Monday, July 29, 2013

Kathryn Janeway and Starfleet Principles - “STAR TREK VOYAGER” (2.14) "Alliances"


Many ”STAR TREK” fans have claimed that the lead character of ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” lead character, Captain Kathryn Janeway, barely developed as a character during the series’ seven (7) season run. After watching the Season Two episode, (2.14) "Alliances”, I am can see that I would never agree with those critics of Janeway’s character. The Season Two Kathryn Janeway featured in this episode struck me as a far cry from the Janeway that finally returned to Earth in the series finale, (7.25-7.26) “Endgame”

But this article is not simply about Kathryn Janeway. It is mainly about the good captain and the major role she played in”Alliance”. The episode began with a Kazon attack upon Voyager, which resulted in damages to the starship, several wounded and the death of another Voyager crewman - the popular ex-Maquis and close friend of Commander Chakotay named Kurt Bendera. After Chakotay delivered the eulogy after the funeral, Crewmen Hogan and Michael Jonas voiced their opinion to Captain Janeway that Voyager should operate in a manner similar to the Maquis and consider making a deal with the Kazon for safe passage. Naturally, Janeway refused to consider the idea of trading technology with Kazon, which is something they have proposed in the past. But her resistance to the idea of an alliance eventually faded when Chakotay and Lieutenant Tuvok both proposed that she consider an alliance with one or two Kazon factions to secure peace. Not to trade technology, but to offer protection from attacking forces and emergency supplies. As I had pointed out, the Captain was reluctant to accept Chakotay’s idea, but eventually accepted. Ensign Harry Kim seemed horrified by the idea, claiming that the Federation would never consider forming alliances with the likes of the Kazon. Apparently, the young ensign forgot about the treaty that the Federation had signed with the Klingon Empire in the late 23rd century (something that Tuvok had reminded the Captain about) and one with Cardassia a few years earlier. Fortunately, Janeway ignored Kim’s protests. 

During the series’ first two seasons, Janeway had been a rigid practitioner of Starfleet's principles, unwilling to be flexible about her command style. She also had a bad habit of ignoring advice that required her to be a little more flexible . . . unless it suited her. Obviously, Chakotay's suggestion of mixing a little Starfleet principles with Maquis methods never really appealed to Janeway. And I got the feeling that she was determined to prove him wrong. Bear with me. There was nothing wrong in Janeway’s policies about following Starfleet principles - when the situation demanded it. After all, if Janeway had not maintained discipline on her ship, Voyager could have easily become another U.S.S. Equinox. However, there was a time for adhering to Starfleet . . . and a time for using other methods.

Chakotay's idea of forming an alliance with the Kazon seemed sound. Even Tuvok thought it was a good idea. Yet, Janeway decided to sabotage Chakotay’s idea by accepting Torres and Paris’ not-so-bright suggestion of forming an alliance with Seska and Maj Cullah of the Kazon Nistrim sect. Why on earth would she agree to sign a treaty with the very Kazon sect that the crew of Voyager had been in conflict with since Season One’s (1.11) “State of Flux”. And why did she not simply consider contacting other Kazon sects, as Chakotay and Tuvok had suggested. Then Janeway added more fuel to the fire when she disregarded Tuvok's advice against forming an alliance with the Trabe, the Kazons' blood enemy. The Trabe used to be a major power in the Delta Quadrant that were also brutal slave masters ruling over the Kazon race. The Kazon eventually revolted and stole all of the Trabe technology, spacecraft and even their home world. The Trabe had been reduced to wanderers that were constantly pursued by Kazon fleets and unable to settle on any permanent planet for fear of being exterminated by the former slaves. In the end, Tuvok’s objections against an alliance with the Trabe proved to be sound. The effort to form an alliance with the Kazon ended up being undermined by the Trabe’s attempt to assassinate the Kazon majes (leaders).

As I had earlier stated, one of Janeway's major flaws had been her inability to be flexible in the face of Voyager’s extraordinary situation in the Delta Quadrant. During Seasons One and Two, she seemed obsessed with maintaining Starfleet principles. In the end, this strict adherence to these principles did not prevent Voyager's capture by Seska, Maje Cullah and the Kazon in the Season Two finale, (2.26) “Basics, Part I”. Following this last incident with Seska and the Kazon, Janeway switched tactics and adhered more closely with utilizing Maquis methods. I would have cheered her for this . . . except she went from one extreme to another. Her determination to use any means possible to get home nearly led to Voyager's destruction in the early Season Three episode, (3.04)"The Swarm”, when she decided to trespass into a hostile alien space after being warned away. Another form of this kind of extremism occurred when she decided to form an alliance with the Borg in order to avoid what she believed was certain destruction at the hands of Species 8472 in (3.26-4.01) “Scorpion”. This alliance led to Species 8472’s defeat and many home worlds opened to conquest and assimilation by the Borg. After Voyager's encounter with the U.S.S. Equinox in (5.26-6.01) “Equinox”, Janeway finally learned to become flexible by striking a balance between maintaining Starfleet principles and being a little creative when the occasion demanded.

As for "Alliances”, it had the potential to be an excellent episode. Unfortunately, too much had occurred during the episode’s 45 minutes running time. ”Alliance” could have . . . should have been a two-part episode. But writer/producer Jeri Taylor decided to stuff this very eventful story into one episode. Worse, the story ended on a sour note with Janeway's speech reaffirming Starfleet principles. Her strident speech not only made me wince, it also made me wonder if she was feeling a little smug at proving both Chakotay and Tuvok wrong. The ending did not strike me as one of her finest hours.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"VALKYRIE" (2008) Photo Gallery

Below are photos from the 2008 Bryan Singer World War II thriller about the last assassination attempt upon Adolf Hitler. "VALKYRIE" stars Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branaugh, Tom Wilkerson and Terence Stamp: 

"VALKYRIE" (2008) Photo Gallery

Sunday, July 21, 2013



Seventy years ago today, the 1938 film, ”THE ADVENTUERS OF ROBIN HOOD”, was released in theaters for the first time. For many fans and film critics, the swashbuckler is considered the definitive Errol Flynn movie. They also view his character, Sir Robin of Locksley, as the pinnacle of the Australian actor’s career. 

There have been previous versions of the Robin Hood tale before and after. The other most famous versions are the 1922 silent film that starred Douglas Fairbanks and the 1950s TV series that starred Richard Greene. Like the other versions, the movie told the story of the young Saxon nobleman (Flynn) who created a band of outlaws to protest against the reign of Prince John (Claude Rains) in England during the early 1190s. With King Richard the Lionhearted (Ian Hunter) a hostage of Austria’s king, John usurps the royal power to oppress the English poor – especially the Saxons – with the help of Sir Guy Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper). Robin and his right hand man, Will Scarlett (Patric Knowles), recruits the likes of Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.), Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), Much the Miller's Son (Herbert Mundin) and a band of outlaws. Soon, Prince John and his Norman cronies find their cruelties opposed and themselves harassed beyond all bearing. Robin also finds the time to fall in love with the Norman noblewoman and royal ward, Maid Marian Fitzwalter (Olivia de Havilland).

To be frank, ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” is a glorious triumph not only for the Warner Bros. studio, but for Flynn as well. It has everything that the moviegoer could possibly want in a swashbuckler – great action, rich color, a superb score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and a leading man who more than embodied what the main character stood for. Warner Bros. executives Jack Warner and Hal Wallis had originally cast James Cagney in the lead. But the actor became embroiled in one of his many feuds with the studio and two years later, Flynn won the role. I cannot say how Cagney would have portrayed Robin of Locksley. But Warner and Wallis certainly struck it rich with Flynn in the lead. Not only did he look the part, he handled the physical aspects of the role, perfectly. And he managed to inject Robin with a great mixture of roguish humor and sincere compassion. 

The rest of the cast were also superb. Olivia de Havilland was never more lovelier. Even better, her Maid Marian became more than just the love interest and damsel-in-distress. Once Robin had swayed her to his cause, she turned out to be a valuable recruit. Not only did she managed to come up with a plan to save Robin from execution, she was the one who discovered a plot by Prince John, Sir Guy and the Sheriff to assassinate the returning King Richard. 

Claude Rains, with his soft voice, made a deliciously sly Prince John. Basil Rathbone was tough enough to serve as a physical adversary for Robin. Their duel in the final scene at Nottingham Castle is considered a classic, thanks to the fencing choreography staged by Fred Cavens. And Melville Cooper was his usual funny self as the buffoonish Sheriff of Nottingham. Although I find it odd that he was the only one who was able to come up with a successful plan to capture Sir Robin. And where would ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” be without its supporting cast that portrayed Robin’s Merry Men? The handsome Patric Knowles made a sly and witty Will Scarlett. Alan Dale Sr. returned as Little John, a role he had first made famous in the 1922 film. Eugene Pallette made great use of his frog voice and gruff demeanor as Friar Tuck. And Herbert Mundin, as Much the Miller’s Son, seemed to be the best of the bunch. Not only did he proved to be as brave as Robin, he also won the hand of Marian’s nurse, Bess, portrayed by the always memorable Una O’Connor. 

Surprisingly, ”THE ADVENTUES OF ROBIN HOOD” had two directors. Hal Wallis first assigned the film to William Keighley, who had directed Flynn in ”THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER” (1937). But Hal Wallis felt slightly dissatisfied with Keighley’s slow handling of the action sequences and replaced him with Warner Bros’ reliable warhorse, Michael Curtiz. Flynn, who detested the Hungarian-born director, must have screamed in frustration. But Curtiz’s direction gave the film a tighter pace and better action sequences for which the movie is famous. ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” was one of the first films of the studio to use the old three-strip Technicolor process. And it paid off, giving the movie a rich color and vibrancy. And what would this version of Robin Hood be without Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Academy Award winning score. I am still surprised that Korngold had originally turned down the assignment because he felt that his score could not live up to the movie’s action. Thankfully, he proved himself wrong.

”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” seemed to have everything going for it – great cast, great photography, great action and great music. And it all seemed to blend seamlessly. Yet . . . it is not my favorite Errol Flynn movie. I had come across a review of the film in which a critic stated that one of the reasons this was his favorite Flynn movie was its light-hearted tone and simplistic characterizations that allowed the audience to escape from the more complex, modern world. And I could see those traits in the movie. 

But as much as I had enjoyed it, there were times when the movie came off as a little too light or simple for me. Sir Robin of Locksley may be considered Flynn’s best role, but I must admit that I found his portrayal of Geoffrey Vickers in ”THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE” (1936) and Geoffrey Thorpe in ”THE SEA HAWK” (1940) more complex and interesting. In fact, I consider the two movies to be my favorites that Flynn ever made. However, I do love ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” and consider it one of the most entertaining films I have ever seen.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Ten "The Winds of Fortune" Commentary

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Ten "The Winds of Fortune" Commentary

This tenth episode of "CENTENNIAL" called "The Winds of Fortune" marked the last one set in the 19th century. The episode also featured the end of several story lines - the troubles with the Pettis gang, Axel Dumire's suspicions of the Wendell family, Hans Brumbaugh's labor problems and Jim Lloyd's romantic problems with Charlotte Seccombe and Clemma Zendt. 

The range war that the ranchers began in "The Shepherds" finally gasped its last breath in this episode. The last remnants of the Pettis gang (the killers hired by the ranchers to get rid of the farmers and shepherds) make one last attempt to exact revenge against Amos Callendar, Jim Lloyd and Hans Brumbaugh - the three men who had killed Frank and Orvid Pettis in revenge for the deaths of two friends. Naturally, it failed during a gunfight against, Jim, Amos and the latter's son.

The Pettis gang's revenge attempt also led to the closure of the story line that featured Sheriff Axel Dumire and the Wendell family. The gunfight at Amos' homestead allowed one Pettis killer to escape back to Centennial . . . but not for long. Dumire led a manhunt for the escaped killer. And in a dark alleyway, he and the Pettis outlaw mortally shot each other. While the outlaw died right away, Dumire suffered a slow death. Before expiring, he summoned young Philip Wendell for a last attempt to learn the truth about the now dead Mr. Sorenson. Although he failed, Philip expressed grief and remorse over his dead body.

Jim Lloyd and Charlotte Seccombe's courtship finally led to a marriage proposal from the former. But their engagement encountered troubled waters when Clemma Seccombe returned to Centennial. Unable to get over his infatuation with the seemingly repentant Clemma, Jim breaks his engagement with Charlotte. The latter tries to bribe Clemma to leave town. But in the end, it took a lecture from Lucinda Zendt to convince the latter to leave. And Charlotte finally married her cowboy. Hans Brumbaugh's labor problems finally ended when political turmoil in Mexico finally drove Tranquilino Marquez to accompany his uncle, "Nacho" Gomez to Colorado. "Nacho" never made it, dying from a gunshot wound on the Skimmerhorn Trail. But Tranquilino and a few fellow Mexicans made it to the Brumbaugh farm and became permanent employees. Unfortunately for Tranquilino, good luck became bad during a trip to Denver, where he found himself imprisoned on a trumped up charge by a local bigot with a dislike for Latinos.

As you can see, a great deal happened in "The Winds of Change". Normally, I would have insisted upon a longer running time than 97 to 100 minutes. But screenwriter Charles Larson and director Harry Falk managed to keep the episode's pace flowing perfectly without any rush or dragging, whatsoever. Following James Michner's novel, they also managed to do an excellent job of connecting the final acts of the two story lines featuring the Pettis gang and the Wendells. At the same time, Jim Lloyd's romantic travails continued during this traumatic time for Centennial.

"The Winds of Fortune" featured at least three outstanding scenes that I need to point out. At least two of those scenes featured deaths of primary characters. Once again, Brian Keith and Doug McKeon knocked it out of the ballpark with their portrayals of Sheriff Axel Dumire and Philip Wendell in a poignant, yet ironic scene that featured the former's death. What I found particularly ironic about this particular scene is that the characters' deep affection for each other could not overcome Dumire's desire to know the truth about Mr. Sorenson's death or Philip's determination to protect his parents to the bitter end.

Another death scene featured "Nacho" Gomez's death on the Skimmerhorn Trail, while he and Tranquilino journey to Colorado. Although A Martinez was pretty solid as Tranquilino, Rafael Campos gave one last superb performance as the dying "Nacho" recalled the best period of his life - those months along the Skimmerhorn Trail. In fact, his character died near the very spot where he first met John Skimmerhorn in "The Longhorns". The last scene was the final confrontation between Clemma and Lucinda Zendt and Charlotte Seccombe. Between Charlotte's determination to pay off Clemma to get her out of Jim's life, and the latter's acidic crowing over her hold of said cowboy, the scene crackled with hostility, thanks to the superb acting of Lynn Redgrave and Adrienne La Russa. Christina Raines gave solid support as Clemma's disapproving mother, Lucinda.

The episode also boasted first-rate performances from William Atherton, who continued his superb portrayal of the solid, yet love sick cowboy Jim Lloyd. Another excellent performance came from Cliff De Young, who shined as ranch manager John Skimmerhorn, in one of his final scenes in which he expressed the blunt truth about the fickle Clemma. The episode also featured fine work from Alex Karras (Hans Brumbaugh), Jesse Vint (Amos Calendar) and delicious performances from both Lois Nettleton and Anthony Zerbe as the conniving Maude and Mervin Wendell.

"The Winds of Change" featured one major problem with me. Ever since "The Storm", the miniseries usually featured flashbacks that hinted a major character's upcoming death. Prolonged flashbacks from "The Longhorns" nearly grounded the episode to a halt, as a dying "Nacho" recalled the events of the Skimmerhorn drive. I could have tolerated one or two scenes. But the flashbacks nearly seemed to go on forever.

Despite the never-ending flashbacks, "The Winds of Change" proved to be another outstanding episode of "CENTENNIAL". Since it became the last episode to be set during the 19th century, it featured the conclusions of several story lines that have been going on since the saga shifted into the 1880s. It was a near perfect finale to what proved to be a rather interesting period of four to five episodes.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"THE DARK KNIGHT" (2008) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 2008 blockbuster, "THE DARK KNIGHT". Directed by Christopher Nolan, the film starred Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne aka the Batman:

"THE DARK KNIGHT" (2008) Photo Gallery