider it a very entertaining movie and one I would not hesitate to watch over again.

“GANGSTER SQUAD” (2013) Review

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“GANGSTER SQUAD” (2013) Review

Every now and then, Hollywood would release a movie with a story based upon a particular event or individual from Los Angeles’ history. Movies such as “CHINATOWN”“L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”, and “CHANGELING” are examples. Recently, Hollywood released a new movie about a moment in Los Angeles’ history called “GANGSTER SQUAD”.

I must admit that I found myself surprised that the origin of the plot for “GANGSTER SQUAD” came from L.A. history. According to the book, “Tales from the Gangster Squad” by Paul Lieberman, Chief William Parker and the Los Angeles Police Department formed a group of officers and detective called the “Gangster Squad unit” in an effort to keep Los Angeles safe from gangsterMickey Cohen and his gang in the late 1940s and the 1950s. Screenwriter Will Beall took elements of Lieberman’s book and wrote a movie about the L.A.P.D.’s efforts to fight organized crime in the Southland. The movie starts in 1949 Los Angeles, where Cohen has become the most powerful figure in the California criminal underworld. Cohen has plans to expand his enterprises across the Western United States via the gambling rackets. Because the gangster has eliminated witnesses and bribed both the courts and the police, Chief Parker and the L.A.P.D. have not been able to stop Cohen’s rise. In a desperate move, Parker recruits the incorruptible and ruthless Sergeant John O’Mara to form a unit to wage guerilla warfare on Cohen’s operations and drive the gangster out of Southern California.

O’Hara, with the help of his very pregnant wife Connie, recruit the following men for his new unit:

*Coleman Harris, a tough beat cop from the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood

*Conway Keeler, a brainy wire-tapper

*Max Kennard, a legendary veteran gangster killer and sharp-shooter

Kennard’s young partner, Navidad Ramirez tracks down the squad and O’Hara reluctantly allows him to join. The sergeant tries to recruit his close friend, Sergeant Jerry Wooters, but the latter declines his offer out of disillusionment with the recent war and the police force. But when Cohen’s attempted hit on rival gang leader Jack Dragna results in the death of a young shoeshine boy, Wooters decides to accept O’Hara’s offer to join the squad. Also, Wooters has become romantically involved with Cohen’s etiquette coach and girlfriend, Grace Faraday. The squad’s campaign of terror against Cohen encounter a good deal of road blocks, including an unsuccessful raid against Cohen’s Burbank casino, the gangster’s penchant for paranoia, Wooters’ secret romance with Grace, Connie O’Hara’s desire for her husband to leave the police force and a deadly trap set up by Cohen in Chinatown. Despite the setbacks, violence and death, the squad eventually persevere over Cohen.

When I first saw the trailer for “GANGSTER SQUAD”, I immediately viewed it as one of those splashy, yet cheesy crime dramas trying to cash in on the success of movies like “L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” and “THE UNTOUCHABLES” by setting it before the present time. After seeing the movie, I suspect that my assumption was correct. There were elements in the movie’s story that I found unoriginal. Honestly. One could easily imagine “GANGSTER SQUAD” to be a post-World War II Los Angeles version of the 1987 movie, “THE UNTOUCHABLES”. Well . . . almost. And there were moments when I found “GANGSTER SQUAD” rather cheesy. This was obvious in some of the dialogue that came out of the mouth of actor Sean Penn, who portrayed Mickey Cohen; and in the movie’s narration spoken by Josh Brolin, who portrayed John O’Hara. And I might as well be honest. Penn’s dialogue was not helped by the occasional hammy acting that also marred his performance. For a movie that is supposed to be based on a historical book, I could not regard it as historically correct . . . especially in regard to the fates of both Cohen and rival Jack Dragna. I am a fan of Nick Nolte’s work, but I believe that he was a least two to three decades too old to be portraying Los AngelesPolice Chief William Parker, who would have been in his mid-40s in 1949. Also, Parker did not become the city’s police chief until 1950.

“GANGSTER SQUAD” was not a perfect film, but I liked it very much. I enjoyed it. I found it very entertaining. And I found it gorgeous and colorful to look at. Thanks to production designer Maher Ahmad’s work, the film beautifully re-created post-World War II Los Angeles at the end of the 1940s. I was especially impressed by Ahmad’s elegant, yet colorful designs for the Slapsy Maxie’s nightclub, Cohen’s Spanish Colonial house and the Chinatown sequence. Ahmad’s work was enhanced by Gene Serdena’s set decorations, the movie’s art direction team and especially Dion Beebe’s photography. And Mary Zophres’ costume designs were absolutely gorgeous. Just to give you a hint, take a look at one of her designs for actress Emma Stone:

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Even though “GANGSTER SQUAD” seemed to be marred by cheesy dialogue, lack of originality and historical accuracy, I cannot deny that Will Beall wrote a very entertaining and exciting crime story. He did a pretty solid job of setting up the main narrative with Sergeant O’Hara’s disruption of one of Mickey Cohen’s illegitimate businesses – a whorehouse staffed by naive girls fresh off the bus or train and eager to make it big in the movies. This disruption catches Police Chief Bill Parker’s attention, prompting him to recruit O’Hara to organize and lead the “Gangster Squad” unit against Cohen’s operations. Beall also filled the story with exciting action sequences that included a nail-biting shootout in Chinatown, a forbidden romance between Jerry Wooters and Cohen’s girlfriend Grace Faraday, strong characterizations and more importantly, a good solid narrative. Rueben Fleischer did a first-rate job in transferring Beall’s script to the movie screen. And Fleischer did this with a great deal of flair and strong pacing.

The cast for “GANGSTER SQUAD” proved to be first-rate. Josh Brolin led the cast as the strong-willed, yet emotional police detective Sergeant John O’Hara. Utilizing his talent for projecting a no-nonsense demeanor with flashes of humor, Brolin was very effective as leader of “Gangster Squad” unit. Brolin also managed to generate on-screen chemistry with other members of the cast – including Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and especially actress Mireille Enos, who beautifully portrayed O’Hara’s equally strong-willed wife Connie. “GANGSTER SQUAD” marked the second time Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone worked together since they were co-stars in the 2011 comedy “CRAZY STUPID LOVE”. And once again, they proved to be quite the effective screen team, as they burned up the screen as the cynical lovers Sergeant Jerry Wooster and mob moll Grace Faraday. I also enjoyed Anthony Mackie’s colorful portrayal of tough beat cop Coleman Harris, who developed an aversion to Burbank, following the squad’s unpleasant encounter with that city’s law enforcement. Giovanni Ribisi gave a poignant performance as the squad’s brainy wiretapper, Conwell Keeler. Both Robert Patrick and Michael Peña created a solid screen team as police sharpshooter Max Kennard and his clever protégé Navidad Ramirez. Although I found him slightly too old for the role, I must admit that I found Nick Nolte’s portrayal of Police Chief William Parker rather entertaining in a garroulous way. And despite some of the cheesy dialogue he was forced to spew, I must say that Sean Penn struck me as an effective villain in his performance as the violent Mickey Cohen. Especially when the cheese and ham were missing from his lines.

If you expect “GANGSTER SQUAD” to be a crime drama masterpiece, you will be disappointed. It is no masterpiece, I assure you. But . . . I thought it proved to be an entertaining, yet splashy crime thriller that recaptured the era of post-World War II Los Angeles. I guess one could thank Will Beall for his solid script, colorful direction by Rueben Fleischer, a

TIME MACHINE: Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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TIME MACHINE: ASSASSINATION OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1929-1968)

April 4th marked the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Civil Rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was a clergyman, a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who became known for his advancement of civil rights by using civil disobedience. 

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929; Dr. King was the son of Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Both he and his father’s legal birth names was Michael King. However, his father changed their names after a 1934 trip to Gernamny to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin. During this trip, King Sr. decided that he and his son would be called Martin Luther in honor of the German reformer, Martin Luther. Dr. King Jr. graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a B.A. degree in sociology. He then enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. He married Coretta Scot in 1953 and both became the parents of four children. In 1954, King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Dr. King’s reputation as a Civil Rights activist came to the fore in 1955 over the case involving Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger aboard a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King led a 385 days boycott of the city’s transportation system in protest against Parks’ arrest and the Jim Crow Laws that demanded she sit in the back of the bus. The Montgomery Bus Boycott brought national attention to King and his civil rights activities. Over the next twelve-to-thirteen years, he led other movements that protested against U.S. society’s treatment of African-Americans and other oppressed groups. He led the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 and gave the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and openly opposed the Vietnam War from 1965 to his death.

In early 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support the city’s African-American sanitation workers who had staged a walkout in protest against lower wages than white workers and longer hours. On April 3, 1968, King returned to Memphis On April 3, King returned to Memphis to address a gathering at the Mason Temple (World Headquarters of the Church of God in Christ). His airline flight to Memphis had been delayed by a bomb threat against his plane. King and his entourage, which included the Reverend Jesse Jackson, booked into Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel. On that day, King delivered the last speech of his life, while a thunderstorm raged outside the Mason Temple. The address is now known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”Address. Here are some of the words of his last speech:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats… or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. [applause] And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! [applause] And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

On Thursday, April 4, 1968; King was standing on the Lorraine Motel’s second floor balcony, when a single .30 bullet fired from a Remington 760 Gamemaster struck King. He fell violently backwards onto the balcony unconscious. Shortly after the shot was fired, witnesses saw James Earl Ray fleeing from a rooming house across the street from the Lorraine Motel where he was renting a room. King was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors opened his chest and performed manual heart massage. He never regained consciousness and they pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. He was 39 years old.

Authorities found a package that included a rifle and binoculars with Ray’s fingerprints on them. A worldwide manhunt began for Ray and British authorities arrested him two months later at London’s Heathrow Airport. Ray was quickly extradited back to Tennessee and charged with King’s murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969. However, he later recanted this confession three days later. He was sentenced to a 99-year sentence. After an attempt to break from prison in 1977, Ray spent the rest of his life trying to withdraw his guilty plea. He died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70.

Despite pleas from other civil rights activists, King’s assassination led to a series of riots in more than 100 U.S. cities. The city of Memphis quickly settled the strike on favorable terms to the sanitation workers. A crowd of 300,000 attended King’s funeral in Atlanta, Georgia. The King family and others believe that the assassination was carried out by a conspiracy involving the US government, and that James Earl Ray was a scapegoat. This conclusion was affirmed by a jury in a 1999 civil trial.

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