“The Engagement News” [PG-13] – 4/5

 

“THE ENGAGEMENT NEWS”

Part Four

Phoebe arrived home from work and found the Halliwell household in a state of upheaval. Paige dashed toward staircase, wearing nothing but a bra, a slip and pantyhose. “What’s going on?” the middle Charmed One demanded.

“Getting ready for dinner,” Paige quickly replied. “And I’m late.” She rushed upstairs.

Piper emerged from the kitchen, wearing a calm demeanor. In fact, Phoebe thought she seemed too calm. “You’re a bit late in getting home, aren’t you?” the older sister commented. “It’s almost seven.”

Sighing, Phoebe replied, “I had a lot of work to catch up on. I didn’t even get a chance to have lunch with Jason, today.”

“Hmmm.” Piper glanced away, as if too embarrassed to meet Phoebe’s eyes. The latter sensed a surge of reluctance from her older sister. And pity. This left Phoebe feeling slightly confused.

She asked, “So . . . Paige is going out to dinner with Harry?”

“Yeah. It’s another dinner party at the McNeills,” Piper explained. “Some cousin from Australia is in town.”

“Oh.” More silence fell between the two sisters. Again, Phoebe sensed a wave of pity from the other witch. Unable to deal with the latter’s silence any longer, Phoebe exclaimed, “Piper, what’s wrong? I have this strong feeling that you’re keeping a secret from me.”

Piper sighed. Long and hard. Pity filled her dark eyes. “Pheebs, Paige and I had heard some . . .”

The doorbell rang, interrupting the older sister. Paige’s voice bellowed from upstairs, “Would somebody answer the door? It’s probably Harry!”

Phoebe shot to her feet. “I’ll answer it.” She walked toward the front door. Seconds later, she ushered Harry McNeill inside the manor. “Hey Harry,” she greeted coolly. “Paige should be downstairs in a few minutes.”

The red-haired witch smiled. “Thanks.” Then he greeted Piper. “You know, it’s too bad that you two can’t make it for dinner, tonight. You’d like Cousin Sean. He’s a real character.”

“Leo wasn’t available to baby-sit Wyatt, tonight,” Piper said. “Besides, I’m pretty tired, after all that has happened in the past week or so.”

Nodding, Harry continued, “Yeah, I can imagine. Between that Daley Bakker character, Cecile and Andre’s visit, and everyone getting engaged, the last two weeks have been pretty eventful.”

“Everyone?” Phoebe frowned. “You mean, Cecile and Andre.”

Harry replied, “Yeah. Along with Livy and Cole.”

The redhead’s news struck Phoebe like a bolt of lightning. “What?” For a minute, she thought her heart had stopped. “Did you say that . . . that Cole is . . . engaged? How could he . . . I mean . . .” She sighed. “Never mind.” Cole engaged to another woman? As she processed Harry’s bombshell, Phoebe felt her heart tear in two.

Piper rushed forward to comfort the younger woman. “Oh honey, I’m sorry,” she crooned. “I know this must be a shock to you.” She began to squeeze Phoebe’s shoulder. The latter barely noticed. “Paige and I had heard about the news from Barbara, this after . . .”

“I’m not upset,” Phoebe declared with a detachment that she did not feel. She removed her shoulder from Piper’s reach. “Why do you think I’m upset?”

The older woman’s expression told Phoebe that she was not fooled by the latter’s attitude. “Because right now, you’re doing a piss poor job of holding back your emotions,” Piper sardonically commented. “I know you, Phoebe. Cole is your ex-husband. It’s only natural . . .”

Annoyed by her sister’s superior air, Phoebe retorted, “Piper! Will you please stop it! I’m not . . . I’ll be upstairs. Excuse me!” She heaved a frustrated sigh and started upstairs. And tried to ignore the heartache within her chest.

————

Paige tried to enjoy the McNeills’ dinner party, tonight. But she felt hard-pressed to do so, while memories of the expression on Phoebe’s face clouded her thoughts. Nearly two hours earlier, she had encountered a tearful Phoebe on the manor’s second floor. It only took one glance for Paige to realize that her older sister had found out about Cole’s engagement to Olivia. She tried to talk to Phoebe – and console her. But the middle Charmed One merely rushed into her bedroom and slammed the door shut.

Since then, Paige found herself unable to enjoy herself – despite the excellent meal or the congenial company. She tried to bask in Olivia and Cole’s apparent happiness, but found herself unable to do so. Not without thinking of her sister’s own unhappiness.

“. . . meal I’ve eaten in quite a while,” Sean McNeill was saying. “Come to think of it, I haven’t had a supper this delicious since the last time I had visited.” Paige glanced at the Australian. He bore a strong resemblance to both Jack and Bruce McNeill. Yet, his features did not seem as sharp as his American cousins’. And he also possessed a bonhomie personality similar to the family’s Scottish cousin, Colin McNeill. “Gwennie,” he added, “that must have been the most tender Chateaubriand I have ever tasted.”

A flattered Gweneth McNeill smiled. “Thank you, darling,” she said. “I’m glad that you had enjoyed it. I recalled that Chateaubriand was one of your favorite dishes.”

“Now that we’re all here,” her husband, Jack McNeill, said to their guest, “what brings you here to San Francisco, Sean?”

The Australian, however, refused to be rushed. He turned to Olivia and Cole. “First, I want to offer my congratulations to the happy couple. In fact,” he then faced both Cecile and Andre, “I believe there are ‘two’ happy couples. Cupid has been busy lately, hasn’t he?”

Olivia smiled. “Seems like it. Cecile and Andre had become engaged last Friday. And Cole had proposed on Sunday night.”

“Cecile and I are getting married in February,” Andre said.

Cole added, “And Olivia and I will be getting married next month.” He paused, as a frown appeared on his face. “I have to say that I am surprised that you’re not . . . taken aback by the news. A witch marrying a daemon?”

With a shrug that surprised Paige, Sean replied, “Why should I? It’s happened before. Why do you think so many daemons can form a human appearance?”

Paige frowned. “What are you saying? That many demons have human blood? I thought demons like Cole were rare.”

“Not really, Paige,” the elder Mrs. McNeill commented. “The majority of daemons that are able to walk on this earth probably have some human ancestry. Although a good number of them – especially from the old Source’s Realm – refuse to accept this.”

Cole commented, “Raynor was one of them. I once asked him why so many daemons, aside from myself, are capable of assuming human form. He used magic as an excuse. And to be honest, I found that hard to believe, considering that a lot of daemons weren’t able to shape shift into anyone. Hell, during my old days as Belthazor, I could only shift into my demonic form or human form. I guess that Raynor or the old Source didn’t want to consider human ancestry as a possible explanation.”

Sean added, “Like I said, Miss Matthews, there have been a lot more daemon-mortal unions than anyone would care to admit.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Does this topic have anything to do with the reason why you’re here?” he demanded.

All of the McNeills and their guests stared at the Australian. “Ah yes,” he finally said. “I guess it does.” He took a deep breath. “About a few years ago, Cousin Keith had asked me to do an extensive research into the McNeills’ family history. Those McNeills who are descended from Donalda MacGugan, whose son happened to be the wizard Niallghas and whose grandson happened to be Duncan McNeill, the first laird of Dunleith. Keith had wanted me to write a book on it . . . in celebration of Castle Dunleith’s upcoming 800th anniversary, next year. Well . . . it turns out that I had learned a lot more about the family line than I had expected.”

Frowning, Bruce asked, “What do you mean . . . more?”

Sean replied, “Let me put it this way – Cole won’t be the first daemon to marry into the McNeill family.”

“Of course not,” Jack said. “Don’t forget the incubus who had conceived the wizard, Niaghall, with Donalda MacGugan.”

“Let me put it another way – Cole won’t be the second daemon to marry into our family.”

Silence filled the drawing room. Paige found herself contemplating the meaning behind the Australian’s words. She turned to Harry, who said, “You mean there have been other daemons in the family, aside from Niaghall’s father?”

Sean nodded. “That’s right, mate.”

Frowning, Olivia demanded, “Exactly how many daemons had married into our family?”

Sean sighed. “Well . . . Cole will be the fourth.”

“WHAT?” The outburst escaped from Paige’s lips before she could stop herself. The others, especially Harry, stared at her. A wan smile appeared on her lips, before she lowered her eyes.

Sean cleared his throat and repeated, “Cole will be the fourth daemon to marry into the McNeill family.” According to him, the incubus Aoidh had conceived Niaghall with the witch, Donalda MacGugan over a millennia ago. “Niaghall then had a son with Brianag McNeill, as you all know. Then around 1382, Roderick McNeill married a woman named Glynis McDougal. Turns out, she was a daemon named Ladira.”

A gasp left Cole’s mouth. Everyone stared at him. “Wait a minute! I’ve heard of her. She’s practically a legend in the Source’s Realm. A top assassin who had disappeared sometime in the late 14th century. It was rumored that she had fallen in love with a mortal. A witch. The Source – the previous Source before the last one – had sent zoltars after Ladrira. Only, they were never able to kill her. In fact, she managed to remain alive for another hundred years before the last Source – the one that Paige and her sisters had killed – managed to set a trap for her . . . and finally kill her. He became the Source about fifteen years later.”

With a nod, Sean continued, “Ladira’s son was named Fergus McNeill, an ancestor of ours. He had lived for almost three centuries. Two warlocks finally killed him in the mid 17th century.”

“Wow!” a stunned Barbara muttered. “You said something about a third daemon?”

A sigh left Sean’s mouth. “Ah, yes. From what I’ve learned, his name is Cardolan. He sometimes uses the mortal name . . .”

“IS?” Gweneth stared at her cousin-in-law. “Are you saying that he’s still alive?”

His blue-gray eyes, wide with innocence, Sean said, “Didn’t I mention that?”

“No, you didn’t.”

According to the Australian witch, Cardolan, otherwise known as Brian Grant, had become Gillian McNeill’s lover sometime after the turn of the 18th century. Their great-great-great granddaughter, Lucia Grant, ended up married to Gordon McNeill, the first McNeill to become a Californian. Lucia and Gordon went on to become Jack and Sean’s great-great grandparents.

“In other words,” Jack commented, “only the Californian and Australian members of the family are descended from this Cardolan?”

Sean added, “Cardolan had a fifteen-year marriage with Gillian McNeill. It’s not known what had ended the marriage, but they did settle somewhere near Edinburgh. They had a son named Ewan Grant. Not long after their fifteeth wedding anniversary, Gillian died of fever. Cardolan took care of Ewan, until the boy was old enough to immigrate to New York State at the age of eighteen. As for Cardolan, he’s still alive.”

“Damn!” Cecile exclaimed. “And I thought my family history was interesting.”

Bruce said, “So, you’re just making your way east, spreading the word to the family.”

“That’s about right,” Sean replied. He smiled at Cole. “I reckon this should make you feel more at home, mate.”

A half-smirk curved Cole’s lips. “You have no idea,” he said.

“Have you spoken to Mike about this?” the elderly Mrs. McNeill asked.

Groans from the other McNeills filled the room. Andre demanded, “What?”

“Mike is not going to like this,” Jack stated, shaking his head. “Hell, he’s not particularly thrilled about being from a family of witches.”

Harry explained, “Uncle Mike – Dad’s younger brother – had given up on Wicca and witchcraft a long time ago. Back in the 70s. It . . . uh, his first wife had left him, when she found out about our family background.”

His father continued, “And when he hears about this . . .” A sigh left his mouth. “Man, he’s not going to like the news.

Paige did not say anything. Nor did she feel inclined to do so. Yet, a small part of her understood exactly how Michael McNeill might feel.

End of Part Four

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Five Favorite Episodes of “EMPIRE” Season One (2015)

Below are images from Season One of the FOX TV series, “EMPIRE”.   Created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, the series stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson:
FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “EMPIRE” SEASON ONE (2015)
 
1.  (1.07) “Our Dancing Days” – Empire Entertainment hold an investors’ party, while members of the Lyon family endure setbacks and failed relationships.  Also, oldest son Andre Lyon has a breakdown, while the estranged exes, Lucious and Cookie Lyon, are caught making love by Lucious’ current fiancee, Anika Calhoun.
2.  (1.01) “Pilot” – CEO of Empire Entertainment, Lucious Lyon, is preparing for Empire’s upcoming IPO when he is diagnosed with ALS and is given only three years to live. While he plans to announce one of his three sons to eventually replace him, his ex-wife Loretha “Cookie” Lyon, is released from prison after 17 years and demands half of Empire.
3.  (1.08) “The Lyon’s Roar” – As part of a family legacy and to reconcile everybody, Lucious wants Cookie, Jamal, Hakeem and him to record a song together. Andre, who is not musically talented, feels left out and tries to be voted interim CEO in case Lucious becomes incapacitated, but the latter refuses.
4.  (1.05) “Dangerous Bonds” – Cookie receives an anonymous gift she suspects may be a veiled threat from a person from her past.  Meanwhile, Lucious proposes marriage to Anika and asks her father, a medical doctor, to sign a false health certificate which he needs for his IPO.
5.  (1.12) “Who Am I?” – As the time comes for the Empire stock launch and the celebratory tribute concert, Lucious picks his successor for the company’s CEO.  As Lucious gets ready to perform at his legacy concert, he is arrested for allegedly killing Cookie’s blackmailing cousin, Bunkie.

“TAKEN AT THE FLOOD” (2006) Review

taken at the flood

Warning – this review contains major spoilers.

“TAKEN AT THE FLOOD” (2006) Review

Written in 1948, Agatha Christie’s novel called “Taken at the Flood” told the story of the Cloade family in post-war Britian, who depends upon the good will of their cousin-in-law, Rosaleen Hunter Cloade; after her husband and their cousin is killed in an air raid during World War II. When her controlling brother, David, refuses to share Gordon Cloade’s fortunate, the family enlists Poirot’s help to prove that Rosaleen’s missing first husband, Robert Underhay, might not be dead. Although the novel received mixed reviews when it was first published, it now seems highly regarded by many of Christie’s modern day fans.

Nearly sixty years later, screenwriter Guy Andrews adapted the novel for ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” series. However, Andrews set the novel in the 1930s, which has been the traditional setting for the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” series. In doing so, Andrews changed the aspect of Gordon Cloade’s death, making it an act of murder, instead of a wartime casualty. This change also removed the ennui that a few of the characters experienced in a post-war world. Other changes were made in the screenplay. The character of Rosaleen Cloade became a morphine addict. She also survived a morphine overdose. Also, Andrews changed the fate of the story’s leading female character, Lynn Marchmont.

I really wish that Andrews and director Andy Wilson had maintained the novel’s original setting of post-war Britain. It would not have hurt if “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” broke away from its usual mid-1930s setting to air a story set ten years later. Most adaptations of the Jane Marple novels have always been set in the 1950s. Yet, both adaptations of Christie’s novel, “A Murder Is Announced” managed to break away from that decade and set the story in its proper setting – mid-to-late 1940s. By changing the setting and making Gordon Cloade a murder victim, Andrews and Wilson transformed the original novel’s theme, which centered on how some of the characters took advantage of a certain situation to “make their own fortune”. This theme brings to mind the story’s title and its origin – a quotation from William Shakespeare’s novel, “Julius Caesar”. The movie also established a friendship between the Cloade family and Hercule Poirot. And if I must be honest, I find this friendship implausible. The Cloade family struck me as arrogant, greedy, corrupt, and a slightly poisonous bunch. I find it hard to believe Poirot would befriend any member of that family – with the exception of the leading female character, Lynn Marchmont. And she struck me as too young to be an old friend of his.

Despite my misgivings over the movie’s setting and some of the changes, I must admit that most of the story seemed intriguing. Despite being an unpleasant bunch, the Cloade family provided the story with some very colorful characters that include a telephone harasser and a drug addict. Lynn is engaged to her cousin Rowley Cloade and it is clear that she does not harbor any real love for him . . . even before meeting Rosaleen’s brother David. And instead of being a war veteran and former member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, Lynn is merely a returnee from one of Britain’s colonies in Africa. Actress Amanda Douge portrayed Lynn with great warmth and style.

But David Hunter proved to be the most interesting and well-written character in the story. I would go further and state that he might be one of the most complex characters that Christie ever created. David is blunt to a fault, arrogant and has no problems in expressing his dislike and contempt toward the Cloades. He does not make an effort to hide some of his less than pleasant personality traits and is a borderline bully, who is controlling toward his sister. The character provided actor Elliot Cowan with probably one of his better roles . . . and he made the most of it with great skill. When David Hunter and Lynn Marchmont become romantically involved, Cowan ended up creating great screen chemistry with Douge.

The mystery over Rosaleen Cloade’s marital state proved to be rather engaging. One is inclined to believe both Rosaleen and David that she was widowed before marrying Gordon Cloade. But when a man named Enoch Arden appeared and claimed that Rosaleen’s first husband is still alive, the audience’s belief in the Hunter siblings is shaken. But when Arden is killed violently, David becomes suspect Number One with the police and Poirot.

I have already commented upon Elliot Cowan and Amanda Douge’s performances in “TAKEN AT THE FLOOD”. I was also impressed by Patrick Baladi’s portrayal of Lynn’s obsessive and intense fiancé, Rowley Cloade. Eva Birthistle was subtle and unforgettable as David’s nervous and very reserved sister, the wealthy widow Rosaleen Cloade. And veteran performers such as Jenny Agutter, Penny Downie, Tim Pigott-Smith, Pip Torrens and a deliciously over-the-top Celia Imrie provided great support. I also have to commend David Suchet, who gave his usual first-rate performance as detective Hercule Poirot. If there is one virtue that “TAKEN AT THE FLOOD” possessed, it was a first-rate cast.

“TAKEN AT THE FLOOD” could have been a first-rate movie. But I believe that both Andrews and Wilson dropped the ball in the movie’s last thirty minutes. Their biggest mistake was adhering closely to Christie’s original novel. I am aware of some of the changes they made and I had no problems with some of them. However, the other changes really turned me off. But despite these changes, they managed to somewhat remain faithful to the novel. As as far as I am concerned, this was a major mistake.

In the novel, David Hunter ended up murdering Rosaleen Cloade by giving her a drug overdose. Poirot managed to reveal that Rosaleen was merely his sister’s former housemaid, who became an accomplice in a scam to assume control of the Cloade fortune. Andrews’ script changed this by allowing Rosaleen to attempt suicide and survive. Instead, Andrews allowed David to be guilty of murdering his sister and brother-in-law in a house bombing featured at the beginning of the movie. Worse, Poirot claimed that David had deliberately impregnated the false Rosaleen and forced her to get an abortion in order to control her. Poirot also hinted he was behind the fake Rosaleen’s suicide attempt. How he came to this conclusion is beyond me. In other words, Andrews’ script transformed David Hunter from a swindler and killer of his accomplice to an out-and-out monster. In the end, he was hanged for his crimes.

Both Christie and Andrews’ handling of the Cloade family proved to be even more incredible. Mrs. Frances Cloade had recruited a relation to call himself as Enoch Arden and claim that Robert Underhay was still alive. Another member of the Cloade family recruited a Major Porter to lie on the stand and make the same claim. Later, Major Porter committed suicide.

The murder of Enoch Arden proved to be an accident. In other words, Rowley Cloade discovered that Arden was the relation of his cousin-in-law, Mrs. Frances Cloade, reacted with anger and attacked the man. Rowley’s attack led to Arden’s fall and his death. Then Rowley proceeded to frame David by deliberately smashing in Arden’s head in order to make it resemble murder. Upon Lynn’s revelation that she was in love with David Hunter, Rowley lost his temper and tried to strangle her. Poirot and a police officer managed to stop him. One, Rowley was guilty of manslaughter, when he caused Enoch Arden’s death. Two, he was guilty of interfering with a police investigation, when he tried to frame David for murder. And three, he was also guilty of assault and attempted murder of Lynn Marchmont. Once Poirot discovered that Arden’s death was an accident caused by Rowley, he immediately dismissed the incident and focused his attention on David Hunter’s crimes.

In the end, Rowley was never arrested, prosecuted or punished for his crimes. Frances Cloade was never questioned by the police for producing the phony Enoch Arden in an attempt to commit fraud. And the member of the Cloade family who had recruited Major Porter was never prosecuted for attempting to perpetrate a fraud against the courts. The only positive change that Andrews made to Christie’s novel was allowing Lynn’s rejection of Rowley to remain permanent. In the novel, Lynn decided that she loved Rowley after all, following his attempt to kill her. She found his violent behavior appealing and romantic.

I sometimes wonder if Christie became aware of her negative portrayal of the upper-class Cloades, while writing “Taken at the Flood”, and became determined to maintain the social status quo in the novel. And she achieved this by ensuring that the lower-class David Hunter proved to be the real criminal and no member of the Cloade family end up arrested or prosecuted for their crimes. In other words, Christie allowed her conservative sensibilities to really get the best of her. Aside from the permanent separation between Lynn and Rowley, Andrews and Wilson embraced Christie’s conservatism to the extreme. And it left a bitter taste in my mouth. No wonder “TAKEN AT THE FLOOD” proved to be one of the most disappointing Christie stories I have ever come across.

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R.I.P. Tim Pigott-Smith (1946-2017)

Martha Washington’s Great Cake

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Below is an article about the dish known as Martha Washington’s Great Cake: 

MARTHA WASHINGTON’S GREAT CAKE

While perusing a website that featured different American dishes from the eighteenth century, I came across one that caught my interest. It happened to be a dessert created by First Lady Martha Dandridge Washington

The background for Martha Washington’s Great Cake began near the end of the eighteenth century. In 1796, President George Washington had decided not to serve a third term as United States President near the end of his second term. Three months after issuing his farewell address in many newspapers, he returned to his estate in Virginia called Mount Vernon in time for the Christmas holidays. His wife Martha made arrangement for a “Great Cake”, a cake filled with fruits and spices, to be baked and served on Twelfth Night, the last of twelve days of Christmas.

Great Cake had been a common dessert during the country’s Colonial Era and tended to be very large. They were usually risen cakes, very similar to the Italian dessert known as Panettone. However, the “Great Cake” created by Martha Washington was somewhat denser than a panettone and possessed more fruit and spices.

The recipe for the First Lady’s version of the “Great Cake” was discovered among her private papers by her granddaughter, Martha Parke Custis Peter. It utilized different ingredients that were common in the “Great Cakes” of the past. However, Mrs. Washington did not personally prepared the cake herself. Instead, she utilized the kitchen slaves at Mount Vernon to do the actual preparation. The First Lady’s original recipe consisted of the following:

“Take 40 eggs & divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of eggs to it a spoon full at a time till it is well work’d then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powder’d to it in the same manner than put in the Youlks of eggs and 5 pounds of flower and 5 pounds of fruit, 2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine & some fresh brandy.”

However, here is a more modern recipe for Martha Washington’s Great Cake from the Seasonal Wisdom website:

Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Ingredients:

*1 1/2 cups currants
*1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel
*1/3 cup chopped candied lemon peel
*1/3 cup chopped candied citron
*3/4 cup Madiera, divided
*1/4 cup French brandy
*3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
*1/2 cup slivered almonds
*1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
*1/2 teaspoon ground mace
*3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
*1 1/2 cups sugar
*3 large eggs, separated

Preparation:

Combine currants, orange and lemon peels, and citron in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of Madeira and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Stir the reminder of the Madeira with the brandy; cover and set aside.

When ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Drain fruits in a large strainer set over a bowl, stirring occasionally to extract as much Madeira as possible. Add the strained Madeira to the set-aside Madeira and brandy.

Combine 1/4 cup of the flour with the fruit, and mix well. Add the almonds, and set aside. Sift the remaining flour with the nutmeg and mace.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is light. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating for several minutes after adding each ingredient. Whisk the egg yolks until they are light and smooth, and add them to the butter and sugar. Continue to beat for several minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Alternatively add the spiced flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and the Madiera and brandy, beating until smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks. By hand, gently fold them into the batter, combining lightly until well blended. By hand, fold in the fruit in thirds, mixing until well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula, or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. If serving the cake plain, turn it out of the pan to cool completely. If finishing it with icing, turn the warm cake out of the pan onto a baking sheet, and proceed with the icing.

To ice the cake, spread Sugar Icing generously onto the surface, piling it high and swirling it around the top and sides. Set in the turned-off warm oven, and let sit for at least 3 hours, or until the cake is cool and the icing has hardened. The icing will crumble when the cake is sliced.

Sugar Icing Recipe for Great Cake

Ingredients:

*3 large egg whites at room temperature
*1 1/2 cups of sugar
*2 tablespoons rose water or orange-flower water

Preparations:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites on low speed, gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the sugar. After about 3 minutes, or when they just begin to form soft peaks, increase the speed to high and continue adding the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until all the sugar is incorporated and the egg whites form soft peaks.

Add the rose water, and continue beating to form stiff peaks. Use immediately to ice the cake.

“DUPLICITY” (2009) Review

Duplicity (2009)

“DUPLICITY” (2009) Review

Several years ago, “BOURNE” franchise scribe/director Tony Gilroy went another direction and wrote and directed this 2009 comedy thriller that barely earned a profit at the box office. This romantic spy flick centered around a pair of romantically involved former intelligence spies who team up for a business scam that would allow them to enjoy an extravagant lifestyle together. 

“DUPLICITY” began five years in the past in which MI-6 agent Ray Koval is ordered to seduce and spy upon a woman named Claire Stenwick, who unbeknownst to him, is a CIA agent. After Claire drugs Ray and steals classified documents from him. The movie’s opening shifts to a physical fight between CEOs Howard Tully of Burkett & Randle and Dick Garsik of Equikrom, establishing the longstanding professional rivalries between the pair. Several years later, Ray, who has become a corporate spy for Equikrom, encounters Claire in New York City. He eventually discovers that she has been an Equikrom corporate spy, working undercover at Burkett & Randle. Ray and Claire decide to create a con job in which they manipulate a corporate race between Tully and Garsik to corner the market on a medical innovation. A con job they hope will reap huge profits for them.

When I first saw the trailer for “DUPLICITY”, I figured that Gilroy would have a smash hit on his hands. He had two leads whose screen chemistry had already been established in the 2004 romantic drama, “CLOSER”. He also had Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson (both fresh from winning awards for their performances in the 2008 HBO miniseries, “JOHN ADAMS”). And he had an interesting story line. What could go wrong? Apparently, a good deal went wrong.

To be honest, “DUPLICITY” was not a terrible movie. The four leads and the supporting cast provide excellent performances – especially Roberts and Owen. And Gilroy managed to write a very witty script. Unfortunately, I also found his script slightly confusing thanks to the flashbacks that featured Roberts and Owen’s budding romance and a slow build up to their scheme to scam Giamatti and Wilkinson. But what prevented “DUPLICITY” from being a winner for me was the ending. As it turned out, Wilkinson’s character had been aware of the scheming ex-spies all along and used them to bankrupt his rival, Giamatti, with phony plans for a new medical innovation. A flashback revealing the listening bug in Roberts’ apartment revealed how he had learned of their scheme. But the movie failed to explain how he had become suspicions of the two in the first place. I also have to add that I was disappointed that Roberts and Owen’s characters had failed to succeed in their scheme. I usual hate these ironic of endings in comedic movies that feature con artists.

What else can I say? “DUPLICITY” featured some excellent performances from Julia Roberts (who had earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy for her performance), Clive Owens and the rest of the cast. Tony Gilroy’s screenplay also featured a good deal of witty humor. But if anyone plans to watch this film and expects a well written and fascinating narrative, I suspect that viewer might end up disappointed. I certainly was.

“The Engagement News” [PG-13] – 3/5

 

“THE ENGAGEMENT NEWS”

Part Three

Jason Dean closed the portfolio on the table before him and nodded. “Impressive,” he commented. “Very impressive. No wonder Jack McNeill had decided to buy your new software.” He glanced at his attorney. “Don’t you agree, Marcia?”

The billionaire’s attorney, an attractive middle-aged woman named Marcia Freeman, continued to peruse her copy of the Crescent Incorporated portfolio with appreciative eyes. “I certainly do.”

“That’s it then,” Jason said, smiling at Cecile Dubois and Cole Turner. “We have a deal. So, uh . . . when do you want to discuss the particulars?”

Both Cecile and Turner exchanged a brief glance. The latter answered, “How about the day after tomorrow? On Friday morning? I have a meeting, tomorrow, with another client. And I need to draw up a contract.”

“We . . . need to draw up the contract,” Marcia firmly corrected. Turner politely acknowledged her comment with a brief smile.

Jason suggested, “How about ten o’clock, Friday morning? In this room?”

“Fine with me,” Cecile complied. “Cole?” Her attorney nodded. Then she stood up and glanced at her watch. “Looks like I still have time for some shopping before I meet Andre.”

The mention of the other New Orleans visitor reminded Jason of some news he had just heard. “Oh, by the way,” he said, “congratulations on your engagement. Phoebe told me the good news.”

A radiant smile graced Cecile’s lovely face. “Thanks. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who’s engaged.”

“Oh?”

The New Orleans woman nodded at her attorney. “Cole is also engaged. To Olivia.”

The news shook Jason to his core. While Marcia offered her congratulations to the visitors, the newspaper publisher stared at his girlfriend’s ex-husband in shock. Olivia McNeill . . . engaged? Jason had never considered the redhead as the marrying kind. When he finally recovered from his shock, he slowly offered his hand to Turner. “Congratulations,” he murmured.

Turner smiled. “Thanks. Olivia and I haven’t set a date, yet.”

“What about your honeymoon?” Jason said. “Have you considered the Far East? Hong Kong or Singapore?”

A long-suffering expression flashed across Turner’s face. “Actually, Olivia and I have already made our decision. Orlando.”

“Huh?” Jason blinked. “As in Central Florida?”

Turner sighed and continued, “As in Walt Disney World.”

Marcia cooed with delight. “That sounds marvelous! My younger brother and his wife had spent their honeymoon there. They stayed at the Boardwalk Resort.”

“Olivia is considering the Grand Floridian Hotel.”

Jason turned to Cecile. “Are you considering Walt Disney World, also?”

Cecile shook her head. “Oh no. Andre and I are going to Bermuda.”

“Lucky Andre,” Jason overheard Turner mumble.

While Cecile and Turner continued to discuss their separate wedding plans with Marcia, Jason’s thoughts returned to his former girlfriend. During the three months they had dated, Olivia had never shown any inclination for a deeper relationship. Or any kind of emotional attachment, for that matter. Jason had always felt that she kept him at arms’ length. He shot one last glance at the dark-haired attorney, and wondered what the latter had possessed to snare the extroverted, yet very elusive Olivia McNeill. One last thought came to him. He wondered if Phoebe knew about the engagement.

———-

Sean McNeill greeted his American cousin with his usual bear hug. “Jack! Bloody hell! Look at you, man! Just as healthy as ever. How are Gwennie and the kids? And your ma?”

Jack returned his younger cousin’s greeting with a smile. Sean had inherited the McNeill family’s looks – dark-brown hair, blue-gray eyes and a tall figure. Only his features were not as sharp as Jack’s. Also, Sean stood at least two inches shorter. “The family is doing fine,” Jack replied. “We, uh . . . we’re about to welcome a new member into the family, as a matter of fact.”

One of Sean’s brows rose questioningly. “Oh? So, Barbara and Bruce are expecting a baby, already?”

“Not quite.” Jack lifted one of Sean’s traveling bags with one hand and guided the other man toward the airport terminal’s exit with the other. Outside, they found Davies standing by the family’s limousine. After Sean’s bags were loaded into the trunk, the three men climbed into the limo . . . and Davies guided it back toward the city’s limits.

Jack turned to his cousin. “So, what exactly is the big news that had surprised the hell out of Belinda?”

“You first,” Sean said. “Who’s the new member of the family?”

“Going to be,” Jack corrected. “Olivia is engaged.”

Sean’s brows knitted into a frown. “Engaged? To . . . To that daemon fella? Belthazor? The one I had met in Scotland, last summer?”

As he mentally prepared himself to come to Cole’s defense, Jack warily replied, “That’s right. Belthazor. Apparently, Cole had asked Livy to marry her, Sunday night. Now, I realize this might come as a shock to you . . .”

To Jack’s surprise, Sean threw back his head and broke into laughter. “Bloody hell! I can’t believe it! It’s just too . . . oh, I don’t know . . . ironic.”

Ironic? Jack frowned. “Huh? What the hell are you getting at?”

A smirk appeared on Sean’s lips. “Oh, it’s nothing, mate. Well . . . actually, you’ll find out, tonight.” The smirk remained fixed upon his lips, as the limousine continued its journey back into the city.

———–

The bell above Ostera’s front door rang, as the two Charmed Ones entered the shop. The younger sister strode toward the young woman who stood behind the front counter. “Hey Maddy,” Paige greeted. “Has Barbara arrived yet?” Paige referred to the shop’s owner, Barbara McNeill, who has yet to arrive for the day.

Ostera’s other assistant, Madeline Oser, shook her dark head. “Nope. Not yet. And it’s almost one-thirty.” She glanced at the other newcomer. “Hi Piper. How’s Wyatt?”

Piper Halliwell smiled at her sister’s co-worker. “Fine. He’s with his dad, right now. So, Barbara hasn’t shown up for the day?”

“Doctor’s appointment,” Paige curtly explained. “She was supposed to be here over an hour ago. I guess she decided to stop for lunch.”

Once more, the door’s bell rang. A beautiful woman with windblown blond hair rushed into the shop. “Finally made it!” Barbara declared breathlessly. “Sorry, I’m late. I had to wait for my doctor, who ended up a half hour late.” She paused. “Okay, and I did a little shopping. Have you two had lunch, yet?”

Maddy nodded, while Paige replied, “Piper and I just got back.”

Barbara’s blue eyes settled upon the oldest Charmed One. “Oh. Piper. I didn’t realize you were here.”

“I usually have that effect upon people,” Piper commented sardonically. “How are you, Barbara?”

The blond witch smiled. “Just fine. Aside from a ridiculously long wait at the doctor’s office. And the lunch crowd at Macy’s was just horrible.”

Paige walked around the front counter. “What were you doing there, anyway?” she asked her employer. “Were they having a sale?”

“Shopping for wedding presents,” Barbara said.

Piper frowned. “Don’t you mean a wedding present? In the singular form? Or do you and Bruce plan to buy more than one present for Cecile and Andre?”

“More than one?” Confusion whirled in Barbara’s eyes. “Why would I . . . oh! That’s right. You haven’t heard.”

“Heard what?” Maddy demanded.

Barbara continued, “Olivia and Cole. They’re engaged. They became engaged on Sunday night. And they should be getting married next month.”

The two Charmed Ones stared at the blond witch in silent shock. Only Maddy immediately responded. “Wow! There’s sure a lot of matrimony in the air, lately.”

Paige became the first to rediscover her voice. “Are you serious? Cole and Livy are engaged?”

“Oh my God,” Piper murmured. “If this ever gets out . . .”

Paige retorted, “What are you talking about? Of course it’s going to get out. I doubt that Livy or Cole would hide the news. I’m just wondering how the Elders will react, when they found out.”

Barbara rolled her eyes in contempt. “Who the hell cares? Frankly, it’s none of their concern. And what can they do?”

“Never mind the Elders,” Piper said with a derisive snort. “Can you image Phoebe’s reaction?”

With a frown, Barbara said, “Why would Phoebe be upset? Isn’t she now dating that guy . . .?” She broke off, as both sisters regard her with slight contempt. Her eyes widened with realization. “Oh. Oh!” Then she sighed. “Huh. Poor Phoebe.”

———

‘Cole, your mother had waited four to five years to kill your father. Now that’s a hell of a long time to wait to get someone out of the way. Haven’t you ever asked yourself . . . why?’

The question reverberated inside Cole’s head, over and over again. He tried to ignore Olivia’s words from last night, by returning his attention to the contract before him.

‘At least I know why Leo tried to coerce me into killing you. Tell me Cole, do you know why your mother had killed your dad?’

Shit! A growl escaped Cole’s mouth. He slammed the pen onto the desk and leaned back in his chair, longing for peace from the thoughts in his head.

He took a deep breath and sighed. Of course he knew why his mother had killed his father. Raynor had told him, years ago. Mother wanted the Turner fortune. Pure and simple. And the only way to gain control of that fortune – at least according to Raynor – was to kill her husband, leaving Adam Turner’s only male grandchild as the major beneficiary. Through Cole, she would have control of the money.

Ten decades later, Cole realized that Raynor’s explanation had cracks. Although Nimue did end up taking control of the Turner family’s fortune after his grandfather’s death, she had relinquish that control when Cole turned twenty-one. That little action stumped him. Why had she relinquished control? Raynor explained that Nimue had no choice, since that she could no longer exercise parental control over her son. However, his mentor did warn that Nimue would find some way to influence him – and use the Turner fortune for her benefit. But the more Cole thought about Raynor’s words . . . and his relationship with his mother, the more he realized that Nimue had never harbored any real interest in the Turner fortune. In fact, she rarely brought up the subject. And if he had to be perfectly honest with himself, Cole also realized that he had allowed Raynor to use his feelings surrounding Benjamin’s death to manipulate both him and his relationship with Nimue. Because of this, Cole had rarely bothered to touch his grandfather’s money. And if Raynor had been wrong about Mother’s reasons for killing Father, why did she really do it? What were the real circumstances that led to Benjamin Turner’s death?

Cole decided that the only way he would ever learn the truth, would be to re-establish a relationship with his mother. He took a deep breath and picked up the telephone receiver. Then he dialed the number to Olivia’s cell phone.

———-

The cell phone rang. Olivia quickly picked it up and answered, “Hello?”

“Olivia? It’s me . . . Cole,” said the soft, masculine voice on the other end of the line. “I, uh . . . I mean . . .”

The redhead understood his hesitation. Their quarrel over Cole’s mother had left relations between the newly engaged couple, slightly cool. They had barely exchanged a warm word before leaving for work, earlier this morning.

The half-daemon inhaled slightly, before he continued. “I’ve decided to change my mind about Mother. I’m going to tell her about us. About our engagement.”

“Oh.” Olivia did not know whether to be relieved . . . or apprehensive that she may have pressured him into changing his mind. “Listen Cole,” she said, “you don’t have to tell her on my account. If you don’t really want to . . .”

Cole interrupted. “No. I do. For some bizarre reason,” he hesitated, “. . . a part of me wants to tell her. And I guess I think we need . . . Never mind. Look, I don’t know how she’ll react when she learns that her only son is about to marry another witch, but . . . well, that’s too bad for her. But I would rather tell Mother myself, than have her find out through someone else.”

Olivia understood. “Do you want me to accompany you?” she asked. “We can go together, after the dinner party for Cousin Sean.”

A long pause followed before Cole murmured, “Yeah, I would appreciate it.”

“Good. Then . . . we’ll leave dinner a little earlier than usual. I’ll see you this evening. Bye.”

Cole replied, “Bye,” and hung up.

Slowly, Olivia disconnected her cell phone. Then she leaned back into her chair. And allowed her body to sag with relief.

———-

Leo stared at Piper in disbelief. “Say that again?”

“Say what?” Piper replied. “That Cole and Olivia are getting married? Okay. Cole and Olivia are getting married. Next month.”

Horror filled Leo’s blue eyes. “Oh my God! That can’t be . . . I can’t believe that Jack McNeill would allow such a thing. He has to stop this!”

One of Piper’s brows formed an arch. “Stop it? How? May I remind you, Leo, that Olivia is a grown woman? She doesn’t need permission to get married from her parents. Or from the Elders Council, for that matter.”

Leo’s face tightened. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means . . .” Piper cut off, as her new whitelighter orbed into the middle of the kitchen. “Oh God! Now what?”

Chris barely acknowledged Leo’s presence with a grimace, before he turned to Piper. “Say, have you or the others found out anything else about the Anansi Order?”

Piper frowned. “The what?”

“Hel-lo? The Anansi Order? The group of Voodoo witch doctors that Whatsnername . . . Daley Bakker belonged to!”

Sharply, Piper replied, “One, it’s called Vodoun. Two, they’re not witch doctors. And three, no I haven’t! It’s only been two or three days, Chris. And Andre has been to busy with Olivia’s new store to tell us anything. Besides, I thought we had told you that we have no intention of going after them, unless it’s necessary?”

Chris retorted, “Considering that one of their members had managed to steal Wyatt’s powers temporarily, I would say that information is necessary.”

“Oh for God’s sake! Chris, as far my sisters and I are concerned, the Elders can hold their breaths on that information about the Anansi Order.” She shot a quick glance at Leo. “No insult intended.”

Leo sighed. “None taken.”

Piper continued, “Besides, there’s still the matter of finding out who had hired that demon, Nairn, to attack Wyatt and me. Which means there is someone else who wants Wyatt dead.”

With a frown Leo said, “You mean the same person who had killed that witch in Santa Fe?”

“Yes.” Piper added, “Now, if the both of you don’t mind, I have some work to do. I’m sure that your fellow whitelighters must miss you, terribly.”

Chris heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. A red-faced Leo said, “They won’t, after I tell them the news about Olivia and Cole. You know, Piper, I’m surprised that you’re not all that upset over this engagement. Because you should.”

“Olivia and Cole are engaged?” Chris asked, wide-eyed.

Piper nodded. “Yes. Are they married in your future?”

A brief pause followed before the young whitelighter replied, “Well . . . yeah. Sure.” He glanced at Leo. “Is there a problem?”

“Of course there is!” Leo retorted. “A union between Olivia and Cole could prove to be a major threat to the future of magic! Can you imagine how powerful their child would be? A child that will be one-quarter demon?”

To Piper’s surprise, Chris seemed unconcerned. “Trust me when I say that you won’t have to worry about Olivia and Cole’s . . . child becoming a major threat. In fact, someone else’s . . .” He sighed. “Never mind. I’ve gotta go.”

Wondering what Chris was about to reveal, Piper added, “Well, I guess that’s it, then. No reason for us to worry about Olivia and Cole. Leo, thanks for taking care of Wyatt. Chris, thanks for the information. And good-bye . . . both of you.”

The two whitelighters regarded each other sheepishly, before they orbed out of the kitchen. Piper sank into the nearest chair and sighed with relief.

End of Part Three

“LOVE AND WAR” (1984) Book Review

 

LOVE AND WAR (1984) Book Review

I have stumbled across my share of “Best Civil War Novels” lists on the Internet. I have yet to come across a list that includes John Jakes’ 1984 novel, “LOVE AND WAR”

Back in the 1980s, Jakes created his second major literary series, a trilogy about two wealthy American families during a period of thirty years during the 19th century. The first novel, “NORTH AND SOUTH” (1982) focused on the experiences of the Hazards of Pennsylvania and the Mains of South Carolina between the years 1842 and 1861. “HEAVEN AND HELL” (1987), the third novel, is set between 1865 and 1877. But the second novel, “LOVE AND WAR” focused on the two families’ experiences during the Civil War.

The trilogy began when George Hazard, the son of a wealthy iron industrialist; and Orry Main, the son of a South Carolina rice planter; first met on their way to West Point in the late spring of 1842. The pair quickly became life-long friends, as they survived four years at the military academy, the Mexican-American War, and nearly a decade-and-a-half of political strife over the issue of slavery. Due to George and Orry’s friendship, their two families became very close over the years. By the end of “NORTH AND SOUTH”, George’s younger brother Billy had married Orry’s younger sister, Brett. Orry and the love his life, Madeline Fabray LaMotte, finally reconciled after years of clandestine meetings, when Madeline left her venal husband Justin Lamotte, after seventeen years of marriage.

However, following the outbreak of the Civil War, the friendship and familial connection between the Hazards and the Mains became tested when the Civil War begins. “LOVE AND WAR” began two weeks after “NORTH AND SOUTH” ended – in late April 1861. By the beginning of “LOVE AND WAR”, the two families consist of:

The Hazards
*George Hazard – one of the protagonists, who is a former Army officer and like his father, an iron industrialist
*Constance Flynn Hazard – George’s Irish-born wife and an abolitionist
*Stanley Hazard – George’s older brother, who left the iron trade to become a politician
*Isobel Truscott Hazard – Stanley’s shrewish and social-climbing wife
*Virgilia Hazard – George’s only sister and die-hard abolitionist
*Billy Hazard – George’s younger brother and Army officer
*Brett Main Hazard – Orry’s youngest sister and Bily’s new bride

The Mains
*Orry Main – one of the protagonists, who is a former Army officer and like his father, a rice planter
*Madeline Fabray LaMotte Main – Orry’s wife and widow of Justin LaMotte
*Cooper Main – Orry’s older brother and owner of a shipping company
*Ashton Main Huntoon – Orry’s younger sister and die-hard secessionist
*Charles Main – Orry’s young cousin, who had resigned from the U.S. Army to join the Confederacy Army
*Judith Stafford Main – Cooper’s wife, who also happens to be an abolitionist
*James Huntoon – Ashton’s husband, who is also a secessionist and attorney
*Clarissa Brett Main – Orry’s ailing mother

The novel not only featured the viewpoints of the Hazards and Mains, but also their friends, lovers, slaves and one Elkhannah Bent, an Ohio-born Army officer who had become an enemy of George and Orry during their years at West Point. Bent even became an enemy of Charles Main, when the two had served together on the Texas frontier in the late 1850s. the outbreak and chaos of war, along with Bent’s determination to survive, failed to put a damper on his desire to strike back at George, Orry, Charles and the other members of the two families.

I noticed that most of “LOVE AND WAR” focused on the Civil War’s Eastern Theater. Aside from taking readers to the political offices, salons and the military hospitals of Washington D.C. and Union Army camps; the novel also explored the Union and Confederate home fronts in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania – the Hazards’ hometown; and the Mains’ plantation, Mont Royal, in the South Carolina low country. Jakesk also explored various historical and violent incidents on the homefront through his characters – especially the Southern bread riot that broke out in 1862 Richmond, and the 1863 New York City draft riots. Although both George and Orry become military officers again after thirteen-to-fourteen years as civilians, their wartime experiences as military bureaucrats prove to be sources of great frustration for both of them. Stanley Hazard’s role as a political aide with the War Department gave readers a look into the politics of wartime Washington D.C. Readers learn about politics in wartime Richmond via the eyes of Ashton Main Huntoon, who also happened to be a politician’s wife. Through Virgilia Hazard, readers not only discover what countless number of women – including a future famous author – experienced as a wartime nurse. Cooper Main joined the Confederate’s Navy Department at the beginning of the war and through him, readers learned about the Confederates’ efforts to construct new warships in Great Britain’s shipyards. Through characters like Charles Main and Billy Hazard, readers explored the horrors of Civil War combat and prison camps in Maryland, Pennsylvania and especially Northern Virginia. Only through the Elkhannah Bent character were readers able to experience the war’s Western theater via the Battle of Shiloh and Union occupied New Orleans.

If I must be honest, I am rather surprised that Jakes’ trilogy, especially “LOVE AND WAR”, became major bestsellers. From the recent comments and reviews I have read on the Internet, I came away with the feeling that many found “LOVE AND WAR”difficult to read. In fact, many readers have complained that the novel featured too many characters. I found this complaint rather odd, considering that novels with several major characters have been the norm during the 20th century. And when did the number of characters suddenly became a detriment to a good novel? Following my recent reading of “LOVE AND WAR”, I must admit that I find this opinion hard to accept. And then there is the matter of the novel’s content. I have discovered that a good number of critics seem unwilling to accept Jakes’ mixture of historical drama and melodrama. And so, I found myself scratching my head at another criticism. Melodrama and history in a novel? These two elements have been the norm in many historical dramas – including the still highly rated “GONE WITH THE WIND” and the “POLDARK” series. When did the mixture of history and melodrama become unacceptable?

When it comes to the mixture of history and melodrama, I believe John Jakes has proven to be one of the few novelists who did it best. In “LOVE AND WAR”, I thought he did an excellent job in conveying both the personal and historic experiences of his major characters – especially during a highly charged period in American history like the Civil War. Not only did the author explore his characters’ desires, loves, fears, personal tragedy and ambition; he did so while exploring the historical background of the novel’s setting. I just realized that aside from a handful of history books and documentaries, I managed to learn a great deal about the United States’ Antebellum period, the Civil War and the post-war era from the NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy, due to Jakes’ meticulous research and skillful writing. And about human nature.

Four of the most interesting aspects of “LOVE AND WAR” proved to be the wartime experiences of Billy Hazard, Brett Main Hazard, a former slave named Jane and Charles Main. Being an Army engineer, Billy Hazard did not participate in any battles, although he did witness a good deal of danger. Billy started out the novel as an Army officer loyal to the Union cause, but lacking any sympathy toward abolition or African-Americans – unlike Virgilia, Constance or George. Despite spending the first half of the war maintaining this attitude, it took capture by Confederate forces and a harrowing period as a prisoner of war inside Libby Prison for Billy to even understand what it means to be treated cruelly, let alone be under the complete control of another. And it took his experiences with black troops during the war’s last year to make him view them more than just subhuman, children or victims.

Ironically, his wife, Brett Main Hazard, went through a similar metamorphosis on the home front. Being the daughter and later, the sister of a South Carolina planter, Brett had difficulty adjusting to life in the North and the resentment of the Hazards’ neighbors. Throughout the novel, Brett’s encounter with several people during the war forced her to question her own priviledged Southern upbring through a series of stages. First, she helped her impoverished sister-in-law, the hardcore abolitionist Virgilia Hazard, regain some kind of physical attraction. George and Constance Hazard’s sponsorship of a local orphanage for Southern black children displaced by the war led Brett to develop compassion for them – something she had failed to do with her family’s slaves back at Mont Royal. The orphanage also led to a surprising friendship with the orphanage’s founder, a New England-born black man named Arthur Scipio Brown.

Another interesting character proved to be a young African-American woman named Jane, who found herself living at Mont Royal during the war. Jane was never owned by the Mains. She was introduced as a recently emancipated slave, who was accompanying her aunt, an elderly free black woman named Aunt Belle Nin, to the Union lines. Due to Aunt Belle’s illness, the pair sought brief refuge at Mont Royal, due to the elderly woman’s friendship with Madeline Main. Following Aunt Belle’s death, Madeline asked Jane to remain at Mont Royal and educate the plantation’s slaves in preparation for the end of the war. Madeline, who was biracial, foresaw the end of slavery and wanted the slaves to be prepared for the chaos of a post-war South. Through Jane’s eyes, readers saw how the institution of slavery affected her fellow African-Americans throughout generations. What made Jane’s role in the novel so interesting is that readers were given a closer and more personal look at the slaves as human beings than he ever did in the trilogy’s first novel, “NORTH AND SOUTH”.

Charles Main’s wartime experiences did not bring about a social and political metamorphisis as it did his cousin and best friend, Brett and Billy Hazard. Even as a child, he never really shared his family’s racism or dismiss the ugliness of slavery. On the other hand, readers were granted an exploration of life within the ranks of the Confederate Army through his eyes. Looking back, I realized that Charles’ experiences pretty much served as a metaphor for the novel’s title. Charles had began the story as a man who had already gained experience as a military officer during his four years at West Point and another four years as a U.S. Army officer on the Texas frontier. He spent his early months of the war not only trying (and sometimes failing) to instill a sense of professionalism to the Confederate soldiers who served under him. Charles’ sense of professionalism also included a belief that soldiers had no business getting involved in a serious romance. As far as Charles was concerned, serious romance prevented a soldier from being distracted and doing his job. This belief was immediately challenged after meeting a young and witty Virginia widow named Augusta Barclay, who owned a farm in Northern Virginia. Despite his efforts to maintain an emotional distance from Augusta, Charles’ feelings for her deepened. And as the war began to take an emotional toll upon him, Charles began to question the logic of continuing his romance with Augusta. If anything, Charles’ professional and personal experiences during the war proved to be a prime example of Jakes’ ability to skillfully weave both history and melodrama together.

I do have a few complaints about “LOVE AND WAR”. One, most of the novel’s setting seemed to be focused solely on the war’s Eastern Theater – with scenes and chapters set along the Eastern Seabord. Villain Elkhanah Bent’s participation in the Battle of Shiloh and his assignment in New Orleans gaves readers a view of the war’s Western theater. Also, at least three characters ended up in the New Mexico Territory by the end of the war. But a part of me wished that Jakes had allowed more scenes away from the East – as he had done in “NORTH AND SOUTH”.

But my complaint about setting is minor in compare to another issue – namely the novel’s villains. I will give Jakes kudos for managing to portray them with the same kind of complexity as he did his protagonists. I suspect that he may have somewhat succeed with Elkhannah Bent, Ashton Huntoon and Stanley Hazard. The author went further in revealing their desires, fears and ways of dealing with their personal demons and crisis. However, both Bent and Ashton still seemed less rounded than in compare to the protagonists. James Huntoon had been portrayed as a minor villain in the 1982 novel. But once his marriage fell apart, thanks to Ashton’s love affair with a smuggler and political conspirator named Lamar Powell and his career within the Confederate government stalled, Huntoon ceased to be a villain and Jakes portrayed him with a lot more sympathy.

Jakes’ portrayal of the Mont Royal slave named Cuffey began with some level of complexity, as the character expressed his anger over being considered the Mains’ property. But not much time had passed before Jakes had reduced Cuffey to a one-note thug and bully. I look back at Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of the character in the 1986 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” and found myself wishing that the literary version of the character had been portrayed in a similar manner. Jakes’ portrayal of Isabel Truscott Hazard remained as static as ever. Although Jakes seemed willing to portray Stanley with more complexity, he kept Isabel as the one-note vindictive shrew throughout the novel – with the exception of one scene in which she discovered Stanley’s affair with a tawdry actress. As for the Lamar Powell character, he struck me as a one-dimensional rogue with a cruel and controlling streak. Granted, Jakes did allow one sequence featuring Powell’s point-of-view. But that could not save the character for me.

I cannot say the same about George’s older brother, Stanley Hazard. Jakes seemed a lot more sympathetic toward Stanley in “LOVE AND WAR” than he was in the preceeding novel. Stanley did not become a better person. His views of his brother George remained as resentful as ever, despite his own success in politics. And his support of the Radical Republicans and their pro-abolitionist views was at best, a hoax on his part in order to further his career. And yet, Jakes seemed more than willing to portray Stanley with a bit more sympathy and more complexity.

On the other hand, I found it odd that Jakes was willing to be more flexible with Stanley’s character, but he could not do the same for the character’s only sister, Virgilia Hazard. Unlike other fans of Jakes’ saga, I have never regarded Virgilia as a villain and I never will. I do not regard her as perfect. And she is guilty of killing a wounded Confederate officer who had the bad luck to share the same name as her former lover, a fugitive slave named Grady who had been killed during John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. But I can never regard Virgilia as a villain. One, I share her political views . . . very strongly. Two, I find her family’s unwillingness to allow Virgilia to be herself rather frustrating. I suspect that their dismissal of her politics – due to their own conservatism and her gender – had a negative effect on her character. And three, I have noticed that Jakes’ negative portrayal of Virgilia seemed to have spread toward those historic figures that share her politics – namely the Radical Republicans.

I realize that the Radical Republicans were not perfect. But not all of them were not as bad as Jakes had portrayed them. Not once have I ever sensed the author’s willingness to portray them with any kind of sympathy or understanding. He seemed willing to criticize their behavior and policies, yet he avoids criticizing moderates such as President Lincoln like the plague. In once scene, Brett Hazrard had learned from her brother-in-law Stanley about the Republican Party’s plans to exploit the freed slaves’ gratitude over being emancipated after the war. I can only wonder if Jakes was accusing all of the Radical Republicans (including men like Thaddeus Stevens) for this willingness to exploit former slaves or fake abolitionists like Stanley and Isabel Hazard. Were all Radical Republicans – save for Virgilia – fake abolitionists? And was he trying to convey to readers that Virgilia was blind to the machinations of the Radical Republicans? Or was Virgilia simply a victim of Jakes’ overall negative attitude toward the Radical Republicans? Judging from what I have read, I can only conclude the latter.

In regard to historical accuracy, I can only account for one major example in the novel. It features an assassination plot hatched by Lamar Powell, along with the Huntoons and a few others against Confederacy president Jefferson Davis. Needless to say, this never happened. However, dislike and/or hatred of Davis did exist within the Confederacy. But aside from this story arc, Jakes painted a realistic portrait of the Civil War.

“LOVE AND WAR” is probably one of the finest Civil War novels I have ever read. The novel really gives readers a wide range view of war through the eyes of the Hazard and Main families and those with close connections to them. More importantly, Jakes managed to provide readers with a realistic portrait of the Civil War filled with a good deal of personal drama, humor, brutality, euphoria and tragedy. It is a shame that this novel is so underrated by book readers and critics today, because I thought it was simply superb, despite the few flaws it might possess. Who knows? Perhaps one day it will be universally appreciated again.

TIME MACHINE: Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

martin-luther-king-jr

TIME MACHINE: ASSASSINATION OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1929-1968)

Last April marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Civil Rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was a clergyman, a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who became known for his advancement of civil rights by using civil disobedience. 

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929; Dr. King was the son of Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Both he and his father’s legal birth names was Michael King. However, his father changed their names after a 1934 trip to Gernamny to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin. During this trip, King Sr. decided that he and his son would be called Martin Luther in honor of the German reformer, Martin Luther. Dr. King Jr. graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a B.A. degree in sociology. He then enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. He married Coretta Scot in 1953 and both became the parents of four children. In 1954, King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Dr. King’s reputation as a Civil Rights activist came to the fore in 1955 over the case involving Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger aboard a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King led a 385 days boycott of the city’s transportation system in protest against Parks’ arrest and the Jim Crow Laws that demanded she sit in the back of the bus. The Montgomery Bus Boycott brought national attention to King and his civil rights activities. Over the next twelve-to-thirteen years, he led other movements that protested against U.S. society’s treatment of African-Americans and other oppressed groups. He led the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 and gave the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and openly opposed the Vietnam War from 1965 to his death.

In early 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support the city’s African-American sanitation workers who had staged a walkout in protest against lower wages than white workers and longer hours. On April 3, 1968, King returned to Memphis On April 3, King returned to Memphis to address a gathering at the Mason Temple (World Headquarters of the Church of God in Christ). His airline flight to Memphis had been delayed by a bomb threat against his plane. King and his entourage, which included the Reverend Jesse Jackson, booked into Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel. On that day, King delivered the last speech of his life, while a thunderstorm raged outside the Mason Temple. The address is now known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Address. Here are some of the words of his last speech:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats… or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. [applause] And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! [applause] And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

On Thursday, April 4, 1968; King was standing on the Lorraine Motel’s second floor balcony, when a single .30 bullet fired from a Remington 760 Gamemaster struck King. He fell violently backwards onto the balcony unconscious. Shortly after the shot was fired, witnesses saw James Earl Ray fleeing from a rooming house across the street from the Lorraine Motel where he was renting a room. King was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors opened his chest and performed manual heart massage. He never regained consciousness and they pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. He was 39 years old.

Authorities found a package that included a rifle and binoculars with Ray’s fingerprints on them. A worldwide manhunt began for Ray and British authorities arrested him two months later at London’s Heathrow Airport. Ray was quickly extradited back to Tennessee and charged with King’s murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969. However, he later recanted this confession three days later. He was sentenced to a 99-year sentence. After an attempt to break from prison in 1977, Ray spent the rest of his life trying to withdraw his guilty plea. He died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70.

Despite pleas from other civil rights activists, King’s assassination led to a series of riots in more than 100 U.S. cities. The city of Memphis quickly settled the strike on favorable terms to the sanitation workers. A crowd of 300,000 attended King’s funeral in Atlanta, Georgia. The King family and others believe that the assassination was carried out by a conspiracy involving the US government, and that James Earl Ray was a scapegoat. This conclusion was affirmed by a jury in a 1999 civil trial.

Martin Luther King Memphis Hotel

“THE BLACK DAHLIA” (2006) Review

“THE BLACK DAHLIA” (2006) Review

Judging from the reactions among moviegoers, it seemed quite obvious that director Brian DePalma’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1987 novel had disappointed them. The ironic thing is that I do not share their feelings.

A good number of people – including a relative of mine – have told me that they had expected “THE BLACK DAHLIA” to be a docudrama of the infamous 1947 murder case. Others had expected the movie to be an epic-style crime drama similar to the 1997 Academy Award winning film, “L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” – another Ellroy adaptation. ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” proved to be neither for many fans. For me, it turned out to be an entertaining and solid film noir that I enjoyed.

Told from the point-of-view of Los Angeles Police detective Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Harnett), ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” told the story of how the January 1947 murder of Hollywood star wannabe, Elizabeth Short aka “The Black Dahlia” (Mia Kershner) affected Bleichert’s life and the lives of others close to him – especially his partner, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). The story began over three years before Short’s murder when Bleichert saved Blanchard’s life during the Zoot Riots in 1943. After World War II, the pair (who also happened to be celebrated local boxers) participated in an inter-departmental boxing match to help raise support for a political bond issue that will increase pay for the LAPD, but with a slight tax increase. Although Bleichert lost the match, both he and Blanchard are rewarded by Assistant District Attorney Ellis Loew (Patrick Fischler) with promotions and transfers to the Warrants Department and the pair became partners. Bleichert not only became partners and friends with Blanchard, he also became acquainted with Blanchard’s live-in girlfriend, a former prostitute and artist named Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). Although Bleichert fell in love with Kay, he kept his feelings to himself, due to his relationship with Blanchard. Thanks to Blanchard’s penchant for publicity, the two partners eventually participated in the murder investigation of Elizabeth Short (nicknamed the Black Dahlia). The case not only led the pair to a rich young playgirl named Madeleine Linscott (Hillary Swank) and her family, but also into a world of prostitution, pornography, lesbian nightclubs and the dark underbelly of Hollywood life.

Written by James Ellroy and originally published in 1987, ”The Black Dahlia” became the first of four novels about the Los Angeles Police Department in the post-World War II era (”L.A. Confidential” was the third in the quartet). In my opinion, it was the best in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet. I believe that it translated quite well to the movie screen, thanks to DePalma’s direction and Josh Friedman’s screenplay. Like the movie ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL””THE BLACK DAHLIA” turned out to be superior to its literary version. Not only did DePalma and Friedman’s screenplay recapture the ambiance of the novel’s characters and 1940s Los Angeles setting, the plot turned out to be an improvement over the novel. Especially over the latter’s chaotic finale. Despite the improvement, ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” never achieved the epic style and quality of ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”. If I must be frank, I really do not care. Movies like the 1997 Oscar winner are rare occurrences of near perfect quality. Just because ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” was another film adaptation of an Ellroy novel, did not mean that I had expected it to become another ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”.

Mark Isham’s score for the film did not turn out to be that memorable to me. All I can say is that I am grateful that he did not attempt a remake of Jerry Goldsmith’s scores for ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” and ”CHINATOWN”. On the other hand, I was very impressed with Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography for the film. One sequence stood out for me – namely the overhead shot that featured the discovery of Elizabeth Short’s dead body in the Leimert Park neighborhood in Los Angeles. Ironically, part of the movie was shot in Sofia, Bulgaria substituting as 1946-47 Los Angeles. Production Designer Dante Ferretti and Art Director Christopher Tandon did a solid job in disguising Sofia as Los Angeles. But there were a few times when the City of Angels seemed like it was located on the East Coast. And I could spot a few palm trees that definitely looked false. However, I really loved the set designs for Kay’s home and the lesbian nightclub where Bleichert first met Madeline. I loved Jenny Beavan’s costume designs for the film. She did an excellent job of recapturing the clothing styles of the mid-to-late 1940s and designing clothes for particular characters.

One of the movie’s best strengths turned out to be its very interesting characters and the cast of actors that portrayed them. Characters that included the ambitious and sometimes malevolent ADA Ellis Loew, portrayed with great intensity by Patrick Fischler; Rose McGowan’s bitchy and shallow Hollywood landlady/movie extra; Elizabeth Short’s frank and crude father Cleo Short (Kevin Dunn); Mike Starr’s solid portrayal of Bleichert and Blanchard’s immediate supervisor Russ Millard; and Lorna Mertz, the young Hollywood prostitute portrayed memorably by Jemima Rooper. John Kavanagh and Fiona Shaw portrayed Madeline Linscott’s parents – a Scottish-born real estate magnate and his alcoholic California society wife. Kavanagh was charming and fun in a slightly corrupt manner, but Shaw hammed it up in grand style as the alcoholic Ramona Linscott. I doubt that a lesser actress could have pulled off such a performance.

Not only were the supporting characters memorable, so were the leading characters, thanks to the performances of the actors and actresses that portrayed them. I was very impressed by Mia Kershner’s portrayal of the doomed Elizabeth Short. She managed to skillfully conveyed Short’s desperation and eagerness to become a Hollywood movie star in flashbacks shown in the form of black-and-white audition clips and a pornographic film clip. At first, I found Scarlett Johansson as slightly too young for the role of Kay Lake, the former prostitute and artist that both Bleichert and Blanchard loved. She seemed a bit out of her depth, especially when she used a cigarette holder to convey her character’s sophistication. Fortunately, Johansson had ditched the cigarette holder and Kay’s so-called sophistication and portrayed the character as a warm and pragmatic woman, who turned out to be more emotionally mature than the other characters. I found Aaron Eckhart’s performance as the passionate, yet calculating Lee Blanchard great fun to watch. He seemed funny, sharp, verbose, passionate and rather manic all at once. There were times when his character’s growing obsession toward the Black Dahlia case seemed to border on histrionics. But in the end, Eckhart managed to keep it all together. Another performance I truly enjoyed was Hillary Swank’s portrayal of the sensual, rich playgirl Madeline Linscott. Just by watching Swank on screen, I got the impression that the actress had enjoyed herself playing Madeline. I know I had a ball watching her reveal the charming, yet dark facets of this interesting character.

Ellroy’s novel had been written in the first person – from the viewpoint of LAPD detective, Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert. Which meant that the entire movie had to focus around the actor who portrayed Bleichert. I once heard a rumor that Josh Harnett became interested in the role before casting for the movie actually began. In the end, many critics had either dismissed Hartnett’s performance or judged him incapable of portraying a complex character. Personally, I found their opinions hard – even impossible – to accept. For me, Harnett did not merely give a first-rate performance. He ”was” Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert. One must understand that Bleichert was a difficult role for any actor – especially a non-showy role that also had to keep the story together. Throughout the movie, Harnett, DePalma’s direction and Friedman’s script managed to convey the many complexities of Bleichert’s personality without being overtly dramatic about it. After all, Dwight was basically a quiet and subtle character. Harnett portrayed the character’s growing obsession with both the Black Dahlia case and Madeline Linscott without the manic and abrupt manner that seemed to mark Blanchard’s obsession. You know what? I really wish I could say more about Harnett’s performance. But what else can I say? He perfectly hit every nuance of Bleichert’s personality. I personally believe that Dwight Bleichert might be his best role to date.

I wish I could explain or even understand why ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” had flopped at the box office. Some have complained that the film had failed to match the epic qualities of ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”. Others have complained that it failed as a docudrama that would solve the true life murder of Elizabeth Short. And there have been complaints that Brian DePalma’s editing of a film that was originally three hours ruined it. I had never expected the movie to become another ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” (which did a mediocre job at the box office) – a rare case of near Hollywood perfection. I really do not see how a three hour running time would have helped ”THE BLACK DAHLIA”. It was a complex story, but not as much as the 1997 film. Hell, the novel was more straightforward than the literary L.A. Confidential”. And since the Hollywood publicity machine had made it clear that the movie was a direct adaptation of the novel, I found the argument that ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” should have been a docudrama that would solve Short’s murder rather ludicrous. Since I had read the novel back in the late 90s, I simply found myself wondering how DePalma would translate it to the movie screen.

In the end, I found myself more than satisfied with ”THE BLACK DAHLIA”. It possessed a first-rate cast led by a superb performance from Josh Harnett. Screenwriter Josh Friedman’s screenplay turned out to be a solid job that slightly improved Ellroy’s novel – especially the finale. And director Brian DePalma did an excellent job of putting it all together. I highly recommend it – if one does not harbor any high expectations.

“MY FELLOW AMERICANS” (1996) Review

“MY FELLOW AMERICANS” (1996) Review

When “MY FELLOW AMERICANS”, was first released, I found myself wondering if Jack Lemmon and James Garner had ever co-starred in a movie or television production together. After checking several websites, including the IMDb, I discovered that this 1996 political comedy was the only production in which they worked together. How sad. 

Directed by Peter Segal, “MY FELLOW AMERICANS” told the story of two former U.S. Presidents and long time political rivals – Republican Russell Kramer of Ohio and Democratic Matt Douglas of Indiana – who find themselves caught up in a political scandal called “Olympia” that originated with Kramer’s former Vice-President, the current President William Haney of Texas and a defense contractor named Charlie Reynolds. The story began with Kramer spending his time writing cookbooks and speaking at various inconsequential functions and Douglas in the middle of writing his memoirs and dealing with a divorce. The Democratic National Committee chairman, Joe Hollis, asked Douglas to investigate “Olympia” in return for consideration as a future presidential candidate. Kramer discovers that Haney and the latter’s Chief of Staff, Carl Witnaur, are trying to frame him for the scandal. Reynolds finally contacts Douglas during a book convention at Washington D.C.’s Union Station in order to confess. Unfortunately, he is assassinated by government thugs commanded by NSA agent Colonel Paul Tanner. Both Douglas and Kramer, who was also at the convention, stumble across Reynolds’ dead body. Before the pair can confront Kramer about the scandal and Reynolds, they find themselves being targeted by Tanner and the NSA. Kramer and Douglas are forced to put aside their personal animosity and journey to the former’s presidential museum in Ohio to find evidence that would exonerate him and place more suspicion on Haney – while keeping a few steps ahead of Tanner’s thugs.

“MY FELLOW AMERICANS” is not exactly regarded as one of the best films in either Jack Lemmon and James Garner’s filmography. Not by film critics and not by me. I am not claiming that it is a terrible film. But to be honest, “MY FELLOW AMERICANS” was not exactly an exceptional film. There are certain aspects of it that made it a rather silly at times. For me, the worst aspect of the movie was that director Peter Segal and the screenwriters sometimes presented the humor in a “vaudeville” style in which the jokes came out at a pace that struck me as too fast to be appreciated. And the jokes given to some of the supporting cast struck me as a bit lame. Although the movie did establish Douglas’ penchant for finding ways to avoid his Secret Service detail (yes . . . former presidents are still guarded by the Secret Service), it never established how Kramer managed to avoid his detail at Union Station before he and Douglas found Charlie Reynolds’ dead body.

And yet . . . years after I first saw “MY FELLOW AMERICANS”, I still finding it very entertaining. Despite the occasional lame jokes, I still consider it to be a hilarious movie. Not all of the jokes are lame. In fact, a good number of them struck me as rather sharp and funny:

“Oh, yeah, I’m about to share my coffee with the Washington Love Machine. No dice. You could spit in a Petri dish and start a whole new civilization.” – Russell Kramer to Matt Douglas

Matt Douglas: A cookbook. He [Kramer] wrote a cookbook. How dare he?
Joanna: Well, you know, when he was President, he did cook for his guests all the time.
Matt Douglas: That’s not the point. Did George Washington write a book called “Your Wooden Teeth and You?” Did William Howard Taft write “Thirty Days To A Slimmer Ass?” It’s shameful, just shameful.

“Don’t do that with the liquor, Russ. It’s so… George Bush.” – Margaret Kramer to Russell Kramer

Matt Douglas (at the funeral of a former president): You’re a whore. Admit it. Admit you’re a big whore. Go ahead.
Russell Kramer: Name three women from the District of Columbia that you didn’t bang when you were in office – what am I talking about? Name one.
Matt Douglas: Screw you.
Russell Kramer: Blow me.
[Rifles fire]

It was not just the one-liners that made “MY FELLOW AMERICANS” a lot of fun to watch. One, the movie featured a road trip that stretched from North Carolina to Cleveland, Ohio and back to Washington D.C. And I am just a sucker for road trips. And two, this road trip was made by two men who have loathed each other for years and were forced to work together to bring down a corrupt Presidential administration . . . while evading a group of lethal government thugs. Three, the road trip also forced the two men to escape the political bubble of Washington D.C. and become acquainted with the country and the people that populated it. Which means, this movie also featured some good old-fashioned character development. This was especially the case when Kramer and Douglas encountered an illegal immigrant and a marcher/trombonist in a West Virginia Gay Pride parade, who both helped the pair evade Tanner’s murderous thugs; and a family that found itself homeless and jobless, thanks to their administration policies and forced to move to a new location for a much-needed job. In fact, the two ex-presidents’ encounter with this family provided a better lesson on the futility of American politicians than any political commentator or historian has ever done.

Most of all, “MY FELLOW AMERICANS” benefited from the performances from a first-rate cast. The movie featured some amusing performances from Esther Rolle, who portrayed a White House cook; Wilford Brimley as the DNC’s wily chairman; Conchata Farrell as a sardonic truck driver conveying immigrant illegals; a very young Michael Peña as a sweet and charming illegal immigrant who helped the two former Presidents evade the NSA; Tom Everett as the single-minded NSA agent leading the search for the presidential pair; Marg Helgenberger as Douglas’ charming and intelligent book editor; Sela Ward as a sharp and witty journalist investigating the Olympia scandal; Bradley Whitford as President Haney’s sleazy Chief of Staff; Jack Kehler and Connie Ray as the generous and homeless couple who gave Douglas and Kramer a ride.

There were performances that really caught my attention. One came from Everett McGill, who gave an intense performance as the ruthless NSA agent Colonel Paul Tanner. Lauren Bacall gave a very witty and charming performance as former First Lady Margaret Kramer. Jeff Yagher was both charming and delightful as the gay parade trombonist, whose real identity proved to be even more surprising. And Dan Ackroyd was deliciously sardonic and slick as the corrupt President Haney. But aside from the two leads, the funniest performance came from John Heard, who had me rolling on the floor with laughter as Haney’s dimwitted Vice-President Ted Matthews, who had a talent for saying the wrong thing . . . at the wrong time.

But the stars of the movie were our two leads, Jack Lemmon and James Garner. Earlier, I had commented that it was sad that “MY FELLOW AMERICANS” was the only time they had worked together. It was no comment on the movie itself. I had recently learned that Walter Matthau was supposed to be Lemmon’s co-star in this film (as he had been in the past). But Matthau was ill at the time and the filmmakers cast James Garner to take his place. And it is sad that the two actors had only worked with each other once for they were not only hilarious together, they managed to form a first-rate screen team. Both actors had been around since the 1950s and it took over forty years for them to do a movie together? What a shame! Lemmon was fabulous as the overly frugal former Republican president Russell Kramer, who fears being left behind and forgotten after his four years in office. Playing yang to Lemmon’s yin was James Garner, who gave a delicious performance as the sardonic former Democratic president Matt Douglas, a sharp-tongued ladies’ man who spends more time finding ways to evade his Secret Service detail than making a life after his four years in office.

“MY FELLOW AMERICANS” also featured a nice soundtrack that featured a breezy score created by William Ross. The latter also included some very entertaining songs from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Stevie Wonder and John Mellencamp. However, what I really enjoyed was Julio Macat’s colorful photography, which I thought did justice to the movie’s North Carolina and Washington D.C. locations.

Although I would never regard “MY FELLOW AMERICANS” as a cinematic masterpiece, let alone, a comedic one. There were times when the jokes moved too fast, along with the movie’s pacing. But I cannot deny that the movie featured some first-rate humor and nail-biting action sequences, thanks to Peter Segal’s direction. More importantly, “MY FELLOW AMERICANS” featured some strong characterizations, thanks to the screenwriters and first-rate performances from a cast led by Jack Lemmon and James Garner.