“THE STING” (1973) Review

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“THE STING” (1973) Review

Whenever film critics or film fans bring up the subject of Best Picture Oscar winners during the 1970s, the topic usually turned to movies like 1975s “ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO NEST”. But the two main Oscar winners usually discussed are the“GODFATHER” movies – 1972’s “THE GODFATHER” and 1974’s “THE GODFATHER – PART II”. The 1973 Oscar winner, “THE STING” is sometimes remembered . . . but not always with the same reverence. At least it seems that way to me.

“THE STING”, which was a caper film set during the middle of the Great Depression, reunited stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford with director George Roy Hill. The latter had directed the pair in the 1969 biopic Western, “BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID”. In “THE STING”, Newman and Redford portrayed a pair of grifters who set out to con a vicious crime boss who had ordered the death of a friend. Screenwriter David S. Ward was inspired by the careers of grifters Fred and Charley Gondorff, whose exploits were featured in David Maurer’s book, “The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man”.

The movie begins in 1936 Joliet, Illinois; in which three grifters – Johnny Hooker, Luther Coleman and Joe Erie – con an unsuspecting victim out of $11,000 in cash. Both Hooker and Erie discover from a corrupt cop named Lieutenant Synder that they had conned a numbers racket courier, who was carrying the $11,000 for a vicious crime boss named Doyle Lonnegan. Even worse, Lonnegan has discovered their identity and sent hit men to kill them. The killers manage to murder Coleman before Johnny and Joe can split up. On Coleman’s advice, Hooker seeks out Henry Gondorff, a world-class grifter hiding from the F.B.I. in Chicago with his girlfriend, Billie, who runs a brothel in the city. Hooker asks Gondorff’s help in getting revenge for Luther’s death. Although reluctant to pull a con against the crime boss, Gondorff decides to use an elaborate and supposedly obsolete scam known as “the wire”, using a crew of con artists to create a phony off-track betting parlor. Hooker eventually discovers that both Lonnegan’s hitmen and Lieutenant Synder have tracked him to Chicago, and he has to maintain a step ahead of them in order to keep Gondorff’s scam on track.

While watching “THE STING”, I found myself wondering if there was anything about it that did not appeal to me. I realized that most of my problems with the film were at best, ascetic. Before the turn of the 21st century, Hollywood seemed to have great difficulty in recapturing women’s fashion in the early-to-mid 1930s . . . and that includes hairstyles. In fact, this seemed apparent in “THE STING” regarding the hairstyles for actresses Eileen Brennan and Dimitra Arliss. I hate to say this, but it looked as if Brennan was wearing a wig. And Arliss’ hairstyle reminded me of one worn by women in the 1940s, not the 1930s. Only Sally Kirkland managed to escape this fate. Hmmm . . . you know what? I cannot think of any other flaws in “THE STING”. At least not now. Perhaps I need to watch it again. I could complain about Marvin Hamlisch’s use of Scott Joplin’s music used in a movie set in the mid-1930s- especially since Joplin’s music dated back at least 30 years before the movie’s setting. But for some reason it worked. It worked. I could write an essay on how songs written at the turn of the 20th century meshed so well in a movie set during the Great Depression. But I cannot explain how this happened, other than movie magic.

However, there is so much to admire in this film. Former 20th Century Fox studio head, Darryl Zanuck, once said that the backbone to any movie is the story. And I heartily agree. Apparently, the producers of “THE STING”, Tony Bill, Julia and Michael Phillips, felt the same about the movie’s screenplay written by David S. Ward. On the surface, “THE STING” is a first-class story about grifters pulling a major con against a crime boss responsible for the death of one of their own. First of all, Ward’s script gave audiences a detailed account of the con pulled by Gondorff, Hooker and the others. Audiences not only got to see the con play out from the beginning to the end, but also its planning stages and unexpected problems. There were three major problems that the grifters had to face – namely Lonnegan’s contract on Hooker for the con that he, Coleman and Erie had pulled; Hooker’s conflict with Detective Synder, who was after the grifter for passing counterfeit money as a bribe to him; and the F.B.I., who seemed to be closing in on Gondorff. And Ward’s screenplay handled all of these plot lines with a seamless skill that led to his Academy Award win for Best Original Screenplay.

I can honestly say the same about George Roy Hill’s direction. When Hill won the Best Director Oscar for his work on “THE STING”, he had responded that with Newman, Redford and Ward’s script; he could not lose. But I have come across a good number of movies that possessed a first-rate cast and a decent script. Yet, these films still managed to result in pure crap. Another director could have screwed up with the cast and script given, but Hill did not. Instead, he transformed quality material – the cast, the crew and the script – into Oscar gold. He also injected a great deal of oomph into the movie’s storytelling by shooting it with a “Saturday Evening Post style” that included page turning chapter headings and graphics. He and cinematographer Robert Surtees imitated the flat camera style of the old Warner Brothers gangster films of the 1930s, which included ending each scene with a slide across the screen or a circular motion. The most interesting thing about Hill’s direction is that he managed to inject the desperate air of the Great Depression in a movie that is generally regarded as somewhat light froth. And that is a hell of a thing to accomplish. Both Newman and Redford had expressed great admiration toward Hill’s stylized direction and his firm handling of the movie during its production. After watching the movie for the umpteenth time, I can see why they held him in such high regard.

Looking at “THE STING”, I am still amazed that aside from a few locations around Southern California and Chicago, most of it was filmed on the Universal Studios lot. As a Southern Californian, I have seen those backlot locations during many visits to the studio. But I am still amazed at how Bob Warner’s special effects, the film’s art department, James W. Payne’s Oscar winning set decorations and Robert Surtees’ cinematography made me forget about the studio lot locations and convince me that I had transported back to Depression-era Chicago and Joliet. I could also say the same about Edith Head’s costume designs, which led to her winning an Academy Award. But Albert Whitlock’s visual effects – especially his matte paintings – really gave this movie its unique visual style, as shown below:

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I am happy to say that Whitlock also won an Academy Award.

“THE STING” marked the second screen teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It seems a damn shame they never shot other films together, because those two are magic as a team. Hell, they were magic period. Newman was perfect as Henry Gondorff. He did a great job in portraying who proved that despite his world weary attitude, he was still the master grifter capable of operation a first-rate con job, acting as mentor to less experienced grifters and handling unexpected problems. I especially enjoyed the sly air that Newman injected into the character and one particular scene in which his Gondorff emotionally manipulated the Doyle Lonnegan character. Someone once claimed that Robert Redford was wrong for the Jay Gatsby character, because his personal background and “golden boy” looks prevented him from understanding the air of desperation that drove Fitzgerald’s character. I disagree. In fact, I would point to Redford’s portrayal of Johnny Hooker in “THE STING” as an example of why that particular criticism is utter bullshit. He did a beautiful job of conveying Hooker’s impatience, addiction to gambling and more importantly, air of desperation – traits that led him into trouble with Lonnegan and Stryder in the first place.

Robert Shaw’s portrayal of Red Grant is considered one of the best James Bond villains of all time. Frankly, I found his portrayal of crime boss Doyle Lonnegan to be a lot more scary. Lonnegan must have been one of the most chaotic characters that the actor had portrayed. On one hand, Lonnegan seemed to be the epitome of the cold-blooded businessman, who did not suffer the loss of even one penny. At the same time Shaw was excellent in portraying the gangster’s pride and hair-trigger temper that led him into moments of recklessness. “THE STING” was the first movie that ever made me take notice of actress Eileen Brennan . . . and this was seven years before her Oscar-nominated performance in “PRIVATE BENJAMIN”. I thought she gave a very sly and sexy performance as Gondorff’s grifter/madam girlfriend, Billie. This was especially apparent in one scene in which she was forced to deal with Lieutenant Synder, who was searching for Hooker. Speaking of Synder, this role marked the first major one on film for Charles Durning. I thought he did a marvelous job as the vindictive and crooked Joliet cop. Durning did an excellent job in conveying Synder’s venal nature in a very subtle manner.

Both Ray Walston and Harold Gould gave very entertaining performances as two of Gondorff’s trusted men – J.J. Singleton and Kid Twist. Walston injected a good deal of sardonic humor that I found particularly fun to watch. And Gould gave a very elegant performance as the charming Twist. Jack Kehoe, who was also in 1988’s “MIDNIGHT RUN”, did an excellent job of portraying Hooker’s loyal, yet slightly nervous partner, Joe Erie. Kehoe was especially effective in the one scene in which Erie had a brief conversation with Lonnegan during the con. I suspect a good number of people would be surprised to learn that Robert Earl Jones, who portrayed Luther Coleman, was the father of actor James Earl Jones. After watching the father’s performance as the aging grifter who served as Hooker’s mentor, it is easy to see from whom the junior Mr. Earl Jones had inherited his talent. Robert Earl Jones, despite a screen time of twenty minutes or less, gave a first-rate performance as the doomed elderly grifter.

What else can I say about “THE STING”? I managed to spot a flaw or two. But right, I cannot think of any more flaws. I would have to watch the movie again. However, between the film’s visual artistry, Marvin Hamlisch’s use of Scott Joplin’s music, David S. Ward’s excellent screenplay and the first-rate cast led by Paul Newman and Robert Redford; director George Roy Hill created magic. And it is due to this magic that “THE STING” remains one of my favorite movies of all time, to this day.

Macaroni and Cheese

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Below is an article I had written about a famous comfort food dish known as Macaroni and Cheese:

 

MACARONI AND CHEESE

Macaroni and Cheese is a famous dish known throughout Europe and other Western countries, especially the United States. My own memories of the dish date back to my childhood when my parents and grandmother used to serve it to me and my siblings . . . especially from the pre-packaged box form created by the company, Kraft. But I have eaten traditional homemade Macaroni and Cheese every now and then.

Although known today as an American comfort dish, Macaroni and Cheese was a dish made from Parmesan cheese and past that originated in Italy. Pasta and cheese casseroles have been recorded in cookbooks as early as the 14th century’s “Liber de Coquina”, one of the oldest medieval cookbooks. The dish also made its first appearance in England during the same century, in the famous English medieval cookbook titled “Forme of Cury”.

The first modern recipe for Macaroni and Cheese appeared in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book “The Experienced English Housekeeper”. Her recipe called for a Béchamel sauce with Cheddar cheese, which is mixed with macaroni pasta, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and baked. The dish also appeared in the famous Victorian cookbook, “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management” and included two recipes for the dish.

Many would be surprised to learn that the future third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson may have been responsible for the introduction of Macaroni and Cheese to Americans. He first sampled the dish in both in Paris and in northern Italy, and later incorporated the dish at his Virginia home, Monticello. As the country’s third president, Jefferson served Macaroni and Cheese at a State dinner in 1802. Mary Randolph, sister to Jefferon’s son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., included a recipe for the dish in her 1824 cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife”.

Below is a recipe for “Macaroni and Cheese” from the MyRecipe website:

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (10-oz.) block extra sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
1/2 (16-oz.) package elbow macaroni, cooked

Preparation

1. Whisk flour into butter

Preheat oven to 400°. Microwave milk at HIGH for 1 1/2 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.

2. Whisk in warm milk

Gradually whisk in warm milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.

3. Whisk in cheese

Whisk in salt, black pepper, 1 cup shredded cheese, and, if desired, red pepper until smooth; stir in pasta. Spoon pasta mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish; top with remaining cheese. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

“CARDS ON THE TABLE” (2005) Review

“CARDS ON THE TABLE” (2005) Review

Most Agatha Christie fans tend to regard movie and television adaptations of her novels with a kindly eye. Especially if those adaptations closely followed its literary source. Not all adaptations have done this, including “CARDS ON THE TABLE”, ITV’s 2005 adaptation of the author’s 1936 novel.

I have always wondered how Christie fans regarded “CARDS ON THE TABLE”. I suspect many Christie fans would not regard it as a close adaptation of the 1936 novel. Also, the story turned out to be one of those mysteries of the “locked room” variety that many fans sometimes find frustrating. I say . . . almost. After all, the victim was not killed or found in a locked room. Instead, he was quietly killed, while sitting in the same room as the suspects.

The story begins when Belgian-born private detective Hercule Poirot and his friend, crime novelist Ariadne Oliver at an art exhibit, they meet the wealthy art collector Mr. Shaitana, who also has an interest in “collecting” successful murderers. He invites both Poirot and Mrs. Oliver to his dinner party for the following evening. His guests include two more “detectives” – military intelligence officer Colonel Hughes and Scotland Yard’s Superintendent James Wheeler. Mr. Shaitana has also invited four people that he believes have gotten away with murder:

*Dr. Roberts – a successful Harley Street physician who may have deliberately killed a patient
*Mrs. Lorrimer – a well-to-do socialite who may have killed her first husband
*Major Despard – a dashing ex-military explorer and hunter who may have killed a married botanist during his last expedition
*Anne Meredith – an impoverished young woman from a good family who may have killed a former employer who caught her stealing

During supper, Mr. Shaitana expresses veiled hints that the four suspects have successfully committed murder. After the meal, he organizes two bridge games – one with the suspects playing in the main drawing room, and the “detectives” playing in another room. Mr. Shaitana settles in a chair near the four suspects and fall asleep. When the “detectives” finish their game, they return to the main dining room and find Shaitana’s body, with a knife in his chest. The four “sleuths” – Poirot, Mrs. Oliver, Superintendent Wheeler and Colonel Hughes – set about investigating Mr. Shaitana’s murder.

For those Christie fans who demand that all movie and television adaptations be faithful to their literary sources, “CARDS ON THE TABLE” just might disappoint them. Director Sarah Harding and screenwriter Nick Dear obviously made changes to Christie’s story. One, they changed the identity of one of the story’s murderers. Two, they allowed two of the characters that died in the novel . . . survive. Colonel Race in the novel became Colonel Hughes in the movie, due to James Fox (who portrayed Race in 2004’s “DEATH ON THE NILE”) being unavailable for the production. And they allowed one of the characters that survived in the book to die. Harding and Dear also changed the motives for both main killers in the story. And . . . they allowed one of the investigators, Superintendent Wheeler, to become a suspect.

Did these changes ruin the story for me? Overall . . . no. First of all, I have to admit that “CARDS ON THE TABLE” is a pretty damn good story. Although I liked Christie’s novel very much, there were moments when I found it somewhat convoluted. I cannot say the same about Nick Dear’s screenplay. He managed to make Christie’s story more coherent without dumbing down the story. The movie also benefited from Sarah Harding’s competent direction. She did a first-class job in maintaining my interest in the story. Not once did her direction ground the movie to a halt. Harding also produced excellent performances from the cast. Contrary to what many may think, even competent actors and actresses can have their performances ruined by an incompetent director. But more importantly, despite the energetic pacing, she managed to maintain the movie’s suspense and mystery. This was greatly enhanced by flashbacks of not only the actual murder, but also the characters’ meetings with Mr. Shaitana.

I certainly did not have a problem with the movie’s production and look. Jeff Tessler, who has worked for both “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” and “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” did an excellent job in re-creating London of the mid-1930s. With the help of cinematographer David Marsh, Denise Ball’s art direction and the movie’s art department; Tessler’s work radiated class and style. The crew’s work also benefited from Sheena Napier’s costume designs, which I found very stylish and close to what the well-born or successful English had worn during the Thirties. I do not know who worked on the actresses’ hairstyles, but I must admit that I was impressed by how close they resembled how women styled their hair eighty years ago. My only complaint was Honeysuckle Weeks’ hairstyle, which seemed more suited to the 1940s, instead of the 1930s.

The performances featured in “CARDS ON THE TABLE” struck me as first-rate. David Suchet was excellent, as usual, in his portrayal of Hercule Poirot. I was surprised that his performance seemed a little introverted and I cannot help but wonder if the presence of three other “investigators” had an impact. “CARDS ON THE TABLE” proved to be Zoë Wanamaker’s first appearance as mystery writer Ariadne Oliver and the actress never looked back. Right from the beginning, Wanamaker had a lock on the character. Also, she and Suchet created immediate chemistry on screen, which is not surprising since both had worked on stage together. I also have to comment on Alexander Siddig’s performance. Personally, I believe Mr. Shaitana might prove to be my favorite role he has ever performed. Shaitana seemed like such a departure from anything else he has done and he did such a marvelous job in radiating a mixture of mystery, humor and wit from his character.

I also enjoyed the performances from the other cast members. Aside from Suchet, Wanamaker and Siddig; I also enjoyed Tristan Gemmill as Major Despard, who seemed to be a curious mixture of warmth and coldness; Lyndsey Marshal as the charming, yet morally ambiguous Anne Meredith; Honeysuckle Weeks as Anne’s domineering roommate, Rhoda Dawes; Robert Pugh as the conservative, yet pragmatic Colonel Hughes; and David Westhead, who gave an interesting performance as the slightly suspect Superintendent Jim Wheeler. But my two favorite performances from the supporting cast came from Lesley Manville and Alex Jennings. Manville gave a very enigmatic performance as the mysterious Mrs. Lorrimer, who seemed to have a passion for bridge. And Alex Jennings gave an entertaining performance performance as the verbose Doctor Roberts, who seemed to have something of a touch of gallows humor.

Was there anything about “CARDS ON THE TABLE” that I did not like or found unappealing? Well . . . yes. I had a problem with the motives of the story’s two main killers. Mr. Shaitana’s murderer killed the former to hide a homosexual relationship. I could have tolerated this if Dear had not made the second murderer in the story a homosexual, as well. The second murderer killed due to love for another character and the latter’s interest in a third party. Both murderers turned out to be homosexual and I cannot help but wonder if Nick Dear, Sarah Harding or even the producers are homophobic. It certainly seems likely. This portrayal of two separate murderers as homosexuals proved to be one of the worst examples of bigotry I have ever encountered in any movie or television production in recent years.

Even though I found the homophobia tasteless, I otherwise enjoyed “CARDS ON THE TABLE” a lot. Nick Dear more or less did an excellent job in adapting Agatha Christie’s novel. I was very impressed by Sarah Harding’s energetic, yet atmospheric direction. And I was especially impressed by the talented cast, led by David Suchet. Despite a major setback, “CARDS ON THE TABLE” still proved to be a first-rate movie.

Favorite Films Set in the 1900s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s

1 - Howards End

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.

 

2 - The Assassination Bureau

2. “The Assassination Bureau” (1969) – Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London’s unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.

 

3 - A Room With a View

3. “A Room With a View” (1985-86) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

 

4 - Gigi

4. “Gigi” (1958) – Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette’s 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.

 

5 - The Illusionist

5. “The Illusionist” (2006) – Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

 

6 - The Great Race

6. “The Great Race” (1965) – Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

 

7 - Flame Over India aka North West Frontier

7. “Flame Over India aka North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.

 

8 - Meet Me in St. Louis

8. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) – Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson’s short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.

 

9 - The Golden Bowl

9. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James’ 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.

 

10 - North to Alaska

10. “North to Alaska” (1960) – John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.

A Letter to Matthew Weiner

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A LETTER TO MATTHEW WEINER

Dear Matthew Weiner,

I just watched the latest episode of “MAD MEN”, (7.13) “The Milk and Honey Route”, and discovered that Betty Francis was doomed for a quickie death from lung cancer. And all I can say is . . .

FUCK YOU.

Fuck you for this piece of contrived writing that came out of the blue, due to your neverending desire to surprise the viewers. It’s bad enough that you wasted Betty’s nearly decade-long character development with impending death. But you decided to kill her off in the same manner as Don’s former mistress, Rachel Katz. How unoriginal can you be?

This whole story arc disgusted me, because it seemed as if you had pulled it out of his ass and dumped it on the viewers without warning. I guess a quick death by lung cancer was your idea of Betty “developing” into a mature character. I should have known better, considering you are a man who found it realistic that a 21 year-old secretary with no college education can be promoted to a junior copywriter after EIGHT MONTHS of work experience, but found the idea of a black copywriter or accounts exec in the 1960s unrealistic . . . despite the fact that such people actually existed. This was a supreme example of your inability to create complex minority characters. And your idea of a FBI background investigation (in Season Four) was so ridiculous that I am still shaking my head in disgust.

After the contrived writing that surrounded Peggy Olson’s original job promotion in (1.13) “The Wheel”, the dumb ass FBI “investigation” of Don Draper in Season Four and your inability to create and write complex minority characters, I realized that I had enough. So again . . .

FUCK YOU.

“No Criticism of Emma Swan Allowed”

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“NO CRITICISM OF EMMA SWAN ALLOWED”

What is it about the Emma Swan character that raises the ire of so many fans whenever any of her actions are criticized? Is she some kind of sacred cow of the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom?

I do not regard Emma as some kind of monster. I never have. But I do get tired of fandom stomping down on anyone who dares to criticize her character or any of her actions. Some have claimed that my criticisms are a result of my dislike of Emma. Well, I am going to protest against that accusation. When the series first began in the fall of 2011, Emma was one of my favorite characters on the show. I spent most of that season cheering for her victory against Big Bad Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen. I felt especially thrilled when she finally restored everyone’s memories of their Enchanted Forest personas when she broke the curse cast by Regina. So . . . what happened? How did I come to this point where I find myself criticizing Emma so much? More importantly, why are so many fans intolerant of the idea of her being criticized in the first place?

I feel it began in Season Two, when Emma and her mother, Snow White, found themselves conveyed to a post-curse Enchanted Forest. They spent most of that season’s early episodes trying to find a way to return to Storybrooke, Maine with the help of two new acquaintances – Mulan and Princess Aurora aka Sleeping Beauty. When they finally stumbled across a means – namely a magical compass that could guide them to a portal, it just went sour. There was an incident between Snow White and Mulan in the episode, (2.08) “Into the Deep” in which the latter had stolen the compass in order to exchange it with Regina’s mother, the more evil Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts, for the kidnapped Aurora’s life. However, Snow and Emma managed to catch up with Mulan. And Snow started to murder Mulan. I had posted a complaint about what happened. How did many fans respond? They claimed that Snow was about to kill Mulan, while in the midst of a fight. In reality, the fight had ended with Snow the victor. After Mulan confessed that she wanted the compass to save Aurora, Snow started to kill her anyway by shoving an arrow toward her face. Emma . . . did nothing to stop her mother. Instead, she stood there and watched. It was Aurora (freed by Killian Jones aka Captain Hook) who actually saved Mulan. Every time . . . every time I bring this up, people sweep Emma and Snow’s actions under the rug by insulting Mulan or pretending that no such thing happened.

On several occasions since Season Two, I have brought up the subject of Emma’s possession of a stolen car . . . namely the yellow Volkswagen that she drives. The Season Two episode, (2.06) “Tallahassee” revealed that her former lover, Neal Cassidy aka Baefire, had originally stolen the yellow Volkswagen. Then Emma, who was in her late teens at the time, tried to steal the car from him, before he stopped her. Following her arrest for the theft of watches that he had stolen, Neal had changed the car’s registration in order to reflect Emma as the vehicle’s legal owner. And instead of doing the right thing and turning it in to the police, Emma took possession of a vehicle that she knows was stolen and kept it for over a decade. Even after she managed to become a successful bails bondsman. Whenever I brought up this matter, other fans would sweep Emma’s misdeed under the rug and use her sentimentality over her past relationship with Neal as an excuse for her maintaining possession of a stolen vehicle.

From the moment she had decided to remain in Storybrooke in the series’ premiere, Emma has been breaking the law regarding the close adoption she had agreed to when she gave up her birth son, Henry Mills. When Emma learned that Regina, who was Henry’s adopted mother, had used a file about her criminal background to divide her and Henry, she used a chainsaw to destroy one of Regina’s apple trees … on her personal property. When I first saw the Season One episode, (1.02) “The Thing You Love Most”, I cheered. What can I say? I was pretty stupid back then. After some thought, my feelings over the incident has changed. For reasons that now baffles me, the series’ creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz had allowed Emma to get away with this criminal act by having Sheriff Graham Humbert convince Regina not to press charges. I could not fucking believe it when I last saw this episode. Why was it so important that Emma avoid paying the price for trespassing and damage to private property? Come to think of it . . . why was just as it was important that she did not pay the price for possession of stolen property? Why was Snow White allowed to avoid any consequences for the attempt on Mulan’s life? Why was Emma allowed to avoid any consequences for being an accessory to her mother’s attempted murder? Why are the crimes of Regina, Rumpelstiltskin aka Mr. Gold and Killian constantly discussed and criticized by fans . . . and not those crimes and mistakes committed by Emma and/or her parents?

Speaking of Emma Swan and the law … why on earth is this woman the Sheriff of Storybrooke? Since when is experience as a bail bondsman qualifies someone for law enforcement? Mind you, none of the other characters – Graham or Sidney Glass – were not qualified. But neither was Emma. To make matters worse, she has developed a bad habit of abusing her position. At the end of the Season Two episode, (2.11) “The Outsider”, Killian shot Belle in an attempt to move her across the town’s limit and have her lose her memories. Why? He wanted revenge against Belle’s future husband, Rumpelstiltskin, for the loss of his hand and the murder of his former lover, Rumpelstiltskin’s wife Milah. For his actions, Killian got hit by a car. I had no problems with that. He deserved to pay the consequences of his act. In the following episode, (2.12) “In the Name of the Brother”, Emma questioned Killian for the whereabouts of his companion at the time, Cora Mills. When Killian responded with a snarky and flirtatious remark, Emma applied pressure to his wound, causing him pain. This little act was supposed to be a joke. All I can say is . . . what the fuck? Were Kitsis and Horowitz advocating police brutality? Apparently so, for in the Season Four episode, (4.04) “The Apprentice”, Emma had interrupted her date with Killian, to arrest Will Scarlet, after she spotted inside the restaurant where they were dining. She and her father, David aka Prince Charming had been looking for Will since they spotted him going through Robin Hood’s belongings and breaking into the town’s ice cream shop in the previous episode. And how did Emma treat him? She fed him a half-eaten Pop Tart and kept him jailed longer than necessary, because he had interrupted her date. This was the show runners’ idea of law enforcement? The audience was supposed to view such abuse of position as a joke? In the wake of national scandals regarding the abuse of law enforcers, I found it difficult to be amused.

The incident that “broke the camel’s back occurred in the Season Three finale, (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home”. In this episode, Emma and Killian accidentally got caught into a vortex that sent them back into time. During their little time traveling sojourn, Emma accidentally prevented Snow and David’s first meeting. So, she and Killian set out to clean up the mess created by her. In doing so, Emma ended up captured by Regina and tossed into a dungeon that included an imprisoned Maid Marian, wife to Robin Hood, whom Regina was dating in the present time Storybrooke. As everyone knows, when Killian sprung Emma from the dungeon, the latter decided to rescue Marian as well . . . despite the fact that the latter was killed years before Robin Hood ever met Regina. In other words, Emma changed the past. To make matters worse, she revealed Neal’s fate to his father, Rumpelstiltskin. In order to prevent the latter from being tempted to change the time and save Neal, Emma convinced him to drink a memory wiping potion.

Just think about that . . . shall we? Are we to assume that it was okay for Emma to play “savior” by saving a woman who had died in the past and changing the timeline in the process? Yet, it was not okay for Rumpelstiltskin to be tempted to change the time in order to save Neal? The hypocrisy of Emma’s actions still astounds me to this day. When I had posted an earlier article about this, I predicted that Regina would eventually forgive Emma within a few episodes of Season Four. And I was right. Emma felt remorse for ruining Regina’s romance with Robin. But she remained convinced that she had the right to change the timeline in order to save Marian. And within five episodes, Regina forgave Emma for her “mistake” in (4.05) “Breaking Glass”.

I felt disgusted beyond belief. More importantly, I felt angry. And when I posted my feelings about Emma’s actions, I ended up banned from a “ONCE UPON A TIME” Live Journal blog. I posted this article on Tumblr and received a good deal of personal insults for my troubles. When I complained about Emma’s actions and expressed hope that she would see the errors of her actions on the show’s Fanforum thread, I received a warning from the moderator that I was guilty of baiting. I am curious. If I continue to complain about Emma’s inability to see the wrong of her actions … especially her time changing stunt in ““There’s No Place Like Home”, will I ended up being banned from more message boards and sites?

When the idea of SwanQueen first appeared in late Season One/early Season Two of the series, I saw some merit in the idea, even if I could not care less whether Emma and Regina ended up with each other or other partners. Now . . . I would rather blind myself than watch the two of them become a couple. I have a problem with them being friendly, due to the show’s current inability to allow Emma to see the errors of her ways. Such a relationship now strikes me as uneven. As long as Regina continues to be judged for her past actions, while Emma gets a free ride or excuses for hers, I could never support such a relationship. Hell, I could barely give a rat’s ass about Emma’s relationship with Killian. I am not one of those who believe that their relationship supports“rape culture”, due to Killian’s past sexual innuendos to Emma. But I cannot support a relationship when the abusive actions of one them – namely Emma’s physical abuse of Killian in mid-Season Two and her treatment of the imprisoned Will Scarlet – are treated like jokes.

This is my plea to Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. Do something about Emma Swan. Please. I am sick and tired of you giving Emma an excuse for many of her questionable actions. If you are capable of allowing characters like Regina Mills, Rumpelstiltskin, Killian Jones and even Snow White (for the murder of Cora) facing their mistakes and crimes, why can you not do the same for Emma? Why allow her to break the law regarding her son’s adoption terms, destroy private property, possess a stolen vehicle, be an accessory to attempted murder, engage in police brutality and do something incredibly stupid like change the timeline . . . and NOT have her face the consequences of her actions? Because I am fast losing all respect for Emma. And I am getting sick and tired of being punished for criticizing her behavior.

“STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” RETROSPECT: (5.04) “Nor the Battle to the Strong”

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“STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” RETROSPECT: (5.04) “Nor the Battle to the Strong”

It has been a long time since I have watched an episode of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”. A long time. I have several DVD box sets for “STAR TREK VOYAGER” and the Syfi Channel now airs “STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION” episodes on a daily basis. So when I had decided to re-aquaint myself with the 1993-99 series, I chose the Season Five episode, (5.04) “Nor the Battle to the Strong”.

To understand the background for “Nor the Battle to the Strong”, I had to recall the series’ political background that sometimes came off as slightly chaotic. Between the series’ late Season Four and early-to-mid Season Five, the Federation had been embroiled in a war against the Klingon Empire. Captain Benjamin Sisko, his senior staff and the Federation learned that the Founders – the Changeling leaders of the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant – had planted another Changeling to impersonate the Klingons’ head of state, Gowron in the Season Five premire, (5.01) “Apocalypse Rising”. Despite this discovery, the Second Federation-Klingon War continued to rage. The war eventually ended, but not before the airing of “Nor the Battle to the Strong”.

In a nutshell, “Nor the Battle to the Strong” began with Dr. Julian Bashir and Jake Sisko traveling back to the Deep Space Nine space station after attending a medical conference. Jake had accompanied the Starfleet doctor to write a story about the latter, who had given a lecture. The pair receive a distress call a Federation colony on Ajilon Prime. Despite the recent cease fire after the events of “Apocalypse Rising”, the Klingons have resumed their war with the Federation. The Ajilon Prime colony is under attack by the Klingons has requested assistance. Bashir is reluctant to bring Jake along, but the latter convinces the doctor to respond to the distress call. Jake suspects that situation on Ajilon Prime might prove to be a better story than Bashir’s conference lecture.

Once the pair arrive at Ajilon Prime, Jake realizes that he has landed into a situation beyond his control and understanding. The colony endures repeated attacks by the Klingons, while Bashir and the base’s Federation personnel (medical or otherwise) deal not only with the warfare raging outside the field hospital. At first, Jake lends his assistance as an orderly. But the bloodshed, the cries of the wounded, the bombardment and the varied reactions of the Federation personnel prove too much for him. And in the end, he has to resort to desperate and non-heroic actions in order to survive.

“Nor the Battle to the Strong” has become one of the most highly regarded episodes of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” by fans and critics alike. And I can see why. Writers René Echevarria and Brice R. Parker, director Kim Friedman and production designer Herman F. Zimmerman did a top-notch job of creating a somewhat realistic vision of war in the STAR TREK universe. I noticed there seemed to be very little technobabble in this episode . . . for which I utterly am grateful. I suspect that the writers wanted to emphasize the grittier aspect of war and focus less on the science aspect. One example of the episode’s gritty style proved to be dialogue spoken by the medical and military personnel at the Federation base. For some reason, the dialogue reminded me of that found in war movies . . . especially those set during the Vietnam War. There were other aspects in “Nor the Battle to the Strong” that practically reeked “combat” – Jake’s encounters with a young Starfleet combatant who claimed that his foot had been shot by a Klingon disruptor, a badly wounded Starfleet soldier outside of the base, and a dead Klingon; and the Klingons’ final attack upon the base. What made episode’s gritty atmosphere really effective was the writers’ decision to make Jake Sisko the main character. Jake was an eighteen year-old with ambitions to be a writer and not follow in his father’s footsteps as a Starfleet officer. So it only seemed natural that his character would react to the conditions that he and Dr. Bashir had encountered at Ajilon Prime; which included reacting with horror to the violence and blood he had witnessed, running away to avoid further scenes and defending himself from attacking Klingon troops.

The episode also benefitted from first-rate performances. The supporting cast did a solid job in conveying Federation troops and medical personnel under siege. This was especially apparent in the performances of Andrew Kavovit as the orderly named Kirby, Karen Austin as Dr. Kalandra, and Danny Goldring, who strongly impressed me as the dying Starfleet soldier, Chief Burke. Alexander Siddig gave a nuanced performance as Dr. Julian Bashir, who became guilt-stricken for bringing Jake with him to the Ajilon Prime battlefront. But for me, the best performance came from Cirroc Lofton, who gave a superb performance as Jake Sisko. Lofton did a skillful job of conveying Jake’s emotional journey in this episode – from the cocky adolescent who wanted to prove his journalistic skills with an exciting story to the guilt-ridden young man, traumatized by his experiences in combat.

Although I was impressed by most of the cast, there was one performance that failed to impress me. It came from an actor named Jeb Brown, who portrayed the Starfleet ensign who claimed he had been wounded by the Klingon. Try as he may, Brown simply failed to convince me of a young man expressing guilt over and attempting to hide what may have been an act of cowardice. I simply found his performance a bit heavy-handed. In fact, it was Brown’s performance that led me to take a closer look at the episode. There was something about “Nor the Battle to the Strong” that prevented me from fully embracing it. I could not put my finger upon it, until I asked my sister. She believed that “they” hard tried too hard. By “they”, she meant the episode’s production staff. She thought they had tried to hard to convey the atmosphere of a gritty war drama. And I agree.

Starting with the wounded Starfleet ensign, it seemed as if the writers, Friedman and the producers tried to utilize every war drama cliché to create an effective combat episode. Even worse, there were plenty of moments when their efforts struck me as heavy-handed. If it were not for the setting, the props and the Federation/Starfleet costumes, and those scenes at Deep Space Nine and aboard the Defiant, I would have sworn I was watching a war movie, instead of TREK episode. Some might see this as a good sign – a TREK episode venturing beyond the usual franchise’s umbrella. I cannot agree with that opinion. I see no reason to do so in the first place. Why? Because the TREK franchise managed to produce plenty of dark and gritty episodes that were not only first-rate, but also managed to maintain its science-fiction style. The ironic thing is that two years later, the production staff for “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” made another attempt to present an episode about the grittiness of combat. Only (7.08) “The Siege of AR-558” was set during the Dominion War.

I have to admit that my original opinion of “Nor the Battle to the Strong” is not as positive as it used to be. It has its virtues – namely a solid narrative and some excellent performances by the cast – especially from Cirroc Lofton. But for me, the episode possesses a heavy-handedness that I found a little off-putting. After all, this is supposed to be “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”, not“PLATOON”.