“Croque-Monsieur Sandwich”

Below is an article on the dish known as the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich

“CROQUE-MONSIEUR SANDWICH”

My familiarity with the French dish known as the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich originated with an American version called the Monte Cristo Sandwich. You see, I first experienced the latter during a visit to the Disneyland Resort about a decade ago. It took another four or five years before I first stumbled across the Croque-Monsieur at a cafe in downtown Los Angeles.

The Croque-Monsieur Sandwich is originally a popular dish served at cafes and smaller eateries in Paris, France. Basically, it is a ham and cheese sandwich that is either baked or fried. The sandwich was originally created for the French working-class. At least two origin stories are associated with the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich. The first origin tale claimed that the sandwich was created entirely by accident when French workers left their lunch pails too close to a hot radiator. The heat toasted the bread and melted the cheese in their sandwich. Personally, this origin tale seems a bit far-fetched and no particular date or year is associated with this tale. The second version seemed to have more merit.

In 1901, a chef at a local Parisian brasserie on the Boulevard des Capucines had ran out of baguettes for the restaurant’s sandwich of the day. The chef cut slices from a loaf of Pain de Mie bread (similar to American sandwich bread) placed ham and cheese between them and baked the entire sandwich until it was crisp. The name of the sandwich came from the French verb croquer (“to bite”) and from a casual comment from the chef, when asked about the ham’s origin. The chef pointed at another customer and claimed that the ham came from “C’est la viande de monsieur (It’s that guy’s meat)”.

The sandwich first appeared on the menu of a Parisian cafe in 1910. Unfortunately, no one seems to know which cafe. It was also mentioned in the second volume of Marcel Proust’s novel, “In Search of Lost Time”, in 1918. Over the years, variations of the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich had been added. Some brasseries and cafes eventually added Béchamel sauce. A Croque-Monsieur Sandwich with a poached or lightly fried egg became known as Croque-Madame. In the United States, a ham and cheese sandwich dipped in an egg batter and deep fried was called the Monte Cristo Sandwich. And in Great Britain, a hot ham and cheese sandwich became known as a “toastie”.

Below is a modern, yet traditional recipe for the Croque-Monsieur Sandwich from the Bon Appétit website:

Croque-Monsieur Sandwich

Ingredients:

Béchamel Sauce (One Day Ahead)
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ¼ ground nutmeg
Kosher salt

Sandwich
8 slices ½”-thick country-style bread
6 oz. ham, preferably Paris ham (about 8 slices)
3 oz. Gruyère, grated (about 1½ cups)
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence

Preparation:

Béchamel Sauce (One Day Ahead)
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foamy. Add flour and cook, stirring, until mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk, stirring until mixture is smooth. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and somewhat elastic, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in mustard and nutmeg; season with salt.
DO AHEAD: Béchamel can be made 1 day ahead. Let cool; press plastic wrap directly onto surface and chill.

Sandwich
Preheat oven to 425°. Spread bread slices with béchamel, dividing evenly and extending all the way to the edges. Place 4 slices of bread, béchamel side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet; top with ham and half of cheese. Top with remaining slices of bread, béchamel side up, then top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with herbes de Provence. Bake until cheese is brown and bubbling, 10–15 minutes.

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“Reflections of a Bride” [PG] – 1/1

“REFLECTIONS OF A BRIDE”

RATING: [PG]
SUMMARY: Bride-to-be, B’Elanna Torres, reflects on her choices for a mate minutes before her wedding. Set in mid-Season 6.
FEEDBACK: lee66132000@yahoo.com – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Tom, B’Elanna, Harry and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom and the usual Trek Powers to Be. Dammit!

—————-

“REFLECTIONS OF A BRIDE”

Married. Kahless, I cannot believe it! I, B’Elanna Torres, will be getting married. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would find someone willing to put up with a volatile, unattractive half-Klingon. But apparently there was someone. 

It seems strange that I would marry someone whom I considered as a friend for such a long time. From the moment we first met, he accepted me. He never backed away, hid or ran screaming for his life. Instead, he simply offered his friendship. And I like that. Not many people – including me – seem willing to accept me so quickly. Well, I can think of one other.

The door chime rings. Ah, speak of the devil. It is Chakotay here to escort me to the Mess Hall and the groom. Good old Chakotay. Hmmm. There was a time I would have longed to marry him. After all, I did maintain an infatuation of Chakotay for over two years.

“B’Elanna.” He greets me with that dimpled smile, which has dazzled so many women throughout two quadrants. “Ready to face your future husband?”

I smile as brightly as I can. “I’ve been facing him for over five years. Today shouldn’t be any different.” Kahless! I almost sound like a Vulcan.

Chakotay responds with another smile. “Then I guess today should be a piece of cake.”

“Maybe,” I grumble. “I know that I look like one.” I am referring to, of course, my wedding dress. I can’t believe I’m wearing one. I wanted to wear my formal uniform, but my fiancé convinced me to wear a dress. With a veil. God! What was I thinking?

Chakotay assures me that I look beautiful. Naturally, I do not believe him. If I had been completely Human – like 85 to 90% of the women aboard this ship – I would. The Best Man had suggested that I wear a Klingon wedding dress – red leather. I appreciated the suggestion, but decided to disregard the Best Man. As usual.

We leave the sanctuary of my quarters and proceed along the corridor, toward the turbolift. Staring ahead, I try to ignore the stares from passing crewmen. I should have known this damn dress was a mistake. I should have worn my uniform. Okay, B’Elanna. Calm down. Just calm down. We’re almost at the turbolift.

Had Mother gone through this barrage of nerves on her wedding day? I doubt it. Not Miral, daugher of L’Naan. I bet that she wore red leather, despite marrying a Human. Perhaps she should have been nervous – considering that Human turned out to be the wrong man. And John Torres was the wrong man. Can I say the same about my future husband?

Finally, the turbolift arrives. Chakotay and I step inside and my train nearly gets caught between the doors. Damn dress! I should have worn my dress uniform. “Deck Two,” Chakotay orders and the lift moves. He turns to me. “Still nervous?”

I give him my darkest glare and growl. Not very matrimonial, but he did piss me off. “I’m not nervous,” I snap back. “I haven’t been nervous at all.” The smile on Chakotay’s face tells me that he believes otherwise. Bastard.

Okay, I don’t really mean that. Chakotay is probably one of the most trustworthy men I have ever met. Probably the most trustworthy. But he does not understand me. Not really. He accepts me – to a certain degree. But he always lectures me about my temper. I get the feeling he would prefer if I suppress it, Vulcan style. Or obliterate it completely. My temper seems to make him uncomfortable. He dislikes bloodwine – can’t really blame him, there. And when I had approached him about my visions of Grethor some four or five months ago, he dismissed them as possible illusions on my part. Strange, he never harbored such views regarding his own spirituality.

My fiance’s views on Klingon culture seemed to be a little more open. Somewhat. He takes them in stride. Sometimes. Okay, in reality, he is really no better than Chakotay. But at least I don’t have to listen to lectures on temper control from him. Besides, his attitude really suits me just fine. I no longer mind facing my Klingon side every now and then. Somewhat. But you will not catch me becoming a born-again Klingon.

The turbolift stops at Deck Two. Chakotay steps out. I hesitate. Why did I hesitate? I’m getting married, for Kahless’ sake! To the one man who has been consistent during the last five years of my life. He has stood by me during so many crisis in my life – those early, difficult months in the Delta Quadrant; the aftermath of the Vidiian mines, my infatuation with Chakotay, those telepathic dreams from Jora Mirell; the embarrassment of Vorik’s pon farr; news of the Maquis’ destruction; my depression . . . my God! I have been through a lot! And he has been with me every step of the way. The wrong man? Hell, I can think of other men who probably deserve that title.

“Coming B’Elanna?” Chakotay asks. He gives me a questioning look. Okay, I am nervous. Nervous, but determined. I step out of the turbolift and we proceed along the corridor.

The wrong men in my life. Let’s see. How about Roberto from the Maquis? Poor Roberto. Either he is dead or languishing inside a Federation prison. The same Roberto who used me to get over his fiancée, who had been murdered by the Cardies. I didn’t mind. I used him for sexual release and nothing else.

Another candidate – Ensign Freddie Barstow. He had a crush on me, once. I wonder if he still does. Of course, I couldn’t care less. I still find him shallow. And he is still a lousy Parises Square player.

Vorik was the first man to ask me to marry him. Naturally, I said no. Vorik is a nice man. And warm for a Vulcan. But I don’t think I can deal with years of Vulcan stoicism, punctuated by pon farr, every seven years. And to be honest, Sakari IV will always come between us. I suspect he remains privately horrified by his actions and my humiliation of him. And I keep a wary eye on the calendar, knowing that his next pon farr is due in another four years.

And then there was Max Burke. My old Academy boyfriend. He was not the sort of man one would seriously consider as a mate. Thank Kahless I didn’t. Ten years after we dated, we had a reunion when Voyager encountered his ship, the Equinox, in the Delta Quadrant. A reunion that turned into a major disappointment, especially after we learned that Max, his captain and the remaining Equinox crew were killing alien life forms for fuel to get their ship back to the Alpha Quadrant. Max had changed from the charming and smooth man I knew into a genocidal killer.

The doors to the Mess Hall slide open. It looks like many of Voyager’s crew had gathered for the wedding. This is a mistake. I should break away. Escape. But I have no reason to run. I’m going to marry a wonderful man. The most dependable man I have ever met, next to Chakotay. I can always depend upon him to make me happy. Not leave me. He is no Max Burke.

My eyes focus upon the two men standing before the Captain. I smile at the slightly shorter man. The groom. Next to him stands the Best Man. The same man who had suggested I wear a Klingon wedding dress. The same man who once propositioned me during an Away mission. The same man whom I tried to mate with, while in a state of pon farr. And the same man with whom I nearly died, while we floated in space over two years ago.

He reminds me of Max Burke so much. Perhaps, too much. The Best Man, I mean. Both possessed the same superficial charm, smooth tongue and ability to shut people out. I’m not saying that he may become a killer, like Max. But I simply cannot see him as the type to commit to a permanent relationship. I would rather live with his friendship than with the fear that he might get bored with me. Or worse, leave me. So, I kept my distance from him, as much as possible. Until he finally realized that I was not interested in romance.

After I stop before my husband, I release Chakotay’s arm. I smile at him. The groom, I mean. And try to ignore the taller man at his side. Captain Janeway smiles. “Ready?” she asks. We both nod. Then she begins. “We are gathered here today, as friends, to celebrate the marriage of two family members. As captain of Voyager, the honor falls upon me to join them together as husband and wife.”

Yes, this is a Federation ceremony. The Best Man had suggested to include a Klingon ritual in the ceremony, but the decision was left to me. I said no. He became disappointed. Why? Why is he still so interested in Klingon culture?

“Henry Kim,” the Captain continues, “do you take B’Elanna Torres as your lawful wedded wife?” Henry? Huh.

In a firm voice, Harry, my future husband, answers, “I do.” Oh God! The point of no return.

The Captain turns to me. “B’Elanna Torres, do you take Henry Kim as your lawful wedded husband?”

My mouth gapes open. What will I say? Yes? No? Memories flash through my mind in an instant. Memories of a fair-haired man comforting a frightened Human woman in the Vidiian mines. Three friends sharing pizza inside my quarters. Harry’s pleasant kisses. Those disturbing kisses in the Sakari caves. Max Burke’s smooth face. Me comforting Harry after his experiences with the Nakin memorial. A wedding proposal. Max’s dispassionate voice. An announcement. Shock, followed by disappointment in a pair of blue eyes.

Say no. Say no, B’Elanna. You know this is wrong. In your heart. Max’s face appears once more. Then it transforms into Tom Paris’ face. I open my mouth. The words spill out. “I will.”

Harry and I exchange rings. I try to ignore those same blue eyes drilling into the back of my neck. Oh yes, the Captain. “Ensign Henry Kim. Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres. With the power vested in my by Starfleet Command, and the United Federation of Planets, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” She smiles. “Well, Ensign. You have my permission to kiss the bride.”

Laughter fills the hall. Harry grins. I give him a weak smile. Warm, pleasant lips press against mine. Forbidden memories of Sakari IV rise appear in my mind, again. I quite forcibly erase them.

Time to congratulate the bride and groom. The Captain gives each of us a hug. So do Neelix and Samantha Wildman. Seven offers us her congratulations – Borg style. The Doctor’s felicitations are more warmer. Tuvok’s more solemn. Chakotay pecks my cheek and shakes Harry’s hand. After nearly everyone else has rushed forward to congratulate us, it was the Best Man’s turn. I hold my breath.

Tom gives Harry a bear hug. “Congratulations, buddy,” he says warmly. “You are one lucky man.” Now why didn’t he say that I was a lucky woman?

Then he turns to me. Blue eyes seem darker than usual. Hypnotic. “B’Elanna,” he greets in a soft voice. “Congratulations.” Warm, soft lips press against the edge of my mouth. I inhale. His scent fills my head, making me dizzy.

The truth finally hits me. I have made a mistake. A big mistake. Thanks to my cowardice, I have married the wrong man. And now I’ll have to live with this mistake for who knows how long. Kahless! What am I going to do, now?

THE END

“JASON BOURNE” (2016) Review

kinopoisk.ru-Jason-Bourne-2788643

“JASON BOURNE” (2016) Review

When I first learned that Universal Studios had a fifth movie planned for their BOURNE movie franchise, I was pleased. I figured that this new movie would continue the story where both the 2007 film, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” and 2012’s “THE BOURNE LEGACY” left off. 

I suspect that some might be wondering to what I am referring. Let me explain. Both movies hinted, especially “THE BOURNE LEGACY” that C.I.A. Deputy Director Pamela Landy might be facing trouble for assisting Jason Bourne aka David Webb in the 2007. In fact, one of the reasons that Deputy Director Noah Vosen and Director Ezra Cramer had chosen her to help track down Bourne in the 2007 movie in the first place . . . to set her up to take a fall in case their efforts to find and kill Bourne go south. Well, it did go south . . . for them. And in the 2012 movie, Vosen accused Landy of committing treason in order to deflect his legal problems from himself and Cramer. So I figured that this fifth movie would pick up the tale. I even considered the possibility of Bourne and fellow C.I.A. fugitives Aaron Cross from the 2012 movie, working together to help Landry. Well, that did not happen. As it turned out, star Matt Damon and screenwriter/director Tony Gilroy had a falling out over the screenplay for the 2007 movie. Jeremy Renner starred in the 2012 movie and Gilroy did not participate in this new film’s production.

So, what was “JASON BOURNE” about? Written by Christopher Rouse and Paul Greengrass, who served as director of this film, the 2007 movie and 2004’s “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”; the movie centered around Jason Bourne’s attempts to discover more about his past with the C.I.A. and especially Treadstone. This all began when former Treadstone colleague Nicky Parsons, who has joined a hackvist group, hacks into the CIA’s mainframe server in order to expose the CIA’s black ops programs. Parsons finds documents that concern Bourne’s recruitment into the Treadstone program and his father’s role in the program. Both Bourne and Parsons meet at Syntagma Square during a violent anti-government protest in Athens, Greece; where she informs him with this new information. At the same time, Parsons’ hack alerts Cyber Ops Division Head Heather Lee and CIA Director Robert Dewey. Dewey sends a black ops team and a former Blackbriar assassin nicknamed “The Asset” to kill Parsons and Bourne. More importantly, Dewey wants to shut down any loose ends regarding the C.I.A.’s black ops programs, including the latest one, “Iron Hand” (a collection of the previous ones – Treadstone, Blackbriar, Outcome and LARX). That means destroying the hackvist group to which Parsons belonged; killing Bourne; Parsons; CEO social media site Deep Dream Aaron Kalloor, with whom he had become estranged; or anyone else who might be a threat. He also wants to use Kalloor’s Deep Dream site for real-time mass surveillance of the public.

Eventually I realized that “JASON BOURNE” was not going to continue the narratives of “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” and “THE BOURNE LEGACY” and set about enjoying this latest entry in the franchise. And there was a good deal to enjoy about this movie. First of all, “JASON BOURNE” featured some top notch performances. Matt Damon gave a pretty solid performance as an older and more world weary Jason Bourne aka David Webb, who seemed to have resigned himself to an existence of wandering, participating in illegal fight rings and loneliness. Tommy Lee Jones was also excellent as Robert Dewey, the current and ruthless C.I.A. Director who feels threatened not only by outside forces like Bourne, Nicky Parsons, a hackvist group and an angry social media CEO, but especially from the likes of his ambitious colleague, Heather Lee. Julia Stiles returned with another excellent performance as Nicky Parsons, an ex-C.I.A. operative-turned-hackvist. Vincent Cassel gave a very intense performance as former Blackbriar assassin, “The Asset”, who harbors a grudge against Bourne, whose exposure of the black ops program led to him being captured and tortured. The movie also featured pretty good performances from Ato Essandoh, Riz Ahmed, Scott Shepherd, Bill Camp, Vinzenz Kiefer and Gregg Henry (who portrayed Bourne’s late father in flashbacks). But for me, the most interesting performance came from Alicia Vikander, who portrayed C.I.A. Cyber Ops Division head, Heather Lee. Vikander’s Lee was a curious mixture of raging ambition, an introverted personality and a ruthless talent for manipulation.

The movie also featured some excellent action sequences. Yes, I realize that it signaled a return to Paul Greengrass’ shaky camstyle. But to be honest, different movie industries have been utilizing this style for about a decade. Personally, I wish they would get over it. But despite this, I still enjoyed this movie’s action sequences. I found the Athens sequence rather exciting. Greengrass and Rouse upped the scale by allowing it to take place during an anti-government protest . . . at night. Another action sequence that impressed me occurred in London, where Bourne contacted a former Treadstone surveillance operative named Malcolm Smith for information about his father. But if I had to choose my favorite action sequence in Las Vegas, where Bourne attempted to prevent Dewey from getting rid of his increasingly troublesome former ally, CEO Aaron Kallor during a technology convention and Lee.

Despite these cinematic virtues, I had walked away from “JASON BOURNE” feeling disappointed. What was my main problem? Quite frankly, Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse’s screenplay. I found it contrived, unoriginal and filled with some questionable plot holes. A closer look at this movie made me realized that it strongly reminded me of the plot for “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”. In both movies, Bourne found himself drawn into the story by an individual bent upon exposing the C.I.A.’s black ops programs. In this movie, it was former agent Nicky Parsons. In the 2007 film, it was a British journalist. Both ended up murdered within the movie’s first thirty-to-forty minutes. That is correct. Poor Nicky shared the same fate as Marie Kreutz – fridged for the sake of the main character. I tolerated it once, but not this time. In both movies, the main villain decides to go after Bourne because he feared the former assassin might expose his current schemes. And once again, this movie exposed another disturbing secret regarding Bourne’s past.

Speaking of the latter, this one aspect of the movie’s plot really annoyed me. What was the secret in Bourne’s past? Apparently his father – a C.I.A. official named Richard Webb – was the true creator of the Treadstone program. When I first heard this, I was . . . well to be honest, I simply did not care. But when I heard that Webb Senior was murdered because he tried to stop his son’s recruitment into Treadstone, my apathy transformed into contempt. And when the movie revealed that it was Dewey who had ordered Webb Senior’s assassination, I shook my head in disbelief. How was that possible? Were audiences really supposed to believe that Dewey was an official part of the Treadstone program? Since when? To make matters worse, Greengrass and Rouse had marked “The Asset”, a former Blackbriar agent, as the one who committed the murder. I found this revelation to be ridiculously contrived and I officially washed my hands of this movie.

Yes, I realize that I found the performances and action sequences something to admire about “JASON BOURNE”, thanks to director Paul Greengrass and a cast led by Matt Damon. Many fans had cheered that Damon had resumed as lead in the BOURNEfilm franchise. Yes, it was nice to see him again. But to be honest, I never had a problem with Jeremy Renner or the actual movie he had starred in – namely “THE BOURNE LEGACY”. Hollywood legend Darryl F. Zanuck had once pointed out – the backbone of a good movie is the story. Yet, despite the virtues in “JASON BOURNE”, I found its main narrative unoriginal, contrived and questionable. And in the end, the movie eventually disappointed the hell out of me.

The AMERICAN REVOLUTION in Television

Below is a selection of television productions (listed in chronological order) about or featured the American Revolution: 

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN TELEVISION

1. “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” (NBC; 1963) – Patrick McGoohan starred in this three-episode Disney adaptation of Russell Thorndike’s 1915 novel, “Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Mars”. James Neilson directed.

2. “The Bastard” (Syndication; 1978) – Andrew Stevens and Kim Cattrall starred in this adaptation of the 1974 novel, the first in John Jakes’ “Kent Family Chronicles” literary series. Lee H. Katzin directed.

3. “The Rebels” (Syndication; 1979) – Andrew Stevens, Don Johnson and Doug McClure starred in this adaptation of the 1975 novel, the second in John Jakes’ “Kent Family Chronicles” literary series. Russ Mayberry directed.

4. “George Washington” (CBS; 1984) – Barry Bostwick starred as George Washington, first U.S. President of the United States – from his childhood to his experiences during the American Revolution. Directed by Buzz Kulik, the miniseries starred Patty Duke, Jaclyn Smith and David Dukes.

5. “April Morning” (Hallmark; 1988) – Chad Lowe, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Urich starred in this adaptation of Howard Fast’s 1961 novel about the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The television movie was directed by Delbert Mann.

6. “Mary Silliman’s War” (Syndication; 1994) – Nancy Palk starred in this Canadian-produced television movie about the experiences of a Connecticut matriarch during the American Revolution. Stephen Surjik directed.

7. “The Crossing” (A&E; 2000) – Jeff Daniels starred as George Washington in this adaptation of Howard Fast’s 1971 novel about the Battle of Trenton campaign in December 1776. Robert Harmon directed.

8. “John Adams” (HBO; 2008) – Emmy winners Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney starred as John and Abigail Adams in this award winning HBO miniseries about the second U.S. President from his years as a Boston lawyer to his death.

9. “Turn: Washington’s Spies” (AMC; 2014-2017) – Jamie Bell starred in this television series that is an adaptation of Alexander Rose’s 2006 book, “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring”. The series was created by Craig Silverstein.

10. “The Book of Negroes” (BET; 2015) – Aunjanue Ellis, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Louis Gossett Jr. starred in this television adaptation of Lawrence Hill’s 2007 novel about the experiences of an African woman who was kidnapped into slavery.

“Comic Book Movies: Critical Hypocrisy”

I first wrote the following article during the early fall of 2016:

 

“COMIC BOOK MOVIES: CRITICAL HYPOCRISY”

It just occurred to me that none of Marvel’s Captain America films ended on a happy note. Yet, they have never been criticized for possessing too much angst or being depressing. On the other hand, D.C. Comics films like 2016’s “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” have been accused of being dominated by these traits. And I have never understood this contrasting attitude toward the two comic book movie franchises. 

In “CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER”, Steve Rogers lost his close friend, James “Bucky” Barnes during a mission. He was forced to crash the HYDRA plane into the cold Atlantic Ocean, where he froze for the next 66 to 67 years. Because of the crash, his burgeoning relationship with S.S.R. Agent Peggy Carter abruptly ended, with her believing that he had died. The movie ended with Steve awakening in 2011 New York City as a fish out of water and the world completely changed.

Although I love it with every fiber in my body, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” proved to be a rather depressing film, if one is completely honest. The only positive thing that came out of it was Steve’s new friendship with Afghanistan War veteran, Sam Wilson. Otherwise, the movie featured the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the very agency that his old love Peggy Carter, Howard Stark and Chester Philips had created, due to a major mistake they had committed. And that mistake turned out to be the recruitment of former HYDRA scientist, Armin Zola into the newly formed S.H.I.E.L.D. agency. Steve discovered that despite Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull’s death, HYDRA continued to exist and that it had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and the U.S. Senate. He also discovered that his former best friend, Bucky Barnes, was not only alive, but also a brainwashed assassin for HYDRA. Everything eventually went to shit by the end of film, including Steve’s career with S.H.I.E.L.D.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” proved to be another depressing film. It introduced the Sokovia Accords, a United Nations sponsored document that forced enhanced beings like himself and other members of the Avengers to register with and be regulated by various governments. The main drive behind the Accords was Secretary of Defense and former U.S. Army General Thaddeus Ross, who had been the nemesis of Bruce Banner aka the Hulk. The Sokovia Accords finally gave Thaddeus Ross the opportunity to control a team of enhanced beings. The ninety-something Peggy Carter finally died. And the Avengers faced another threat – a Sokovian named Zemo, who wanted revenge for the destruction of his country – an event caused by Tony Stark’s creation of an artificial intelligence (A.I.) called Ultron. And Zemo also used the still brainwashed Bucky Barnes, whose past involved being coerced by HYDRA into murdering Howard and Maria Stark, to get his revenge. Between the Accords and Zemo, the Avengers suffered a permanent split by the end of the movie.

On the other hand, many film critics and moviegoers have criticized about “darker” aspects of the DCEU films. They have accused director Zack Snyder and the production teams behind the DCEU movie franchise of being too depressing or portraying its major protagonists as a bit too angsty. One, I see nothing wrong with morally and emotionally complex comic book hero movies. Also, at least two of the DCEU movies, “MAN OF STEEL” and “SUICIDE SQUAD” ended on a happier note.

“MAN OF STEEL” ended with Clark Kent aka Superman moving to Metropolis and joining the staff of The Daily Planet as a junior reporter and exchanging a knowing smile with his love, Lois Lane – the only person other than his mother who knew of his identity as Superman. “SUICIDE SQUAD” told the story of a group of super villains (two of them, meta-humans) who were forced to battle a powerful sorceress, bent upon world-domination by the director of A.R.G.U.S., Amanda Waller. Although Waller’s right-hand man, Colonel Rick Flagg, had allowed the villains to walk away after she had been kidnapped, the “Suicide Squad” assisted Flagg in taking down the Enchantress anyway. They were repaid with a reduced prison sentence and a few benefits. Also, “SUICIDE SQUAD” was filled with a great deal of humor – something that many critics and moviegoers have complained that the DCEU was lacking.

I find it ironic that “MAN OF STEEL” and “SUICIDE SQUAD” have been criticized for being “depressing and angst-riddled”, along with the DCEU’s boogeyman, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (which I also adore with every fiber of my being). Yet, the MCU’s Captain America films have managed to evade such criticisms, despite their ambiguous endings. Why have many critics and moviegoers have been so hard on the DCEU films about their ambiguity and given the Captain America films a pass? Hypocrisy much?

Post-Script:  And the hypocrisy has continued.  As late as the summer of 2018, many moviegoers and critics have either expressed hope that the DCEU would release more light-hearted and “hopeful” films.  They have also expressed hope that Warner Brothers Studios’ upcoming releases – “AQUAMAN”, “SHAZAM” and “WONDER WOMAN 1984” – will feature more fun-oriented plots.

Yet, during the same year, Marvel Films/Disney Studios released three MCU films – “BLACK PANTHER”, “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” and “ANT-MAN & THE WASP”.  The first film proved to be an angst-filled and political family drama.  The second film ended on a catastrophic note in which the main villain achieved his goal and wiped out half of the universe’s population – including many familiar characters.  And although the third film proved to be a lot more light-hearted, its post-credit scene ended on a devastating note – a residual of what happened in the second film.  Hardly anyone complained about this and instead, complimented the MCU franchise for its willingness to be more serious.

Like I said . . . the hypocrisy has continued.

“West to Laramie” [PG] – 4/4

Part 4 – The conclusion of a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.

“WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 4

May 10, 1860

Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Falmouth, MA

Dear Cousin Elizabeth,

How is your family? You should receive the last letter I had written to you from Fort Kearny with a few weeks. But so much has happened that I decided to write another.

Since leaving the Fort, the trip has become even more miserable. The weather remains hot and windy. A pale-colored dust called alkali continues to blow in our faces. Gnats take every opportunity to bite us. And we still have to contend with the constant verbosity of Mr. Hornbottom. The gambler, Mr. McEvers, once asked him to stop talking. Mr. Hornbottom actually managed to do so for one hour.

We have stopped at least two of these home stations where we ate and rested, while the horses were being changed. We have slept at three of these stations since the beginning of our trip. What wretched hives they have turned out to be! The beds barely seemed stable and are infested with bugs. The meals usually consisted of rancid meat (usually bacon) and fried corn dodgers. However, at least one of these home stations did provide satisfactory service. But I do find myself longing for Fort Kearny or anywhere east of Kansas.

At the first home station west of Fort Kearny, a Mr. William Duff joined our stagecoach. A former trapper and wagon train guide, he plans to head for Virginia City and prospect for silver in the Nevada mines. To our surprise, he turned out to be an old friend of Mr. Wright, the shotgun rider. Mr. Duff spent his first day riding with Mr. Kolp and Mr. Wright on top. The following day, he switched places with Captain Pearson (thank goodness). He turned out to be a lively companion. Unfortunately, he also possesses an offensive body odor. Practically everyone inside the coach had no choice but to cover their noses with handkerchiefs in order to breath.

Two days following our departure from Kearny, we had encountered a ferocious thunderstorm. Mr. McEvers’ mistress went into hysterics and at one point, opened the door and tried to jump out of the coach. Fortunately, Mr. McEvers and Captain Pearson (who had rejoined us inside) managed to settle her back into her seat. It seems the ”lady” has a fear of thunderstorms dating from an incident during childhood. Before the storm finally subsided, the coach had found itself stuck in a quagmire of mud. We were forced to step outside and endure the last twenty minutes of the storm, while the men attempted to pry the coach loose. One of those Pony Express riders, a skinny young fellow with lanky brown hair and buckskins, stopped to offer his help. He and the other men finally managed to pry the coach loose from the mud after the storm subsided.

We reached another home station for a supper break within a few hours. Horrid as usual. The place – or more accurately, hovel – looked as if it could barely remain erect. The landscape looked flat and desolate. The stationmaster, a morose fellow with missing teeth, spent most of his time grunting orders to his two colored workers. His wife, an overweight slattern, prepared overcooked beans, bacon and greasy corn dodgers. Unfortunately for Mrs. Middleton, she found the meal unsettling and had to rush outside before her food could come back up. Later that evening, I had walked around the station for some fresh air in my own attempt to recover from the meal. One of the colored handymen, a tall fellow in his mid-thirties made lewd advances toward me. The other handyman, the only decent person on that station, attempted to intervene on my behalf. Before this gallant man could do so, I came to my own defense and let the lecherous pest know that I was the wrong woman to fool around with. There is nothing, I believe, like a good kick below the belt to teach a person a valuable lesson.

The next day, we passed the first of rock formations on this trail – Courthouse Rock. I swear Elizabeth, it looked as if it had been constructed by man himself. Mr. Hornbottom claimed that it strongly resembled the old courthouse in St. Louis. Our coach has now stopped near another monument called Chimney Rock. This formation bears a strong resemblance to a large, craggy tower twisting toward the sky. The reason I am able to write this letter is that we have come across a band of Indians traveling from the south. At first sight, Mr. McEvers drew out his revolver in order to shoot. But Mr. Duff stopped this act of folly in time. According to the former trapper, the Indians had given a sign of peace.

There are five of them – three men and two women. Two of the men are tall. All are muscular and gaunt-looking. They wear muslin shirts and buckskin trousers or leggings colorfully decorated with beads. The women, who are attractive, wear doeskin dresses decorated with tassels and a wide ornamental belt. According to Mr. Duff, they belong to the Ogalalla Sioux tribe. All five are on horseback and on their way to Fort Laramie. The coach stopped in order to allow Mr. Duff to converse with the newcomers. He informed us that the Indians have asked to accompany the coach to Laramie. Mr. McEvers, his mistress Lucy and Mr. Hornbottom have all objected. Captain Pearson remained silent and both Mr. Kolp and Mr. Wright have given their consent.

In a few minutes, we shall resume our journey. The traveling party now consists of five Ogalalla Sioux Indians and the usual and now nervous passengers. I have no idea how Mrs. Middleton feels about our new companions. Personally, I see no reason for us to be apprehensive. The Sioux seem friendly and there are only five of them. As for the others, it never fails to surprise me how some people can be so easily frightened by the presence of others considered different. Some things never change. Good-bye for now. You shall hear from me, once we reach Fort Laramie.

Your loving cousin,

Patricia North

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May 14, 1860

Mrs. Adalaide Middleton Taylor
231 Green Street
Philadelphia, PA

Dear Addie,

This journey has been the most tedious and uncomfortable I have ever experienced. Except for the last day. I hope that I will never have to endure what I had experienced yesterday. All I can say is thank goodness it will be a while before Patricia and I will resume our journey back East.

Four days ago, a small group of Sioux Indians had joined our coach near an earth formation called Chimney Rock to travel with to Laramie. Personally, I found them to be a barbarous and colorful group. After our journey had resumed, we passed an imposing rock formation called Scott’s Bluff. I have never seen anything like this for it resembled a walled city.

Fifty miles later, we came upon another home station. Thankfully, this station – like a previous one we had encountered nearly a week ago – not only served decent meals, but had a stoic man named Fox and his family as competent stationmasters. If only other home stations along the route could be this satisfactory. Mr. Fox warned us to be on the lookout for a band of outlaws operating in the area. I do not believe that any of us had bothered to pay attention to his warning. We were more apprehensive of our red companions.

Around noon, the following day, the three male Indians went ahead to hunt for game and left their two women behind with us. Mr. McEvers began spouting that the men had left to ”fetch their red brethren in order to massacre the lot of us”. Both Mr. Duff and Mr. Wright scoffed at the idea, pointing out that the Sioux had left behind their women. However, the rest of the passengers and I agree with Mr. McEvers – Patricia being the exception. She regarded the rest of us with scorn, but remained silent. The coach ended up being attacked after all. Thirty minutes after the Sioux men left, the very outlaws that Mr. Fox had warned us about, swooped upon the stagecoach from an isolated patch of woods, situated below a low ridge. Within minutes, they had rifles trained on us.

They were nine outlaws. Their leader, a shifty-eyed short man on a bay roan ordered two of his men to grab the Sioux women – ”for some fun later”, he had remarked. His words made my blood chill thinking of the fate of those poor women. The leader then ordered our men to throw down their weapons. As Mr. Hornbottom started to comply, three shots rang out, killing three of the bandits. The outlaws became confused as more shots followed. Another bandit fell dead. Ahead, the three Sioux men galloped toward us, releasing horrendous war cries. The bandits attempted to escape the red men’s attack, but our men took the opportunity to join in the fray. Both Captain Pearson and Mr. Duff managed to climb out of the coach, while bullets flew in all directions. We women did our best to remain out of the line of fire by crouching in our seats. Rather difficult to accomplish in full skirts One bandit aimed his rifle at Patricia, when Captain Pearson blocked his line of fire and received a bullet in the temple. Both Patricia and myself found ourselves in a state of shock when we realized that the Army officer had given his life to save hers.

Less than eight minutes later, the gun battle finally ceased. One of the bandits managed to escape. Two other bandits fell dead – including the leader. Another two became our prisoners. One prisoner turned out to be the very fellow who had killed Captain Pearson. He was seriously injured. One of the Sioux women had been injured in the shoulder. Mr. Wright and Mr. Duff slung Captain Pearson’s body over a horse and tied the latter behind the coach. We resumed our journey until we came upon another home station. There, Captain Pearson’s killer died. And the good captain’s body was buried.

Patricia and I are still in shock over Captain Pearson’s sacrifice. Perhaps both of us should have realized that he had been the type who would defend anyone he felt it was his duty to do so – despite any bigotry on his part. This reminded me of those brave Sioux Indians who had come to our rescue. How ironic! We had been so concerned with their presence that we did not take heed of Mr. Fox’s warning about the outlaws. And the Sioux turned out to be our rescuers.

It took us eighteen hours upon leaving the last home station to reach Fort Laramie. Both Robert and Penelope were at the stage depot to greet us. The wounded Indian woman went to the infirmary and Mr. Kolp informed the fort’s commander about Captain Pearson’s death and the location of his body. The remaining outlaw was arrested by troopers and sent to the jailhouse. I can only assume that he will swing from a rope within a few days for his part in the attempted robbery and the captain’s death. Some officer offered the Army’s appreciation to the Sioux for their rescue. Yet, he seemed to be rather cool about it – as if he did not want to forget that he considered them his enemies. I also detected this attitude amongst the other military personnel – including Robert, I am sorry to say. Patricia, myself and the other passengers were more appreciative toward our rescuers. They had saved our hides, after all.

Three new passengers boarded the stagecoach, while Patricia, Mr. Hornbottom and I said our good-byes to the remaining travelers. As the coach resumed its journey west, Patricia turned around and remarked that it seemed a shame there was no chance of a railroad being built in time for our trip back east. Both Robert and Penelope merely treated her remark as a joke. I believe Patricia was being serious. I certainly felt the same.

Dearest Addie! The West is such a complex place. Yes, it has its physical beauties. But it so different and stark . . . so incredibly harsh in compare to the East. It is beyond my understanding. Why on earth would anyone want to settle here? There is still good farmland back East. My love to you and Harold and I hope to see you again by early September.

I love you always,

Mother

 

“BECKY SHARP” (1935) Review

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“BECKY SHARP” (1935) Review

Being something of a film history buff, I have been aware of the 1935 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-48 novel, “Vanity Fair” for a number of years. But I have never been inclined to watch the film, until recently. 

I cannot say what led to my recent interest in “BECKY SHARP”. But it was a book on David O. Selznick that made me first aware of the 1935 film. John Hay “Jock” Whitney and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney had founded Pioneer Pictures in 1933 as a means to produce color movies. “Jock” Whitney was close friends with Selznick. He even co-financed Selznick’s production company, Selznick International, in 1935. Between the creations of Pioneer Pictures and Selznick International, the former released the first feature-length film to use the three-strip Technicolor process. “BECKY SHARP” is the sixth of eleven film and/or television adaptations of the Thackeray’s novel. It is the first in color.

“BECKY SHARP” took its title from the novel’s main character, a poor, but educated young English lady who struggles rise in the ranks of Britain’s social classes during the early years of the 19th century. Becky Sharp is the orphaned daughter of an English painter and French dancer, who graduates from Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies with a friend named Amelia Sedley. Since Amelia is the daughter of a wealthy merchant, Becky manipulates her way into her friend’s household, where she meets Amelia’s portly and jovial brother, Joseph “Jos” Sedley. Before Becky can sink her hooks into Jos, the Sedley patriarch put an end to the budding “romance” by sending Jos away to India. Meanwhile, Becky finds employment as a governess at the estate of Sir Pitt Crawley. She eventually wins the heart and hand of Crawley’s playboy son Rawdon, an officer in the British army. When news of Napoleon Bonaparte‘s escape from Elba reach Britain, Becky is reunited with Amelia, who has now married her childhood sweetheart George Osborne. The two women’s husbands and William Dobbin are deployed to Belgium to face Napoleon’s Army. But the last stages of the Napoleonic Wars proved to be the first of many crisis thrown Becky’s way.

Judging from the movie’s title, it is clear to me that screenwriter Francis Edward Faragoh had deleted a great deal of Thackeray’s novel in order to write a screenplay with a running time of eighty-four minutes. I found it odd that a film adaptation of such a famous epic novel would have such a short running time. Other epics and movie adaptations of literary works had running times that sometimes went past two hours – including “A TALE OF TWO CITIES”“MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY”“THE CRUSADES”, and “CAPTAIN BLOOD”. I can only assume that a minor and newly formed production company like Pioneer Pictures could not afford to produce the first Technicolor feature film with a running time close to or over two hours. If that was the case . . . if the Whitneys were that determined to produce the first full-featured movie in color . . . they could have chosen something that was not an adaptation of a famous epic novel. I find it ironic that Mina Nair’s 2004 adaptation of Thackeray’s novel had received a great deal of criticism for not being truly faithful to its source. I have encountered less criticism of “BECKY SHARP” than I did for the 2004 film. Yet, the latter is more faithful than the former. One of my problems with “BECKY SHARP” is that I thought the producers, director Rouben Mamoulian and screenwriter Francis Edward Faragoh did a piss poor job of adapting Thackery’s novel to the screen. I just learned that the 1935 movie is actually an adaptation of Langdon Elwyn Mitchell’s 1899 play, which was an adaptation of the 1847-48 novel. I hate to say this, but the movie’s running time of eighty-four (84) minutes did not serve the story.

There is so much in “BECKY SHARP” that was left out. Most of the narrative that focused upon Amelia was deleted, especially her fractious relationship with her father-in-law, Mr. Osborne. In fact, George’s father never made an appearance in this film. I suspect the same could be said about Mitchell’s play. The only time the movie focused upon Amelia’s character arc was when Becky was personally involved . . . namely George’s infatuation with Becky before the Waterloo battle and Becky forcing Amelia to face the truth about George in the movie’s last fifteen to twenty minutes. It is not surprising that the movie’s title was based upon the main character’s name. Not only was much of Amelia’s personal story deleted, the movie also rushed through Becky’s stay with the Sedley and Crawley families. It seemed as if Mamoulian and Faragoh could not wait to focus on the impact of Waterloo and the marriage between Becky and Rawdon. Between the handling of Amelia’s character arc and the rushed narrative in the movie’s first half, it is no wonder that I found “BECKY SHARP” particularly unsatisfying.

I found other aspects of “BECKY SHARP” unsatisfying. The sound and visual quality of the movie’s DVD version low in quality. The photography and color struck me as faded. And the sound is scratchy. For once, I am not blaming the movie’s filmmakers. Whoever had possession of “BECKY SHARP” after Pioneer Pictures had failed to maintain its original quality. But I can blame the filmmakers on other aspects of the movie. In it, the Jos Sedley character returned to Europe with a little Indian boy in tow as his personal servant. Only the “Indian servant” was portrayed by a young African-American actor named Jimmy Robinson. To this day, I am still trying to figure out how the producers and director Rouben Mamoulian saw nothing wrong in an African-American kid portraying an Indian kid. Hollywood’s casting for non-white characters seemed really skewed in this film. And then . . . there was the acting.

I am surprised that “BECKY SHARP” led to a Best Actress Oscar nomination for actress Miriam Hopkins. Granted, she handled the character’s questionable morality, desperation and charm very well. Yet, Hopkins engaged in so much hammy acting that I found myself wondering why of all her performances, she ended up earning a nomination for this particular one. I wish I could say that the rest of the cast gave better performances . . . but I cannot. Other cast members gave equally hammy performances. Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray, Alison Skipworth, G.P. Huntley and many others were equally hammy. I could not accuse Colin Tapley of hamminess on the same scale. But I found his portrayal of William Dobbin rather dramatic. And I am not being complimentary. The only cast members who actually impressed me were Frances Dee and Cedrick Hardwicke. Dee gave a surprisingly subtle and convincing performance as the sweet and passive Amelia Sedley. Thanks to Dee’s performances, audiences saw both the positive and negative aspects of Amelia’s passiveness. Hardwicke was equally subtle as Becky’s aristocratic “benefactor”, the Marquis of Steyne. Even though Steyne is an unlikable character, Hardwicke was no mustache-twirling villain.

The only reason I would recommend “BECKY SHARP” to anyone is for historical purposes. Because this is the first feature-length motion picture in color, I would recommend this movie to any film buff. Otherwise, I would stay clear of “BECKY SHARP” and consider other adaptations of William Makepeace Thackery’s novel.