Sunday, April 30, 2017

"POLDARK" Series One (1975): Episodes Nine to Twelve




"POLDARK" SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES NINE TO TWELVE

It has been a while since I had last viewed "POLDARK", the BBC's 1975-77 adaptation of Winston Graham's literary series about the post-war life of a British Army officer American Revolutionary War veteran named Ross Poldark. Real life and several movies releases distracted my attention from the series. Eventually, I found the time to watch Series One's adaptation of Graham's 1950 novel, "Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791"

Episode Eight had ended on a grim note. Ross' new smelting company ended in failure after his cousin Francis Poldark revealed the shareholders' names to the former's rival, George Warleggan. Ross now finds himself in financial straights. Francis was stricken with Putrid's Throat and Ross' wife, Demelza Carne Poldark, helped Francis' wife, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, nurse the stricken man back to health. Unfortunately, both Demelza and young daughter Julia were stricken with the same illness. Demelza recovered. Julia did not. Following Julia's death, one of the Warleggans' ships were wrecked off the coast of Poldark land. Despite Ross' efforts to conduct a rescue of the survivors (in this version, at least), many of the locals salvaged the goods from the ship and caused a riot on the ship. The episode ended with Ross being arrested for instigating the riot.

Episode Nine began with Ross' return to his estate, Nampara, after spending a short period in jail. While he prepares to find a barrister (attorney) to represent him in court, Demelza tries to recruit help from the local gentry to have the charges dropped against Ross or ensure a not guilty verdict. Much against Ross' wishes, who stubbornly wants to guarantee his freedom on his own. Ross' friend, Dr. Dwight Enrys, meets the spoiled heiress Caroline Peneven, when she mistakes him for a veterinarian for her pug. Francis, who continues to feels guilty over his betrayal of the Carnmore Copper Company, sinks to a new low before sets out to make amends with Ross. And George and Nicholas Warleggan, who had arranged Ross' arrest in the first place, tries to guarantee a guilty verdict for Ross by bribing the latter's former servant, Jud Paynter, to testify against him.

Following the trial in which Ross is exonerated, the Poldarks at both Nampara and Trenwith are forced to deal with their low financial straits. Ross and Francis reconcile and make plans to re-open Wheal Grace and dig for copper. To finance re-opening the mine, Ross allows local smugglers led by a man named Mr. Trencom to use the cove on Nampara land for a smuggling operation. Demelza is against the idea, but Ross refuses to listen to her. Meanwhile, Demelza discovers that she is pregnant with their second child. Due to their financial straits and the trauma of baby Julia's death, she fears that Ross will be unhappy by the news of her pregnancy. Demelza also resorts to solo fishing trips behind her husband's back to provide food for Nampara's inhabitants, while Ross' finances suffer. In fact, Episode Twelve ends with a very pregnant Demelza struggling to row back to the shore, while she goes into labor.

What can I say about the 1975 adaptation of "Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791"? I have mixed feelings about it. Perhaps my feelings for this adaptation is due to the source material. "Jeremy Poldark" is probably the shortest novel in Graham's twelve-book series. A novel's lenghth should not determine one's opinion of it. But if I must be brutally honest, I do not have a high regard for "Jeremy Poldark". It seemed more like a filler episode of a television series with a long-term narrative structure. The most interesting aspects of the novel were the emotional estrangement between Ross and Demelza, following their daughter's death and his deal with smugglers; Francis' attempt to reconcile with Ross; and of course, Ross' trial for the riot that had occurred near the end of "Demelza - A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790"

Episode Nine mainly focused on Ross' preparations for the trial, Demelza's attempts to seek help for him, and the Warleggans' preparations to ensure that Ross will be convicted. That included recruiting Jud Paynter to testify against Ross. It was a pretty interesting episode. Somewhat. I thought the episode featured a colorful quality once the setting shifted to Bodmin for both the trial and upcoming local elections. It also featured a colorful assembly ball where Demelza, wearing the same gown she had worn at the Warleggans' ball in Episode Six, tries to recruit support and help for Ross. The episode ended with a cliffhanger, as Francis Poldark, who was also at the ball and in Bodmin to support Ross, contemplates committing suicide with a pistol in his hand.

Episode Eleven mainly focused on Ross and Demelza's separate efforts to maintain their survival and rejuvenate their fortunes. And for the first time, the series delved into the strains that their their problems and Julia's death had placed upon their marriage. For Ross and Demelza, the honeymoon is finally over and I could not be any more happier. There is nothing that will bore me quicker than an idealized romance. Finally, the saga settles down to forcing the couple to work at making their marriage work. And I have to give credit to both Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees for their skillful portrayal of Ross and Demelza's struggles to make their marriage work. This was especially apparent in one scene that featured a quarrel between the couple following a supper party they had attended at Trenwith. Sometime during the evening, Ross and his former love, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, had the opportunity for a private conversation that ended with Ross complimenting her appearance. Unfortunately, Demelza appeared and was able to overhear his compliment. Which would explained the Ross and Demelza's quarrel.

Ever since the current adaptation of "POLDARK" had first aired, I have encountered complaints about how actor Kyle Soller had portrayed Francis Poldark as an ill-tempered loser during the show's first season. To be honest, Clive Francis had did the same in the 1975 adaptations of "Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787" and "Demelza". I noticed that once Francis had put his friendship with the manipulative George Warleggan behind him and reconciled with Ross, he finally became that wry and witty man that so many had commented about. And the actor gave a very charming and subtle performance. 

I also enjoyed the portrayal of the burgeoning romance between Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen, thanks to Richard Morant and Judy Geeson's sparkling performances. The beginning of their relationship reminded me of the numerous Hollywood comedies between the late 1950s and mid 1960s. This was especially highlighted by Caroline's mistaken assumption that Dwight was more of a veterinarian and the latter's subtle contempt toward her privileged behavior. In a way, I find their relationship a bit more realistic than the one between Ross and Demelza. Dwight and Caroline's relationship strike me as good example of how class differences can effect a potential romance between two people of such disparate backgrounds.

But the one episode that I truly enjoyed was Episode Ten. It featured the assizes in Bodmin and especially Ross' trial. If I must be brutally honest, Episode Ten did not feature one of Robin Ellis' best performances as Ross Poldark. He spent most of the episode looking rather stoic and occasionally, disapproving. It seemed as if the world of 18th century Cornwall had merely revolved around him. And a colorful world it turned out to be. The excitement actually began in the second half of Episode Nine, which featured the local elections, a local ball and the preparations for Ross' trial. But it was the assizes itself, which included Ross' trial that made Episode Ten fascinated for me. Not only did it feature Ross' trial, filled with attempts by the corrupt prosecutor to circumvent the law; but also another in which a woman was convicted for a minor crime and punished with a public whipping.

At least three performances made Episode Ten very interesting. One of those performances came from Paul Curran, who portrayed Ross' former servant (at the time), Jud Paynter. Curran's Jud spent most of the episode getting drunk in order to shore up his courage to testify against Ross. It almost seemed as if Curran had to sustain the image of a drunken Jud throughout the entire episode. He also had to constantly irritate George Warleggan, portrayed by Ralph Bates. And the latter is the second performance that really caught my interest. I really enjoyed Bates in this episode. His George Warleggan was a man irritated not only by Jud's drunkeness, but also by the tight-fisted Nicholas Warleggan. Bates did an excellent job in basically portraying a straight man to a pair of comic performances. That second comic performance belonged to Nicholas Selby, who gave a rather subtle, yet funny performance as the venal, yet penny-pinching Nicholas. Poor George. His father is vindictive enough to demand that Ross suffers for the looting of his shipwrecked ship, but cheap enough to demand that George pay a small amount to arrange for Ross' conviction. Talk about a man between a rock and a hard place.

Despite these narrative and character virtues, I still remained somewhat unimpressed by Episodes Nine to Twelve. I was not impressed by how screenwriters Peter Draper and Paul Wheeler, along with director Kenneth Ives; structured the narrative for these episodes. One, their use of cliffhangers seemed a bit off kilter to me. In two episodes - Episodes Nine and Ten - the screenwriters and the director used cliffhangers to tell the audience what happened and not show. Episode Nine ended with a despondent Francis Poldark pressing a pistol to his head, as he prepared to commit suicide. Yet, there was no gunshot or anything to hint what happened. Audiences did not learn that the suicide attempt had failed due to the pistol's misfire in a conversation between Francis and Dwight Enys. I found this handling of Francis' suicide attempt extremely annoying. Apparently, it was easier for Draper and Ives to tell the audience what happened via Francis' revelation than show it. 

As for Episode Ten, it ended with the judge about to announce the verdict at the end of Ross' trial. But audiences did not learn about the verdict, until George Warleggan had informed his father . . . at the beginning of Episode Eleven. It seemed ridiculously unnecessary to end Episode Ten in this manner. Worse, it was another example of the writer and director telling what happened, instead of showing. Speaking of "episodic interruptus", Episode Twelve, which is the last one that served as an adaptation of "Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791", ended with a pregnant Demelza rowing back to shore as she goes into labor. One, this is not how the novel ended. It ended with a conciliation between Ross and Francis during the newborn Jeremy Poldark's christening; along with Ross and Demelza at home, as they contemplated on keeping their family and household. I see now that the screenwriter had allowed Ross and Francis to reconcile before Jeremy's birth, so that they could end the episode on this cliffhanger with Demelza struggling to reach the shore. I found this a waste of time. This was simply another example of telling the audience what happened, instead of showing. Episode Thirteen, which began the adaptation of "Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793", began with Demelza reaching the shore and later, Ross announcing the presence of his newborn son. Frustrating! And unnecessary.

Although I had earlier complimented Paul Curran's comic performance of the drunken Jud Paynter, I must admit there is so much of Jud that I can take. He almost became something of a fly on the ointment to me during my favorite episode, Episode Ten. But Episode Twelve truly became something of a chore for me, due to the whole "Jud is dead" story arc. After double-crossing the Warleggans by failing to testify against Ross and keeping the fifteen shillings they had given him, Jud is assaulted by some of George Warleggan's men at the end of Episode Eleven. A great deal of Episode Twelve focused on Jud's funeral and wake, while Ross and Demelza attended another supper party at Trenwith. A great deal. To make matters worse, it turned out that Jud was never dead . . . just unconscious. No one had bothered to verify whether he was dead or not. Instead, they had mistaken his unconscious body as a corpse. Not only was I irritated that Jud was not dead, I believe that Winston Graham had committed something of a cheat with this story line. Worse, I had to endure thirty to forty minutes of Jud's wake, which seemed more than I was able to bear. I really wish he had remained dead.

I have one last quibble and it involved at least four missing characters. What happened to Jinny Carter? You know . . . Jinny? Ross and Demelza's kitchen maid? The widow of one Jim Carter? What happened to her? Actress Gillian Bailey, who had portrayed Ginny in the adaptation of "Ross Poldark" and "Demelza", seemed to be missing during these four episodes. Worse, no mention was made about her lack of presence. I find this ironic, considering that Jinny's father, Zacky Martin, was not missing. Forbes Collins, who had portrayed Zacky, had a strong presence in these four episodes - including the sequence involving Jud's funeral. So why was Jinny missing? And I also noticed that after twelve episodes and adaptations of three novels, Aunt Agatha Poldark also remained missing. I realize that she plays an important role in "Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793" and "The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795". But why has she been missing for so long in this adaptation of Winston Graham's saga? How did producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn explain her appearance in future episodes, beginning with the adaptation of "Warleggan"? And what happened to Verity's stepchildren? They were first introduced in "Jeremy Poldark" and I had assumed (for which I should have known better) they would make their appearances by at least Episode Eleven or Episode Twelve. Perhaps they will appear in the production's adaptation of "Warleggan". Who knows? 

There were some highlights from Barry and Coburn's adaptation of "Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791". These highlights include Ross Poldark's trial in Episode Ten; the burgeoning romance between Dr. Dwight Enys and Caroline Penvenen; and the performances of three cast members - Paul Curran, Nicholas Selby and especially Ralph Bates. But overall, I was not that impressed by Episodes Nine to Twelve. I found the narrative structure of these episodes rather troubling, especially with how cliffhangers were used. And the handling of the Jud Paynter character struck me as well, somewhat overbearing. Oh well. Onward to Episode Thirteen.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

"LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" (2016) Review





"LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" (2016) Review

I never thought any film or television production would find another story written by Jane Austen to adapt. Not really. The author only had six novels published. And I was never really aware of any other novels, novellas or short stories . . . until I learned about "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP", Whit Stillman's adaptation of Austen's 1794 epistolary novel, "Lady Susan"

Set during the 1790s, "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" began with the aristocratic and lovely young widow, Lady Susan Vernon, being forced to leave the Manwaring estate due to her dalliance with the married Lord Manwaring and the hysterical reaction to the affair by the latter's very wealthy wife. Lady Susan had been staying with the Manwarings in order to arrange a possible marriage to her adolescent daughter Frederica and the wealthy, yet brainless Sir James Martin. But after being forced to leave by Lady Manwaring, Lady Susan and her widowed companion, Mrs. Cross, head to Churchill, the country home of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon and his wife, Catherine Vernon. While at Churchill, Lady Susan becomes acquainted with her sister-in-law's handsome younger brother, Reginald DeCourcy. Reginald becomes deeply attracted to Lady Susan, who views him as a potential husband or lover. She also continues her plans to ensure that Fredrica becomes Sir James' wife.

"LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" offered at least two reunions for actress Kate Beckinsale. The movie marked her second foray into the world of Jane Austen. Some twenty years earlier, she had portrayed the lead in the 1996-97 adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 novel, "Emma". Beckinsale also found herself reunited with director/writer Whit Stillman and her her co-star Chloë Sevigny. She had worked with both on the 1998 comedy-drama, "THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO". In the end, I must admit that I enjoyed "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" very much. I would not regard it as one of my favorite Austen adaptations or one of its best. But I must admit that due to its unique protagonist and Whit Stillman's witty direction, I really enjoyed this film. 

However, there is one aspect of "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" that I found confusing. And there is another that I found somewhat disappointing. For the likes of me, I do not understand why Stillman did not use the novel's original title for the movie. Instead, he borrowed the title, "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP", from another one of Austen's early works that had been written in 1790. Why Stillman had decided to use this title instead of the one from the 1794 novel upon which this movie was based . . . I have no idea. Frankly, I found it not only unnecessary, but also confusing. 

I was also confused by Lady Susan's movements in the film's third act. She seemed to travel back and forth between London and Churchill without any real reason. And if there were reasons for her constant traveling, they seemed to be presented with a blink of an eye, due to Stillman's unusual direction style. There were times when I found Stillman's pacing just a bit too fast. This led to my last problem with "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" - namely its running time. I realize that the movie's literary source is a short novel written in epistolary form (usually, a series of letters or other documents). But a part of me felt slightly disappointed that "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" could have possessed a longer running time. For me, 93 minutes is not long enough - especially for a lush Jane Austen cinematic adaptation.

But as I had earlier pointed out, I still managed to enjoy "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" very much. Unlike the other Austen stories familiar to me, this tale struck me as rather unusual. Most Austen movie or television adaptations were set between 1800 and 1820 - with the exception of 1995's "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE", which seemed to be set on the cusp of the 18th and 19th centuries. Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh's costume designs seemed to make it clear that "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" is definitely set during the first half of the 1790s. 

But the most original aspect of "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" was the story's protagonist - Lady Susan Vernon. Villainous protagonists are not exactly new in various movie and television protagonists throughout the years. But they barely exist in a Jane Austen story. The closest she has come to creating a villainous protagonist in the six novels familiar to millions was Emma Woodhouse in her 1815 novel, "Emma". But Emma proved to be more of a misguided protagonist forced to learn a lesson in the end. Lady Susan Vernon, on the other hand, is not a nice woman. She seemed to harbor a good deal of contempt toward others - including her own daughter, Frederica. Which means she is not a good parent. She is self-involved, a liar, a manipulator, a gold digger and quite possibly a borderline sociopath. Some have compared her to Mary Crawford from "Mansfield Park". However, I suspect Mary might be more of an anti-heroine than a villainess. Unlike Lady Susan, she is capable of warmth and compassion. I cannot say the same for this movie's leading lady. And yet . . . unlike Emma Woodhouse or Mary Crawford, Lady Susan did not learn a valuable lesson about her character or faced punishment for her sins. 

And like many other Austen productions, "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" was filled with a great deal of wit. I suspect a good deal of it came from Stillman's own pen. Among my favorite lines - many of them from Lady Susan herself:

*"Americans really have shown themselves to be a nation of ingrates, only by having children can we begin to understand such dynamic."

*"That’s the parent’s lot! We bring these delightful creatures into the world—eagerly, happily—and then before long they are spying upon and judging us, rarely favourably. Having children is our fondest wish but, in doing so, we breed our acutest critics. It is a preposterous situation—but entirely of our own making."


*"My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die."

*"He has offered you the one thing he has of value to give . . . his income."


Speaking of Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh's costume designs, I noticed that they had failed to earn any Academy Award or Golden Globe nominations. Mhaoldomhnaigh did earn nominations from the Satellite Awards and the San Diego Film Critics Society. But they are not exactly regarded in the same sphere as the Oscars or Golden Globes. I did come across one blog - Frock Flicks - in which the writer felt that Mhaoldomhnaigh had failed to created historically accurate costumes. Well . . . historically accurate or not, I found them rather colorful and beautiful, as shown in the image below:



Another aspect of "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" that I found colorful was Anna Rackard's production designs. I thought she did a wonderful job in re-creating the world of the Georgian Era of the 1790s in both London and in several landed estates. Both Mhaoldomhnaigh's costume designs and Rackard's production designs benefited from Richard Van Oosterhout's colorful cinematography. 

As for the cast . . . I find it mind boggling that none of the major cast members managed to acquire a major acting nomination. Especially three of the main leads. First of all, the movie featured some first-rate acting from the supporting cast, which included Stephen Fry, Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell and Morfydd Clark. But there were three performances that I found truly outstanding. 

Tom Bennett gave a hilarious performance as the dimwitted baronet, Sir James Martin. His character reminded of the numerous Austen characters who would ramble on, spouting some of the most inane comments. But thanks to Bennett's skillful performance, Sir James proved to be the most inane and hilarious character ever created by Austen. Chloë Sevigny, who had co-starred with Beckinsale in "THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO", gave a very charming and subtle performance as Lady Susan's American-born confident, Mrs. Alicia Johnson. Thanks to Sevigny's performance, her Alicia proved to be just as unscrupulous as Lady Susan, but a bit more subtle and much wiser - as the final act would eventually prove. But the star of the movie proved to be Kate Beckinsale, who an outstanding performance as the witty, yet calculating Lady Susan Vernon. Beckinsale's Lady Susan was not only deliciously bitchy, but also stylish and skillful in the way she pursued her goal that I could not help but cheer her own . . . despite the manner in which she treated others, especially her daughter. To this day, I still cannot understand how Bennett, Sevigny and especially Beckinsale managed to garner major nominations for their performances.

As I had earlier pointed out, I do not regard "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" as one of the best Austen productions I have ever seen. I had a few problems with the movie's pacing and some of the narrative in the third act. The humor featured in "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP" did not leave me laughing on the floor with laughter. But Whit Stillman's delicious screenplay and direction had me smiling continuously throughout the film and sitting on the edge of my seat, anticipating Lady Susan's final fate. However, it was the excellent performances of the cast, led by the superb Kate Beckinsale, that truly sold me on the movie in the end.

Wednesday, April 26, 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.




Sunday, April 23, 2017

"I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU" (1951) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU", the 1951 adaptation of John L. Balderston's 1927 play, "Berkeley Square" and Henry James' posthumous 1917 novel "The Sense of the Past". Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the movie starred Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth: 


"I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU" (1951) Photo Gallery





































Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM" (2016) Review




"FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM" (2016) Review

After the 2011 movie "HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II" hit the movie theaters, I had assumed that would be the last film set in J.K. Rowling's "wizarding world of Harry Potter". Her 2007 novel, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was her last one in a series of seven books. But . . . lo and behold, Warner Brothers Studios, who had released the films based upon her novel, found a way to continue the series. The end result was the release of the recent film, "FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM"

"FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM" is based upon a 2001 book written by Rowling. Somewhat. First of all, the book is not a novel, but a "scholarly" book about the magical creatures found in the Harry Potter universe. Second of all, the book was published under the fictional pen name of one Newt Scamander. What Rowlings, who served as the film's screenwriter, did was used the Newt Scamander pen name and transformed him into the movie's main character. In the film, British wizard and "magizoologist" Newt Scamander arrives by boat to New York City in the fall of 1926. Newt has arrived in the United States to release a magical creature called the Thunderbird in the Arizona desert. While listening to a sidewalk speech given by a non-magical (No-Maj) fanatic named Mary Lou Barebone, one of his charges - a creature called Nifler escapes from his magically expanded suitcase, which contains other magical creatures. Even worse, he meets No-Maj cannery worker and aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski, and they accidentally swap suitcases. As Newt struggles to regain possession of his suitcase, Nifler and other magical creatures that have managed to escape; he runs afoul of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), thanks to a demoted auror named Porpentina "Tina" Goldstein, eager to regain her position. Between his search for his missing magical creatures, regaining his suitcase from Jacob Kowalski and the MACUSA; Newt has to deal with a creature called the Obscurus, which uses children as host bodies and is causing destruction around Manhattan and not attract the attention of Ms. Barebone and her abused adopted children - including the adolescent Credence Barebone.

When I first saw "FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM", I was surprised to discover that J.K. Rowling was the movie's sole screenwriter. I found this especially surprising, considering that one of the movie's producers happened to be Steve Kloves, who had served as screenwriter for seven of the eight "HARRY POTTER" movies. And I must say that I thought she did a pretty damn good job. At first, I thought Rowling had created a disjointed tale. The movie seemed to possess at least three separate plot lines:

*Newt's search for the missing creatures in his possession

*The Obscurus' destruction

*Mary Lou Barebone's anti-magic campaign


But Tina Goldstein finally exposed Newt's magical suitcase to MACUSA, Newt's plot line became connected to the story arc regarding the Obscurus. And both story arcs became connected to Mrs. Barebone's anti-magic campaign when audiences learned that MACUSA Director of Magical Security Percival Graves had recruited Credence to help him locate the child who might be the Obscurus. Seeing how these individual story arcs formed to become part of one main narrative reminded me of the 2008 World War II Spike Lee drama, "MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA". Speaking of World War II, I was happily surprised to learn that a major plot twist near the end of "FANTASTIC BEASTS" promises to lead to the featured a major plot twist that will serve as part of this new series' main narrative about the upcoming Global wizarding war that will play out during the rise of fascism and the war. How clever of Rowling.

What else did I like about the movie? Frankly, the production designs. I was very impressed by Stuart Craig and James Hambidge's re-creation of 1926 Manhattan. For me, among their best work proved to be their creation of a 1920s magical speakeasy operated by a goblin gangster named Gnarlack. Nor am I surprised that the pair managed to earn an Oscar nomination for their work. I was also impressed by Colleen Atwood's costume designs for the film. One, she did an excellent job in re-creating the fashion of the mid-1920s. More importantly, Atwood put an interesting fantasy twist for the costumes worn by the magical characters. For some reason, the clothes worn by the American wizarding community of the 1920s seemed to be more tasteful and elegant than those worn by the British wizarding community of the late 20th/early 21st century. And guess what? Ms. Atwood also earned an Oscar nomination for her work. The only problem I had with the movie's technical effects was Philippe Rousselot's photography. Mind you, I had no problems with the film's epic sweep. But I did not particularly care for the photography's brown tint - a color that I personally found unnecessary and rather disappointing. I realize that the story is set during the middle of autumn. But was it really necessary to photograph the movie with an unflattering brown tint to indicate the time of the year?

I certainly had no problems with the movie's performances. Eddie Redmayne did a marvelous job in portraying the introverted wizard Newt Scamander, who seemed to have an easier job of interacting with the creatures in his care instead of his fellow humans. I also noticed that in one hilarious scene, which involved Newt's attempt to recapture an African Erumpent at the city zoo, Redmayne displayed a talent for physical comedy by engaging with a "mating dance" with the animal. Katherine Waterston, whom I last saw in the 2015 drama "STEVE JOBS", gave a very intense, yet engaging performance as the demoted auror, Porpentina "Tina" Goldstein. I was impressed by how Waterston combined two aspects of Tina's personality - her driving ambition, which has come close to undermining her strong penchant for decency on a few occasions. Dan Fogler gave a very entertaining and funny performance as the No-Maj cannery worker and wannabe baker, Jacob Kowalski. Not only did I find his performance very funny, he also managed to create a strong screen chemistry with both Eddie Redmayne and Alison Sudol, who portrayed Tina's sister Quennie Goldstein. Sudol was an absolute delight as the carefree witch, who is not only proficient in Legilimens, but who also falls in love with Jacob.

I never thought I would see Colin Farrell in a "HARRY POTTER" film. To be honest, he never struck me as the type. But he seemed to fit quite well in his excellent portrayal of the ruthless and intense Auror and Director of Magical Security for MACUSA, Percival Graves. I was especially impressed with his performance in scenes that featured Graves' interactions with Credence Barebone - scenes that seemed to hint some mild form of erotic manipulation. Speaking of Mr. Barebone, Ezra Miller was in fine form as the emotionally repressed Credence. The ironic thing about Miller's performance is that at first, his character seemed slightly creepy. In fact, one could label his Credence a "young American Severus Snape with a bad haircut and no wit". Thanks to Rowling's screenplay and Miller's performance, I came away with a portrait of a sad and abused young man, who hand channeled his anger at those who exploit him via magic. 

"FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM" marked the first time in which I can recall a magical person of color as a major supporting role - namely the MACUSA's elegant president Seraphina Picquery, portrayed by Carmen Ejogo. Unlike characters such as Dean Thomas or Kingsley Shacklebolt, President Picquery was not simply allowed to speak a few lines before being swept to the sidelines or off screen. Audiences received more than a glimpse of the glamorous Seraphina. I was also happy to discover that President Picquery was not portrayed as some one-dimensional character without any depth. Thanks to Ejogo's skillful performance, she portrayed the MACUSA as a pragmatic and ruthless woman who could be quite ambiguous in her efforts to maintain order within the American wizarding community. I found myself equally impressed by Samantha Morton's portrayal of the religious fanatic, Mary Lou Barebone. What really impressed me about Morton's performance is that she did not resort to excessive dramatics to convey Mrs. Barebone's fanatical . . . and abusive personality. Morton gave a subtle and intense performance that conveyed a portrait of a rather frightening woman - especially one who was not magical. The movie also featured solid performances from Jon Voight, Ronan Raftery, Josh Cowdery, Faith Wood-Blagrove and Ron Perlman's voice. The movie also featured a surprise cameo appearance from Johnny Depp, whose character will play an important role in the sequel films that will follow this one.

I find it ironic that when I had first learned about the plans for "FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM", I was against it. I thought J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers Studio had taken the Harry Potter franchise as far as it could go after seven novels and eight films. And yet . . . after seeing this film, I immediately fell in love with it. The movie had a few flaws. But I ended up enjoying it, thanks to the complex plot written by Rowling, David Yates' solid direction, the visual effects and the first-rate cast led by Eddie Redmayne. And now . . . I look forward to seeing more films about the different wizarding communities during the early 20th century.