Jambalaya

Below is an article about the American dish known as “Jambalaya”:

JAMBALAYA

One of the most popular dishes to originate in the southern United States is a dish from Louisiana called Jambalaya. The dish has its origins in the Spanish dish known as paella. There is also a similar dish from the French province of Provence called jambalaia. Both are dishes that are mash-ups of rice, meat, vegetables and saffron.

Jambalaya originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans, during the late 18th century. The Spanish, who controlled Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley at the time, made an attempt to recreate paella in the New World. But since saffron was unavailable due to import costs, the Spanish used tomatoes as a substitute for saffron. Despite Spanish control of the region, the French dominated the population, since they were the original founders of the colony. The French utilized spices from the Caribbean to transform this paella copycat into a unique New World dish.

Many would be surprised to learn that Jambalaya proved to become a very flexible dish in Louisiana over the years. It has evolved into three distinct recipes. The original version, known as the Creole or “red” Jambalaya, featured tomatoes. The second version, which is common in the parishes in Southwestern and South-Central Louisiana, is a “rural Creole” Jambalaya that contains no tomatoes. The third version is known as “White or Cajun Jambalaya” in which the rice is cooked in stock and separately from the meat and vegetables.

The recipe for Jambalaya made its first appearance in the 1878 cookbook called “Gulf City Cook Book” by the ladies of the St. Francis Street Methodist Church in South Mobile, Alabama. Jambalaya experienced a brief surge of popularity during the 1920s and 1930s, due to its flexible recipe. And in 1968, Louisiana Governor John J. McKeithen proclaimed Gonzales, Louisiana as the Jambalaya Capital of the World. Every spring, Gonzales hosted the annual Jambalaya Festival.

Below is a recipe from the Epicurious.com website for Jambalaya:

Jambalaya

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
3 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, minced
4 oz extra-lean smoked ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
3/4 cup brown rice, uncooked
1 1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped into bite-sized pieces

Preparation

Add oil to a large nonstick saucepan. Over medium heat, sauté onion, garlic, bell pepper and celery until onion is translucent. Add parsley, ham, chicken, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomatoes (with juice), tomato sauce, and 1 3/4 cups cold water. Gently simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Pour rice into the pan and stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, 45 minutes or until rice is cooked and absorbs most of the liquid. Stir in shrimp and cook 5 minutes more. Remove bay leaf. Season to taste with cayenne pepper and salt.

“West to Laramie” [PG] – 3/4

Part 3– The third part in a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.

“WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 3

May 3, 1860

Mrs. Adelaide Taylor
231 Green Street
Philadelphia, PA

Dear Addie,

Patricia and I have arrived at this small prairie town in the Kansas Territory. Our coach stopped for a few minutes to retrieve mail and other packages. The sooner we are on our way, the better. Stagecoach travel has proved to be quite unbearable. You cannot imagine how I long to be at Fort Laramie by now. Being here in Kansas has reminded me of the violent outbreaks over slavery that has tainted this part of the country, recently. I fear that some Missouri border ruffians or Kansas Jayhawkers might descend upon our coach and harass us before we can leave the territory.

Addie my love, whoever said that stagecoach traveling would be comfortable was either the greatest charlatan on this earth or worse, a drunk. No reflection upon your brother, but we must remember that he has been blind with love for nearly a year. I should really listen to Patricia more often.

I must say that the land here in Kansas seem quite impressive – at least visually. The eastern part of the territory resembled Missouri with its green woods and expansive plains filled with tall grass that swayed like graceful dancers. Eventually, the land became flat as a pancake with hardly a stem of grass or flowers in sight. An occasional tree or prairie animal would break the monotony of the open wide spaces. Thank goodness for the bright orange that glows across the western skyline when the sun descends for the night.

Right now, I am sure you are asking – ”What is Mother complaining about?” Well, there is this series of elements that seem bent upon assaulting my face – namely the wind, dust, heat and insects. Rocks and other objects of this so-called “road” cause the coach to bump and sway over long periods of time. It had taken me nearly three hours to recover from a case of maldemere, after our departure from St. Joseph. The coach leaves very little room for passengers. There are only six of us, inside the vehicle – including three females who did not have the sense to don narrower skirts for this journey. Patricia and I have the best seats – right behind the front boot, facing backward. We can see the backs of two men seated in the coach’s most uncomfortable spots.

The passengers come from an extremely interesting selection of humanity. First, there is Mr. Atticus Hornbottom (trust me, I am not making this up), a whiskey drummer from St. Louis. This rotund and balding man wears a horrid checked suit and spends most of his time either talking about himself or snooping into the background of other passengers. He sells whiskey to various Army and trading posts throughout the Plains. He is also destined for Fort Laramie.

Another passenger happens to be Captain Jonas Pearson, an Army officer destined for Fort Hall, which is further west of Laramie. After Mr. Hornbottom managed to coerce that bit of information from him, the good Captain kept to himself. It took the subject of the violence here in Kansas raised by Mr. Hornbottom for Captain Pearson to finally speak again. He declared that the Jayhawkers were to blame for the troubles here in Kansas. This prompted Patricia to declare that the Missouri border men were also not exempt from blame. She also accused the bordermen of attempting to vote in a pro-slavery constitution by fraudulent means. The captain did not take kindly to such an outburst – especially from a colored woman. The two have been exchanging dark looks ever since. By the way, Captain Pearson hails from Georgia.

Sitting against the rear boot is a flashy-looking couple that consist of a gentleman (I use this word in the broadest sense) named Reese McEvers and an overdressed woman with gold curls named Lucy. By the look of his clothes and dark hair slicked back with Madagascar oil, Mr. McEvers must be a professional gambler or a distributor of women’s favors. As for his golden-curled companion, Mr. McEvers claimed that she is his wife. Yet, I saw no wedding ring on her finger. Curious.

Our ”jehu” or driver is Mr. Kolp, a no-nonsense type who is all business. Every now and then, he encourages the horses on with cries of “Ha!” or ”Giddap there!”. Riding shotgun is a Mr. Harvey Wright, a former muleteer who is as talkative as Mr. Hornbottom. Unlike the whiskey-drummer, we rarely have the chance to listen to his talk. Except at way stations and stops such as this place. I would love to continue this letter, but we are about depart. Writing in a jostling stagecoach is virtually impossible. Give my love to Harold for me.

I love you always,

Mother

P.S. I will write another letter when we reach Fort Kearny, near the Platte River.

=============================================

May 6, 1860

Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Falmouth, MA

Dear Cousin Elizabeth,

We have finally reached Fort Kearny in the Nebraska Territory late this afternoon and will not depart until tomorrow, due to certain complications. The coach’s left axle wheel (or whatever) was in danger of loosening. Mr. Kolp, our driver, ordered us out of the coach and we were forced to walk the last twelve miles to the fort. Once inside, Mr. Kolp informed us that the axle should be repaired by tomorrow morning.

Both Mrs. Middleton and I were at first relieved to be outside that stuffy coach. Sitting inside with four other passengers became quite unbearable. The prairie winds had covered everyone’s faces with layers of dust. Do you remember that Army captain from Georgia that I had written about in my last letter? Well, I find it amusing that the captain’s face now closely resembles mine. What delicious irony. But after walking eight miles, we found ourselves missing that coach a great deal. My pair of sturdy shoes was nearly ruined by the time we reached the fort.

Fort Kearny is one of the many forts that station the Army’s First Calvary (the same regiment that Robert Middleton serve) on the Great Plains. Named after Philip Kearney, a Mexican War army officer, it is situated near the Platte River. And what a dismal looking body of water the Platte is! The Missouri and Ohio Rivers are beautiful and even the Mississippi River possesses a certain magnificence. But the Platte? Good Lord! I have never looked upon a more turgid stream of water in my life.

The fort’s commander was kind enough to offer Mrs. Middleton, Mr. McEvers’ mistress (wife indeed!) and myself the guest rooms. For which I am eternally grateful! The men accepted room in the enlisted men’s barracks. For one evening, we have walking space to stretch our legs and comfortable beds to sleep upon. I do not have much to say about the fort. It is merely a collection of adobe, sod and wooden buildings that include the kitchen, the stables for the horses, one for the sutler (civilian trader for the military), two dining rooms, a recreation hall, a billiard’s room, barracks for the enlisted troopers and living quarters for the officers. All of these buildings surround a central parade ground. Yet, the fort lacks fortified walls.

This evening, we dined on an edible meal (the only one we will have, I suspect, until Fort Laramie) that consisted of pheasant, roasted potatoes, sage stuffing, beans and salt pork, garden vegetables, sourdough bread and a dried apple pie. The memory of that meal still lingers. Afterwards, the wife of a junior office sang ”Listen to the Mockingbird” and other selections for our entertainment. She has a sweet voice, but not as strong as your Charlotte’s. She also struck me as a poor, delicate creature. I suspect that she will not last very long on the frontier. Her husband, in my opinion, apparently lacked the sense and compassion to realize that she needs to be sent back East. Preferably with relations or friends. Or perhaps he cannot afford to do so. It would be a shame if this is true. Anything would be better for her than staying in this wilderness.

It is late and I need my rest. I do not look forward to resuming our journey in that stagecoach. But I fear I would need to take advantage of our stay here for peaceful rest. Who knows how long it will be before we find ourselves at Fort Laramie and in decent beds again. Give my love to your family and take care of yourself.

Your loving cousin,

Patricia North

“JANE EYRE” (1973) Review

“JANE EYRE” (1973) Review

When I began this article, it occurred to me that I was about to embark upon the review of the sixth adaptation I have seen of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. I have now seen six adaptations of “Jane Eyre”and plan to watch at least one or two more. Meanwhile, I would like to discuss my views on the 1973 television adaptation.

For the umpteenth time, “JANE EYRE” told the story of a young English girl, who is forced to live with her unlikable aunt-by-marriage and equally unlikable cousins. After a clash with her Cousin John Reed, Jane Eyre is sent to Lowood Institution for girls. Jane spends eight years as a student and two as a teacher at Lowood, until she is able to acquire a position as governess at a Yorkshire estate called Thornfield Hall. Jane discovers that her charge is a young French girl named Adele Varens, who happens to be the ward of Jane’s employer and Thornfield’s owner, Edward Rochester. Before she knows it, Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr. Rochester. But the path toward romantic happiness proves to be littered with pitfalls.

After watching “JANE EYRE” . . . or least this version, I hit the Web to learn about the prevailing view toward the 1973 miniseries. I got the impression that a number of Brontë fans seemed to regard it as the best version of the 1847 novel. I can honestly say that I do not agree with this particular view. Mind you, the miniseries seemed to be a solid adaptation. Screenwriter Robin Chapman and director Joan Craft managed to translate Brontë’s tale to the screen without too many drastic changes. Yes, there are one or two changes that I found questionable. But I will get to them later. More importantly, due to the entire production being stretch out over the course of five episode, I thought it seemed well balanced.

I was surprised to see that “JANE EYRE” was set during the decade of the 1830s. It proved to be the second (or should I say first) adaptation to be set in that period. The 1983 television adaptation was also set during the 1830s. Did this bother me? No. After all, Brontë’s novel was actual set during the reign ofKing George III (1760-1820) and I have yet to stumble across an adaptation from this period. Both this production and the 1983 version do come close. But since “Jane Eyre” is not a historical fiction novel like . . . “Vanity Fair”, I see no reason why any movie or television production has to be set during the time period indicated in the story.

The movie also featured some solid performances. I was surprised to see Jean Harvey in the role of Jane’s Aunt Reed. The actress would go on to appear in the 1983 adaptation of the novel as Rochester’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. As for her portrayal of Aunt Reed, I thought Harvey did a solid job, even if I found her slightly theatrical at times. Geoffrey Whitehead gave an excellent performance as Jane’s later benefactor and cousin, St. John Rivers. However, I had the oddest feeling that Whitehead was slightly too old for the role, despite being only 33 to 34 years old at the time. Perhaps he just seemed slightly older. The 1973 miniseries would prove to be the first time Edward de Souza portrayed the mysterious Richard Mason. He would later go on to repeat the role in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 adaptation. Personally, I feel he was more suited for the role in this adaptation and his excellent performance conveyed this. I do not know exactly what to say about Brenda Kempner’s portrayal of Bertha Mason. To be honest, I found her performance to be something of a cliché of a mentally ill woman. For me, the best performance in the entire miniseries came from Stephanie Beachum, who portrayed Jane’s potential rival, the haughty and elegant Blanche Ingram. I do not think I have ever come across any actress who portrayed Blanche as both “haughty” and lively at the same time. Beachum did an excellent job at portraying Blanche as a likable, yet off-putting and arrogant woman.

Many fans of the novel do not seem particularly impressed by Sorcha Cusack’s portrayal of the title character. A good number of them have accused the actress of being unable to convey more than a handful of expressions. And they have accused her of being too old for the role at the ripe age of 24. Personally . . . I disagree with them. I do not regard Cusack’s performance as one of the best portrayals of Jane Eyre. But I thought she did a pretty damn good job, considering this was her debut as an actress. As for her “limited number of expressions”, I tend to regard this accusation as a bit exaggerated. Yes, I found her performance in the scenes featuring Jane’s early time at Thornfield a bit too monotone. But I feel that she really got into the role, as the production proceeded. On the other hand, many of these fans regard Michael Jayston’s portrayal of Edward Rochester as the best. Again, I disagree. I am not saying there was something wrong with his performance. I found it more than satisfying. But I found it difficult to spot anything unique about his portrayal, in compare to the other actors who had portrayed the role before and after him. There were a few moments when his performance strayed dangerously in hamminess. Also, I found his makeup a bit distracting, especially the . . . uh, “guyliner”.

The production values for “JANE EYRE” seemed solid. I felt a little disappointed that interior shots seemed to dominate the production, despite the exterior scenes of Renishaw Hall, which served as Thornfield. Some might argue that BBC dramas of the 1970s and 1980s were probably limited by budget. Perhaps so, but I have encountered other costumed productions of that period that have used more exterior shots. I had no problem with Roger Reece’s costume designs. But aside from the outstanding costumes for Stephanie Beacham, there were times when most of the costumes looked as if they came from a warehouse.

Earlier, I had commented on the minimal number of drastic changes to Brontë’s novel. I am willing to tolerate changes in the translation from novel to television/movie, if they were well done. Some of the changes did not bother me – namely Bessie’s visit to Jane at Lowood and the quarrel between Eliza and Georgiana Reed, during Jane’s visit at Gateshead Hall. But there were changes and omissions I noticed that did not exactly impress me. I was disappointed that the miniseries did not feature Jane’s revelation to Mrs. Fairfax about her engagement to Mr. Rochester. I was also disappointed that “JANE EYRE” did not feature Jane begging in a village before her meeting with the Rivers family. Actually, many other adaptations have failed to feature this sequence as well . . . much to my disappointment. And I was a little put off by one scene in which Mr. Rochester tried to prevent Jane from leaving Thornfield following the aborted wedding ceremony with over emotional kisses on the latter’s lips. Not face . . . but lips. I also did not care for the invented scenes that included a pair of doctors telling Reverend Brocklehurst that he was responsible for the typhus outbreak at Lowood. What was the point in adding this scene? And what was the point in adding a scene in which two society ladies discussed John Reed during a visit Thornfield?

Overall, “JANE EYRE” proved to be a solid adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, thanks to director Joan Craft and screenwriter Robin Chapman. Everything about this production struck me as “solid”, including the performances from a cast led by Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston. Only Stephanie Beachum’s portrayal of Blanche Ingram stood out for me. The production values struck me as a bit pedestrian. And I was not that thrilled by a few omissions and invented scenes by Chapman. But in the end, I liked the miniseries. I did not love it, but I liked it.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1890s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1890s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1890s

1 - Sherlock Holmes-Game of Shadows

1. “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011) – Guy Ritchie directed this excellent sequel to his 2009 hit, in which Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson confront their most dangerous adversary, Professor James Moriarty. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law starred.

2 - Hello Dolly

2. “Hello Dolly!” (1969) – Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau starred in this entertaining adaptation of David Merrick’s 1964 play about a New York City matchmaker hired to find a wife for a wealthy Yonkers businessman. Gene Kelly directed.

3 - King Solomon Mines

3. “King Solomon’s Mines” (1950) – Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and Richard Carlson starred in this satisfying Oscar nominated adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel about the search for a missing fortune hunter in late 19th century East Africa. Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton directed.

4 - Sherlock Holmes

4. “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) – Guy Ritchie directed this 2009 hit about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson’s investigation of a series of murders connected to occult rituals. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law starred.

5 - Hidalgo

5. “Hidalgo” (2004) – Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif starred in Disney’s fictionalized, but entertaining account of long-distance rider Frank Hopkins’ participation in the Middle Eastern race “Ocean of Fire”. Joe Johnston directed.

6. “The Seven Per-Cent Solution” (1976) – Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall and Alan Arkin starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Nicolas Meyer’s 1974 novel about Sherlock Holmes’ recovery from a cocaine addiction under Sigmund Freud’s supervision and his investigation of one of Freud’s kidnapped patients. Meyer directed the film.

Harvey Girls screenshot

7. “The Harvey Girls” (1946) – Judy Garland starred in this dazzling musical about the famous Harvey House waitresses of the late 19th century. Directed by George Sidney, the movie co-starred John Hodiak, Ray Bolger and Angela Landsbury.

6 - The Jungle Book

8. “Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book” (1994) – Stephen Sommers directed this colorful adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 collection of short stories about a human boy raised by animals in India’s jungles. Jason Scott Lee, Cary Elwes and Lena Headey starred.

7 - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

9. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003) – Sean Connery starred in this adaptation of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s first volume of his 1999-2000 comic book series about 19th century fictional characters who team up to investigate a series of terrorist attacks that threaten to lead Europe into a world war. Stephen Norrington directed.

8 - The Prestige

10. “The Prestige” (2006) – Christopher Nolan directed this fascinating adaptation of Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel about rival magicians in late Victorian England. Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine starred.

10 - The Four Feathers 1939

Honorable Mention: “The Four Feathers” (1939) – Alexander Korda produced and Zoltan Korda directed this colorful adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel about a recently resigned British officer accused of cowardice. John Clements, June Duprez and Ralph Richardson starred.

“SERENA” (2014) Review

(This review features spoilers of the 2014 movie, “SERENA” and the Ron Rash 2008 novel from which it is adapted. If you have not seen the movie or read the novel, I suggest you do not read this review.)

 

“SERENA” (2014) Review

Seven years ago, author Ron Rash wrote a novel about a young socialite’s effect upon the lives of her new husband, their North Carolina timber business and the Appalachian community that relied upon it during the early years of the Great Depression. The cinematic adaptation of Rash’s novel hung around development for a while, before it finally became the 2014 movie, “SERENA”.

“SERENA” begins during the late fall of 1929, when the New England-born timber tycoon, George Pemberton, is forced to travel to Boston and secure more funds for his lumber business in western North Carolina. While attending a horse show with his sister, George meets Serena, the daughter of a businessman who had owned his own lumber business in Colorado. After a quick romance, the newlyweds return to Waynesville, North Carolina. There, Serena and George clash with the latter’s partner, Mr. Buchanan, who regards the young bride as an interloper in his relationship with George. Serena also discovers that George had conceived a child with a local servant girl named Rachel Hermann. Although George reassures Serena that the infant boy means nothing to him, she discovers otherwise after she suffers a miscarriage. Deadly antics follow as the Pembertons deal with legal threats and grow apart over George’s illegitimate child.

When “SERENA” first reached the U.S. movie theaters, it sunk at the box office amidst negative reviews from the critics and fans of Rash’s novel. I have never read the novel. But I have read its synopsis after seeing the movie. And I have also read the reviews. There seemed to be a mixed reaction to the novel, despite its success. But the reaction to the novel seemed a lot more positive than the reaction to the film. Many have criticized director Suzanne Bier and screenwriter Christopher Kyle’s changes from the novel. Serena’s point-of-view was reduced in the film. Bier and Kyle added a background in the timber business for the leading character. They removed an early scene featuring a clash between George and Rachel Hermann’s father Abe (Harmon in the novel). They removed the Greek chorus of loggers and changed the ending. And you know what today’s moviegoers and television viewers are like. If a movie or series is going to adapt a novel, these fans usually insist or demand no changes. This is a very unrealistic or dangerous attitude for any filmmaker or television producer to have. To produce a film or a television movie, series or miniseries takes a great deal of money. And a producer needs to consider so much – especially in creating an adaptation of a literary source.

There were some changes made by Bier and Kyle that did not bother me. I felt more than relieved that they had decided to drop that violent encounter between George Pemberton and Abe Hermann (Harmon) at the Waynesville train station. While reading about it, I felt that such a violent encounter happened too soon in the story and it struck me – personally – as ridiculously over-the-top. Perhaps other fans missed it. I did not. According to some criticism of Rash’s novel, the Selena Pemberton character came off as a one-note monster with no real depth. Some have lobbied the same charge at George Pemberton. Since I have never read the novel, I do not know whether they are right or wrong. But I am grateful that the movie did portray both characters with some emotional depth. This was apparent in the couple’s intense regard for one another and the emotional breakdown that occurred, following Serena’s miscarriage. I also have no problems with Kyle’s decision to add a background in lumber in Serena’s back story. I thought her familiarity with a lumber camp gave credence to her ability to help George deal with the problems that sprang up within his camp. On the other hand, both Bier and Kyle managed to find time to focus on the Pembertons’ willingness to exploit the natural beauty around them for business and George’s penchant for hunting panthers. I also found the clash between the Pembertons’ efforts to maintain their business in the Appalachian Mountains and the local sheriff’s desire to preserve the surrounding forests for a national park rather interesting. I had no idea that the clash between those who wanted to exploit the land and those who wanted to preserve it stretched back that far.

I was surprised to learn that had been filmed in the Czech Republic and Denmark. However, looking into the background of the film’s crew and cast members, I found this not surprising. With the exception of a few, most of them proved to be Europeans. I have no idea which Czech mountain range where “SERENA” was filmed, but I have to give kudos to cinematographer Morten Søborg for his rich and beautiful photography of the country. But thanks to Martin Kurel’s art direction, Graeme Purdy’s set decorations and Richard Bridgland’s production designs did an admirable job of transporting audiences back to early Depression-era western North Carolina. As for the movie’s costume designs, I thought Signe Sejlund did a top-notch job. Not only did she managed to re-create the fashions of that period (1929 to the early 1930s), she also took care to match the clothes according to the characters’ personality, class and profession.

I never read any of the reviews for “SERENA”, so I have no idea how other critics felt about the cast’s performances. When I first learned about the movie, many bloggers and journalists seemed amazed that Jennifer Lawrence would be cast in the role of the emotional and ruthless Serena Pemberton. Personally, I was not that amazed by the news. The actress has portrayed ruthless characters before and she certainly had no problems portraying Serena. I thought she did a top-notch job in capturing both the character’s ruthlessness and the intense emotions that the latter harbored for her husband. There is one scene that truly demonstrated Lawrence’s talent as an actress. And it occurred when Serena discovered that George had been secretly keeping an eye on his illegitimate son. I was impressed by how Lawrence took the character from surprise to a sense of betrayal and finally to sheer anger within seconds. Bradley Cooper, who had co-starred with Lawrence in three other films, portrayed Serena’s ruthless, yet passionate husband, George Pemberton. Cooper not only conveyed his character’s businesslike ruthlessness, but also the latter’s moral conflict over some of his actions. My only complaint is that I found his New England accent (his character is from Boston) slightly exaggerated.

“SERENA” featured solid performances from the supporting cast. Toby Jones did a good job in portraying the morally righteous sheriff, McDowell. Ana Ularu also gave a solid and warm performance as Rachel Hermann, the young woman with whom George had conceived a child, when he used her as a bed warmer. Sean Harris was very effective as the conniving Pemberton employee, Campbell. The movie also featured brief appearances from the likes of Bruce Davidson, Charity Wakefield, and Blake Ritson. But the best performances amongst the supporting cast came from David Dencik and Rhys Ifans. Dencik gave a surprisingly subtle performance as George’s partner, Mr. Buchanan, who resented his partner’s marriage to Serena and her increasing impact on their lumber business. In fact, Dencik’s performance was so subtle, it left me wondering whether or not his character was secretly infatuated with George. Equally subtle was Rhys Ifans, who portrayed Pemberton employee-turned-Serena’s henchman, Galloway. Ifans did an excellent job in infusing both Galloway’s emotional ties to Serena and ruthless willingness to commit murder on her behalf.

Contrary to what many may believe, “SERENA” has its share of virtues. But it also has its share of flaws. One aspect of “SERENA” that I had a problem with surprisingly turned out to be the cast. Mind you, the cast featured first-rate actors. But I was not that impressed by the supporting cast’s Southern accents that ranged from mediocre to terrible. I could blame the film makers for relying upon European (especially British performers). But this could have easily happened with a cast of American actors. Only two actors had decent (if not perfect) upper South accents – Rhys Ifans and Sean Harris. I have no idea how Bruce Davidson, one of the few Americans in the cast, dealt with an Appalachian accent. He barely had any lines. Another problem I had with the movie turned out to be the score written by Johan Soderovist. First of all, it seemed unsuited for the movie’s Appalachian setting. Worst, Susanne Bier and the film’s producer failed to utilize the score throughout most of the film. There were too many moments in the film where there seemed to be no score to support the narrative.

At one point of the film, Kyle’s screenplay seemed to throw logic out of the window. When George committed murder to prevent Sheriff McDowell and the Federal authorities from learning about his bribes, a Pemberton employee named Campbell who had witnessed the crime, blackmailed him for a promotion. Yet, later in the film, Campbell decided to tell McDowell about the murder and the bribes. The problem is that Kyle’s screenplay never explained why Campbell had this change of heart. It never revealed why he had decided to bite the hand that fed him. And I have to agree with those who complained that the film did not focus upon Serena’s point-of-view enough. The movie’s title is “SERENA”. Yet, most of the film – especially in the first half – seemed to be focused upon George’s point-of-view. I have no idea why Bier and Kyle made these changes, but I feel that it nearly undermined the film’s narrative.

My biggest gripe with “SERENA” proved to be the ending. If I must be honest, I hated it. I also thought that it undermined the Serena Pemberton character, transforming her into a weeping ninny who could not live without her husband. Kyle’s screenplay should have adhered a lot closer to Rash’s novel. I am aware that both Serena and George loved each other very much. But Serena struck me as the type of woman who would have reacted with anger against George’s lies about his illegitimate baby, his emotional withdrawal and his attempt to strangle her. She reminded me of a younger, Depression-era version of the Victoria Grayson character from ABC’s “REVENGE”. Both women are both very passionate, yet ruthless at the same time. And if the television character was willing to resort to murder or any other kind of chicanery in retaliation to being betrayed, I believe that Serena was capable of the same, as well. Rash allowed Serena to react more violently against George for his betrayal, before sending her off to Brazil in order to start a lumber empire. Yet, both Rash and Kyle seemed determined to kill off Serena. Kyle did it by having Serena commit suicide by fire, after George was killed by a panther. I found this pathetic. Rash did it in his novel by having a mysterious stranger who bore a strong resemblance to George to kill her in Brazil. In other words, after surviving Serena’s poisoning attempt and an attack by a panther, George managed to hunt her down in thirty years or so and kill her. I found this ludicrous and frankly, rather stupid. I would have been happier if Serena had killed George and left the U.S. to make her fortune in Brazil. She struck me as the type who would get away with her crimes. If the murderer in“CHINATOWN” could get away with his crimes, why not Serena Pemberton? I feel this would have made a more interesting ending.

It is a pity that “SERENA” failed at the box office. Unlike many critics, I do not view it as total crap. I have seen worse films that succeeded at the box office. I suspect that many had simply overreacted to the film’s failure to live up to its original hype, considering the cast, the director and the novel upon which it was based. But it was not great. I regard “SERENA” as mediocre. The pity is that it could have been a lot better in the hands of a different director and screenwriter.

“West to Laramie” [PG] – 2/4

Part 2 – The second part in a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.

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”WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 2

April 28, 1860

Mrs. Adelaide Middleton Taylor
231 Green Street
Philadelphia, Pa

Dear Addie,

Nearly twenty-four hours after you and Harold had deposited Patricia and myself aboard the train for New York City, we finally arrive in Chicago. Despite a delay in Princeton, we managed to make our connecting train for Chicago in time. The basket of food that you had insisted upon giving to me proved to be most fortuitous.

The trip to Chicago provided no complications, I am happy to say – aside from the boorish behavior of our conductor. An unpleasant man with a sour face, the conductor had insisted that Patricia leave the first-class coach and sit in the car reserved for colored passengers. Patricia became irritated by his manner and an argument ensued between the two. I must say that man conducted himself in the most ridiculous manner! At least Patricia did not carry on like some hysterical child. I had firmly insisted that she stay with me, claiming I would require her services at all time. I doubt that the conductor believed me, but he had no proof to doubt my word. Patricia remained in my company throughout the entire trip. The conductor obviously must have been the type who was too cowardly to make further scenes. Especially with a white woman.

The basket of food proved to be more than fortuitous. It was God-sent. Both Patricia and I discovered in Pittsburg how atrocious the food served in these railway dining depots can be. One bite of a smoked sausage had sent us both scurrying back to the train for your basket.

We finally arrived in Chicago covered in dust and soot. The station master informed us that the next train for St. Joseph, Missouri was due to leave tomorrow afternoon. Patricia and I shared a room at a local boardinghouse located near the railway station. A plump, cheerful woman named Lenora Clarke owned the place. We had assumed that she would raise a fuss regarding Patricia’s presence. Unlike some of her fellow citizens of Illinois, Mrs. Clarke turned out to be a very tolerant woman. In fact, she and Patricia took to each other like ducks to water.

Chicago struck me as being a thriving city with great vitality. Within two decades, it has become the railway center of the West and the major stockyard for the entire country. Mrs. Clarke informed us that the city is preparing for the Republican convention for the next presidential election. There is talk that Illinois will push for one of its prominent citizens – an attorney named Abraham Lincoln from Springfield – as a potential candidate. He was the fellow who had ran against Stephen Douglas for the U.S. Senate seat, two years ago. He had made that famous ”house divided against itself” speech.

After supper, I had hired a local cab to drive Patricia and myself on a little evening excursion along Lake Michigan. We stopped briefly to stretch our legs and encountered a Mr. McPherson, a local businessman and congenial companion. When I had informed him of our travel plans, he assured us that unlike the stagecoaches here in the East, the Western coaches were the latest models built in Concord, New Hampshire. They should prove to be very comfortable. Patricia remained silent, but there seemed to be a ”wait and see” expression in her eyes.

Dearest Addie, I do hope that you and Harold will take care of yourselves. I hope to meet the third member of your little family by the time Patricia and I return to Philadelphia.

I love you always,

Mother

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May 3, 1860

Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Falmouth, MA

Dear Cousin Elizabeth,

How is Samuel and the rest of your family? And how is my favorite cousin, Charlotte? Is she still working as an assistant for the town’s doctor? I cannot say that I approve of her working for him. After all, nursing is an inappropriate profession for a young lady from a respectable family. I hope, for her sake that she is happy.

As you know from my last letter, Mrs. Middleton and I are on our way to Fort Laramie to attend her son’s wedding to the daughter of an Army major. We have finally reached St. Joseph in Western Missouri, two days ago. Frankly, I still find this little metropolis rather uncomfortable and cannot wait to leave. Do not misunderstand me. St. Joseph, I must admit, is a pleasant-looking community. There seem to be a large number of emigrants waiting to form trains for the trek west. It is situated directly north of the Missouri River and just east of the Missouri-Kansas border. Because it is a jump-off spot for westbound travelers, St. Joseph has grown quickly in size over the past decade.

Mrs. Middleton and I stayed at a hotel situated across the street from the Russell, Major and Widdell office of the Pony Express. Unlike a pleasant woman we had met in Chicago named Mrs. Clarke, the proprietor of the Hatten Hotel had at first refused to allow me to share a room with my employer. Claiming he did not want any ”free niggers”in his place, he bluntly suggested that I find another place to board or sleep in the stables. Frankly, I would have preferred another hotel or boarding house than stay under the same roof with the narrow-minded fool. But Mrs. Middleton lied by informing him that I was her ”bond servant” (Dear God!) and lacked extra money to pay for a room elsewhere. How humiliating! Mrs. Middleton’s ploy only reminded me that the North still practiced indenture servitude. The proprietor did not mind my new . . . ”status” and allowed me to remain. However, I was forced to eat in the kitchen with the slaves.

During our tour of the town, we stopped at the Central Overland Stage Line office. The clerk assured us that we will have a comfortable trip. He added that the Indians would be no trouble. Apparently, the Army is keeping them away from ”civilized” settlers and back on their lands. It amazes me that so many people have insisted that we had nothing to worry about the trip by stage. I feel that the Government and private businesses seem bent upon inducing people to settle in the West. And for some reason, my doubts regarding this journey have increased.

As I had stated before, the headquarters for the Pony Express is located across the street from our hotel. This postal service delivers mail and small packages between St. Joseph and San Francisco on the West Coast, using orphan boys and young men as dispatch riders. These young fellows travel hundreds of miles across the wilderness to deliver the mail in record speed. The Pony Express service has been in operation for only a month so far. I do not think it will last very long. Already, there is word of telegraph lines scheduled to be erected in the near future.

Yesterday afternoon, I came face to face with a very unsettling scene. It not only made me more than anxious than ever to leave this town, it reminded me that St. Joseph is part of Missouri – a slave state. Upon finishing my supper, I stepped outside for some air and spotted a gang of slaves shackled together and being herded toward the local slave mart. The sight of the ragged prisoners slowly making their way down the street, accompanied by a white man driving a wagon, sent chills down my spine. Not only did I remember that I was presently in a slave state, but that said state has sent hundreds of men into Kansas in order to turn that territory into a slave state.

At the moment, Mrs. Middleton and I are at the stage depot, waiting for the horses to be harnessed to our coach. All of the passengers were given two blankets (in May?) and a canteen of water for the journey. Four other passengers wait with us to board the coach. I will write to you when I can. Give my love to your family.

Your loving cousin,

Patricia North

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.05) “Federal Response”

 

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“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.05) “Federal Response”

After my surprised delight over the narrative for the previous episode, (1.04) “Walls of Jericho”, I wondered if my delight would continued into the next episode. I would not judge (1.05) “Federal Response” to be better than its predecessor. But it proved to be quite surprising . . . from a certain point of view.

I am not stating that I found “Federal Response” disappointing, as I did (1.03) “Four Horsemen”, but I would not view it as one of the better episodes of Season One, let alone its first half. In this episode, the citizens of Jericho deal with mysterious messages from the Department of Homeland Security and several fires caused by a series of power spikes. The episode begins with a handful of Jericho’s citizens playing cards inside Mary Bailey’s Tavern at the break of dawn. The electricity, which had shut down in the previous episode, returns and telephones all over town start ringing. Jericho’s citizens receive a recorded message telling everyone to remain calm and that help is on the way. The Emergency Alert System is put into place as televisions display a message ordering citizens to stand by for further instructions. Also, it seems that someone within the government has ordered the blockage of all computer IP addresses. Even worse, the town becomes plagued by a few power spikes. One of them blows up a transformer on the public library’s roof, setting it ablaze and severing several power lines.

For nearly a decade, I had firmly believed that “Federal Response” was mainly about the series of fires that popped up around Jericho. And for the likes of me, I never understood what the fires had to do with the series’ main narrative. Now, the fires did have something of an impact upon one subplot . . . namely the marriage between Eric and April Green. The series had already established that their marriage was strained and Eric’s affair with tavern owner, Mary Bailey. When Eric and April’s home is destroyed by one of the fires, the former discovers that his wife had filed for divorce before the September bombs in the series’ pilot episode. This discovery led April to reveal that she had changed her mind about a divorce and wanted to give their marriage a second chance. So far, Eric has not made up his mind about that situation.

But what did the fires have to do with the series’ main narrative? Not much. But it did drive forward another subplot that proved to be more important. After the Emergency Alert System has been put in place and the IP addresses are blocked, the mysterious Robert Hawkins uses a portable satellite transceiver in his backyard to access his laptop. While Robert works on the latter to send a message, Jake and best friend Stanley Richmond go to the local pumping station to give access to water for the firemen trying to put out the library fire. Once their mission is a success, Jake goes to the roof with Stanley’s rifle scope to search for any other fires. Not only does he spot the fire that will consume Eric and April’s house, he also spots Robert working on the laptop. More importantly, Robert sees Jake watching him. Later, Robert forces Jake to accept his help in trying to save Eric and April’s house in order to ascertain what the latter knows. Later, Robert checks Jake’s background and discovers that the latter has visited a series of countries and now has a flagged passport. In the end, both the Federal “response” and the fires allowed Jake and Robert to realize that neither is what the other seemed to be. And their realizations will eventually drive the pair to develop a future relationship that will have a major impact upon the series’ main narrative.

Aside from the matter regarding Eric and April’s strained marriage, other personal dramas featured in this episode drove the series forward. For the first time, Jake hinted the trauma of his past five years to his father. And for the first time, Johnston Green seemed more than ready to welcome back his recalcitrant son. Robert’s family life remains strained, as he tries to discipline his older offspring Allison about her use of water. The teenager refuses to listen to her father, still resentful of the past. And Robert refuses to listen to his wife Darcy’s warning about how to treat their children, hinting that he might be forced to leave again. Stranded IRS agent Mimi Clark tries to warn Mary Bailey that Eric might not be serious about her. Dale Turner and Skylar Stevens grow even closer, after one of the fires destroy the trailer where Dale lives. And Jake’s reaction to Emily Sullivan getting injured by a fallen power line hints that he still harbors strong feelings for her. Rather surprisingly, all of these small, personal dramas will eventually have some impact upon the series’ future narrative and subplots.

“Federal Response” also featured the usual first-rate performances. The episode featured solid performances from most of the cast. But the performances that really caught my attention came from eight cast members. The messy love triangle between Eric, April and Mary proved to be realistic and complex, thanks to the first-rate performances by Kenneth Mitchell, Darby Stanchfield and Clare Carey. Alicia Coppola gave an interesting and wry performance as the observant and sardonic IRS agent Mimi Clark, who believes she knows how the Eric/Mary affair will end. Both Gerald McRaney and Pamela Reed were excellent as Jake and Eric’s parents, Johnston and Gail Green, in scenes that featured the pair’s separate reactions to Jake’s current presence in Jericho. But my favorite performances came from leads Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James, who did excellent jobs in conveying their characters’ reactions to the current crisis and personal demons. More importantly, for the first time they truly hinted the strong chemistry that will make them one of the better action teams in science-fiction/fantasy television.

As I had stated earlier, “Federal Response” proved to be an interesting episode that managed to contribute to the series’ narrative . . . by a hair’s length. It also featured some solid performances, along with first-rate ones that include both Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James. But there is one thing I forgot to add . . . the episode also ended on an ominous note. The town’s citizens felt a distinct rumble – as if the ground was shaking . . . before they rushed outside and spotted what appeared to be two ballistic missiles soaring through the night sky above Jericho.