Top Five Favorite “THE AMERICANS” Season One (2013) Episodes

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Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of FX’s“THE AMERICANS”. Created by Joe Weisberg, the series stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys: 

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “THE AMERICANS” SEASON ONE (2013) Episodes

1 - 1.10 Only You

1. (1.10) “Only You” – The FBI’s tenacious investigation of Agent Chris Amador’s death leads the KGB to frame Elizabeth Jenning’s colleague and former lover, Gregory Thomas, for his murder in order to protect Elizabeth and Philip’s identities.

2 - 1.07 Duty and Honor

2. (1.07) “Duty and Honor” – During a mission to discredit a Polish dissident in New York City, Philip is reunited with a former lover and fellow KGB agent named Irina.

3 - 1.13 The Colonel a

3. (1.13) “The Colonel” – In this tense season finale, Philip and handler Claudia proceed to meet with an Air Force colonel, who might be a new source. Meanwhile, Elizabeth sets out to retrieve a bug from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s home, unaware that the FBI has set a trap.

4 - 1.04 In Control

4. (1.04) “In Control” – Following the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, the FBI attempt to assess whether the KGB was involved. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Philip prepare to deal with any excessive reactions from the American intelligence community.

5 - 1.06 Trust Me

5. (1.06) “Trust Me” – Elizabeth and Philip are abducted and brutally questioned. Their abductors turn out to be KGB agents instructed by Claudia to determine if either of them is a mole. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Stan Chambers helps his Soviet source Nina frame her embassy supervisor for treason.

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“LIFE OF PI” (2012) Review

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“LIFE OF PI” (2012) Review

It has been a while since Hollywood went into a tizzy over a movie directed by Ang Lee. His latest opus turned out to be “LIFE OF PI”, an adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 fantasy-adventure novel. The movie earned at least eleven nominations and won at least four, including a second Best Director Academy Award for Lee. 

“LIFE OF PI” begins in early 21st century Canada; when a local writer is advised to interview a middle-aged immigrant from Puducherry with a very interesting story to tell. Pi Patel then proceeds to tell the writer about his family and childhood in Puducherry. According to Patel, his father owned a zoo and it was there he first met the zoo’s new Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. When Patel was 16 years old, his father announces his intention to move the family to Winnipeg, Canada. There, he plans to sell the zoo animals and live. Pi, saddened by the idea of leaving his family and his new love, does not tell the news very well.

The family books passage aboard a Japanese freighter called the Tzimtzum. During the voyage, the Tzimtzum begins to founder during a heavy storm, while Pi is on deck. Before he can find his family, a crew member throws him into a lifeboat. As the ship begins to sink, a zebra leaps into the lifeboat and injures himself. The rest of Pi’s family along with other passengers and crewmen die as the Tzimtzum sinks. Once the storm is over, Pi discovers that other animals had made their way into the lifeboat – an orangutan and a hyena. The hyena angers Pi by killing the zebra and then the orangutan. Before he can do anything about it, the tiger Richard Parker suddenly emerges from under the lifeboat’s tarp and kills the hyena. Pi is left alone with Richard Parker, in which the two continue the journey as wary adversaries. By the time their journey ends on the Mexican coastline, they have become friends before Richard Parker disappears into the jungle.

When I first saw the trailer for “LIFE OF PI”, I did not want to see it. Period. Despite my knowledge that the movie had been directed by Ang Lee – of whom I am a fan – I did not want to see it. I did not want to see a movie about a boy surviving God knows how many days in a lifeboat with a tiger. End of story. When the movie was finally released in theaters, I went out of my way to avoid it . . . despite the positive press from the film critics. And even when it accumulated so many Golden Globe and Academy Awards nominations, I still refused to see it. I finally came around and saw “LIFE OF PI” when it was finally released on DVD. Did I regret missing it while it was in the theaters? Hmmmmm . . . not really. But I must admit that it was a pretty damn good film.

One . . . it had a good story. Lee, along with screenwriter David Magee did an excellent job in setting up Martel’s story on screen. The movie devoted at least a good half hour into Pi’s family background and his childhood. They especially took care in revealing his parents’ philosophies – something that would profoundly affect his harsh ocean journey from Puducherry to Mexico. They also did an excellent job in utilizing the literary device of the flashback, using middle-age Pi’s interview with a journalist. In fact, I believe that this device, along with Pi’s first-person (whether he was the 16 year-old boy or the middle-aged man) narration help keep the story alive for me.

There were other aspects of “LIFE OF PI” that impressed me. Mychael Danna won a much deserved Academy Award for writing the movie’s score. Mind you, I could not remember it for the likes of me. But I do recall how perfectly it meshed with the film’s narration. I also have to commend the beautiful visual effects created by the now bankrupt Rhythm & Hues Studios. Their visuals – especially of the animals featured in this movie – struck me as breathtaking. Although some of the animals, like those featured in Pi’s lifeboat, seemed real; while others like the meerkats on the floating island seemed more artistic than real. I especially enjoyed the sequence in which Pi’s lifeboat encountered a breaching Humpback whale and the school of dolphins.

I can see many shaking their heads over my review so far. How could I have enjoyed this movie so much, if I did not regret missing it in the theaters? Remember my reason why I originally avoided the film in the first place? I did not want to see a movie about a boy and a tiger in a lifeboat. While watching the movie, I found myself wishing that the entire sequence featuring Pi and “Richard Parker” could be shorter. It almost seemed to go on . . . forever. This sequence also brought back some not-so-pleasant memories of Tom Hanks and a volleyball named Wilson in the 2000 film, “CASTAWAY”. I felt relieved when Hanks’ character was finally rescued by a freighter in that movie. While watching “LIFE OF PI”, I eventually fell asleep before Pi and “Richard Parker” reached the floating island of the meerkats and Mexico. I woke up just in time to witness the escape from the meerkats island. Why did it have to take so long? I realize that the movie was about Pi’s emotional and spiritual journey. But did it have to take so long? Oh well. It was still a damn good movie that ended on a very satisfying note.

From what I had read, Ang Lee personally selected 17 year-old Suraj Sharma to portray the 16 year-old Pi. And I must say that Sharma gave a stupendous performance. Along with Lee’s direction and the visual effects, Sharma really made that movie. He did an excellent job in conveying Pi’s journey from innocence to heartbreak to spiritual maturity. And I am astounded that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate him for a Best Actor award. What in the hell were they thinking? I realize that the competition was pretty tough for 2012, but still . . . he should have been considered among the top three nominees.

The cast also benefited from excellent supporting performances from Irrfan Khan, who was excellent as the mature Pi. Rafe Spall was charming as the Canadian writer who interviewed Pi. Tabu gave an emotionally satisfying performance as Pi’s mother Gita Pitel. And I was certainly impressed by Adil Hussain’s commanding portrayal of Pi’s father, Santosh Patel. Gérard Depardieu was certain memorable as the Tzimtzum’s unpleasant cook. And James Saito added a great deal of intensity to the heartbreaking scene featuring an interview between Pi and the older Japanese insurance investigator. It was good to see him again.

What else can I say about “LIFE OF PI”? It was a beautiful and heartbreaking adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel. Once again, Ang Lee proved to the world that when he puts his heart and soul into a film, he can create something beautiful. And he was ably supported by an excellent cast led by the very talented Suraj Sharma, Rhythm & Hues Studio’s visual effects and Mychael Danna’s score. I do not think I would ever love this movie. I am sorry, but I could not deal with so many minutes devoted to a boy and a tiger in a boat. But I must say that I enjoyed it very much.

TIME MACHINE: The Battle of Gettysburg

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TIME MACHINE: THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG

July 1-3, 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which was fought over three days in Gettysburg, from the entire war. Fought between the Army of the Potomoc, under the command of Major General George G. Meade; and the Army of Northern Virgina under General Robert E. Lee, the Battle of Gettysburg marked the latter’s second attempt to invade the North and is regarded as the turning point of the Civil War. 

Following the Army of Northern Virgina’s major victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, General Lee hoped to follow up his success with a invasion of the North. As he led his forces through the Shenandoah Valley, Lee hoped to center the summer campaign away from war-ravaged Virginia. He also hoped that a victorious campaign on Northern soil – preferably around Harrisburg or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – would convince President Abraham Lincoln and other Union politicians to end their prosecution of the war. Lee had harbored similar hopes when he led his forces into Maryland in September 1862. But his failure to achieve victory at the Battle of Antietam dashed his hopes. Aware of the Army of the Potomoc’s northbound march, President Lincoln ordered Major General Joseph Hooker to lead the Army of the Potomoc in pursuit. However, three days before the two armies clashed at Gettysburg, Meade assumed command of the Union forces.

One of the first Union forces to reach Gettysburg was its Calvary Corp’s First Division under the command of Major General John Buford Jr. Realizing that a superior force of Confederates faced him, Buford created a defense against the enemy advance on low ridges northwest of town. On July 1, 1863, he and his dismounted calvary defended the ridges long enough for Major General John F. Reynolds’ I Corps to reinforce him. However, assaults from the northwest and the north by two large Confederate corps and the death of General Reynolds collapsed the hastily developed Union lines, sending the defenders through the streets of Gettysburg and to the hills south of town. assaulted them from the northwest and north, collapsing the hastily developed Union lines, sending the defenders retreating through the streets of town to the hills just to the south.

By July 2, 1863; most of the Union forces had arrived in the Gettysburg area. The Army of the Potomoc had formed a defensive formation shaped like a fishhook that stretched from Culp’s Hill southeast of the town, to northwest to Cemetery Hill just south of town, then south for nearly two miles along Cemetery Ridge, which terminated just north of Little Round Top. General Lee initiated battle plans for Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps to steadily attack the Union’s left flank. This attack upon the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard and Little Round Top. Unfortunately, Lee’s plans depended upon faulty intelligence, exacerbated by the absence of Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s Calvary Corps from the battlefield. Stuart’s calvary had been missing from the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, thanks to a difficult confrontation with Union calvary at the Battle of Brandy Station and vague orders from General Lee. Lee also launched assaults on the Union’s right flank at Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Union troops managed to hold their own against the Confederate assault upon the Union’s right flank, despite heavy losses.

The Union suffered even more losses during the assault on the left flank and found itself in danger of being overran. However, General Meade’s chief engineer, Brigadier General Gouvernur K. Warren realized that Little Round Top at the Union’s extreme left was in danger of being overran. He dispatched Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade, an artillery battery and the 140th New York Regiment to hold Little Round Top just minutes before Brigadier General Evander M. Law’s of Hood’s division had arrived. The Union troops managed to hold their own against the Confederate troops, but found themselves in a precarious position – especially after Colonel Vincent was badly wounded. A last minute miracle for the Union materialized when Lieutenant-Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (or one his company commanders First Lieutenant Holman S. Melcher) came up with the idea to charge against the attacking 15th Alabama Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel William C. Oates with fixed bayonets. The downhill charge swept away the Alabamians and saved Little Round Top and the rest of the left flank for the Union Army.

July 3 saw the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Once again, General Lee ordered an attack upon the Union’s right flank at Culp’s Hill. The third day also featured action between Union and Confederate calvary in the former’s rear. Unfortunately for General Stuart, his Confederate calvary was repulsed by Union horse troopers under the command of Brigadier General David Gregg and Brigadier General George A. Custer on the East Calvary Field. While the calvary of both armies engaged in combat, General Lee decided to launch an assault upon the Union’s center at Cementery Ridge. Lee ordered General Longstreet to command the divisions under Major General George Pickett, Major General Isaac R. Trimble, and Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew for the assault. Genaral Longstreet considered the assault futile, but carried it out. First, Longstreet ordered his artillery chief Colonel Edward Porter Alexander to bombard the Union center. But General Lee’s artillery chief, Major General William N. Pendleton, played a small role by obstructing the effective placement of artillery from the other two corps. Despite Colonel Alexander’s efforts, there was insufficient concentration of Confederate fire on the objective. The three infantry divisions finally charged (or marched) toward the Union’s center. Their efforts were marred by by the sloping ground between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge, fences that were never cleared and the Union artillery that rained devastating cannonade upon the assaulting troops. The Union line wavered and temporarily broke when troops under Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead reached at a spot called the “Angle” in a low stone fence. But Union reinforcements repulsed the breach and the Confederate attack finally broke. General Pickett lost a great deal of his division and blamed Lee for the rest of his life.

Following its defeat at Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia evacuated from the town. And on July 4, General Lee led his army on a torturous retreat back to Virginia. General Meade made the cautious decision to refrain from pursuing the Confederates, until it reached Virginia. His decision led to criticism from the Lincoln Administration and the public, but Meade would maintain his position as head of the Army of the Potomoc for the rest of the war. The three-day battle resulted in 46,000 to 51,000 soldiers from both armies. And on November 19, 1863; President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

For more detailed information on the Battle of Gettysburg, I recommend the following books and novel:

“Gettysburg” (2004) by StephenW. Sears

“The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader: An Eyewitness History of the Civil War’s Greatest Battle” (2013) by Rod Gragg

“Gettysburg: The Last Invasion” (2013) by Allen C. Guelzo

“The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War” (1974) by Michael Shaara

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode Eight) Commentary

I wrote this commentary on the eighth episode of “THE PACIFIC”

 

”THE PACIFIC” (Episode Eight) Commentary

This latest episode of ”THE PACIFIC” managed to affect me in a very emotional way. To my great surprise. And I find this amazing. After all, I knew what it was about – namely John Basilone’s return to active duty, along with his courtship and marriage to fellow Marine, Sergeant Lena Riggi. And I knew how it would end. Yet, Episode Eight had a great emotional impact upon me. 

In a nutshell, the episode began with a glimpse of Eugene Sledge and his fellow 5th Regiment Marines at Pavuvu, recovering from their ordeal on Peleliu. Not much really happened in this little sequence. Eugene discovered that someone had tossed one of the late Captain Haldane’s books into the garbage. He became irritated by ‘Snafu’ Shelton’s claims of coming down with a tropical disease. The sequence ended with Jay De L’Eau informing Sledge and Shelton that he had been transferred to either regimental or company headquarters.

The meat of Episode Eight centered on the last months of one Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. The beginning of the episode featured Basilone and his brothers participating at a radio program at NBC in New York City. Whereas his brothers and the rest of the family seemed thrilled by the Marine’s celebrity, he seemed sick to his stomach. No longer able to deal with the publicity and longing to return to active duty, Basilone reenlisted into the Marines.

He found himself at Camp Pendleton, California; transferred to the Fifth Marines Division. Among the new recruits assigned to his company are future war hero Charles “Chuck” Tatum and Steve Evanson. The two ended up becoming While Basilone prepared them and other recruits for combat, he met the love of his life – Marine Sergeant Lena Piggi. I could say that it was love at first sight for the both of them, but I would be lying. Basilone obviously fell completely in love with Lena. However, she did not seem to want anything to do with him. At first. But when she realized that the war hero had no interest in simply wooing her for the sake of a one-night stand or two during a breakfast date, she finally opened her feelings toward him. After learning that his division was about to be shipped overseas, Basilone proposed marriage to Lena . . . and she accepted. But all good things must come to an end. And it did for Basilone; when he, Tatum, Evanson and the rest of the Fifth Marines landed smack into the violence and chaos of Iwo Jima.

When I had first contemplated Basilone’s fate a few days before Episode Eight had aired, I found myself crying. And I asked myself . . . why? After all, I knew that the Marine hero would die. So, I dismissed my little outburst of emotion and anticipated the episode. And I watched it. I enjoyed Basilone’s interactions with Tatum and Evanson, and their humorous reactions to his training. I especially enjoyed his courtship of Lena and the peek into wartime New York and Southern California. I spent most of the Iwo Jima sequence holding my breath and wincing at the graphic violence that unfolded. But it was not until my family and I discussed the manner of Basilone’s death that I found myself on the verge of tears again. The following day, I found myself thinking about the episode . . . and I cried again.

It finally occurred to me that Episode Eight had an underlying sense of doom that I found slightly depressing. It was interesting that Andrew Haldane’s death, which took me by surprise, barely affected me. Yet, Basilone’s death had a strong impact upon me. Of course it did. I had been emotionally invested in Basilone since the first episode. And Jon Seda’s subtle and spot-on portrayal of the war hero had a lot to do with that. The fact that he found true love just before departing for Iwo Jima made his death all the more poignant. Actress Annie Parisse gave a complex and feisty performance as Basilone’s wife, Lena Riggi Basilone. More importantly, she and Seda created a strong screen chemistry. And I found Ben Esler and Dwight Braswell rather hilarious as the two friends and witnesses to Basilone’s last months, Chuck Tatum and Steve Evanson. In many ways, they almost seemed like a comedy act. It seemed a pity that they would only be featured in this episode.

Many have complained that the Iwo Jima battle sequence could have lasted longer. I honestly do not see how. The episode more or less covered the events leading to his death. And he was killed during the battle’s first day. I believe that screenwriters Robert Schenkkan and Michelle Ashford were right to focus most of the episode on his months at Camp Pendleton and his courtship of Lena Riggi. The fact that his death capped a romantic episode made it all more poignant and slightly depressing for me. However, I do have one complaint about the episode – namely the Sledge sequence. I simply found it unnecessary. Unless Episode Nine end up proving otherwise, I could not see how the events on Parvuvu continued Sledge’s story.

But despite the Parvuvu sequence, I still enjoyed Episode Eight. Superficially, it did not seem like it would prove to be one of the miniseries’ better episodes. But the love story between John Basilone and Lena Riggi, topped by his death at Iwo Jima, made it – at least for me – one of the most poignant ones in the series.