Thursday, February 28, 2013

Top Five Favorite Episodes of "BABYLON 5" (Season Two: "The Coming of Shadows")

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Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Two (1994-1995) of "BABYLON 5". Created by J. Michael Straczynski, the series starred Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle and Mira Furlan:


TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "BABYLON 5" (SEASON TWO: "THE COMING OF SHADOWS")



1. (2.20) "The Long, Twilight Struggle" - In this chilling episode, the Narn-Centauri War comes to an end with the Centauri war machine's brutal defeat of the Narn homeworld, aided by the Shadows.





2. (2.16) "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum" - Babylon 5's new commanding officer, Captain John Sheridan, discovers a connection between his late wife Anna and the mysterious courier M.r Morden; and makes enemies of everyone around him when he has the latter detained.




3. (2.18) "Confessions and Lamentations" - When a deadly plague threatening the Markab race with extinction reaches Babylon 5, Dr. Stephen Franklin and a Markab colleague, Dr. Lazarenn race against time to find a cure to save the Markab inhabitants on the space station in this heart wrenching episode.




4. (2.15) "And Now For a Word" - ISN reporter Cynthia Torqueman hosts a documentary that takes a look at the inhabitants of and life on Babylon 5, and the Narn-Centauri War raging beyond.





5. (2.09) "The Coming of Shadows" - This episode about the state visit of Centauri Emperor Turhan and the beginning of the Narn-Centauri War led to the series' first Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1996.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"BOARDWALK EMPIRE" Season Three (2012) Photo Gallery



Below are images from Season Three of HBO's "BOARDWALK EMPIRE". Created by Terence Winter, the series stars Steve Buscemi:


"BOARDWALK EMPIRE" Season Three (2012) Photo Gallery

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Monday, February 25, 2013

"GODS AND GENERALS" (2003) Review



"GODS AND GENERALS" (2003) Review

In 1993, producer Ted Turner and director Ronald Maxwell released "GETTYSBURG", a film adaptation of Michael Shaara's 1974 novel, "The Killer Angels". Shaara's son, Jeffrey, wrote a prequel to his novel called "Gods and Generals" in 1996. Both Turner and Maxwell teamed up again 2002-2003 to make a film adaptation of the latter novel. 

Set between April 1861 and May 1863, "GODS AND GENERALS" related the American Civil War events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg. Although the movie began with Virginia-born Robert E. Lee's resignation from the U.S. Army, following his home state's secession from the Union; the meat of the film focused on on the personal and professional life of Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson during those two years. It also touched on how Bowdoin College professor Joshua L. Chamberlain became second-in-command of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, his military training and his experiences during the Battle of Fredricksburg. But trust me . . . most of the movie is about Jackson. It covered his departure from the Virginia Military Institute; his experiences with the famous "Stonewall Brigade"; his experiences at the Battle of Bull Run; his relationships with both his wife Mary Anna, his servant Jim Lewis and a five year-old girl from an old Virginia family; and his experiences at the Battle Chancelorville.

"GODS AND GENERALS" had its virtues. One of them turned out to be Michael Z. Hanan's production designs. Hanan and his team did a superb job in re-creating Virginia of the early 1860s. I was especially impressed by their recreation of mid-19th century Fredricksburg during that famous battle in December 1862. I wonder who had the bright idea of using Harper's Ferry, West Virgina for that particular setting. Hanan's work was ably supported by Kees Van Oostrum's photography and Gregory Bolton's art direction. Oostrum's photography and Corky Ehlers' editing was also put to good use during the Fredricksburg battle sequence. And I really enjoyed the costumes designed by Richard La Motte, Maurice Whitlock and Gamila Smith. All three did their homework in re-creating the fashions and uniforms of the period. Unlike "GETTYSBURG""GODS AND GENERALS" featured major female characters. I suspect this gave the trio the opportunity to indulge their romantic streak with crinolines and hoop skirts galore.

There were some admirable performances in "GODS AND GENERALS". Frankie Faison gave a warm performance as Thomas Jackson's free cook, Jim Lewis. I was also impressed by Brian Mallon's subtle portrayal of the concerned Major General Winfield Hancock, a role he had first portrayed in the 1993 film. It is a pity that Bruce Boxleitner did not receive more screen time for his role as Lieutenant General James Longstreet. He had taken over the role from Tom Berenger and gave a pretty solid performance. But alas, he did not receive enough time to do anything with the role. Alex Hyde-White gave an interesting portrayal of Major General Ambrose Burnside, whose decisions led the Union Army to disaster at Fredricksburg. Matt Letscher, whom I last remembered from 1998's "THE MASK OF ZORRO" was very memorable as the 20th Maine's founder and first regimental commander, Colonel Adelbert Ames. I could also say the same for Mira Sorvino's portrayal of Frances "Fanny" Chamberlain, Colonel Chamberlain's passionate and pessimistic wife. In fact, I believe she had the good luck to portray the most interesting female character in the movie.

So . . . what about the other performances? What about the stars Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels and Robert Duvall? I am not claiming that they gave bad performances. Honestly, they did the best they could. Unfortunately, all three and most of the other cast members had the bad luck to be saddled with very uninteresting characters, stuck with either bad dialogue or self-righteous speeches. In other words, I found them BORING!!! I am sorry, but I truly did. 

First of all, Lang's Thomas Jackson dominated the film just a little too much. Why bother calling this movie "GODS AND GENERALS"? Why not call it "THE LIFE AND TIMES OF STONEWALL JACKSON"? Even worse, Jackson is portrayed in such an unrelenting positive light that by the time the movie came around to his fate after the Battle of Chancelorville, I practically sighed with relief. Jeff Daniels' Joshua Chamberlain did nothing to rouse my interest in his story. In fact, he disappeared for a long period of time before he made his reappearance during the Battle of Fredricksburg sequence. And his appearance in that particular sequence was completely marred by him and other members of the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment quoting William Shakespeare's "JULIUS CAESAR", while marching toward Marye's Heights. Oh God, I hate that scene so much! As for Robert Duvall's Robert Lee . . . what a waste of his time. Ronald Maxwell's script did not allow the actor any opportunity to explore Lee's character during those two years leading to Gettysburg. I realize this is not Duvall's fault, but I found myself longing for Martin Sheen's portrayal of the Confederate general in "GETTYSBURG".

There is so much about this movie that I dislike. One, Maxwell's portrayal of the movie's two main African-American characters - Jim Lewis and a Fredricksburg slave named Martha, as portrayed by actress/historian Donzaleigh Abernathy - struck me as completely lightweight. Now, I realized that there were black slaves and paid employees who managed to maintain a friendly or close relationship with their owner or employer. But in "GODS AND GENERALS", Lewis seemed quite friendly with his employer Jackson and Martha seemed obviously close to the family that owned her, the Beales. I could have tolerated if Lewis or Martha had been friendly toward those for whom they worked. But both of them? I get the feeling that Maxwell was determined to avoid any of the racial and class tensions between the slave/owner relationship . . . or in Lewis' case, the employee/employer relationship. How cowardly. 

In fact, this lack of tension seemed to permeate all of the relationships featured in "GODS AND GENERALS". Aside from one Union commander who berated his men for looting in Fredricksburg, I can barely recall any scenes featuring some form of anger or tension between the major characters. Everyone either seemed to be on his or her best behavior. And could someone please explain why every other sentence that came out of the mouths of most characters seemed to be a damn speech? I realize that Maxwell was trying to re-create the semi-formality of 19th century American dialogue. Well . . . he failed. Miserably. The overindulgence of speeches reminded me of the dialogue from the second NORTH AND SOUTH miniseries, 1986's "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II". But the biggest problem of "GODS AND GENERALS" is that it lacked a central theme. The majority of the movie seemed to be about the Civil War history of Thomas Jackson. But the title and Shaara's novel told a different story. However, I do not believe a detailed adaptation of the novel would have done the trick. Like the movie, it lacked a central theme or topic. 

Perhaps I am being too arrogant in believing I know what would have made the story worked. After all, it is not my story. Jeff Shaara was entitled to write it the way he wanted. And Ronald Maxwell was entitled to adapt Shaara's story the way he wanted. But I do know that if I had written "GODS AND GENERALS", it would have been about the Battle of Fredricksburg. It turned out to be the only part of the movie that I found interesting.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

"A Deadly Choice"

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"A DEADLY CHOICE"

One of the most emotionally devastating episodes that aired on ABC's "LOST" (2004-2010) turned out to be the Season Six episode, (6.14) "The Candidate". The episode marked a final turning point in the saga's main narrative. More importantly, it featured the deaths of three main characters who had been with the series since the beginning.

The fact that three long-standing characters met their deaths made "The Candidate" a topic of great debate by "LOST" fans. The fact that the three characters happened to be non-Western - Jin and Sun Kwon, along with Sayid Jarrah - added fuel to the episode's controversial nature. But the main controversy that emerged from "The Candidate" centered around a choice made by Jin Kwon. It was a choice that affected (off screen) his and Sun's young daughter back in South Korea, Ji-Yeon.

The end of the previous episode, (6.13) "The Last Recruit" saw the Kwons and other Losties prisoners of billionaire and former Other Charles Widmore on Hydra Island. Widmore called himself protecting the castaways from the Smoke Monster, now assuming the form of the late John Locke. However, the "Man in Black" recruited Jack Shephard and Sayid to rescue the castaways from Widmore and his followers in "The Candidate". The Losties made their way to the Ajira 316 airplane, where the "MIB" discovered explosives planted inside. Eager to leave the island, the castaways and the "MIB" decided to use Widmore's submarine to leave. At the same time, James "Sawyer" Ford conspired with Jack to prevent the "MIB" from leaving the island by instructing the latter to shove the Smoke Monster into the water. A gun battle between the Losties and Widmore's people exploded near the submarine. Jack shoved the Smoke Monster into the water and Kate got shot. The rest of the castways - aside from Claire Littleton boarded the submarine. Jack carried the wounded Kate aboard. While searching for something to treat her inside his backpack, Jack found a bomb planted by the "MIB". He tried to convince Sawyer and Sayid not to pull the wires, explaining that the Smoke Monster wanted them to do exactly that so they would kill each other. But Sawyer refused to believe Jack and pulled the wires.

Before the bomb exploded, Sayid grabbed it and ran into another chamber in order to prevent the other castaways from experiencing the initial blast. The explosion loosened a door that knocked pilot Frank Lapidus unconscious. It also put a hole in the side of the submarine, which allowed Frank to float to the water's surface. More importantly, the explosion loosened heavy debris that trapped Sun into a corner. Jin, Jack and Sawyer tried to free Sun with no success. Jack ordered Hugo "Hurley" Reyes to take one of the air tanks inside the chamber and help the wounded Kate reach the ocean surface. After Hurley and Kate left the submarine, more debris loosened and knocked Sawyer unconscious. Jin told Jack to grab the remaining air tank and take Sawyer to the surface. Jack reluctantly followed Jin's suggestion, leaving the Kwons alone aboard the sinking submarine. And here is where viewers arrived at the controversial moment. Jin made several attempts to free Sun from the debris. When husband and wife realized his efforts were futile, Sun sadly suggested that Jin attempt to swim for the surface on his own. Recalling the three years he and Sun had spent apart, Jin refused to abandon his wife and insisted upon remaining by her side. Both of the Kwons remained together to the very end and drowned.

As I had earlier hinted, this scene had generated a good deal of controversy among "LOST" fans. Some fans were moved by the Kwons' fierce devotion to each other and determination to die together. Some complained over what they saw as a lack of originality about the Kwons' deaths, claiming that "LOST" not only provided Charlie Pace a similar death in Season Three's (3.22-3.23) "Through the Looking Glass", but also a more dramatic one. But many had issues over Jin's decision to die by his wife's side. They believed that he should have tried to swim for the surface and live in order to be with his and Sun's only child, Ji-Yeon. They believed that Jin had neglected his parental duties when he made the decision to remain by his wife's side. By making Ji-Yeon an orphan, Jin left his daughter in the hands of Sun's ruthless father, Mr. Paik. If I had to be honest, my sentiments regarding the Kwons' death seemed to match the first group. I was moved Jin's decision to remain at Sun's side. Part of my feelings were based upon my frustration toward the two seasons in which the couple were separated. But I also believe that Sun's parents would care for Ji-Yeon . . . and Jin would have never survived a swim to the surface.

Mr. Paik may have been a ruthless bastard, but I could never accuse him of being a lousy parent. Granted, he struck me as something of a disciplinarian. But Sun has never struck me as an ideal offspring, considering her penchant for lying and other flaky behavior - including an extramarital affair. The only true downside for Ji-Yeon - aside from being parted from her parents - is that I suspect she will never get to meet her paternal grandfather, Mr. Kwon. As for my allegation that Jin would have never survived a swim to the surface, I stand by it. If Jin had left Sun behind and accompanied Jack and the unconscious Sawyer to the surface, he probably would have survived, thanks to the remaining air tank in Jack's possession. But Jin continued his efforts to free Sun when Jack departed the submarine with Sawyer and the air tank. Without an air tank, Jin would not have survived. Even if he had managed to free Sun, they would not have survived the swim to the surface. Not without an air tank.

Many would point out Frank Lapidus' survival of the submarine's destruction as proof that Jin could have made it to the surface without an air tank. But the bomb blast had knocked Frank unconscious. Because he was in that state, his body did not offer any resistance and this allowed the water's currents to convey his body to the surface. Ana-Lucia Cortez had experienced something similar during the Oceanic 815 plane crash, three years earlier. When that plane broke apart in mid-air, a suitcase fell from one of the overhead compartments and knocked the former police officer out cold. The water's current carried her body close to the surface, before she eventually regained conscious.

Unlike Frank and Ana-Lucia, Jin was conscious. Unlike Jack, Sawyer, Hurley and Kate; he lacked the assistance of an air tank. I suppose that many can still accuse him of selfishly choosing Sun over a future with their daughter. But since Jin was conscious and lacked an air tank, he would have drowned before reaching the surface. And in the end, both he and Sun would have died anyway . . . only apart from each other and alone.


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Friday, February 22, 2013

"BEAUTIFUL CREATURES" (2013) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from the new romantic fantasy called "BEAUTIFUL CREATURES". Based on the 2009 novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl and directed by Richard LaGravenese, the movie stars Alice Englert, Alden Ehrenreich, Viola Davis, Jeremy Irons, Emmy Rossum and Emma Thompson:



BEAUTIFUL CREATURES" (2013) Photo Gallery

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