“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga” – Jar-Jar Binks

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

 

 

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga”

Jar-Jar Binks

I have encountered many articles on the Internet about why many fans consider the “STAR WARS” Prequel movies a failure. A number of these articles tend to be dominated by opinions on what was wrong with the Gungan character known as Jar-Jar Binks and why he is so hated.

First of all, what was really wrong with Jar-Jar Binks? Well . . . I have several opinions. And they are not pretty. One, Jar-Jar clumsy and naive. Jar-Jar’s clumsiness had irked Boss Nass and the other Gungans for years. And when the young Gungan wrecked the Boss’ personal heyblibber submarine, the latter had him banished from Otoh Gunga, the city underneath Naboo’s waters. In “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”, Jar-Jar’s meeting with Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and Jedi padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, the adventures he shared with them and his participation in the Battle of Naboo, allowed Jar-Jar to resume his position within Gungan society.

Many fans still solely blame Jar-Jar for Chancellor Sheev Palpatine’s growing political power, when he, as the Junior Representative for Naboo in the Galactic Senate, had proposed that the Sith Lord receive emergency executive powers during the political crisis leading up to the Clone Wars in “STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. But other Star Wars characters had committed their own share of mistakes – including those Original Trilogy characters worshiped by the franchise’s fans. Naboo’s Queen Padmé Amidala (later Senator) had declared a no-confidence vote against Chancellor Finis Valorum in “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”, unintentionally paving the way for Palpatine’s election as the Galactic Republic’s chancellor. The Original Trilogy leads had committed their own mistakes – especially in “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. Padmé was never crucified by the fans for her mistake in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. As far as many are concerned, her only mistake was marrying then Jedi padawan Anakin Skywalker (the future Darth Vader) in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. Many fans have been willing to criticize Padmé, Anakin and many other Prequel Trilogy characters. But I do not ever recall any of them being crucified for their flaws and mistakes like Jar-Jar. I could almost say the same about the Original Trilogy leads. However, very few STAR WARS have been willing to even acknowledge their mistakes.

So, why had so many fans had dumped so much hatred upon Jar-Jar’s head? Why do they still crucify him in such an excessive manner? Many claimed that due to Jar-Jar’s naivety and clumsiness and especially his dialect that seemed to resemble a Caribbean patois, Jar-Jar was a racist fictional trope. The ironic thing is that actor Ahmed Best, who is African-American, was responsible for the creation of the Gungan dialect, not George Lucas. Best, who had initially been hired to provide Jar-Jar’s motion capture performance, was the one who had created Jar-Jar’s speech pattern. He was also the one who had convinced Lucas to allow him to also provide the character’s voice. Because of this, I have a great difficulty in agreeing with those criticisms that Jar-Jar was a racist trope. Unless this accusation stemmed from the fact that an African-American actor had provided the character’s voice. For me, that says a lot about many moviegoers and film critics and not the character or Lucas.

Had Jar-Jar’s lack of social graces created so much hatred from certain fans?After all, he was clumsy and naive. Considering that the franchise’s biggest fans tend to be “geeks”, did many of these fans (who tend to be the loudest on the Internet) view Jar-Jar of their own personal flaws? Or lack of social graces? Was that another reason why they hated him so much? He reminded them too much of themselves? I can understand why many of these fans would rather associate themselves with characters that are regarded as “cool” or “ideal”, instead of a character who may have possibly been a reflection of themselves.

There is also the consideration that Jar-Jar was a part of the Prequel Trilogy. And in the eyes of the Darth Media and rabid fanboys, anything or any character that originated with the Prequel Trilogy was bad. It is still bad, as far as they are concerned. Why? Even more so than the Original Trilogy or the Sequel Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy seemed to come closer to being a TRUE reflection of mankind and its societies’ ambiguous nature. For me, watching a Prequel Trilogy movie seemed to be the equivalent of a human being looking into a mirror and seeing his or her true self. And for some reason, this seemed to bother many fans. Most of their complaints about the Prequel Trilogy seemed to stem from this ambiguity. The only STAR WARS movies that seemed to have come close to the Prequel movies’s ambiguity are “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY”. These films did not allow moviegoers allowed their characters to make some ambiguous decisions without being painted as “heroic” or “cool”. Nor did these movies have their characters triumph in the end.

In a way, both Jar-Jar Binks and the STAR WARS Prequel Trilogy seemed like a true reflection of humanity. Jar-Jar’s clumsiness and naivety could easily be a reflection of the same level of social graces as many of the franchise’s fans. And the Prequel Trilogy definitely struck me as a reflection of our societies throughout history. As I finish this article, I find myself wondering if this is more of a exploration of the STAR WARS fandom’s ambiguity than of Jar-Jar’s character. Because I find these fans’ hatred of Jar-Jar rather disturbing . . . and odd.

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“DRAGONWYCK” (1946) Review




“DRAGONWYCK” (1946) Review

Being an aficionado of old Hollywood period dramas, I noticed that it was rare to find movies set in the antebellum North. Very rare. I have tried to think of how many of these films I have come across. And to be honest, I can only think of four or five so far, in compare to the numerous films set in the antebellum South. One of those Northern antebellum tales proved to be the 1946 movie, “DRAGONWYCK”

Based upon Anya Seton’s 1944 novel, adapted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and directed by him; “DRAGONWYCK” began in 1844 Greenwich, Connecticut; when Miranda Wells, the daughter of a religious farm couple, receives a letter from distant cousin Nicholas Van Ryn. Nicholas, the autocratic and charming owner (Patroon) of a Hudson River Valley estate called Dragonwyck, asks if one of Ephraim and Abigail’s daughters could act as governess for his eight year-old daughter, Katrine. Miranda, who daydreams about a more romantic and luxurious lifestyle, manages to convince her doubting parents to let her go.

Upon her arrival at Dragonwyck, Miranda meets the young Katrine and Nicholas’ wife, a gluttonous, yet slightly high-strong woman named Johanna. She also meets the handsome local doctor, Dr. Jeff Turner, at the “kermess” – a ceremony where landowner Nicholas receives the rents of his tenants. Not only does Miranda become aware of the strange atmosphere at Dragonwyck and the tense relationship between Nicholas and his tenants; she also finds herself falling in love with her cousin and employer . . . and he with her. This budding relationship between the pair proves to be quite disastrous for all concerned.

After my second viewing of “DRAGONWYCK”, I realized that I could never regard it as a personal favorite. The writing for some of the film’s supporting characters struck me as theatrical and one-dimensional. Unfortunately, I have to include the Ephraim Wells character, who came off as a clichéd version of the 19th century religious American male and Peggy, the young maid loyal to Miranda. During the film’s third act, the narrative revealed that Nicholas Van Ryn’s lack of religious belief. Was this supposed to cap his position as an immoral and villainous man? Because honestly . . . I realized that I could not care less about his lack of belief. And I found it ridiculous that his status as a non-believer was supposed to be a sign of his villainy. I understand. Perhaps the majority of moviegoers felt differently in 1946. Needless to say, this aspect of Nicholas’ character did not age well over the past 72 to 73 years. I was not that impressed by the film’s finale in which Nicholas had a showdown with his discontented tenants. Although it featured an excellent performance by Vincent Price, I found the actual sequence a bit anti-climatic. I noticed that the film’s ending was different from the one written by Anya Seton. However, I found Seton’s ending in the novel more dramatic, but somewhat ludicrous. I could see why Mankiewicz had changed the ending.

Although I could never regard “DRAGONWYCK” as a personal favorite of mine, I must admit that I found it to be a rather first-rate film. The movie – the story itself – struck me as a prime example of American Gothic literature. In fact, I would go as far to claim that the narrative almost reminds me of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”, but with a darker twist. Unlike Brontë’s tale, “DRAGONWYCK” included the specter of murder and class conflict. The latter included the historical conflict known as the Anti-Rent War, in which tenants in upstate New York revolted and declared their independence from the manor system operated by patroons, by resisting tax collectors and successfully demanding land reform between 1839 and 1845.

One would think that the Miranda Wells character would be the narrative’s center or force. A part of me feels sad that I cannot make that claim. For the most interesting aspect of “DRAGONWYCK” proved to be the Nicholas Van Ryn character. Was he supposed to be a mere villain? If a person viewed him from how he had ended his marriage to the voracious Johanna, he or she could regard him as such. On the other hand, I found it difficult to regard his refusal to embrace his wife’s new-founded religious fervor as monstrous. Which meant that in the end, Nicholas became something of a repellent, yet fascinating character to me. A true force of nature. I wish I could have said the same about Miranda. I found her charming and extroverted, but after her marriage to Nicholas turned sour, she became something of an annoyance. Being the offspring of religious parents, I was not surprised that she eventually turned to religion. But I found it annoying that religious fervor was the only literary device used to develop her character and nothing else. Nicholas, on the other hand, proved to be a lot more complex.

A part of me wishes that “DRAGONWYCK” had been filmed in Technicolor. It would have been interesting to view Twentieth Century-Fox’s version of antebellum New York State in color. Especially the Hudson River Valley. I am not begrudging Arthur C. Miller’s cinematography. His work for the film’s interior shots, especially those for the Dragonwyck manor had provided a great deal of atmosphere, adding to the film’s Gothic narrative. But I was not that impressed by the exterior shots. I must admit that I have no memories of the film’s score by Alfred Newman. I thought Lyle R. Wheeler and J. Russell Spencer’s art direction, along with Thomas Little’s set decorations were excellent . . . especially for the Dragonwyck manor and New York City hotel’s interiors. However, I truly enjoyed René Hubert’s beautiful costume designs for the movie. Were they accurate examples of mid-1840s fashion? I have my doubts. But as the images below reveal, they were gorgeous:

 

I might as well focus on the movie’s actual performances. Were there any bad performances? No. “DRAGONWYCK” can honestly boast some solid or excellent performances. The supporting cast featured some solid performances from the likes of Harry Morgan as one of Nicholas’ angry tenants, Connie Marshall as Nicholas’ daughter Katrine, and Trudy Marshall as neighbor Elizabeth Van Borden. Future Oscar winner Jessica Tandy’s portrayal of Miranda’s Irish-born maid Peggy O’Malley struck me as a bit theatrical. I could also say the same about another future Oscar winner Walter Huston, who portrayed Miranda’s religious father Ephraim Wells. Anne Revere’s portrayal of Miranda’s mother Abigail Wells seemed a lot more subtle . . . and skillful. Spring Byington portrayed the Van Ryns’ manipulative and slightly creepy maid Magda. A part of me wondered if it was Mankiewicz or Seton’s intention to create a more benign version of the Mrs. Danvers character from “REBECCA”. Vivienne Osborne, on the other hand, gave a very skillful performance as Nicholas’ first wife, the gluttonous and insecure Johanna Van Ryn. I did not know whether to share Nicholas’ disgust for her or feel any sympathy toward her for being married to a creep.

I was prepared to dismiss Glenn Langan’s performance as the handsome local physician, Dr. Jeff Turner, who befriends Miranda. I had assumed that he would be another one of those bland leading men that the Hollywood system tried to transform into a movie star. After my recent viewing of “DRAGONWYCK”, I realized that Langan gave an interesting performance by skillfully conveying Jeff’s barely concealed anger toward Nicholas’ arrogance. However, my vote for the best performance would go to Vincent Price’s portrayal of Nicholas Van Ryn. I thought he gave a brilliant and dynamic performance as the arrogant, yet charismatic Nicholas, whose villainy proved to be rather enigmatic. Gene Tierney did an excellent job in carrying the film as the lead Miranda Wells. I was very impressed by her portrayal of the more ebullient and naive Miranda during the first two-thirds of the film. But once Miranda’s marriage to Nicholas began to fail, Tierney’s portrayal of the character fell flat. I do not blame her. I blame the manner in which the character had become one-dimensional, thanks to Anya Seton’s novel and Joseph Mankiewicz’s screenplay.

Overall, I rather enjoyed “DRAGONWYCK”. It was not perfect. No film is. But I was a little put off by some theatrical acting in the film, the decline of the Miranda Wells character and the writing overall during the movie’s final fifteen to twenty minutes. But I must admit I enjoyed most of the film’s narrative. Many would dismiss it as costume melodrama. Personally, I see no reason to dismiss melodrama. It can be appreciated, if written well like other forms of fiction. Thanks to Joseph Mankiewicz’s screenplay and direction, along with a competent cast led by Gene Tierney and Vincent Price; “DRAGONWYCK” proved to be more entertaining than I had previously surmised.

Top Favorite U.S. CIVIL WAR Novels

Below is a current list of my top favorite novels set during the U.S. Civil War: 

TOP FAVORITE U.S. CIVIL WAR NOVELS

1. “Love and War” (1984) by John Jakes – This is the second of a trilogy about two wealthy American families – the Hazards of Pennsylvania and the Mains of South Carolina – during the mid-19th century. This superb novel is about the two families’ experiences during the U.S. Civil War.

2. “The Beguiled” (1966) by Thomas Cullinan – A wounded Union soldier ends up in the care of the occupants of an all girls’ school in Virginia, during the Civil War; and ends up having an emotional impact on both students and teachers.

3. “The Killer Angels” (1974) by Michael Shaara – This historical novel about the Gettysburg Campaign during the summer of 1863 won the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction in 1975.

4. “The Titans” (1976) by John Jakes – This fifth novel in Jakes’ “Kent Family Chronicles” told the story of various members of the Kent family and their experiences during the first few months of the U.S. Civil War.

5. “Lincoln: A Novel” (1984) by Gore Vidal – Part of Vidal’s “Narratives of Empire” series, this novel told the story of President Abraham Lincoln’s presidency via the eyes of various historical figures.

6. “Freedom” (1987) by William Safire – This novel focused on the first two years of the U.S. Civil War via the eyes of historical figures as they grapple with the dilemmas of political morality raised by secession and war.

7. “Cold Mountain” (1997) by Charles Frazier – The author won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction for this tale about a Confederate Army deserter during the last year of the Civil War who walks for months to return to the love of his life in North Carolina.

8. “Unto This Hour” (1984) by Tom Wicker – This novel recounted five long during the Second Battle of Bull Run campaign via several characters.

9. “The Last Full Measure” (2000) by Jeff Shaara – The author wrote this sequel to his father’s novel, “The Killer Angels”, about the last two years of the Civil War.

10. “Grant’s War” (1992) by Ted Jones – This novel proved to be an interesting take on the “mock documentary” in which an early 20th historian interviews several Civil War veterans on how General Ulysses Grant conducted the war.

“PROMETHEUS” (2012) Review

 

“PROMETHEUS” (2012) Review

When I first saw the trailer for director Ridley Scott’s 2012 science-fiction thriller, “PROMETHEUS”, I had no desire to see it. For me, it looked like another “alien in the spaceship” thriller that I have ignored for years. But after some persistent urging from a relative of mine, I finally saw it in the theaters. 

According to Greek mythology, Prometheus is a Titan and cultural hero who is believed to be responsible for the creation of man from clay. He also is also responsible for the theft of fire for human use, which enabled the latter to enjoy progress and civilization. Zeus punished Prometheus for the theft by sentencing the Tital to eternal torment. Zeus bounded Prometheus to rock, transformed to an eagle each day to feed on Prometheus’ liver. The latter would grow back and the eagle would feed on it again . . . day after day after day. What does this have to do with the movie, “PROMETHEUS”? Honestly, I do not know. I am not of the intellectual variety. Then again, I hear that Prometheus’ story is supposed to be a metaphor for human striving and quest for scientific knowledge, at the risk of unintended consequences. Hmmm. Now I understand why the filmmakers used this name.

Set in the late 21st century, “PROMETHEUS” is about the crew of the starship Prometheus that follows a star map discovered among the remnants of several ancient Earth cultures. Led to a distant world and an advanced civilization, the crew seeks the origins of humanity, but instead discovers a threat that could cause the extinction of the human race. Although some members of the cast claim otherwise, it has been confirmed that “PROMETHEUS” was developed as far back as the early 2000s as a fifth entry in the ALIEN franchise, with both Scott and director James Cameron developing ideas for a film that would serve as a prequel to Scott’s 1979 science fiction horror film, “ALIEN”. The project remained dormant until 2009, when Scott again became interested. A script by Jon Spaihts served as a prequel to the events of the ALIEN movies. However, Scott chose a different direction for the movie, in order to avoid repeating the storylines of the past films. He recruited “LOST” producer/writer Damon Lindelof to co-write a new script with Spaihts. They created a story in which Scott claimed is not directly connected to the ALIEN franchise.

The movie began with a humanoid alien drinks a dark bubbling liquid, and then starts to disintegrate. As its bodily remains cascade into a waterfall, the alien’s DNA triggers a biogenetic reaction. The story jumps to the year 2089, when archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover a star map among several unconnected ancient cultures. The pair believes the maps are invitations from humanity’s creators or “Engineers”. Peter Weyland, the aging CEO of Weyland Corporation, funds the scientific vessel Prometheus to follow the map. The ship’s crew travels in stasis while the android David monitors their voyage, until they arrive at Moon LV-223. Mission director Meredith Vickers orders them to avoid making contact with any of the “Engineers” without her permission. The Prometheus lands near a large artificial structure, which a team explores. The expedition team manages to find an alien corpse and believe it to be an “Engineer”. Their expedition takes an ugly turn they discover that the “Engineers” and other life forms on the moon prove to be a lot more dangerous than they had imagined.

After my family and I watched the last reel of “PROMETHEUS”, the relative who had convinced me to see the movie leaned over and offered her apologies. She even offered to reimburse me for my movie ticket. Why? Because I discovered that my original reluctance to see the movie had been justified. I disliked “PROMETHEUS”. Wholeheartedly. It turned out to be the kind of the movie that I usually dislike. Not only did it turned out to be the typical science-fiction horror film that usually turned me off, I found the movie’s intellectual aspects of the plot pretentious and incomplete. Were there any aspects of “PROMETHEUS” that I liked? Well . . . the entire cast gave solid performances, aside from some questionable accents from at least two of the cast members. I cannot deny that Dariusz Wolski’s photography was breathtaking. Or that Pietro Scalia’s editing was first rate. And Ridley Scott did a great job in maintaining a steady pace for the movie, despite its 124 minutes running time. Other than that . . . there was nothing else about this film that impressed me.

I have few questions. Why did Elizabeth Shaw assume that the aliens who had created the star maps, were creators of mankind? How did she come to this conclusion? Because she had “faith”? Who was she supposed to be? A second-rate John Locke? Or a metaphor of the Titan Prometheus? And how did she come to the conclusion near the end of the movie that the “Engineers” were out to destroy mankind, after . . . uh, creating them? And what is it about this crew that they make such stupid mistakes that end up endangering them? A good example would be the geologist Fifield and the biologist Milburn, who lacked the good sense to run for their lives after spotting the snake-like alien. And could someone please explain how Shaw managed to walk and run around both Prometheus and the moon so soon after giving herself a brutal abortion to rid herself of her alien spawn? I have one last question. Why on earth would Elizabeth (the crew’s lone survivor) even bother traveling to the aliens’ homeworld at the end of the movie, now that she believes they are out to destroy humankind? Was it so important to her to learn about the aliens’ motives that she was willing to risk her life in such a stupid manner?

Moviegoers raved over Michael Fassbender’s performance as the android David. I was too busy feeling confused about the character to consider any accolades for the actor. Exactly how are we supposed to regard David? As another Data from “STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION”? Or as one of the replicants from another Scott film, 1982’s “BLADE RUNNER”? At first, David seemed to be in thrall over human culture, Elizabeth Shaw and the moon in general. Yet, a reason that is never fully explained, he decided to spike Charlie Holloway’s (Elizabeth’s love interest and fellow archeologist) drink with a dark liquid he had found from one of the moon’s stone cylinders. Why did he do that? Again, the movie failed to explain. Some critics were also in thrall over Idris Elba’s performance as Prometheus’ chief pilot, Janek. I was too busy wincing at his attempt to re-create some kind of African-American accent. He had managed to do this successfully in the 2010 movie, “THE LOSERS”. What in the hell happened? As for Rafe Spall’s Southern accent . . . frankly my dear, it sucked.

I wish I could say that I liked “PROMETHEUS”. But if I did, I would be lying. I did not like it one bit. The movie tried to be some kind of profound tale that would leave many moviegoers asking questions. And in a way it did. But my questions about the movie only reinforced my disenchantment with it. What is really sad about “PROMETHEUS” is that it is the first Ridley Scott movie that has disappointed me since the 2001 movie, “BLACK HAWK DOWN”. Pity.

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “THE CROWN” Season Two (2017)

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Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of the Netflix series, “THE CROWN”. Created by Peter Morgan, the series starred Claire Foy and Matt Smith as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:

 

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE CROWN” SEASON TWO (2017)

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1. (2.05) “Marionettes” – After Queen Elizabeth II makes a tone-deaf speech at a Jaguar factory, she and the British monarchy come under public attack by an outspoken liberal peer named Lord Altrincham.

 

 

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2. (2.03) “Lisbon” – Palace insiders try to prevent the scandalous divorce of the Duke of Edinburgh’s aide, Lieutenant-Commander Mike Parker, that could reflect poorly on the former and the monarchy. Prime Minister Anthony Eden faces censure from his cabinet and the press over the Suez Crisis.

 

 

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3. (2.09) “Paterfamilias” – Prince Philip insists that Prince Charles attend Gordonstoun, his alma mater in Scotland. Also, he reminisces about the life-changing difficulties he experienced there as a student.

 

 

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4. (2.07) “Matrimonium” – A heartbreaking letter from former lover Peter Townsend spurs Princess Margaret to make a bold proposal to her current lover, photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. The Queen has good news that causes complications for Margaret.

 

 

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5. (2.02) “A Company of Men” – Elizabeth feels disconnected from Philip during his five-month royal tour in the South Pacific. Meanwhile, Eden copes with ill health and international pressure to withdraw British troops from Egypt during the Suez Crisis.

 

 

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“JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” (1989) Review

“JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” (1989) Review

One of the most popular romance novelists to emerge during the 1970s and 1980s was Judith Krantz, whose series of novels seemed to be part romance/part family saga. At least six (or seven) of her novels were adapted as television miniseries. One of them was the 1988 novel, “Till We Meet Again”, which became the 1989 CBS miniseries, “JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN”

Set between 1913 and 1952, the early 1950s, “JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” (aka “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”) focused on the lives of Eve, the daughter of a French provincial middle-class doctor and her two daughters, Delphine and Marie-Frederique ‘Freddy’ de Lancel. The story began in 1913 when Eve met a traveling music hall performer named Alain Marais. When she learned that her parents planned to agree to an arranged marriage for her, Eve joined Alain on a train to Paris and the pair became lovers and roommates. Within a year, Alain became seriously ill and Eve was forced to find work to maintain their finances. With the help of a neighbor and new friend, Vivianne de Biron, Eve became a music hall performer herself and Paris’ newest sensation. Out of jealousy, anger and embarrassment, Alain ended their romance.

During World War I, Eve met Paul de Lancel, the heir to an upper-class family that produces champagne who had been recently widowed by a suicidal wife. Following Eve’s marriage to Paul, the couple conceived Delphine and Freddy and Paul became a diplomat. The latter also became estranged from his son Bruno, who was eventually raised by his maternal aristocratic grandparents, who blamed Paul for their daughter’s suicide. By 1930, Eve and Paul found themselves in Los Angeles, where he served as that city’s French consul. And over the next two decades, the de Lancel family dealt with new careers, love, the rise of fascism, the movie industries, World War II, post-war economics, romantic betrayals and Bruno’s villainous and malicious antics.

“JUDITH KRANZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” is not what I would call a television masterpiece. Or even among the best television productions I have ever seen. Considering its source, a period piece romance novel – something most literary critics would dismiss as melodramatic trash – it is not surprising that I would regard the 1989 this way. Then again, the 1972 Academy Award Best Picture winner, “THE GODFATHER”, was based on what many (including myself) believe was pulp fiction trash. However, “TILL WE MEET AGAIN” did not have Francis Ford Coppola to transform trash into Hollywood gold. I am not dismissing the 1989 miniseries as trash. But I would never regard it as a fine work of art.

And I did have a few problems with the production. I found the pacing, thanks to director Charles Jarrott, along with screenwriters Andrew Peter Marin and (yes) Judith Krantz; rather uneven. I think the use of montages could have helped because there were times when the miniseries rushed through some of its sequences . . . to the point that I found myself wondering what had earlier occurred in the story. This seemed to be the case with Eve’s backstory. Her rise from the daughter of a provincial doctor to Parisian music hall sensation to a diplomat’s wife struck as a bit too fast. It seemed as if Jarrott, Marin and Krantz were in a hurry to commence on Freddy and Delphine’s story arcs. Another problem I had was the heavy emphasis on Freddy’s post war story arc. Both Delphine and Eve were nearly pushed to the background, following the end of World War II. It is fortunate that the miniseries’ focus on the post-war years played out in its last 20 to 30 minutes.

I also had a problem with how Marin and Krantz ended Delphine’s relationship with her older half-brother Bruno. In the novel, Delphine ended her friendship with Bruno after his attempt to pimp her out to some German Army official during the Nazi’s occupation of France. This also happened in the miniseries, but Marin and Krantz took it too far by taking a page from Krantz’s 1980 novel, “Princess Daisy” . . . by having Bruno rape Delphine after her refusal to sleep with the German officer. I found this unnecessary, considering that the two screenwriters never really followed up on the consequences of the rape. If this was an attempt to portray Bruno a monster, it was unnecessary. His collaboration of the Nazis, his attempt to pimp out Delphine, his sale of the de Lancels’ precious stock of champagne and his participation in the murders of three locals who knew about the sale struck me as enough to regard him as a monster.

My remaining problems with “TILL WE MEET AGAIN” proved to minor. Many of Krantz’s novels tend to begin as period dramas and end in the present time. I cannot say the same about her 1988 novel. The entire story is set entirely in the past – a forty-year period between pre-World War I and the early 1950s. Yet, I managed to spot several anachronisms in the production. Minor ones, perhaps, but anachronisms nevertheless. One of the most obvious anachronisms proved to be the hairstyles for many of the female characters – especially the de Lancel sisters, Delphine and Freddy. This anachronism was especially apparent in the hairstyles they wore in the 1930s sequences – long and straight. Most young girls and women wore soft shoulder bobs that were slightly above the shoulders during that decade. Speaking of anachronism, the actor who portrayed Armand Sadowski, a Polish-born director in the French film industry, wore a mullet. A 1980s-style mullet during those same 1930s sequences. Sigh! The make-up worn by many of the female characters struck me as oddly modern. Another anachronistic popped up in the production’s music. I am not claiming that late 1980s songs were featured in the miniseries. The songs selected were appropriate to the period. However, I noticed that those songs were performed and arranged in a more modern style. It was like watching television characters performing old songs at a retro music show. It simply felt . . . no, it sound wrong to me.

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”. In fact, I believe that its virtues were strong enough to overshadow its flaws. One, Judith Krantz had created a first-rate family saga . . . one that both she and screenwriter Andrew Peter Marin did justice to in this adaptation. Two, this is the only Krantz family saga that I can remember that is set completely in the past. Most of her family sagas start in the past and spend at least two-thirds of the narrative in the present. Not “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”. More importantly, this family saga is more or less told through the eyes of three women. I have noticed how rare it is for family sagas in which the narratives are dominated by women, unless it only featured one woman as the main protagonist. And neither Eve, Delphine or Freddy are portrayed as instantaneous ideal women. Yes, they are beautiful and talented in different ways. But all three women were forced to grow or develop in the story.

Being the oldest and the mother of the other two, Eve was forced to grow up during the first third of the saga. However, she spent a great deal of emotional angst over her daughters’ lives and the fear that her past as a music hall entertainer may have had a negative impact on her husband’s diplomatic career. Eve and Freddy had to deal with a disappointing love (or two) before finding the right man in their lives. Delphine managed to find the right man at a young age after becoming an actress with the film industry in France. But World War II, and the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic policies managed to endanger and interrupt her romance. Freddy’s love life involved a bittersweet romance with an older man – the very man who taught her to become a pilot; a quick romance and failed marriage to a British aristocrat; and the latter’s closest friend, an American pilot who had harbored years of unrequited love for Freddy until she finally managed to to notice him.

Despite the saga being dominated by Eve, Delphine and Freddy; the two male members of the de Lancel family also had strong roles in this saga. I thought both Krantz and Marin did an excellent job in their portrayal of the complex relationship between Paul de Lancel and his only son and oldest child, Bruno de Lancel, who also happened to be Delphine and Freddy’s half-brother. I also found it interesting how Bruno’s unforgiving maternal grand-parents’ over-privileged upbringing of him and their snobbish regard for Eve had tainted and in the end, torn apart the relationship between father and son. Mind you, Bruno’s own ugly personality did not help. But he was, after all, a creation of the Marquis and Marquise de Saint-Fraycourt. Ironically, Paul also had his troubles with both Delphine and Freddy – especially during their late adolescence. Between Delphine’s forays into Hollywood’s nighttime society behind her parents’ backs and Freddy’s decision to skip college and become a stunt pilot, Paul’s relationships with his daughters endured troubled waters. And I thought the screenwriters did an excellent job in conveying the diplomat’s complex relationships with both of them.

And despite my low opinion of the hairstyles featured in “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”, I cannot deny that the production values featured in the miniseries struck me as quite impressive. Roger Hall did an excellent job in his production designs that more or less re-created various locations on two continents between the years of 1913 and 1952. His work was ably supported by Rhiley Fuller and Mike Long’s art direction, Donald Elmblad and Peter Walpole’s set decorations, and Alan Hume’s cinematography, which did such an exceptional job of capturing the beauty and color of its various locations. However, I must admit that I really enjoyed Jerry R. Allen and Robin Fraser-Paye’s costume designs. I thought they did an excellent job of recapturing the fashions of the early-to-mid 20th century.

If I must be honest, I cannot think of any performance that blew my mind. I am not claiming that the acting featured in “TILL WE MEET AGAIN” were terrible, let alone mediocre. Frankly, I believe that all of the major actors and actresses did a great job. Courtney Cox gave a very energetic performance as the ambitious and aggressive Freddy de Lancel. Bruce Boxleitner also gave an energetic performance as Jock Hampton, the best friend of Freddy’s husband . . . but with a touch of pathos, as he conveyed his character’s decade long unrequited love for the red-headed Mademoiselle de Lancel. Mia Sara gave a spot-on portrayal of Delphine de Lancel from an ambitious, yet insecure adolescent to a sophisticated and more mature woman. And again, I can the same about Lucy Gutteridge’s portrayal of Eve de Lancel, who developed the character from an impulsive adolescent to a mature woman who proved to be her family’s backbone. Hugh Grant was sufficiently sophisticated and hissable as the villainous Bruno de Lancel without turning his performance into a cliche. Charles Shaughnessy skillfully managed to convey to portray the worthy man behind director Armand Sadowski’s womanizing charm. John Vickery gave a interested and complex portrayal of Freddy’s British aristocrat husband, Anthony “Tony” Longbridge. And Maxwell Caufield was excellent as the charming, yet ego-driven singer Alain Marais. I believe one of the best performances came from Michael York, who was excellent as the emotionally besieged Paul de Lancel, struggling to deal with a stalled diplomatic career, two strong-willed daughters and a treacherous son. I believe the other best performance came from Barry Bostwick, who was excellent as Freddy’s first love Terrence ‘Mac’ McGuire. I thought he did a great job of portraying a man torn between his love for Freddy and his guilt over being in love with someone who was young enough to be his daughter.

Look, I realize that “JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” is basically a glorified period piece melodrama disguised as a family saga. I realize that. And I realize that it is not perfect. Nor would I regard it as an example of the best American television can offer. But at its heart, I thought it was basically a well written family saga that centered around three remarkable women. Thanks to Judith Krantz and Andrew Peter Marin’s screenplay; Charles Jarrott’s direction and a first-rate cast, the 1989 miniseries proved to be first-rate piece of television drama.

 

“STAR TREK DISCOVERY” Commentary: (2.01) “Brother”

“STAR TREK DISCOVERY” COMMENTARY: (2.01) “Brother”

I just recently viewed the Season Two premiere of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”(2.01) “Brother” on CBS All Access. On one hand, the episode struck me as a solid entry for a Trek show that set up the second season’s story arc and introduction of new characters. This is nothing knew. I have witnessed similar set ups for shows like “BABYLON 5” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. But what I did not count on were some differences and characters that would leave me scratching my head. 

I do not think I have ever encountered a Trek show that has generated so much conflict and controversy as “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”. I take that back. There has been one other series that has generated controversy close to the same level as “DISCOVERY” . . . namely “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. This does not strike me as surprising, since both shows featured leading characters who are women. “DISCOVERY” took it to another level in which its leading character, Commander (formerly Specialist) Michael Burnham, is not only portrayed by an African-American actress, but is not the starship/space station’s commanding officer.

I noticed that a great deal of what struck me as vague and nitpicking complaints had been inflicted upon “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” during and after its first season. One of those complaints proved to be certain characters, including Michael Burnham, lacked full development by the end of Season One. I found myself scratching my head over this complaint. I mean . . . what on earth? I have never heard of a fictional character in a television show that is fully developed by the end of its first season, let alone before the end of its run. Never. And “DISCOVERY” had only finished its first season. Why on earth were so many of the franchise’s fans either criticizing that most of its characters are not fully developed or demanding that they should be after one season? This is not miniseries or television show. If “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” is allowed to complete its full run and the characters are still “not fully developed”, then I believe they would have something to complain about.

Another complaint that left me scratching my head was the lack of humor during its first season. In fact, this particular complaint has led many to compare “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” with another science-fiction series that had begun around the same time – “THE ORVILLE”. The Trek franchise has never been a franchise that was dominated by humor. And I do recall a good deal of humor in Season One of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”, especially in episodes like (1.07) “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” or in scenes featuring Mary Wiseman as Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Aside from those scenes featuring Wiseman and even Rainn Wilson (as con man Harry Mudd), most of the humor featured in Season One tend to be more subtle.

I am relieved to notice that in regard to character development, the show runners for “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” did not rush to portray Michael Burnham or any of the other characters fully developed. The Season Two premiere, “Brother”, hinted that the show planned to explore Burnham’s past experiences as a member of Ambassador Sarek’s household and especially, her relationship with adoptive brother Spock. Judging from the Season Two previews I have seen, Burnham’s relationship with Ash Tyler/Voq will also be touched upon. So, if Season Two does not feature the full character development of the series’ leading lady and the other supporting characters, I will not be disappointed. If anything, I might feel a sense of relief. The last thing I want is for the series to engage in rushed storytelling.

But one aspect of the Season Two premiere that left me scratching my head was the level of humor featured in the episode. It almost struck me as out of place. Now, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” featured some rather heavy humor. I found nothing wrong with this. Many of the Trek series have aired the occasional humorous episode. The problem with the humor in “Brother” is that there was nothing about the plot or the characters that should have marked it as a humor-filled episode. Many of the familiar characters – including Burnham – were either spouting lines or reacting to situations that made me wonder if screenwriters Ted Sullivan, Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts may have went a bit too far.

“Brother” also featured the introduction of Commander Denise “Jett” Reno, Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Hiawatha, who had been rescued by a landing party from the Discovery after spending ten months caring for wounded crew members on an asteroid, during the Federation-Klingon War. Reno, portrayed by actress-comedian Tig Notaro, managed to spout more jokes in a space of five minutes than any other actor or actress who had appeared in a Trek series or movie. I think Notaro might proved to be a rival for Wiseman on who can be the funniest member of the cast. In the end, the humor in “Brother” struck me as a bit over-the-top, especially for an episode that is not obviously a humorous one like “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”.

So what were the screenwriters thinking? Did they change the tonal style of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” to appease those fans who had complained that the series was “too serious” or “too angsty”? If so, they have made a mistake. I found this tonal shift for Season Two rather forced and mind boggling. I do not see the necessity of changing the series’ tonal style. I want to watch “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”, not some borderline copycat of “THE ORVILLE”. Not even the other Trek series from the past had such a drastic tonal shift. After all, the edgier style of Season One did not prevent “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” from being a hit or creating an entire new stable of fans. Had the show runners forgotten this? Or were they too busy paying attention to the narrow-minded fans who wanted the series to simply re-create the past?

I noticed that the introduction of Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike of the U.S.S. Enterprise had also contributed to this tonal shift. Mount’s Pike came off as slightly humorous and yet, somewhat bland. To me, Pike seemed like the epitome of the white male leading man that so many science-fiction/fantasy geeks seemed to long – especially in the past three to four years. The problem I have with this is that as an old fan of the AMC series, “HELL ON WHEELS”, I know that the talented Mount is capable of portraying a character more interesting than Pike. At one point in “Brother”, Pike had expressed his regret that the Enterprise did not participate in the Federation-Klingon War. Was this regret a consequence of survivor’s guilt? Or is this nothing more than the regret of someone in the military, who wished he or she could have been in the center of the action. I hope that it is the former. On the other hand, watching Pike participate in the landing party that found Reno and the remains of the Hiawatha makes me wonder otherwise. As the Discovery’s current temporary captain, his presence in the Away team struck me as questionable. This is not “STAR TREK” circa 1966-68. And so far, I do not find the character’s regret for not participating in the war against the Klingons as not very interesting.

And why is the Christopher Pike character a regular on this show? Why is he a regular for Season Two? Why was Pike, along with two Enterprise officers, needed to investigate those seven red bursts that had appeared in the Alpha Quadrant? The Discovery is originally a science vessel. The Enterprise is not. Why did the show runners have Starfleet order Pike to take command of Discovery in the first place? Mount could have been cast as the Discovery’s new captain who was other than Pike. Or Saru could have been promoted as the Discovery’s new commander. He deserved it. After all, ever since the discovery that Captain Gabriel Lorca was an imposter from the Mirror Universe, Saru had more or less acted as the ship’s captain. He was the one who led Discovery and its crew out of the Mirror Universe. And he stood behind Burnham, Tilly and Tyler when they exposed Starfleet’s plot to destroy the Klingon homeworld. Instead, either Alex Kurtzman or Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg drummed up some lame reason to brng Pike aboard the Discovery so that the show can have some slightly bland and familiar character as the main authority figure in order to soothe the nerves of some very loud and negative fans.

Is it possible that these fans could not deal with the chaotic Gabriel Lorca as captain or who still cannot deal with the non-white Michael Burnham as the show’s lead. Or do they simply want to recapture the past? Right now, it seems as if Kurtzman, Harberts and Berg want to please these fanboys, who want the show to recapture the past. After watching “Brother”, I blame them for listening to these fanboys, instead of basking in the success of Season One and moving forward with more innovative stories. It just seems a crime that producers like Kurtzman, Harberts, Berg, the Warner Brothers suits and Kathleen Kennedy are so afraid of the loud and narrow-minded fanboys that they would rather keep their respective franchises either mired in the past or borderline bland to please these fans. And in doing so, they end up ignoring the fact that when their franchises were innovative, they were also box office or ratings successes.

Right now, I find the Trek fandom, along with those for other franchises, rather frustrating and narrow-minded. These fans would rather cling to the past, rather than enjoy something different or innovative. And when producers and show runners like Harberts, Berg or Kurtzman kowtow to the loud and rather conservative-minded fans and critics, entertainment and art in pop culture becomes in danger of declining into a sad affair. Does this mean that Season Two of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” await such a fate? I hope not. I hope that the season’s future episodes might prove to be just as fascinating and innovative as those from Season One. I hope so. Because if I have to be honest, I found “Brother”to be jarring and something of a head scratcher.