“EMMA” (2020) Review

“EMMA” (2020) Review

Between 2009 and 2020, Hollywood and the British film/television industries had created a handful of productions that either spoofed or were inspired by Jane Austen’s novels. Actually, I can only recall one movie that was more or less a straightforward adaptation – 2016’s “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, an adaptation of Austen’s novella, “Lady Susan”. So imagine my surprise when I learned a new and straightforward adaptation of an Austen novel hit the movie theaters back in February 2020.

I had been even more thrilled that this new movie turned out to be a straightforward adaptation of Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma” . . . which happened to be my favorite written by her. This 2020 adaptation, helmed by Autumn de Wilde and written by Eleanor Catton, starred Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role. I am certain that many Austen fans are familiar with the 1815 novel’s narrative. “EMMA” is the story of a spoiled and over privileged young Englishwoman named Emma Woodhouse, who resides at her wealthy father’s country estate near the town of Highbury. Emma is not only spoiled and over privileged, but overestimates her own matchmaking abilities and is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives.

Ever since its release last year, film critics and moviegoers had been praising “EMMA” to the skies. In fact, the movie was so high on the critical list that I was surprised it failed to end up receiving major film award nominations during the 2020/2021 award season. A great deal of this praise was focused on the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn for his portrayal of George Knightley, Bill Nighy’s portrayal of Mr. Woodhouse; and Autumn de Wilde’s direction. Does the movie deserve such high praise? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I certainly cannot deny that “EMMA” is a beautiful looking film. I found Christopher Blauvelt’s photography to be very sharp and colorful. In fact, the film’s color palette almost seemed similar to the color schemes found in Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs. Overall, the visual style for “EMMA” seemed to radiate strong and bright colors with a dash of pastels. Very stylized. But as much as I found all of this eye catching, I also found myself a little put off by this stylized artistry – especially for a movie in a period rural setting.

Speaking of artistry, there had been a great deal of praise for Byrne’s costumes. And I can see why. Granted, I am not fond of some of the pastel color schemes. I cannot deny I found her creations – especially those for the movie’s women characters – were eye catching, as shown below:

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I had a few complaints regarding the film’s costumes and hairstyles. The men’s trousers struck me as a little too baggy for the 1810s. I get it. Actors like Bill Nighy found historical trousers a bit tight. But I feel the trousers featured in “EMMA” struck me as a bit too comfortable looking from a visual viewpoint. And then there was the hairstyle used by Anya Taylor-Joy in the film. For some reason, I found her side curls a bit too long and rather frizzy looking. Instead of the mid-1810s, her hairstyle struck me as an example of hairstyles worn by women during the early-to-mid 1840s.

Someone had claimed that “EMMA” was a very faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel. Was it? Frankly, I thought it was no more or less faithful than any of the costumed versions. De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton followed the major beats of Austen’s novel, except for one scene – namely the Crown Inn ball. I will discuss that later. The movie also did an excellent job in capturing the comic nature of Austen’s novel. This was apparent in nearly every scene featuring Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse. I also enjoyed those scenes featuring the introduction of Augusta Elton, Emma’s reactions to Jane Fairfax and her attempts to play matchmaker for Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. But the movie also featured some good dramatic moments, thanks to De Wilde’s direction and the film’s cast. I am speaking of the scenes that featured Mr. Knightley’s scolding of Emma for her rudeness towards the impoverished Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic; Mr. Knightley’s marriage proposal and the revelation of Harriet’s engagement to tenant farmer Robert Martin.

“EMMA” had received a great deal of acclaim from film critics, moviegoers and Jane Austen fans. Many had claimed it as the best adaptation of the 1815 novel. Do I feel the same? No. No, I do not. In fact, out of the five film and television adaptations I have seen, I would probably rank it at number four. Perhaps I had very high expectations of this movie. It is an adaptation of my favorite Austen novel. And it is the first straightforward Austen adaptation since the 2009 television miniseries of same novel. Perhaps this movie is better than I had original assume. Then again, looking back on some of the film’s aspects – I think not.

A good deal of my problems with “EMMA” stemmed from the portrayal of the main character, Emma Woodhouse. How can I say this? Thanks to Catton’s screenplay and De Wilde’s direction, Emma came off as more brittle and chilly than any other version I have ever seen. Granted, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. This was apparently in her strong sense of class status, which manifested in her erroneous belief that Harriet Smith was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat or gentry landowner, instead of someone from a lower class. Emma’s snobbery was also reflected in her contempt towards the impoverished Miss Bates, despite the latter being a “gentlewoman” and a member of the landed gentry. Emma’s snobbery, a product of her upbringing, also manifested in her own ego and belief that she is always right. Yes, Emma possessed negative traits. But she also had her share of positive ones. She possessed a warm heart, compassion for the poor (at least those not from her class), intelligence, and an ability to face her faults. This cinematic portrayal of Emma Woodhouse as a brittle and slightly chilly bitch struck me as a little off putting and extreme.

Another example of the exaggeration in this production was Mr. Knightley’s reaction to his dance with Emma at the Crown Inn ball. Many have not only praised the sensuality of the pair’s dance, but also Mr. Knightly’s reaction upon returning home to his estate, Donwell Abbey. What happened? George Knightley seemed to be in some kind of emotional fit, while he stripped off some of his clothes and began writhing on the floor. What in the fuck was that about? That scene struck me as so ridiculous. Other actors who have portrayed Knightley have managed to portray the character’s awareness of his love for Emma without behaving like a teenager in heat.

Speaking of heat, who can forget Harriet Smith’s orgasmic reaction to the idea of being Mrs. Elton? Many critics and Austen fans thrilled over the sight of a female character in a Jane Austen production having an orgasm. I will not castigate De Wilde for this directorial choice. I am merely wondering why she had included this scene in the first place. If Harriet was going to have an orgasm, why not have her bring up the subject to a possibly flabbergasted Emma? Why include this moment without any real follow through? Having an orgasm must have been something of a novelty for a young woman like Harriet, who was inexperienced with sexual thoughts or feelings.

And then there was Emma and Mr. Knightley’s dance at the Crown Inn ball. The latter sequence is usually one of my favorites in any adaptation of “EMMA”. The one exception proved to be the 1972 miniseries, which ended the sequence after Emma had suggested they dance. I almost enjoyed the sequence in this film . . . except it featured Emma obviously feeling attracted to Mr. Knightley during this dance. And I thought this was a big mistake. Why? Because Emma was never that consciously aware of her attraction to Mr. Knightley, until Harriet had confessed her crush on the landowner. And that happened near the end of the story. In other words, by showing Emma’s obvious feelings for Knightley during the ball, Autumn De Wilde rushed their story . . . and was forced to retract in the scene that featured Harriet’s confession. I feel this was another poor decision on the filmmaker’s part.

If I have to be honest, I think De Wilde, along with screenwriter Eleanor Catton, made a number of poor decisions regarding the film’s narrative. I have already pointed out three of those decisions in the previous paragraphs. But there were more. De Wilde and Catton changed the dynamics between Mr. Woodhouse and his older daughter and son-in-law, Isabella and John Knightley. In the novel and previous adaptations, the younger Mr. Knightley had always seemed more annoyed and at times, cankerous toward Mr. Woodhouse’s hypochondria. In this version, Isabella’s hypochondria is portrayed as more irritating. And instead of reacting to his wife’s complaints, John suppressed his reactions and ended up being portrayed as a henpecked husband. For some reason, De Wilde and Catton thought it was necessary to take the bite out of John Knightley, making him a weaker character. Why? I have not the foggiest idea, but I did miss the character’s biting wit.

In my review of the 1996 television version of “Emma”, I had complained how screenwriter Andrew Davies and director Diarmuid Lawrence had minimized part of Harriet’s character arc and focused just a bit too much on Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. In the 1996 movie version, the opposite happened. Writer-director Douglas McGrath had focused more on Harriet’s arc than the Frank/Jane arc. Well De Wilde and Catton ended up repeating McGrath’s mistake by focusing too much on Harriet, at the expense of Frank and Jane. Worse, Frank and Jane’s arc seemed focused on even less than in the 1996 McGrath film. The couple barely seemed to exist. And a result of this is that Frank’s father, Colonel Weston, barely seemed to exist. Mrs. Weston fared better due to her being Emma’s former governess. But I was really shocked at how little De Wilde and Catton focused on Mr. Elton and his overbearing bride, Augusta Elton. The movie did focus a good deal on Mr. Elton in those scenes featuring Emma’s attempts to match him with Harriet. But following his marriage, his character – along with Mrs. Elton’s – seemed to slowly recede into the background following their tea at Hartfield with the Woodhouses. By allowing very little focus on these characters, De Wilde and Catton had left out so many good moments in their effort to streamline Austen’s story for theatrical film. Even more so than the two versions from 1996.

Because of this streamlining, a good deal of the cast had very little opportunity to develop their characters on screen. Oliver Chris and Chloe Pirrie gave solid comic performances in their portrayal of John and Isabella Knightley, despite my irritation at the changing dynamics of their relationship. Rupert Graves was pretty much wasted as the over-friendly Colonel Weston. Miranda Hart gave a funny performance as the impoverished spinster Miss Bates. Unfortunately, I was distracted by her less-than-impoverished wardrobe in several scenes. If you had asked for my opinion of Amber Anderson’s portrayal of Jane Fairfax, I would not have been able to give it to you. I have no memory of her performance. She made no impact on the movie or its narrative, other than coming off as uncharacteristically supercilious. Tanya Reynolds struck me as a rather funny Mrs. Elton . . . at least in the scene featuring the Eltons’ tea with the Woodhouses at Hartfield. Otherwise, I have no real memory of her other scenes in the movie. Callum Turner has always struck me as a memorable performer. And I have to admit that his portrayal of Frank Churchill certainly made an impression on me. But the impression was not always . . . positive. One, he did not have enough scenes in this movie and his character arc struck me as rather rushed. And two, I thought his Frank Churchill was a bit too smarmy for my tastes.

Thankfully, “EMMA” did feature some memorable supporting performances. Gemma Whelen gave a lovely and warm performance as Emma’s former governess and close friend, Mrs. Weston. Josh O’Connor gave an excellent performance as the social-climbing vicar, Mr. Elton. I must say that I found his comic timing impeccable and thought he gave one of the best performances in the movie. However, I thought there were times when his Mr. Elton came off as a sexual predator. I get it . . . Mr. Elton was basically a fortune hunter. But I thought O’Connor went too far in the scene that featured Emma’s rejection of his marriage proposal. For a moment, I thought he was going to sexually assault her. That was a bit too much. Mia Goth’s portrayal of the clueless Harriet Smith struck me as spot-on and very skillful. Granted, I did not care for the “Harriet has an orgasm” moment, but I cannot deny that Goth’s acting was excellent in the scene. Bill Nighy gave a skillfully comic portrayal as the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse. Yes, there were moments when his usual tics (found in many of his performances) threatened to overwhelm his performance in this film. But I think he managed to more or less keep it together.

One performance that had acquired a great deal of acclaim came from Johnny Flynn, who portrayed Mr. Knightley. In fact, many are regarding him as the best Mr. Knightley ever seen in the movies or on television. I believe Flynn is a pretty competent actor who did an excellent job of conveying his character’s decency, maturity and burgeoning feelings for Emma. I was especially impressed by his performance in the Box Hill sequence in which Mr. Knightley chastised Emma for her rude comments at Miss Bates. But I do not regard him as the best screen Mr. Knightley I have seen. If I must be honest, I do not regard his interpretation of the character as even among the best. My problem with Flynn is that his Knightley struck me as a bit of a dull stick. And Knightley has always seemed like a man with a dry sense of humor, which is why I have always regarded him as one of my favorite Austen heroes. For me, Flynn’s Knightley simply came across as humorless to me. Perhaps “humorless” was the wrong word. There were scenes of Flynn’s Mr. Knightley reacting to the comedic actions of other characters and uttering the occasional witty phrase or two. But there was something about Flynn’s demeanor that made it seem he was trying too hard. I guess no amount of ass display, singing, laughing or writhing on the floor like a lovesick adolescent could make him more interesting to me.

Then we have the film’s leading lady, Anya Taylor-Joy. Unlike Flynn, the actress was given the opportunity to display her skills as a comic actress. And she more than lived up to the task. Honestly, I thought Taylor-Joy displayed excellent comic timing. Yet . . . I could never regard her as one of my favorite screen versions of Emma Woodhouse. She was too much of a bitch. Let me re-phrase that. I thought Taylor-Joy overdid it in her portrayal of Emma’s bitchiness and snobbery. To the point that her performance struck me as very brittle. Yes, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. But she could also be a warm and friendly young woman, capable of improving her character. I saw none of this in Taylor-Joy’s performance. If Catton’s screenplay demanded that Emma became aware of her flaws, the actress’ conveyance of those moments did not strike as a natural progression. Otherwise, she made a satisfying Emma Woodhouse. I also have one more criticism to add – Taylor-Joy did not have great screen chemistry with her leading man, Johnny Flynn. Their on-screen chemistry struck me as pedestrian at best, if I must be honest.

One would think that I disliked “EMMA”. Honestly, I did not. The movie managed to stick with Austen’s narrative. And although it did not change Austen’s story, it did feature some changes in some of the characteristics and character dynamics, thanks to director Autumn De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton. And some of these changes did not serve the movie well, thanks to De Wilde’s occasional bouts of ham-fisted direction. However, I still managed to enjoy the movie and the performances from a cast led by newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy. And if it had not been for the current health crisis that has struck the world, I probably would have seen it again in theaters.

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Gooey Butter Cake

Below is an article about a dessert known as Gooey Butter Cake:

GOOEY BUTTER CAKE

The city of St. Louis, Missouri is known for the creation of several popular dishes and desserts. One of the latter is a dessert that was created nearly a century ago called the Gooey Butter Cake.

Gooey Butter Cake is a flat and dense cake made from wheat cake flour, butter, sugar and eggs. Upon completion, the dessert is usually dusted with powdered sugar. The cake usually stand at nearly an inch tall. And while sweet and rich, it also stood somewhat firm, and is able to be cut into pieces similarly to a brownie. Gooey butter cake is generally served as a type of coffee cake and not as a formal dessert cake. There are two distinct versions of the gooey butter – a traditional cake usually created by bakers and a version made from cream cheese and yellow cake mix. As far as I know, there are two origin versions of the Gooey Butter Cake.

In one version, a German-American baker in the St. Louis area named John Hoffman owned the bakery where the cake was originally created by accident. The story is there were two types of butter “smears” used in his bakery – a gooey butter and a deep butter. The gooey butter was used as an adhesive for pastries like Danish rolls and Stollens. The deep butter was used for deep butter coffee cakes. Hoffman had hired a new baker, who was supposed to make deep butter cakes. But the new baker got the butter smears mixed up. Hoffman did not catch the mistake until after the cakes came out of the proof box. Rather than throw them away, Hoffman went ahead and baked them. Hoffman had no choice. The baking mistake had occurred during the Great Depression, when baking ingredients supplies were low. The new cake sold so well that Hoffman kept baking and selling them and soon, so did the other bakers in the St. Louis area.

The second version of the Gooey Butter Cake’s creation also occurred during the 1930s in St. Louis. Another St. Louis baker named Fred Heimburger remembers that someone – he never named Hoffman – had accidentally created the Gooey Butter Cake during the Depression. According to Heimburger, the cake became a popular hit and local acquired taste. After serving in the Korean War, Heimburger worked as a baker at the old Doerring Bakery, where he learned his trade and learned how to make the Gooey Butter Cake. He liked the cake so much that he tried to promote it by presenting samples of the cake to bakers outside of St. Louis, when he traveled. These bakers liked the dessert, but they could not get their customers to purchase it, regarding it as looking like too much like a mistake, and “a flat gooey mess”. And so it remained as a regional favorite for many decades. Heimburger opened his own bakery in 1954 and his interpretation of the cake, along with the bakery, became a local institution.

There are other stories surrounding the cake’s creation, but none have been historically verified. The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission includes a recipe for the cake on its website, calling it “one of St. Louis’ popular, quirky foods”. The Commission’s recipe for the cake includes yellow cake batter and cream cheese, unlike the original recipe. Gooey butter cake is also commonly known outside of the St. Louis area as “Ooey Gooey Butter Cake,” due to its popularization by TV celebrity and cooking show host, Paula Deen.

Below is a recipe for the classic Gooey Butter Cake from the Taste Better From Scratch website:

Gooey Butter Cake

Ingredients:

Crust
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 Tablespoons + 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/3 cup warm milk
6 Tablespoons butter – room temperature
1 large egg
pinch of salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Topping
3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 Tablespoons butter
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Preparation

Crust
*In a small bowl combine yeast, 1/4 tsp sugar and warm milk. Set aside for 5 minutes.
*In a stand mixer cream together the butter and 3 Tbsp of sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
*Add the yeast mixture, egg, salt and flour and mix on low until combined.
*Increase speed and mix/knead for about 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and has pulled away from the sides of the bowl.
*Press the dough into an ungreased 9×13” baking dish. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.

Topping
*Whisk together light corn syrup, water and vanilla until combined.
*In a separate bowl cream together the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
*Add egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add a little of the flour, alternating with adding the corn syrup mixture, until both are combined.
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
*Drop large spoonfuls of topping all over the risen dough. Use a spatula to gently smooth it into an even layer.
*Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top has set and is golden brown. The center should still seem soft when it comes out of the oven. Allow to cool on a wire cooling rack to room temperature.
*Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar. This cake is best enjoyed the day it is made.

“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

Ever since its release in movie theaters back in December 2019, many moviegoers have been in rapture over “LITTLE WOMEN”, filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel. The movie did acquire several acclaims, including Oscar nominations for two of the film’s actresses, Best Adapted Screenplay and an actual Oscar for costume design. I never got the chance to see it in theaters. I finally managed to see it on the HULU streaming service.

Anyone familiar with Alcott’s novel knows that it conveyed the tale of four sisters from a Massachusetts family and their development from adolescence and childhood to adulthood during the 1860s. The first half of Alcott’s tale covered the March sisters’ experiences during the U.S. Civil War. In fact, Alcott had based the March family on herself and her three sisters. Unlike previous adaptations, Gerwig incorporated a nonlinear timeline for this version of “LITTLE WOMEN”.

There were aspects of “LITTLE WOMEN” I truly admired. I did enjoy most of the performances. Or some of them. I thought Saoirse Ronan gave an excellent performance as the movie’s leading character Josephine “Jo” March. I thought she did a pretty good job of recapturing Jo’s extroverted personality and artistic ambitions. I do wish that Gerwig had allowed Jo to convey some of the less pleasant sides to her personality. Do I believe she deserved her Oscar nomination? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Although I thought she gave an excellent performance, I do not know if I would have considered her for an acting nomination.

But I was more than impressed by Eliza Scanlen, who portrayed third sister Elizabeth “Beth” March. Although her story more or less played out in a series of vignettes that switched back and forth between the period in which she first caught the scarlet fever and her death a few years later; Scanlen did a superb job in recapturing the pathos and barely submerged emotions of Beth’s fate. It seemed a pity that she had failed to acquire any acting nominations. One last performance that really impressed me came from Meryl Streep. I have always regarded the temperamental Aunt March as a difficult role for any actress. And although I do not regard Streep’s interpretation of the aging matriarch as the best I have seen, I must admit that for me, she gave one of the best performances in the film. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Tracy Letts, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Bob Odenkirk and Florence Pugh, who also received an Oscar nomination for her performance as the youngest March sister, Amy. About the latter . . . I really admired her portrayal of the older Amy March. But I found her performance as the younger Amy rather exaggerated. And a part of me cannot help but wonder why she had received an Oscar nomination in the first place.

Jacqueline Durran won the film’s only Academy Award – namely for Best Costume Design. Did she deserve it? I honestly do not believe she did. I did enjoy some of her designs, especially for the older Amy March, as shown below:

I found the costumes worn by Pugh, Streep and many extras in the Paris sequences very attractive and an elegant expression of fashion from the late 1860s. Otherwise, I found Durran’s costumes for this film rather questionable. I realize both she and Gerwig were attempting to portray the March family as some kind of 19th century version of “hippies”. But even non-traditional types like the Marches would not wear their clothing in such a slap-dash manner with petticoat hems hanging below the skirts, along with bloomers showing, cuts and styles in clothing that almost seemed anachronistic, and wearing no corsets. The latter would be the equivalent of not wearing bras underneath one’s clothing in the 20th and 21st centuries. Someone had pointed out that many of today’s costume designers try to put a “modern twist” to their work in period dramas in order to appeal to modern moviegoers and television viewers. I really wish they would not. The attempt tends to come off as lazy costuming in my eyes. And this tactic usually draws a good deal of criticism from fans of period dramas. So . . . how on earth did Durran win an Oscar for her work in the first place?

I understand that “LITTLE WOMEN” was filmed in various locations around Massachusetts, including Boston and Cambridge. A part of me felt a sense of satisfaction by this news, considering the story’s setting of Concord, Massachusetts. I was surprised to learn that even the Paris sequences were filmed in Ipswich, Massachusetts. However, I must admit that I was not particularly blown away by Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography. Then again, I can say that for just about every adaptation of Alcott’s novel I have ever seen.

There were scenes from “LITTLE WOMEN” that I found memorable. Those include Jo March’s initial meeting with her publisher Mr. Dashwood; Amy March’s conflict with Theodore “Laurie” Laurence over his behavior in Paris; Jo’s rejection of Laurie’s marriage proposal, and especially the montage featuring Beth March’s bout with scarlet fever and its consequences. However . . . I had some problems with Gerwig’s screenplay.

As I have stated earlier, “LITTLE WOMEN” is not the first movie I have seen that utilized the non-linear plot technique. I have seen at least two adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. Two more famous examples of this plot device were the 1995 film, “12 MONKEYS” and two of Christopher Nolan’s movies – 2000’s “MEMENTO” and 2017’s “DUNKIRK”. How can I put this? I feel that Greta Gerwig’s use of non-linear writing had failed the film’s narrative. It simply did not work for me. Except for the brilliant montage featuring Beth’s fate, it seemed as if Gerwig’s writing had scattered all over the place without any real semblance of following Alcott’s plot. If I had not been already familiar with Alcott’s story, I would have found “LITTLE WOMEN” totally confusing.

I also feel that because of Gerwig’s use of the non-linear technique, she managed to inflict a little damage on Alcott’s plot. Despite the excellent scene featuring Laurie’s marriage proposal, I felt that Gerwig had robbed the development of his relationship with Jo. I also believe that Gerwig had diminished Jo’s relationship with Professor Bhaer. In the film, Bhaer had expressed harsh criticism of Jo’s earlier writing . . . without explaining his opinion. But he never added that Jo had the potential to write better stories than her usual melodrama crap. Why did Gerwig deleted this aspect of Professor Bhaer’s criticism? In order to make him look bad? To set up the idea of Jo ending the story as a single woman, because that was Alcott’s original intent? Did Gerwig consider the original version of this scene a detriment to feminist empowerment? I am also confused as to why Gerwig allowed the March family to push her into considering Professor Bhaer as a potential mate for Jo? This never happened in the novel. Jo had come to her decision to marry the professor on her own perogative. She did not have to be pushed into this decision. Come to think of it, exactly how did Jo’s fate end in the movie? I am confused. Did she marry Bhaer after rushing to the train station in order to stop him from leaving for California? Or did she remain single? Whatever.

And why on earth did she position Amy and Laurie’s first meeting after the former’s hand had been caned by her school teacher? Gerwig had transformed an incident that had taught Amy a lesson about self-respect and generated the Marches’ righteous anger against a schoolteacher’s abuse to one of comic relief and a cute rom.com meet for Amy and Laurie. What the hell? Someone had once complained that Gerwig may have assumed that everyone was familiar with Alcott’s story when she wrote this screenplay. And I agree with that person. Earlier I had questioned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ decision to award the Best Costume Design statuette to Jacqueline Durran and nominate Florence Pugh for Best Supporting Actress. But I also have to question the organization’s decision to nominate Gerwig’s writing for Best Adapted Screenplay. I honestly believe she did not deserve it.

There were aspects of “LITTLE WOMEN” that I found admirable. I was certainly impressed by some of the film’s dramatic moments. And there were a handful of performances from the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen and Meryl Streep that truly impressed me. But I cannot deny that the other members of the cast gave either first-rate or solid performances. In the end, I did not like the movie.

I believe “LITTLE WOMEN” should have never been nominated for Best Picture. Greta Gerwig’s use of the nonlinear technique did not serve Louisa May Alcott’s plot very well. If I had not been familiar with the novel’s plot, I would have found this movie confusing. Aside from Ronan’s Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, I feel that the other nominations and Best Costume Design win were undeserved. And a part of me feels a sense of relief that Gerwig had never received a nomination for Best Director.

“THE IRREGULARS” (2021) Photo Gallery

Below are images from the Netflix limited series, “THE IRREGULARS”. Based upon the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the series was created by Tom Birdwell:

“THE IRREGULARS” (2021) Photo Gallery

“Clams Casino”

Below is an article about a dish known as Clams Casino:

“CLAMS CASINO”

I have been familiar with a good number of appetizers in my time. But for the likes of me, I have never heard of one known as Clams Casino. What attracted my attention to this particular dish? To be honest, I was reading a chapter in a cookbook about American appetizers, when a passage about Clams Casino caught my eye.

Clams Casino, as I had earlier pointed out, is an appetizer that originated in one of the New England states. One serving basically consists of a littleneck or cherrystone clam cooked with breadcrumbs, bacon, green peppers, butter and garlic. Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, white wine, lemon juice, shallots or onion are also used to season each clam. Tabasco sauce is sometimes added. And parsley is sometimes used as a garnish.

The clams, bacon, and other ingredients are cooked in various ways depending on the recipe. The cooked clams and bacon are placed on the half shells of clams. Then the breadcrumbs are sprinkled on top before the clams are either baked or broiled to a golden brown. There are some variations to Clams Casino. As earlier pointed out, the clams are either baked or broiled. But the constant ingredient to the dish is bacon, which is regarded as a key factor to its success. Some chefs recommend using smoked bacon for its salty flavor. While others simply advocate using bacon that is not smoked.

The origin of Clams Casino seemed to be shrouded in legend. Many believe the dish was created in 1917, in the Little Casino in Narragansett, Rhode Island. A New York socialite named Mrs. Paran Stevens wanted something for her guests at Little Casino. According to Good Housekeeping Great American Classics, Little Casino’s maître d’hôtel, Julius Keller, was the one responsible for creating the dish on Mrs. Stevens’ behalf. The latter named the dish after the hotel and word of the dish, along with its popularity, eventually spread across the United States. New Orleans residents substituted the clams with oysters, since the latter was prevalent in Southern Louisiana.

Clams casino remains a very popular dish in Rhode Island and appears on the menus of many restaurants throughout the state. In his 2003 cookbook, “American Dish: 100 Recipes from Ten Delicious Decades”, author Merrill Shindler wrote that if a restaurant wanted to become note during the early 20th century, it would provide a dish that involved baking shellfish. This is why dishes like Clams Casino and Oysters Rockefeller became among the survivors of the shellfish fad of that period. The dish has become very popular with Italian-Americans and is permanently featured on the menus of nearly every trattoria in Manhatttan’s Little Italy. In fact, Clams Casino is often served at Italian festivals and during the holidays in the country.

Here is a recipe for Clams Casino from the AllRecipes.com website:

Ingredients

24 large clams
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup minced onion
Large White Onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 minced garlic cloves
1 cup dried bread crumbs
4 slices bacon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation

*In a small skillet, cook bacon until crisp over medium heat. Crumble, and set aside.

*Wash clams. Place on a baking sheet. Heat in a preheated 350 degree F (175 degree C) oven for 1 to 2 minutes, or until clams open. Discard any that do not open. Remove meat from shells. Chop, and set aside.

*Add 2 tablespoons oil and butter to a small skillet, and place pan over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, and garlic; saute until tender. Remove from heat, and cool.

*In a medium bowl, combine bread crumbs, bacon, oregano, cheese, sauteed vegetables, and chopped clams. Mix well.

*Fill clam shells with mixture, and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle with parsley and paprika. Drizzle with olive oil.

*Bake at 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) for 7 minutes.

*Serve.

1970s Costumes in Movies and Television

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Below are images of fashion during the 1970s, found in movies and television productions over the years:

1970s COSTUMES IN MOVIES AND TELEVISION

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“Apollo 13″ (1995)

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“Casino” (1995)

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“Austin Powers in Goldmember” (2002)

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“Dreamgirls” (2006)

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“Rush” (2013)

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“American Hustle” (2013)

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“X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)

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“The Astronaut Wives Club” (2015)

Jerk Cooking

Below is an article about a cooking style known as Jerk cooking:

JERK COOKING

There is a cooking style for a variety of meats that has become basically immortalized for many around the world. This cooking style, which originated on the island of Jamaica is known as Jerk cooking. This cooking style involves meat that is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a hot spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice.

Many historians believe this Jamaican jerk seasoning was developed by escaped enslaved Coromantee Africans in Jamaica. But other historians have unearthed evidence that jerked meat was actually created by local indigenous people called the Tainos. When the British had invaded Jamaica in 1655, the Spanish colonists fled and left behind a large number of African slaves. Rather than be re-enslaved by the British, the Coromantees escaped into Jamaica’s mountainous regions where they mixed in with the local Taínos. It appears that these runaway slaves, who became the island’s first Jamaican Maroons, learnt this cooking practice from the Tainos.

Many believe that while the Tainos developed the style of cooking and seasoning, the Maroons introduced the marinade and use of cooking pits. All racial groups hunted the wild hog in the Jamaican interior and used the practice of jerking to cook it in the seventeenth century. However, by the end of the eighteenth century, most groups had switched to imported pork products. Only the Maroons continued the practice of hunting wild hogs and jerking the pork.

When the Maroons found themselves in new surroundings on Jamaica, they were forced to use what was available to them. As a result, they adapted to their surroundings and used herbs and spices available to them on the island such as cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, salt and especially Scotch bonnet pepper; which is largely responsible for the heat found in Caribbean jerks. They also cooked their seasoned wild hogs over pimento wood, which was native to Jamaica at the time. This wood is still the most important ingredient in the taste of the meat.

Jerk cooking and seasoning has followed the Caribbean diaspora all over the world. Jerk seasoning is not only used on pork; but also chicken, tofu, fish, shrimp, shellfish, beef, sausage, lamb, goat and vegetables. All forms of jerk can now be found at restaurants almost anywhere a significant population of Caribbean descent exists. They include such locations as the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Inhabitants on the French-speaking Caribbean islands developed the poulet boucané (“smoked chicken”), which is quite similar to traditional Jamaican jerk chicken.

Here is a recipe for Jerk Pork Shoulder from thespruceeats.com website:

Jerk Pork Shoulder

Ingredients

*1/2 cup ground allspice berries
*1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
*6 to 8 garlic cloves
*4 to 6 Scotch bonnet chile peppers (trimmed and seeded, wear gloves)
*1 tablespoons ground thyme (or 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves)
*2 bunches scallions (green onions, greens included, trimmed and chopped into 2-inch pieces)
*1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
*1/2​ teaspoons ground nutmeg
*2 teaspoons Kosher salt
*Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
*2 tablespoons soy sauce (to moisten)
*1 (6- to 9-pound) pork picnic shoulder roast

Preparation

*Gather the ingredients.

*Place allspice, brown sugar, garlic, Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, scallions, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and soy sauce in a food processor. Blend until smooth.

*With a sharp knife, score the thick fat on the pork shoulder into a diamond pattern, but do not cut into the meat.

*Using gloved hands, press and massage a thick coating of the jerk sauce on the exterior of the pork so it is completely covered with a thick coat. Refrigerate any leftover sauce. It will keep for a month or more.

*Place the pork in a roasting pan and cover with a lid, foil, or plastic wrap. Refrigerate to marinate at least 24 hours or for up to two days.

*When ready to cook, let the pork sit at room temperature at least one hour or until it reaches room temperature. Then, preheat oven to 450 F.

*Line a roasting pan with heavy foil and insert a roasting rack.

*Roast pork uncovered for 30 minutes at this high heat, and then lower the temperature to 325 F.

*Bake an additional 3 1/2 to 4 hours, depending on the size of your pork shoulder. If you notice the pork is starting to burn, place aluminum foil over it.

*Let roast rest at least 30 minutes before carving.

*Serve.

Tip: Jamaican jerk pork is not a dish to leave to the last minute. This recipe requires that you plan in advance. You need to let the pork marinate for at least 24 hours before roasting it.

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: “It’s Hard Being a Woman”

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“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: “IT’S HARD BEING A WOMAN”

The reactions to the Season Seven “MAD MEN” episode, (7.03) “Field Trip” had left me feeling a little exhausted . . . and somewhat annoyed. After reading comments on various blogs, I began to wonder if fans of the show had really harbored an enlightened attitude when it came to the major female characters. To this day, I remain a little perturbed by the attitude toward Joan Harris, Peggy Olson and Betty Francis I have encountered in other articles.

The fan reaction to Don Draper’s return to Sterling, Cooper & Partners, after he was asked to go on “leave” in the Season Six finale, (6.13) “In Care Of”, had left me shaking my head. In another Season Six episode called (6.06) “For Immediate Release”, Don had really pissed off Joan, when he got rid of the Jaguar account that had a great impact upon her career. When I first saw the episode, I understood why Joan had been upset. Don had rendered her actions in (5.11) “The Other Woman” – namely sleeping with a Jaguar salesman in order to gain the account for the firm – a waste of her time. Don, who had failed to prevent her from sleeping with Jaguar salesman, tried to become her knight in shining armor again, when he got rid of the Jaguar account. Not only did he rendered Joan’s actions useless, his decision ruined Joan, Pete Campbell and Bert Campbell’s attempt to make the company public. And some of his other actions back in Season Six caused a good deal of upheaval for the firm, which included his emotional outburst about his lurid childhood during a meeting with Hershey’s executives. His Season Six actions, along with her anger over the Jaguar account loss, made Joan wary about his return. But I noticed that some viewers – especially many male fans and critics – seemed hostile toward her reaction to Don. Many had expressed this belief that she should have been grateful to Don for getting rid of the Jaguar account and the presence of salesman Herb Rennet. They had failed to understand Joan’s anger or did not want to understand. And after this episode aired, they expressed either hostility or confusion over her reluctance to be thrilled over Don’s return.

I also suspect that many had believed Peggy Olson should have been eternally grateful to Don for taking her out of the secretarial pool and making her a copywriter in the Season One episode, (1.13) “The Wheel”. They also wanted Peggy to be grateful for giving her emotional support after she had given birth to hers and Pete Campbell’s love child. But once Peggy became a part of Don’s creative team, he not only began to take her for granted, but also subject her to some harsh belittling – especially when she asked for a raise. These same fans wanted Peggy to forget the crap that Don had subjected upon her from Seasons Three to Five. They wanted to forget that Peggy had a good reason to finally put Don behind her, when she resigned from the firm in “The Other Woman”. They also wanted Peggy to forget Don’s actions in Season Six, regarding her relationship with another partner of the firm, Ted Chaough. I am not saying there was nothing wrong with Peggy’s affair with Ted. There was. But Don’s manner in delivering a blow to their relationship in (6.12) “The Quality of Mercy” came off as ham-fisted and manipulative . . . and angered Peggy in the process. By the time “Field Trip” aired, she was still angry at Don. And she was also angry at Ted for finally ending their affair. But due to their own reasons, fans wanted Peggy to . . . or demanded that she forget about all of the crap that Don had put her through during the past years and welcome him back with open arms. Why? Was it really that important for Don to resume his role as Peggy’s “Alpha Male”? These same fans had also demand that Peggy return to the woman she used to be during Seasons One to Four or Five.

Following his return to Sterling, Cooper & Partners, many fans were chomping at the bit over the idea of Don eventually resuming his role as the “Alpha Male” in the advertising workplace. This desire was so strong that they were willing to pay lip service to Don’s offhand dismissal of his former secretary and the firm’s new Office Manager, Dawn Chambers, after all she had done for him during his leave. Regardless of Don’s mistakes, it seemed more important to many that he resume his place back on top in the form of a “new and improved” Don. Fans were so convinced that Don would stick to his new and improved path that all of the females he had interacted with in “Field Trip” – Joan, Peggy, Dawn and second wife Megan Draper – ended up being bashed by the fans, because they had failed to swoon at his feet. In the case of Dawn, no one had seemed to care about Don’s dismal treatment of her. They were too busy celebrating the potential return of “Alpha Male” Don Draper.

But the character I really felt sorry for was Betty Francis, Don’s first wife. I felt sorry for her because as a character, she had always seemed to be in a conundrum, as far as fans were concerned. Betty had been taught and expected to be a perfect mother and wife. This is her biggest demon. Fans of the show have criticized her for trying to be perfect. Yet, at the same, they continued to demand that she be perfect mother. This certainly happened when Betty coldly reacted to her discovery that son Bobby had exchanged the lunch she made for him for a bag of candy in “Field Trip”. This was the latest incident in which fans continued to demand that Betty behave more like indulgent Mildred Pierce, instead of a real parent. The only time Don has ever been seriously criticized as a parent, was when daughter Sally caught him with his neighbor Sylvia Rosen and he made an attempt to brush aside what she saw with a lie in Season Six’s (6.11) “Favors”. As far as many fans were concerned, Betty had to be a mother willing to coddle her children, despite their transgressions – in order to be consistently loved by the fans. I have been on the receiving end of a cold reaction like Bobby from my parents when I had made a mistake. It did not damage my psyche. And I have reacted to others, like Betty did. I am a human being and I am capable of mistakes. But, due to her mistakes, Betty was the only character – other than Pete – who was consistently labeled as a “child”, when she made a mistake. But when she had to discipline her children, she was accused of being cold. On the other hand, other characters in the series had also been consistently childish since the first season. But I sometimes wonder if fans were unable to make up their minds on what Betty should have been. They criticized both her lack of maternal perfection (which does not exist in real life, by the way) . . . and at the same time, criticized her attempts at perfection. To this day, I still feel sorry for her, because due to the rules of our still patriarchal society – both in the series and in real life – Betty was never been able to win. Even when she had expressed doubt about her skills as a mother, which she certainly did by the end of “Field Trip”.

Poor Betty will never be accepted as the complex person that she was, because of this demand that she had to be the perfect mother. Many had seemed incapable of understanding Joan’s wariness at Don’s return to the firm. And many wanted Peggy to disregard her past anger at Don and his past behavior in order for her to be eternally grateful to him . . . again. Meanwhile, many fans literally anticipated for Don to be his old self again – the creative “Alpha Male” from past seasons. Like I said – we truly live in a paternalistic society.

Gooey Butter Cake

Below is an article about a dessert known as Gooey Butter Cake:

GOOEY BUTTER CAKE

The city of St. Louis, Missouri is known for the creation of several popular dishes and desserts. One of the latter is a dessert that was created nearly a century ago called the Gooey Butter Cake.

Gooey Butter Cake is a flat and dense cake made from wheat cake flour, butter, sugar and eggs. Upon completion, the dessert is usually dusted with powdered sugar. The cake usually stand at nearly an inch tall. And while sweet and rich, it also stood somewhat firm, and is able to be cut into pieces similarly to a brownie. Gooey butter cake is generally served as a type of coffee cake and not as a formal dessert cake. There are two distinct versions of the gooey butter – a traditional cake usually created by bakers and a version made from cream cheese and yellow cake mix. As far as I know, there are two origin versions of the Gooey Butter Cake.

In one version, a German-American baker in the St. Louis area named John Hoffman owned the bakery where the cake was originally created by accident. The story is there were two types of butter “smears” used in his bakery – a gooey butter and a deep butter. The gooey butter was used as an adhesive for pastries like Danish rolls and Stollens. The deep butter was used for deep butter coffee cakes. Hoffman had hired a new baker, who was supposed to make deep butter cakes. But the new baker got the butter smears mixed up. Hoffman did not catch the mistake until after the cakes came out of the proof box. Rather than throw them away, Hoffman went ahead and baked them. Hoffman had no choice. The baking mistake had occurred during the Great Depression, when baking ingredients supplies were low. The new cake sold so well that Hoffman kept baking and selling them and soon, so did the other bakers in the St. Louis area.

The second version of the Gooey Butter Cake’s creation also occurred during the 1930s in St. Louis. Another St. Louis baker named Fred Heimburger remembers that someone – he never named Hoffman – had accidentally created the Gooey Butter Cake during the Depression. According to Heimburger, the cake became a popular hit and local acquired taste. After serving in the Korean War, Heimburger worked as a baker at the old Doerring Bakery, where he learned his trade and learned how to make the Gooey Butter Cake. He liked the cake so much that he tried to promote it by presenting samples of the cake to bakers outside of St. Louis, when he traveled. These bakers liked the dessert, but they could not get their customers to purchase it, regarding it as looking like too much like a mistake, and “a flat gooey mess”. And so it remained as a regional favorite for many decades. Heimburger opened his own bakery in 1954 and his interpretation of the cake, along with the bakery, became a local institution.

There are other stories surrounding the cake’s creation, but none have been historically verified. The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission includes a recipe for the cake on its website, calling it “one of St. Louis’ popular, quirky foods”. The Commission’s recipe for the cake includes yellow cake batter and cream cheese, unlike the original recipe. Gooey butter cake is also commonly known outside of the St. Louis area as “Ooey Gooey Butter Cake,” due to its popularization by TV celebrity and cooking show host, Paula Deen.

Below is a recipe for the classic Gooey Butter Cake from the Taste Better From Scratch website:

Gooey Butter Cake

Ingredients:

Crust
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 Tablespoons + 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/3 cup warm milk
6 Tablespoons butter – room temperature
1 large egg
pinch of salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Topping
3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 Tablespoons butter
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Preparation

Crust
*In a small bowl combine yeast, 1/4 tsp sugar and warm milk. Set aside for 5 minutes.
*In a stand mixer cream together the butter and 3 Tbsp of sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
*Add the yeast mixture, egg, salt and flour and mix on low until combined.
*Increase speed and mix/knead for about 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and has pulled away from the sides of the bowl.
*Press the dough into an ungreased 9×13” baking dish. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.

Topping
*Whisk together light corn syrup, water and vanilla until combined.
*In a separate bowl cream together the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
*Add egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add a little of the flour, alternating with adding the corn syrup mixture, until both are combined.
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
*Drop large spoonfuls of topping all over the risen dough. Use a spatula to gently smooth it into an even layer.
*Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top has set and is golden brown. The center should still seem soft when it comes out of the oven. Allow to cool on a wire cooling rack to room temperature.
*Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar. This cake is best enjoyed the day it is made.

Starfleet Uniforms in “STAR TREK: PICARD”

STARFLEET UNIFORMS IN “STAR TREK: PICARD”

Recently, I have come across a good number of articles on the Internet about the the upcoming CBS All Access series and recent addition to the STAR TREK franchise, “STAR TREK: PICARD”. I admit that my curiosity about the new series has led to some kind of anticipation for it during the past several months. There is one aspect of my curiosity that has been settled – namely the costume designs for the Starfleet uniforms to be featured in the new series.

According to the publicity surrounding “PICARD”, it is supposed to be set at least twenty years after the events of the 2002 film, “STAR TREK NEMESIS” . . . roughly around 2399. This period – namely the end of the 24th century and the early years of the 25th century – in Federation/Starfleet history has already been featured in television shows like “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” and “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. Because of my memories of the Starfleet uniform designs featured in those episodes, I realized that it did not jibe with the new uniform designs for “PICARD”, as shown in the image below:

It had occurred to me that this new uniform design for “PICARD” reminded me of the Starfleet uniforms worn between Seasons One and early Season Five on “DEEP SPACE NINE” and throughout “STAR TREK VOYAGER” (which was set in the Delta Quadrant), as shown in the images below:

 

 

I found this rather odd, considering that the time period for “DEEP SPACE NINE” and “VOYAGER” stretched from 2369 to 2377-78. Had the uniforms for Starfleet changed so little during the 20-30 years period? Not quite. Starting in 2373, Starfleet officers and crewmen wore new uniforms shown not only in Seasons Five to Seven of “DEEP SPACE NINE”, but also in various STAR TREK movies, beginning with the 1996 film, “STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT”:

 

So what happened? Did Christine Bieselin Clark, the costume designer for “PICARD” had decided to create a new twist on the uniforms featured in “VOYAGER” and the earlier seasons for “DEEP SPACE NINE”? Or had she forgotten those uniforms featured in at least two STAR TREK uniforms set in the future? What am I referring to?

There was an episode that aired in early Season Four of “DEEP SPACE NINE” called (4.03) “The Visitor” in which Captain Benjamin Sisko had disappeared due to an inversion of the Bajoran Wormhole. The episode featured how his son Jake Sisko’s life would have eventually unfolded over the years. The episode included a scene set 25 to 30 years later in which two of Captain Sisko’s officers – Julian Bashir and Jadzia Dax had visited Jake, wearing Starfleet uniforms:

 

One could dismiss this as a possible future uniform for Starfleet personnel. And yet; in the series finale for “VOYAGER” called (7.25-7.26) “Endgame”, which began in 2404 and featured an elderly Admiral Kathryn Janeway plotting a trip to the past to change the future for the crew of U.S.S. Voyager.; the same uniform design was featured:

 

Had Clark, along with creator Alex Kurtzman, and the other producers of “PICARD”, simply decided to forgo those future uniforms featured in both “DEEP SPACE NINE” and “VOYAGER”? Had Clark even seen those episodes? Or did she decided to create new Starfleet uniforms that were similar to the more familiar uniform featured in the STAR TREK television shows set during the 2370s for the sake of nostalgia? Regardless of the answer, I can only feel that this is a step down for the new series.