Friday, December 31, 2010

"Marie" [PG-13] - Chapter Three

Civil War nurse Charlotte Evans uncovers a mystery at a Mississippi plantation during the middle of the war.

* * * *


Chapter Three

Being a New Englander, it had been difficult for me to adjust to the hot and humid summers of Tennessee and Mississippi. To be honest, I still have not adjusted to it. It came as no surprise that I found myself unable to sleep during the sultry nights. The patients' moans and Alma's light snores did not help matters. One night, during our second week at Green Willows, I heard two people arguing next door. Our host and his mother.

"After I had begged you not to hang around that darky, you still defied my wishes during supper. Oh yes, Jenny told me all about it!" I assumed that the screeching voice belonged to Mrs. Scott. "You're just like them. Just like the Scotts! And to think I thought you were a son of mine!"

Major Scott was not as loud. "For heaven's sakes, Mother! Not so loud! The entire house can hear you."

"I don't care! Can you imagine my feelings when I saw you in the garden with that woman? Not only did you upset me, you have insulted Judith's memory!"

That woman? Mrs. Scott had obviously been referring to me.

"Judith has been dead for six years, Mama! And I don't recall you ever having any regard for her! And as for Miss Evans, we happen to be friendly acquaintances. That's all. Unlike you, I happen to like people for whom and not what they are."

A loud slap followed. Mrs. Scott must have struck her son.
"How dare you talk to me like that!" she cried in a voice loud enough to wake the dead.

Mrs. Scott certainly woke up Alma. She sat up in bed, her light brown eyes barely opened. "What's that?" she asked.

I answered, "Mrs. Scott giving her son hell."

Both of us remained silent as we overheard Major Scott continue. "I feel we have nothing further to say ma'am. Now if you will please excuse me." His voice was cold as steel.

"Richard! I won't have it, you hear? I won't have you insult your family name with that black slut!"

"Good-night Mother!" A door slammed shut.


Alma turned to me. "Whew! I reckon you're the . . . black slut Miss Scott was referring to?"

I merely rolled my eyes.

She shook her head. "Lord knows how many times I've heard Miss Catherine call my momma that." Alma sighed. She happened to be one of the offsprings of a cotton planter and his slave mistress. After his death, his widow began making preparations to sell Alma and her brothers to Texas. Which led them to run for the Union lines. "If I were you, Miss Charlotte, I'd stay away from that woman. Maum Janey tole me she was a little crazy."

What Alma had said about Mrs. Scott did not worry me. I felt I could handle the woman easily. What disturbed me was something she had said to Major Scott. "Just like the Scotts!" What did she meant by that?

* * * *

I finished wrapping a clean bandage on the corporal's leg. On the following afternoon, I found myself with Miriam and Doctor Anders on the manor's wide, front lawn. Before I could walk away, the corporal laid a hand on my arm. "Excuse me nurse, but am I crippled?" He looked up at me with brown hopeful eyes.

A lump formed in my throat. I knew he could walk again, but a Minie ball at Vicksburg shot off a fragment of his knee ligament and stiffened his leg for good. He would limp for the rest of his life.
The corporal had been so polite and friendly toward me that I decided to spare him the full details. I told him that he would be on his feet within a matter of days. At least I was being partially truthful. Relieved, the corporal laid his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes with a smile.

"Poor bastard'll be limping for the rest of his days. Won't he?" a voice murmured. I glanced up. Major Scott stood behind me, wearing a sad expression.

"I beg your pardon?" I asked.

"I'm sorry. What I meant was the corporal there has a permanent limp. Am I right?"

"How did you know?"

"I saw the expression on your face." His dark eyes met mine. There was something in them that reminded me of someone from the past. Josh Bradley, the son of a merchant in my hometown, once looked at me in the same manner before proposing marriage. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled.

It was not that I did not find Major Scott unattractive. I did. Very much. But like Josh, I knew there were too many differences in our backgrounds that would divide us. Major Scott happened to be white and I was colored. Jack was colored also, but came from a well-to-do family. Major Scott had the same problem of coming from a wealthy background. And worse, Major Scott was a native of Mississippi. I would not have lasted with him any longer than I would have with Josh.

The front door opened and three people emerged from the manor - Maum
Janey, Shelby and Mrs. Scott. Major Scott followed my stare with uneasy eyes. "Going shopping Mama?" The three females were dressed for travel.

"We're heading into town to purchase new shoes for Shelby," Mrs. Scott replied coolly. "We should return before supper." Mrs. Scott deliberately ignored me. That is until Major Scott helped her settled in an old barouche. For a brief moment, I felt the malevolence in her eyes, as she glanced at me. Major Scott excused himself and returned inside the manor. The carriage rattled down the road, driven by a dark old man.

"My goodness," Alice declared in a breathless manner. "Did you see the way Mrs. Scott looked at you? She must really hate you!"

I shrugged. "What can you expect? I'm a free, colored and a Yankee."

"I don't think so, Charlotte. I've never seen her look at Alma like that. She usually gets one of those 'don't-sass-me-I-am-your-superior' looks." I stared at Alice. I never realized she was capable of such cattiness.

Alice continued, "But you . . . she gave you a look of pure hatred. Like it was personal." Her remarks produced a glimmer of suspicion in my mind. Perhaps the reason Mrs. Scott disliked me so, was because I reminded her of Marie. After all, the man in my dream strongly resembled Major Scott. Perhaps his father had been Marie's lover. If so, then Mrs. Scott must have killed the nursemaid.

* * * *

Later that night, I had that same dream. Unable to return to sleep, I slipped out of bed and went downstairs to the library, hoping that I could find a book to read.

Decorated in brown oak paneling, the library was scantily furnished. The only furnishings in the room were a large desk with a kerosene lamp, green cushioned chair, two small wood-carved chairs and a tall grandfather clock.

After I had lit the lamp, my eyes fell upon two portraits hanging side by side on the north wall. Both men in the paintings strongly resembled Major Scott. Both possessed the dark hair and eyes, cleft chin and the aquiline nose of the Scotts. The man in the left portrait, with his fleshy skin and ruthless set of the mouth, had a more dissipated look. The other happened to be an exact replica of Major Scott.

The signatures of both paintings were the same. Solomon Green. Both paintings had been completed in June 1840. "That's Massa Richard's papa and uncle," a voice behind me said. I turned around. It was Maum Janey. She continued. "What you doin up so late, child?"

"I had a bad dream and could not go back to sleep," I answered. Looking at the paintings again, I realized that handsomer one must have been Major Scott's father. "What was Major Scott's father like?"

A heavy sigh escaped from Maum Janey's lips. "A real bastard." She paused momentarily before adding, "Pardon my language, miss. As I was trying to say, but Massa Coleman barely paid any attention to Miss Deborah, young Massa Richard or any of the other children. And he treated his niggers like dirt. Hardly a soul mourned his death."

I looked at the handsome man in the painting. This man was Marie's lover?

"No female slave, house or field, was safe from him," Maum Janey continued. "Except a few. You know I can't get over how much you look like her. Like Marie."

"Were you two close?"

"We were friends. Massa Coleman bought brought both of us from Nawlins years ago." I gathered Maum Janey meant New Orleans. Ironically, the housekeeper never struck me as someone with a Creole background. She continued, "I reckon almost thirty years ago. She became Massa Richard's nurse mammy and I became a house maid."

I asked, "Were you in the house when she died?"

"No. No I wasn't. Marie slept in Massa Richard's room and I slept in the slave quarters. Massa Coleman was getting ready to sell her anyhow. I saw him and Massa Brent - his brother - with Marie in this room the very day she died. Massa Coleman tore off her blouse so that he could look her over. Almost made her bend down to look some more, but a visitor was coming and they stopped."

I flinched at her story. Poor Marie. To be treated so brutally by her lover. So Major Scott's father had planned to sell Marie. I wondered why. I asked, "Did Mrs. Scott force him to sell her?"

"Why you ask that?" Maum Janey demanded.

"Perhaps Marie and Mr. Scott . . ." I began.

Maum Janey snorted with derision. "Are you kidding? Massa Coleman had never shown the least bit interest in Marie. Not during the five years she had been there. Besides, I doubt Miz Deborah could make Massa Coleman do anything. She couldn't care less about him and felt the same about her. They stayed away from each other."

Now, I felt confused. Perhaps Maum Janey did not know about Marie and Coleman Scott. I looked at the handsome man on the right. "I must say that Major Scott is the spitting image of his father."

Maum Janey followed my gaze. "Oh, that's not Massa Coleman." She pointed to the left portrait. "That's him. You were looking at his brother, Massa Brent. Now he . . . was more than interested in Marie." The old housekeeper paused momentarily. "She was his bed wench."

Completely astonished, I realized my mistake. Marie had an affair with Major Scott's uncle, not his father. So that meant Mrs. Scott had no reason to kill Marie. But who did?

End of Chapter Three

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"TRUE GRIT" (2010) Photo Gallery

Below are images from "TRUE GRIT", the second movie adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the movie stars Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Hailee Steinfeld:

"TRUE GRIT" (2010) Photo Gallery

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Six “Bastogne” Commentary

"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Six "Bastogne" Commentary

This sixth episode of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” featured the experiences of Easy Company during the Battle of the Bulge and their participation in the Allies’ efforts to hold the ground near Bastogne, Belgium; while low on ammunition and supplies. The episode focused on Easy Company medic, Eugene "Doc" Roe, as he tended his fellow soldiers where he can, while also scrounging for medical supplies.

”Bastogne” turned out to be the first of two episodes centered on Easy Company’s experiences in Belgium. Shown from Eugene Roe’s point-of-view; the audience saw Easy Company deal with many difficulties and traumas during this campaign. Aside from ammunition and supplies, Roe and the company had to deal with freezing temperatures, low morale, the encircling German Army and worst of all, an ineffectual company commander by the name of Norman Dike. The episode featured a good deal of combat sequences. But since they were shown through “Doc” Roe’s eyes, the audience’s views of these sequences were at best minimal.

One sequence had First Platoon on a reconnaissance patrol in order to probe for the German line. The patrol led to several wounded troopers and the death of a replacement trooper named Private Julian. Supporting characters like Lieutenant Harry Welsh and Wayne "Skinny" Sisk suffered serious leg wounds from occasional German artillery shelling. And Walter “Smokey” Gordon was wounded and paralyzed during a German tank assault. During this time, Roe struck up a fictionalized friendship and potential romance with a Belgian nurse named Renée LeMaire. Their relationship ended in tragedy, when Renée was killed during the German bombing of Bastogne on Christmas Eve. Replacement trooper Edward “Babe” Heffron also figured heavily in ”Bastogne”. Although the episode was mainly told from Roe’s point-of-view, it allowed one sequence told from Babe’s point-of-view. In it, Babe and another medic named Ralph Spina had a humorous encounter with German troops in a foxhole, while searching for medical supplies for Easy Company.

There are three episodes of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I consider to be personal favorites of mine. And one of them is ”Bastogne”. In my reviews of episodes like "Day of Days" and "Replacements", I had complained of the lack of epic scope in episodes that featured important and historic battles. In ”Bastogne”, director David Leland and screenwriter Bruce C. McKenna gave the episode that epic scope needed for an episode about the famous siege of Bastogne. And the fact that they told the episode through the eyes of medic Eugene Roe made their efforts all the more amazing. Was this particular episode filmed inside a soundstage? It is possible. If it was, I am impressed. I wish I knew the name of the production designer for this particular episode, because he or she did a magnificent job in re-creating the Ardennes Forest during the winter. I also found the photography very impressive, especially in the scene that featured the Army Air Corps’ attempt to re-supply the division by air and the German bombing of Bastogne near the end of the episode. Once again, ”BAND OF BROTHERS” allowed viewers to get a peek into the personal interactions between the troopers of Easy Company. Most of these interactions occurred during Christmas Eve . . . right before Harry Welsh was wounded by German artillery. However, I also enjoyed the two major interactions between Roe and Heffron – especially one scene in which both Roe and Spina tried to comfort Heffron, who was distraught over Private Julian’s death.

”Bastogne” featured some excellent performances from certain members of the cast. Neal McDonough gave a subtle and convincing performance as platoon leader Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton , whose emotional stability seemed to be in danger of spiraling out of control after getting shot in Holland. Another memorable performance came from actress Lucie Jeanne, who portrayed Renée Lemaire, the Belgian nurse in Bastogne that Roe befriended. Robin Laing got a chance to shine as Edward “Babe” Heffron, the replacement trooper that hailed from Bill Guarnere’s Philadelphia neighborhood. He was especially effectively poignant in a scene in which Heffron grieved over Private Julian’s death. But the star of this particular episode was Irish-born actor Shane Taylor. Recalling my complaint about the questionable American accents of some of the British cast members, I can happily say that Taylor was not one of them. He did an excellent job in recapturing the Louisiana-born Roe’s native accent. More importantly, he gave a subtle, yet superb performance as the quiet and efficient medic, struggling to perform his duty and prevent himself from getting affected by the suffering around him. In the end, Taylor not only gave one of the miniseries’ best performances, but also managed to carry a very important episode on his shoulders.

”Bastogne” is not completely perfect. Despite the strong chemistry between Taylor and Jeanne, there were moments when I found the nuance of their relationship – especially the silent exchange of glances – a bit heavy-handed. And I am somewhat confused about the fate of the wounded men that Roe escorted to one of the hospitals in Bastogne. Earlier in the episode, he had escorted Sisk and Gordon to the hospital where Renée worked. He was about to deliver Welsh to the same hospital, when he witnessed its destruction from German bombers. The episode made it clear that Bastogne had remained encircled by German forces, until the arrival of elements from General George C. Patton’s Third Army on December 26, 1944. So . . . what happened to Sisk and Gordon? They did not meet Renée’s fate. Both men survived the war. How did they get out of that hospital and Bastogne before the December 24 bombing?

Perfect or not, ”Bastogne” is one of my personal favorite episodes in ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. And thanks to director David Leland, screenwriter Bruce C. McKenna and actor Shane Taylor, the episode conveyed an epic point-of-view of the siege of Bastogne that made it one of the best (at least in my opinion) episodes in the entire miniseries.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"DUE DATE" (2010) Review

”DUE DATE” (2010) Review

I have always been a fan of road trip movies. This come from a love of long-distance traveling that I managed to acquire over the years. Some of my favorite movies have featured road trips - ”IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT”, ”SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT”, ”MIDNIGHT RUN” and even ”PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES”. Because of this, I looked forward to seeing ”DUE DATE”, Todd Phillips’ new movie that starred Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis.

Also written by Phillips, along with Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, and Adam Sztykiel; ”DUE DATE” told the story of an architect named Peter Highman trying to get home from Atlanta to Los Angeles to be present at the birth of his first child, a scheduled C-section, with his wife, Sarah. At the Atlanta airport, Peter has an encounter with an aspiring actor named Ethan Tremblay. After inadvertently using the words terrorist and bomb during a quarrel with Ethan, Peter is shot by an air marshal with a rubber bullet. Both are forced off the plane before take-off. And after being questioned by airport security, Peter discovers that he has been placed on the No Fly List and will have to find another way to get to California. After realizing that he had left his wallet on the plane, Peter reluctantly agrees to travel with Ethan all the way to Los Angeles.

At first, it occurred to me that ”DUE DATE” was not as . . . hilarious as two of his other well-known films, 2003’s ”STARSKY AND HUTCH” and last year’s ”THE HANGOVER”. By the time the movie ended, I realized why. ”DUE DATE” strongly reminded me of the 1987 comedy, ”PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES”. In fact, it could easily be considered a remake of the John Hughes film. Both movies are basically comedic road trips about two different men – an uptight professional desperately trying to get home for a certain reason who is forced to travel with a flaky and accident-prone, yet desperately lonely man for financial reasons. There were differences. In the 1987 film, Steve Martin and John Candy traveled from New York to Chicago, spending most of their journey throughout the Midwest. In this film, Downey Jr. and Galifianakis traveled through the Deep South, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. This movie focused a lot of their journey in Texas – especially in the second half. But if I must be honest, the differences are minor in compare to the similarities. Let us just say that ”DUE DATE” is definitely a remake of Hughes’ film.

Todd Phillips did an excellent job with his cast. The supporting characters turned out to be interesting. Juliette Lewis, who had worked with Phillips in ”STARSKY AND HUTCH”, portrayed a flaky marijuana dealer in Birmingham, Alabama, from whom Ethan (Galifianakis) wanted to purchase some weed. This sequence provided the funniest moment in the movie – an encounter between a very annoyed Peter (Downey Jr.) and the dealer’s bratty kids, which ended up with a surprising punch to the gut. Another interesting supporting performance came from Danny McBride (who worked with Downey Jr. in ”TROPIC THUNDER”), who portrayed an intimidating and physically disabled Western Union employee they had encountered. The movie also featured a wild and funny encounter with two Mexican border patrol cops who arrest Peter for possession of marijuana (thanks to a fleeing Ethan). But the funniest supporting performance came from Jamie Foxx (Downey Jr.’s co-star from 2009’s ”THE SOLOIST”), who rediscovered his comic roots by portraying Peter’s oldest friend from college, now living in Dallas. What made Foxx’s performance rather funny was that his character seemed like a very together man . . . who harbored a slight obsession toward Peter’s wife (Michelle Monaghan), whom he had dated in college. But the real stars of the movie were Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. Phillips was very lucky that the pair managed to generate such a strong screen chemistry. They did an awesome job in portraying two rather emotionally disturbed, yet different men who found themselves forming a strong bond during the 2,200 miles journey. Downey Jr.’s sharp-tongue, yet uptight character balanced very well with Galifianakis’ emotionally immature dweeb.

Did I have any problems with ”DUE DATE”? Well . . . yes. Like ”PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTO”, it was a strong comedy with some equally strong angst moments. And like the 1987 movie, those angst moments felt very forced. I believe that was due to Galifianakis’ performance. Mind you, there was nothing wrong with his acting, but it felt rather forced. And another scene I had trouble with was the encounter between the two travelers and the Western Union employee. That particular scene started out funny. But when McBride revealed his character to be a disabled Iraqi War veteran, the laughs dried up. The situation grew worse when McBride’s character began beating upon Downey Jr.’s sarcastic character. I did not know whether or not to take this scene seriously. Instead, I winced through it all.

It is possible that many moviegoers might not take this movie seriously, due to its strong resemblance to ”PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES”. Roger Ebert went as far as to compare it unfavorably to the 1987 film. Personally, I have decided to regard ”DUE DATE” as a remake. Is it a good remake? Yes. In fact, not only does the 2010 film not only share similar strengths with Hughes’ film, but also similar flaws. But it is still a first-rate movie, even if I would never regard it as a personal favorite of mine.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Marie" [PG-13] - Chapter Two

Civil War nurse Charlotte Evans uncovers a mystery at a Mississippi plantation during the middle of the war.



Chapter Two

She breathed heavily while the man above her pushed further inside. In and out he moved. Then suddenly he gasped her name. "Marie!" She shuddered as the exquisite pain vibrated throughout her body.

Both woman and man laid flat on the soft bed for a few moments, catching their breaths. The warm air did nothing to dry their glistening bodies.

The woman heard a noise against the door. She sat up. "What was that?" she asked.

"Probably someone walking down the hall, darlin'. Nothing to worry about," the man answered. He began to caress her back languorously.

She looked at the clock on the side table. Two-oh-five. She must get back to Richard. "Ma petite. I have to go and check on Richard. I didn't mean to stay away so long."

"Damn! I was hoping you would stay a little longer. But, if you must." He began planting kisses on the back of her neck and his hand cupped her right breast from behind. "How about we meet near Walker's Pond tomorrow? Around two?"

She turned around and kissed him deeply. "Of course, cheri. I'll see you then. Bonne nuit." After one last kiss, she put on an old faded dressing robe and left the room.

The stairs were centered in the middle of the hallway. She stopped in front of the banister and peered down. Who had passed by a few minutes ago? She leaned over, trying to get a glimpse of the person. There seemed to be no one.

Suddenly someone's hot breath seared her left ear. "You whoring bitch!" the voice hissed. She twirled around and found icy cold eyes glaring at her. Mad eyes. Before she could do anything, a pair of hands shoved her against her chest over the railing she flew. Down she fell, screaming with terror until there was nothing but darkness.

* * * *

Gasping, I sat up in bed like a shot. Perspiration trickled down my face and under my arms. I glanced around. I had returned to the bedroom I shared with Alma. Over to my right laid Alma, snoring lightly. I sighed with relief. It had only been a dream.

Too scared to go back to sleep, I laid back down with my eyes wide open. Marie. Not only did she haunt me in the day, but also at night. Had she died in that manner? Pushed over the railing by someone with mad eyes?

Oddly enough, I had dreamed the entire incident through her eyes. As if it had been I who made love that night before being pushed over the railing. Even odder, Marie's lover strongly resembled the present master of Green Willows. His father perhaps? I was not sure, but curiosity made me determined to find out.

The next day, Miriam and I helped Doctor Henson tend the patients situated in the front hall. Many of the soldiers suffered mainly from fever, dysentery and smallpox. And there were those who still suffered from battle wounds sustained during the Vicksburg and Port Hudson sieges.

Miriam's lean face wore a worried expression as it hovered over a soldier convulsing under a thin blanket. She glanced up. "Sarah? Could you do me a favor? I had left several bottles of laudanum in the Rose Room. Could you get one for me?"

I told her yes and headed for the parlor. As I entered the room, I spotted the bottles on the large fireplace's mantle. A large portrait of a young woman hung above it. Judging by the style of the blue gown she wore, the painting must be dated some thirty years ago.

I must admit that she looked rather pretty, though she did not resemble a Scott. With her birdlike nose, thin lips, brown hair and pale blue eyes, she looked nothing like the major.

"That's my grandmother," a silvery little voice said. I turned around. A small and handsome, dark-haired boy entered the parlor with Maum Janey. It was Major Scott's son.

I replied politely, "She looked very pretty."

"Not anymore. She looks old now." He smiled and stuck out a small hand covered in dirt. "My name's Shelby. What's yours?"

"Charlotte. Charlotte Evans."

"How come you sound funny? You don't sound like the other nigras."

"Mister Shelby! I didn't teach you to be rude," Maum Janey scolded with a frown.

Little Shelby's face puckered with confusion. "I wasn't bein' rude. I just wanted to know . . ."

"That's because I'm a Yankee," I answered. "From a small town in Massachusetts called Falmouth. I didn't see your grandmother last night. Was she ill?"

"No. She didn't want to come down. I heard her tell Papa that she'd rather die than sit with Yankees and niggers."

"Shelby!" Maum Janey again.

Shelby protested, "It was Grandma who said that! I know that Papa doesn't want me sayin' that word." He turned to me with a grave expression. "'Never call people names by what they are'. That's what he told me."

I decided to excuse his remark. At least young Shelby had been raised properly. "What about you?" I asked. "Why weren't you at supper? Or don't you like sitting with Yankees and Negroes?" I refused to utter the other word.

"He's too young to be up that late Miz Charlotte," Maum Janey replied. She tugged Shelby's arm. "Time for your nap, honey."

"But I want to talk with Sarah some more!" Shelby argued. "You know, you look a lot like Marie. Maybe that's why Papa seems to like you. He's been talking about you ever since you all got here."

Utterly speechless, I stared at him. I did not realize that he was aware of Major Scott's growing friendliness toward me. I barely heard Miriam's voice.

"Marie? You know what she looks like?" I asked.

"Course. She visits my room every night."

Maum Janey, I noticed, seemed nervous. "Let's go honey." She started pulling Shelby toward the door.

I wanted to ask the boy another question but Miriam popped at the doorway. "Charlotte! What happened to the bottle?"

I handed the bottle to Miriam and she left. Maum Janey and Shelby started to follow her.

"Wait a minute," I said. "Just how did Marie die?"

Maum Janey's dark eyes became somber. And sad. "She fell over the railing, from the second floor."

* * * *

Over the next several days, whenever I had the time, I became better acquainted with the Scott household. It amazed me how they all warmed to me so quickly. Major Scott, Maum Janey, Shelby and the remaining slaves on the plantation.

"Oh, they're not slaves anymore," Major Scott corrected me. We sat inside the white gazebo, facing a garden that had seen better days.

Despite President Lincoln's proclamation, I knew that all slaves residing in loyal states or areas under Union occupation were exempted from the so-call 'freedom' document. I did not realize that an Confederate and slave owner like Richard, would take it to heart and I said so.

"I know that Mr. Lincoln only 'freed' those under the Confederacy," he said with a slight smirk. "But I decided to free mine on my own."


"Well they deserve to be free. Don't you think so? I always did."

Well, well. So Mississippi harbored a secret abolitionist in its midst. "But you fought for the Confederacy."

He replied simply, "Well, Mississippi is my home. I was defending it from invaders. Besides, I do not believe that the Federal government has the right to free slaves. It still should be left to the states and individual owners to do so." And yet, Federal occupation gave him the chance to finally free his slaves. I knew that except a few, most Southern states had outlawed manumission. "I never thought about it before, until Marie became my nurse mammy. Through her I found out what it was really like to be a slave. Whenever I noticed my parents, especially Mother, treating her badly, I'd wish she could be free from them. That's when I really started to hate it."

I asked, "Do you miss her? Marie, I mean."

Major Scott nodded. There was a sad smile on his face. "Oh yes. Course I grew real fond of Maum Janey. But she was my nurse mammy for a short time. On my tenth birthday, my papa thought it was time I had a more masculine companion. But Marie and I were very close. If fact, she was closer to me than any of my. . ." The major suddenly stopped and looked up. I followed his glance. Peering from a second floor window was a middle-aged woman with gaunt and pale features. It was the first time I laid eyes on Richard's mother. I could detect her displeasure of seeing Richard and myself together, by the stiff set of her shoulders.

"I see that Mother us awake." He smiled briefly. "Would you pardon me please? I have a feeling that she requires my attention for a moment. I shall return."

Sighing, I watched as he rushed inside the house and then I glanced up. Mrs. Scott had disappeared from the window.

End of Chapter Two

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Here are some images from the new fantasy movie, the third entry in the NARNIA saga called "THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER":


Friday, December 24, 2010

"ANGEL" RETROSPECTIVE: (5.15) "A Hole in the World”

Below is a look into (5.15) “A Hole in the World”, a Season Five episode from “ANGEL”:

"ANGEL" RETROSPECTIVE: (5.15) "A Hole in the World”

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the Season Five episode, (5.15) “A Hole in the World”, centered on the death of one of the series’ regulars, Winifred “Fred” Burkle. The slow road to her death began when a Wolfram and Hart employee named Knox accepts the delivery of a sarcophagus. When Fred touches one of the crystals that cover the lid, a puff of dusty air is released, making her cough. Later, she eventually starts coughing up blood before collapsing.

It turns out that by touching one of the sarcophagus’ crystals, Fred becomes infected by the spirit of an ancient demon named Illyria. The entire crew searches for a cure, but give up hope when Spike and Angel discover that the only way to save Fred's life would kill thousands of people. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce tries to comfort Fred as she dies and eventually witnesses the emergence of Illyria.

”A Hole in the World” was a very interesting episode that replayed the same issue from various ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” episodes like (3.19)”Choices” and 5.22)”The Gift” and ”ANGEL” episodes like (3.16)”Sleep Tight” - namely the task of making a choice for the need of the few or the many. And the choice that Angel had to make was whether to save Fred from death and the growing influences of a demon that had infected her body, or to ensure that the world would remain safe. Angel chose the world over his friend. And judging from the reactions on the forums when the episode first aired, not many agreed with his choice. I did not condemn Angel's choice. I believe that he had made the right one . . . just as Buffy had made the right choice for her in ”The Gift”. It did not really matter if the needs of the many were more important than the needs of the few, or vice versa. What mattered was that each person had to make the choice that was more important to his or her heart. For Buffy, Dawn was more important to her; and for Angel, sparing the world from destruction. Or perhaps being a champion was more important to Angel. However, if the choice had been between . . . say . . . Connor and the world; I suspect that Angel would have chosen Connor.

Angel’s decision proved to be some of an irony for Wesley. His reaction to Fred’s death in the following episode, (5.16) “Shells” certainly proved this. After all, I am talking about the ”King of Tough Choices”. This was the same man who felt it was more important to prevent Mayor Wilkins from getting his hands on the Book of Ascension than saving Willow's life in the ”BUFFY” episode, ”Choices”. He was also willing to risk the lives of rebellious Pyleans for a successful revolution in the ”ANGEL” episode (2.22) “There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”. And in ”Sleep Tight”, he risked his friendship with Angel and the others in order to prevent said vampire from killing his infant son, because of a prophecy. Considering his past history, one can only ponder over his reactions to the circumstances that led to Fred’s death.

And speaking of Fred, what about her choices? One has to admit that many of her choices have led her to this point - a slow death and demonic possession. Fred chose to leave her home in San Antonio in order to attend college in Southern California. This decision put her in the path of Professor Siedel. And her curiosity caused her to open a book that led to five years of bondage in Pylea. After being rescued by Angel Investigations, she made the decision not to follow her parents back to Texas. Instead, she bound her fate with the souled vampire and his companions. This, in turn, led to her employment with Wolfram and Hart . . . and her death by the end of this episode. I have one question - why did Fred open the sarcophagus without first doing any research on it? I must have missed the scene. If so, this only proves to me that Fred never really had a healthy respect for the spiritual and the supernatural, despite her five years in Pylea and three years with Angel Investigations. She has always had a tendency to treat anything supernatural as a science experiment. And in doing so, she may have paid the price for her attitude. It is not surprising that Wesley angrily cursed her curiosity.

I also wanted to touch upon a few other points about this episode:

*While Eve was trying to hide from the Senior Partners, I bet she must have been wondering what kind of situation her love for Lindsey had brought her.

*I could not help but wonder if Fred upchucking blood over Wes was a metaphor or sign of the tragic death that overtook Wesley in the series finale.

*Angel and Spike were quickly becoming quite the screen team by this episode. I enjoyed watching our favorite vamps' relationship progress from polite antagonism to mutual grief over Angel's decision. I also enjoyed Spike’s “hole-in-the-world” speech. Very poignant.

*There is an old saying that if you do not have anything nice to say about something or someone, say nothing at all. Considering my opinionated nature, I could not hold back my opinion on the Wesley/Fred romance of Season Five. Watching them share a kiss following their victory over a demon around the beginning of this episode, reminded me of the early stages of Buffy and Riley's romance in the middle of Season 4 for ”BUFFY”. Wesley and Fred led me to conclude that watching a 30-something man and a 20-something woman act like teenagers in love seemed a little sad . . . and very saccharine.

Does anyone remember the Season Four episode, (4.16) "Players" and the conversation between Wesley and Fred in that episode? I do. In it, Fred had expressed her disgust over the Connor/Cordelia affair. When Wesley tried to make her to understand what would lead those two to have an affair, the conversation eventually drifted toward Wesley’s affair with Wolfram and Hart attorney, Lilah Morgan. Not only did Fred failed to understand Wesley’s lack of disgust over Connor and Cordelia, she could not understand how he could have become involved with Lilah in the first place. And that is how the conversation (and scene) ended . . . with Fred at a loss over Wesley’s attitude. I cannot say what was going through Wes' head at the time. But judging from the look on his face and his eventual silence, I got the impression that he realized Fred would never really understand "the real him". Considering that this conversation began with the topic of Cordelia and Connor, I could not help but wonder if Wesley and Fred had lost their memories of this discussion, due to the erasure of their memories of Connor, at the end of Season Four. Also, Wesley's kidnapping of Connor proved to be one of the catalysts for his relationship with Lilah in Season Four.

I also cannot help but wonder if they would have ever gotten involved in the first place, due to the mindwipe. I realize that many Jossverse fans tend to view Wesley and Fred’s romance as idealized, I never could accept that prevailing view. I simply found their relationship boring and somewhat infantile. It had an uneasy mixture of a high school romance and incest, due to Wesley’s habit of treating Fred as part-lover and part-daughter. It was not surprising to me that a dying Fred had expressed confusion at the reasons behind Wesley’s feelings for her.

*Fred’s Death Scene was one of the most unbearable I have ever experienced on television. In fact, I found it so excruciating . . . and slow that I was unable to experience any compassion or sadness over her death. I simply felt relieved when she finally died.

I must admit that A Hole in the World” was never a favorite episode of mine. In fact, I have never been that fond of the second half of Season Five. But I must admit that Whedon had written a first-rate episode. Yes, I found the Wesley/Fred romance a bit nauseating to endure. And Fred’s death seemed to go on forever. But Whedon’s handling of theme regarding hard choices and the introduction of the Illryia character made this one of the more memorable episodes of the series.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"BOTTLE SHOCK" (2008) Review

”BOTTLE SHOCK” (2008) Review

If someone had suggested I go see a movie about California wines and its impact upon the business in the mid-1970s, I would have smiled politely and ignored that person. As it turned out, no one had told me about the 2008 comedy-drama, ”BOTTLE SHOCK”. Two years would pass before I found myself intrigued by it, while watching the movie on cable television.

Directed and co-written by Randall Miller, ”BOTTLE SHOCK” told the story of Jim and Bo Barrett and how their Chardonnay became the first American-grown vintage to win a famous blind wine tasting contest now known as ”the Judgment of Paris”. The contest was sponsored by a British wine connoisseur named Steven Spurrier and held in France. Spurrier wanted to use the contest as a means to be accepted by the French wine connoisseur community. The movie also chronicled the Barretts’ difficulties in maintaining their vineyard, the Chateau Montelena, in the face of mounting debts, Jim Barrett’s reluctance to participate in Spurrier’s contest, and the efforts of a Barrett employee named Gustavo Bambini and his father to start their own vineyard. The desires of the Barretts, Bambini and Spurrier centered on the latter’s blind wine testing competition that made history for the Barretts and California wines.

While reading about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”, I discovered that the movie had received a standing ovation following its screening at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Personally, I believe that Miller and fellow screenwriters Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz did an excellent job in creating a heartwarming movie filled with sharp humor, adversity, human drama, some romance and a good deal of warmth and whimsy. More importantly, Miller, Savin and Schwartz, along with the cast, gave the movie such energy and drive that I found myself developing interest in the topic of wine growing – something that would usually bore me to tears. There have been complaints about some of the historical accuracy in the movie. Why bother? ”BOTTLE SHOCK” is a movie, not a documentary. I have yet to come across a movie or play with a historical backdrop that was completely accurate.

Cinematographer Michael J. Ozier did a marvelous job in capturing the warmth and natural beauty of Napa Valley, with its rolling hills and vast vineyards. With different lightning, he captured the cool elegance of Paris and the French countryside. And costume designer Jillian Kreiner had the more difficult job of capturing the basic styles of the mid-1970s. This was at a time when fashion was in a transition from the wild, Age of Aquarius styles of the early 1970s, to the more ersatz elegance of the latter part of the decade and the 1980s. By the way, one should keep an eye on Dennis Farina’s loud, leisure suits that seemed to symbolize the entire decade . . . at least for me.

I had felt a bit confused over the identity of the film’s leading man. I could not decide whether it was Alan Rickman, Chris Pine or Bill Pullman. In the end, I decided to view all three as the film’s leads. And they led a very fine cast that included Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Miguel Sandoval and Eliza Dushku. I had a ball watching Rickman’s portrayal of the sharp-tongued wine connoisseur, Steven Spurrier, who found himself dealing with a new culture in California wine country and the possibility that European countries like Italy, Germany and especially France were not the only places to produce fine wines. At first, Chris Pine’s portrayal of the young Bo Barrett reminded me of a possible dress rehearsal for his performance as a loutish James Kirk in 2009’s ”STAR TREK”. Thankfully, his performance as the younger Barrett proved to possess more nuance, as Pine revealed him to be a vulnerable young man that seemed unsure about whether he was ready to embrace his father’s passion for winemaking, as his own. My only problem with Pine was the blond wig that he wore. I found it atrocious and wished that he had been allowed to portray the character with his natural hair. I personally believe that Bill Pullman gave one of the movie’s two best performances as the complex Jim Barrett – the man who originally injected new life into the Chateau Montelena during the 1970s. His Barrett was a proud and stubborn man that was passionate about his vineyard and who masked his insecurities with a great deal of pig-headed behavior.

Also providing top notch performances were Dennis Farina (of the loud leisure suits), who provided a great deal of amusement and wit as Spurrier’s fictional American friend in Paris and fellow wine connoisseur, Maurice Cantavale; Rachael Taylor as Sam Fulton, the free-spirited intern at Chateau Montelena and Bo’s object of desire; Miguel Sandoval, who was deliciously sardonic as Mr. Garcia, another worker at Chateau Montelena; and Eliza Dushku, who gave an amusingly edgy performance as a local bar owner named Jo. At last, I come to Freddy Rodriguez, who portrayed the Barretts’ ambitious employee, Gustovo Bambini. He gave the movie’s other best performance, conveying not only his character’s ambition and wit, but also a raging passion for wintry and a short temper.

What else can I say about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”? I laughed, I cried and I managed to enjoy both the story and the performances, thanks to Randall Miller and the script he co-wrote with Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz . But more importantly, I found myself surprisingly interested in a topic that I would not have usually wasted time even discussing. On that point alone, I would heartily recommend this film.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Marie" [PG-13] - Chapter One


SUMMARY: Civil War nurse Charlotte Evans uncovers a mystery at a Mississippi plantation during the middle of the war.
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be



Chapter One

Late July 1863

"Here we are," Alice commented. "Green Willows." She leaned outside the carriage for a better glimpse.

I glanced at the black iron gateway that arched over the driveway. The carved sign that hung from it read GREEN WILLOWS. I struggled to maintain my disappointment. Being forced to give up a comfortable and friendly house in Vicksburg, I did not look forward to staying at some impoverished plantation.

Alice continued, "Charlotte, do you think it will be one of those large mansions? You know, like the ones we've seen along the river." I noticed how her pale blue eyes shined with anticipation. Dear Alice. Over two years of war, sickness and death had not changed her sweet nature one whit.

Before I could answer her question, Miriam replied dourly, "Probably another farmhouse. With the exception of the Bloom home in Vicksburg, we have been staying at nothing but farmhouses.” Her thin, pale face wrinkled with distaste.

Like me, Miriam Rosen was a pessimistic New Englander from Massachusetts and did not look forward to setting up the new hospital. After the Confederate general, John Pemberton, had surrendered Vicksburg to Ulysses Grant, my three fellow nurses and I had stayed in the home of one of the city's residents. Most of the townspeople resented the Union presence and did not want four Yankee nurses in their homes. Especially since two of them happened to be colored women – an ex-slave named Alma and myself. Fortunately, Mrs. Emmeline Bloom had been gracious enough to allow us to stay in her home. Because of damp heat of the Mississippi Valley summer and Joseph Johnston's Rebel troops, the number of sick and injured Union troops had risen and there was no more space in Vicksburg. The Sanitary Commission had ordered one of the surgeons, Doctor Henson to set up a temporary field hospital at some plantation south of the city. Miriam, Alma, myself and our own Ohio belle, Alice Campbell, had been ordered by our employers – the United States Sanitary Commission – to accompany him.

As we rode along the tree-lined driveway, I saw that the estate was aptly named. Willow trees and oaks filled with Spanish moss stood everywhere. They drooped gracefully about us, forming a curtain that hid the house from our view ahead. Alice gasped with pleasure as the big house - or should I say mansion - appeared before our eyes. It turned out to be a two-story affair built from whitewashed wood. Square-shaped white pillars stretched across the two galleries around the mansion and the window shutters on both floors were faded green. Although the house looked as if it could use a new coat of paint, I could tell from Alice’s expression that it was the plantation house of her dreams.

I glanced up at a second-floor. A delicate, light-brown face loomed at a window and glanced straight at me. For some unexplainable reason, I shivered. It was the eyes. They looked exactly like mine. That moment of fear soon disappeared as our carriage approached the front of the mansion. A tall man with dark hair and black eyes stood on the veranda steps. I was surprised to notice how young and good-looking he was, despite his thin features. One would expect a man of his age serving the military. Then I noticed that he leaned on the walking cane in his right hand. "May I help you sir?" he asked Major Henson.

The major dismounted from his horse and approached the steps. "Major Emmanuel Henson, at your service, sir. I'm with the U.S. Army Medical Corps."

The man returned the greeting with a graceful bow. "Major Richard Scott, formerly of the 6th Mississippi Brigade." He looked down at his stiff leg. "I had been injured during the second assault at Vicksburg."

Major Henson explained the reason behind our appearance at Green Willows. "Behind us is a company of the 6th Illinois Calvary. I hope our presence here will not inconvenience you or your family."

"It does not matter," Major Scott replied coolly. "I doubt I have any say in the matter." Oh dear. That was all we needed - another hostile Rebel.

Dismissing Scott's sharp remark, Major Henson introduced us as we descended from the carriage. After I stepped down, I caught Major Scott gazing upon me with a curious manner. There was not a trace of hostility or resentment in his dark eyes. So why did he find my presence disturbing? After all, I was not the only colored woman in the group. I decided to dismiss him from my mind, as we followed the major inside the house.

* * * *

The patients who traveled in wagons behind us were scattered across the front yard. One of the remaining slaves in the major's household, a handsome-looking woman named Maum Janey, escorted us to our rooms. Major Henson and another Army doctor named Lieutenant William Anders were assigned to one room. Miriam and Alice shared another, while Alma and I were led to a large room next door. I saw that Maum Janey managed to keep the color and gender lines intact.

Everyone settled down to setting up the hospital. With the help of some men from the 6th Illinois, we managed to set up makeshift tents for the patients and a large one to serve as the operation room for the doctors and nurses. By the end of the afternoon, Major Scott surprised with invitations for the nurses and doctors to join his family for supper. Including Alma and myself. After I had changed into one the only decent outfits I possessed on hand – a Garibaldi white blouse and a deep green wide skirt, I decided to take a small tour of the house. Unfortunately, most of the furnishings were gone, so I did not have much to see. Green Willows must have sustained an earlier visit by the Union troops.

Admiring an attractive whatnot set in a corner of the East Parlor, I gasped as my eyes fell upon a small miniature painting on the second shelf. It was a picture of a young woman with light brown skin and her arms around a white boy with dark eyes. The young woman looked very familiar. She happened to be the same one whose face I had spotted from one of the windows, this morning. It was amazing. The little boy bore a strong resemblance to Major Scott. Which meant that the miniature may have been painted at least twenty years ago. The woman must be well preserved for her age.

Fifteen minutes later, we all sat around a thick, handsomely carved table, inside the sparsely furnished dining room. Major Scott was the only member of the family who joined us for supper. Maum Janey had informed us he was a widower with a six-year old son and a mother who was still alive, but they were not present. His son had already eaten supper. And Mrs. Scott was not inclined to dine with Yankees.

Major Scott engaged in light conversation with Major Hanson, until he faced me. "Tell me Miss Evans,” he said, taking me by surprise, “have you any kin from around here?" I sat between Lieutenant Anders and Alice, who sat at the Mississippian's right. Wary of the major's apparent friendliness, I revealed that my mother had relatives who lived in New Orleans. My grandmother, a member of the Fontenot family, had married met and married a free colored merchant from Boston. "Just down the river, I see. I have an aunt who lives down there. She married a Creole fellow. Are your mother's cousins free persons of color or slaves?"

Now, why did he want to know? Was he attempting to deduce whether I was a fugitive slave or not? I frankly thought it was none of his business and almost told him so, but I held my tongue. "They are free," I answered coolly.

He apologized gracefully. "I did not mean to pry into your past. You see, one of my nursing mammies hailed from Nawlins. Her name was Marie."

I smiled politely. So that was her name. Yet, despite my curiosity, I did not want to be drawn into some conversation about his slaves. What was he going to discuss next? The glorious Southern way of life and how Negroes were suited to it? But the major persisted. "The reason I brought up Marie is that you strongly resemble her. Especially around the eyes. Those Egyptian eyes, my Aunt Cordelia used to say. Did you inherit your features from your mother?"

I now knew the reason behind his curiosity and relaxed. "No Major Scott. From my father's mother."

"I see."

He turned to face Miriam, when the memory of that brown face at the window suddenly came back to me. "Pardon me, Major Scott, but is this Marie nursemaid to your daughter?"

"Oh no, Miss Evans. Maum Janey now takes care of Brett. Marie had died many years ago. When I was ten." I nearly jolted out of my seat from the revelation. Major Scott sighed ruefully. "Strange. I even remembered the exact date she died. April 9, 1842. One of the saddest days of my life."

I choked on the water I was sipping when he said those words. Marie died on the very day I had been born.

End of Chapter One

Monday, December 20, 2010

"FREQUENCY" (2000) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery of images from the 2000 science-fiction thriller, "FREQUENCY". Directed by Gregory Hoblit, the movie starred Dennis Quaid and James Caviezel: 

"FREQUENCY" (2000) Photo Gallery