Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"The Moral Landscape of the 'STAR WARS' Saga" - Introduction


Below is the introduction to a series of small articles I plan to write about the moral landscape in the "STAR WARS" saga, created by George Lucas. Each article will focus the moral makeup of each character or group of characters: 


"THE MORAL LANDSCAPE OF THE 'STAR WARS' SAGA"

Introduction

Morality has always seemed to be a tricky subject with humans. Probably more so than we care to admit. We like to pretend that the majority of all human societies have basic rules when it comes to morality. But I suspect that is nothing more than an illusion. I believe that each individual . . . or each group has his/her or its own moral compass. What one individual is prepared to tolerate, another is not. It all depends upon our individual feelings regarding a certain matter. 

I could probably say the same about the "STAR WARS" saga, created by filmmaker, George Lucas. Many "STAR WARS" fans love to claim that their own interpretation of the moral compass of the saga’s major characters exactly matched Lucas’ intentions in his films. I wish I could say the same. But in the end, I realized that each person has his or her own interpretation of an artist’s work. And sometimes, that interpretation might also be different from the artist’s. Having expressed this view, I decided to express my own view of the moral landscape presented in the six movies of the "STAR WARS" saga.

I am going to make a confession. When I first saw the original "STAR WARS", I did not like it very much. In fact, I barely liked it at all. You must understand that I was rather young when the movie first hit theaters in 1977. I suspect that it blew my mind so much that I was inclined to reject it, instead of becoming a fan. This dislike did not extend to "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK", when I first saw it. I was a little older and was able to appreciate what George Lucas was trying to do. And yet . . . I did not embrace this movie, as well. But I must admit that I found it difficult not to think about it. Han Solo’s fate and Darth Vader’s revelation had taken me by surprise and I found myself thinking about it all summer long. Ironically, "RETURN OF THE JEDI" became the first STAR WARS movie that I fully embraced. I say this with a great deal of irony, considering that it is now my least favorite movie in the franchise. During the late 1980s and the 1990s, I slowly became a major fan of all three films. And by the time I saw the first of the Prequel Trilogy movies, "THE PHANTOM MENACE", I had fully embraced the saga. 

I realized that the Prequel Trilogy has been met with nothing but scorn and derision by many STAR WARS fans and the media. However, I have never shared their feelings. If anything, the Prequel Trilogy made me appreciate Lucas’ talents as a storyteller. It also made me realize that the producer had presented moviegoers with a very emotionally complex saga. 

However, this article is not about my basic feelings regarding all six films in the franchise. This article is about my opinions on the morality and characterizations presented in the films. One of the things I have always enjoyed about the Prequel Trilogy and movies like "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK" was Lucas’ revelations had pretty much revealed both the virtues and FLAWS of individuals. The characters in the Original Trilogy were flawed, but I do not believe their flaws had not been portrayed with as much depth as those characters in the Prequel Trilogy. And judging from the many articles, blogs and message boards I have read about STAR WARS, many fans seemed to dislike the less idealistic and more ambiguous portrayal of the PT's main characters.

The following article will focus upon the Jedi Order and some of its senior members. I hope to discuss some of their actions and how it affected the Galactic Republic in the Prequel Trilogy and their impact upon the character of Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion against the Galactic Empire in the Original Trilogy.


Monday, April 24, 2017

"HELL ON WHEELS" Season One (2011) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from Season One of the AMC Series, "HELL ON WHEELS". Created by Joe and Tony Gayton, the series stars Anson Mount, Colm Meany, Common and Dominique McElligott: 


"HELL ON WHEELS" SEASON ONE (2011) Photo Gallery















































































Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"12 YEARS A SLAVE" (2013) Review

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"12 YEARS A SLAVE" (2013) Review

I first learned about Solomon Northup many years ago, when I came across a television adaptation of his story in my local video story. One glance at the video case for "HALF-SLAVE, HALF-FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP'S ODYSSEY" made me assume that this movie was basically a fictional tale. But when I read the movie's description on the back of the case, I discovered that I had stumbled across an adaption about a historical figure. 

Intrigued by the idea of a free black man in antebellum America being kidnapped into slavery, I rented "HALF-SLAVE, HALF-FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP'S ODYSSEY", which starred Avery Brooks, and enjoyed it very much. In fact, I fell in love with Gordon Park's adaption so much that I tried to buy a video copy of the movie. But I could not find it. Many years passed before I was able to purchase a DVD copy. And despite the passage of time, I still remained impressed by the movie. However, I had no idea that someone in the film industry would be interested in Northup's tale again. So, I was very surprised to learn of a new adaptation with Brad Pitt as one of the film's producer and Briton Steve McQueen as another producer and the film's director.

Based upon Northup's 1853 memoirs of the same title, "12 YEARS A SLAVE" told the story of a New York-born African-American named Solomon Northup, who found himself kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Northup was a 33 year-old carpenter and violinist living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and children. After Mrs. Northup leaves Saratoga Springs with their children for a job that would last for several weeks, Northup is approached by two men, who offered him a brief, high-paying job as a musician with their traveling circus. Without bothering to inform Northup traveled with the strangers as far as south as Washington, D.C. Not long after his arrival in the capital, Northup found himself drugged and later, bound in the cell of a slave pen. When Northup tried to claim he was a free man, he was beaten and warned never again to mention his free status again.

Eventually, Northup and a group of other slaves were conveyed to the slave marts of New Orleans, Louisiana and given the identity of a Georgia-born slave named "Platt". There, a slave dealer named Theophilus Freeman sells him to a plantation owner/minister named William Ford. The latter's kindness seemed to be offset by his unwillingness to acknowledge the sorrow another slave named Eliza over her separation from her children. When Northup has a violent clash with one of Ford's white employees, a carpenter named John Tibeats, the planter is forced to sell the Northerner to another planter named Edwin Epps. Unfortunately for Northup, Epps proves to be a brutal and hard man. Even worse, Epps becomes sexually interested in a female slave named Patsey. She eventually becomes a victim of Epps' sexual abuse and Mrs. Epps' jealousy. And Epps becomes aware of Patsey's friendship with Northup.

"TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE" has gained a great deal of critical acclaim since its release. It is already considered a front-runner for the Academy Awards. Many critics and film goers consider it the truest portrait of American slavery ever shown in a Hollywood film. I have to admit that both director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley have created a powerful film. Both did an excellent job of translating the basic gist of Solomon Northup's experiences to the screen. And both did an excellent job re-creating a major aspect of American slavery. I was especially impressed by certain scenes that featured the emotional and physical trauma that Northup experienced during his twelve years as a Southern slave. 

For me, one of the most powerful scenes featured Northup's initial experiences at the Washington D.C. slave pen, where one of the owners resorted to physical abuse to coerce him into acknowledging his new identity as "Platt". Other powerful scenes include the slave mart sequence in New Orleans, where fellow slave Eliza had to endure the loss of her children through sale. I found the revelation of Eliza's mixed blood daughter being sold to a New Orleans bordello rather troubling and heartbreaking. Northup's encounter with Tibeats struck me fascinating . . . in a dark way. But the film's most powerful scene - at least for me - proved to be the harsh whipping that Patsey endured for leaving the plantation to borrow soap from a neighboring plantation. Some people complained that particular scene bordered on "torture porn". I disagree. I found it brutal and frank.

I have to give kudos to the movie's visual re-creation of the country's Antebellum Period. As in any well made movie, this was achieved by a group of talented people. Adam Stockhausen's production designs impressed me a great deal, especially in scenes featuring Saratoga Springs of the 1840s, the Washington D.C. sequences, the New Orleans slave marts and of course, the three plantations where Northup worked during his twelve years in Louisiana. In fact, the entire movie was filmed in Louisiana, including the Saratoga Springs and Washington D.C. sequences. And Sean Bobbitt's photography perfectly captured the lush beauty and color of the state. Trust the movie's producers and McQueen to hire long time costume designer, Patricia Norris, to design the film's costumes. She did an excellent job in re-creating the fashions worn during the period between 1841 and 1852-53.

Most importantly, the movie benefited from a talented cast that included Garrett Dillahunt as a white field hand who betrays Northup's attempt to contact friends in New York; Paul Giamatti as the New Orleans slave dealer Theophilus Freeman; Michael K. Williams as fellow slave Robert, who tried to protect Eliza from a lustful sailor during the voyage to Louisiana; Alfre Woodward as Mistress Shaw, the black common-law wife of a local planter; and Bryan Blatt as Judge Turner, a sugar planter to whom Northup was loaned out. More impressive performances came from Paul Dano as the young carpenter John Tibeats, who resented Northup's talent as a carpenter; Sarah Poulson, who portrayed Edwin Epp's cold wife and jealous wife; and Adepero Oduye, who was effectively emotional as the slave mother Eliza, who lost her children at Freeman's slave mart. Benedict Cumberbatch gave a complex portrayal of Northup's first owner, the somewhat kindly William Ford. However, I must point out that the written portryal of the character may have been erroneous, considering Northup's opinion of the man. Northup never judged Ford as a hypocrite, but only a a good man who was negatively influenced by the slave society. But the two best performances, in my opinion, came from Lupita Nyong'o and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor. Nyong'o gave a beautiful performance as the abused slave woman Patsey, whose endurance of Epps' lust and Mrs. Epps' wrath takes her to a breaking point of suicidal desire. Chiwetel Ejiofor, whom I have been aware for the past decade, gave the definitive performance of his career - so far - as the New Yorker Solomon Northup, who finds himself trapped in the nightmarish situation of American slavery. Ejiofor did an excellent job of conveying Northup's emotional roller coaster experiences of disbelief, fear, desperation and gradual despair.

But is "12 YEARS A SLAVE" perfect? No. Trust me, it has its flaws. Many have commented on the film's historical accuracy in regard to American slavery and Northup's twelve years in Louisiana. First of all, both McQueen and Ridley took historical liberty with some of Northup's slavery experience for the sake of drama. If I must be honest, that does not bother me. The 1984 movie with Avery Brooks did the same. I dare anyone to find a historical movie that is completely accurate about its topic. But what did bother me was some of the inaccuracies featured in the movie's portrayal of antebellum America. 

One scene featured Northup eating in a Washington D.C. hotel dining room with his two kidnapper. A black man eating in the dining room of a fashionable Washington D.C. hotel in 1841? Were McQueen and Ridley kidding? The first integrated Washington D.C. hotel opened in 1871, thirty years later. Even more ludicrous was a scene featuring a drugged and ill Northup inside one of the hotel's room near white patrons. Because he was black, Northup was forced to sleep in a room in the back of the hotel. The death of the slave Robert at the hands of a sailor bent on raping Eliza struck me as ludicrous. One, it never happened. And two, there is no way some mere sailor - regardless of his color - could casually kill a slave owned by another. Especially a slave headed for the slave marts. He would find himself in serious financial trouble. Even Tibeats was warned by Ford's overseer about the financial danger he would face upon killing Northup. I can only assume that Epps was a very hands on planter, because I was surprised by the numerous scenes featuring him supervising the field slaves. And I have never heard of this before. And I am still shaking my head at the scene featuring Northup's visit to the Shaw plantation, where he found a loaned out Patsey having refreshments with the plantation mistress, Harriet Shaw. Black or white, I simply find it difficult to surmise a plantation mistress having refreshments with a slave - owned or loaned out. Speaking of Patsey's social visit to the Shaw plantation, could someone explain why she and Mistress Shaw are eating a dessert that had been created in France, during the late 19th century? Check out the image below:

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The image features the two women eating macarons. Now I realize that macarons had existed even before the 1840s. But the macarons featured in the image above (with a sweet paste creating a sandwich with two cookies) first made their debut, thanks to a pair of Parisian bakers in the late 19th century, decades after the movie's setting. This was a very sloppy move either on the part of Stockhausen or the movie's set decorator, Alice Baker.

And if I must be frank, I had a problem with some of the movie's dialogue. I realize that McQueen and Ridley were attempting to recapture the dialogue of 19th century America. But there were times I felt they had failed spectacularly. Some of it brought back painful memories of the stilted dialogue from the 2003 Civil War movie, "GODS AND GENERALS". The words coming out of the actors' mouths struck me as part dialogue, part speeches. The only thing missing was a speech from a Shakespearean play. 

Not only did I have a problem with the dialogue, but also some of the performances. Even those performances I had earlier praised nearly got off tracked by the movie's more questionable dialogue. But I was not impressed by two particular performances. One came from Brad Pitt, who portrayed a Canadian carpenter hired by Epps to build a gazebo. To be fair, my main problems with Pitt's performance was the dialogue that sounded like a speech . . . and his accent. Do Canadians actually sound like that? In fact, I find it difficult to pinpoint what kind of accent he actually used. The performance that I really found troubling was Michael Fassbender's portrayal of the brutal Edwin Epps. Mind you, he had his moments of subtle acting that really impressed me - especially in scenes featuring Epps' clashes with his wife or the more subtle attempts of intimidation of Northup. Those moments reminded me why I had been a fan of the actor for years. But Fassbender's Epps mainly came off as a one-dimensional villain with very little subtlety or complexity. Consider the image below in which Fassbender is trying to convey Epps' casual brutality:

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For me, it seemed as if the actor is trying just a little too hard. And I suspect that McQueen's direction is to blame for this. I blame both McQueen and Ridley for their failure to reveal Epps' insecurities, which were not only apparent in Northup's memoirs, but also in the 1984 movie. Speaking of McQueen, there were times when I found his direction heavy-handed. This was especially apparent in most of Fassbender's scenes and in sequences in which some of the other characters' dialogue spiraled into speeches. And then there was Hans Zimmer's score. I have been a fan of Zimmer for nearly two decades. But I have to say that I did not particularly care for his work in "12 YEARS A SLAVE". His use of horns in the score struck me as somewhat over-the-top.

Do I feel that "12 YEARS A SLAVE" deserves its acclaim? Well . . . yes. Despite its flaws, it is a very good movie that did not whitewash Solomon Northup's brutal experiences as a slave. And it also featured some exceptional performances, especially from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o. But I also feel that some of the acclaim that the movie has garnered, may have been undeserved. As good as it was, I found it hard to accept that "12 YEARS A SLAVE" was the best movie about American slavery ever made.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"A Convenient Proposal" [PG-13] 2/5




A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL"

PART 2 - Revelations

Evelyn leaned against the door, closed her eyes and sighed. Her body trembled from the furious outburst she had unleashed upon Rafe. Thoughts of the Army pilot produced another swell of anger. How could he possibly think she would accept such a proposal? Or think she would marry him out of convenience?

Well, you were prepared to do the same with Danny, weren't you? Evelyn immediately balked at her inner voice. She tried to convince herself that Danny was another matter. Or that Danny would have never proposed to her out of mere convenience. You would have accepted his proposal for that very same reason. Who are you to castigate Rafe? Evelyn ruthlessly squelched her last thoughts and started for her bedroom. She was in no mood to feel guilty over her temper outburst at Rafe. Not when she had other guilty feelings to deal with.

A voice from the kitchen cried out, "Evelyn? Is that you?" Martha. She and the other nurses must have returned from the base at Pearl. "Hey, Evelyn!"

Evelyn turned toward the kitchen, where she found her three roommates and a fourth nurse, sitting around the table eating sandwiches. "Hi," she greeted the quartet. "I thought you guys would still be at the hospital. Especially with so many wounded still coming in from Midway."

Over two weeks had passed since the June 4th battle between the U.S. and Japanese naval forces near Midway Island. While the country celebrated its first major victory against Japan, many American military hospitals, including the one at Pearl, had to deal with the sudden influx of wounded sailors and pilots.

The blond and sharp-tongued Barbara stifled a yawn, as she reached for a pot of coffee. "You've been gone too long. Our shift had ended over a half-hour ago, thank goodness. It seemed as if we've been living at that damn hospital for nearly two weeks, now."

"How is Rafe?" Sandra asked. The pretty, red-haired nurse removed her glasses. "Did his plane arrive on time?"

The mention of Rafe's name brought upon an unexpected wave of anger and sadness within Evelyn. She immediately squashed it and eased her bulky form into an empty chair. "Yeah, Rafe arrived. And right on time." Her reply drew stares from the other nurses. Evelyn realized that she must have sounded curt.

The oldest of the Navy nurses who shared Evelyn's bungalow reached over the latter's shoulder for a sandwich. Like Barbara, Martha was a working-class young woman from the East Coast who had developed a sharp tongue after years of dealing with life's disappointments. However, unlike Barbara, she had dark hair, a pleasant face and weighed several extra pounds.

"Hey kiddo," Martha began. "Is there something wrong? For a moment there, I thought you were gonna bite off Sandra's head." She gave Evelyn a shrewd look. "Something happened between you and Rafe?"

Evelyn blinked. Good old Martha. Never one to pull a punch. "No," replied curtly. "Everything's fine." Evelyn bit her tongue the moment she spoke. Again, she had responded a lot more sharply than she had intended. For once she wished she would think before opening her mouth.

"Everything's fine, huh?" One of Martha's dark brows cocked upward. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you were pissed at him." Her use of profanity drew gasps from Sandra and fourth nurse, whose name escaped had escaped Evelyn's memory. "For crying out loud, you two! Grow up!"

Barbara added, "She's right. It's 1942 and there's a war going on. Besides, you've heard worse in the hospital. Geez!"

Grateful for the distraction, Evelyn smiled and reached for the coffee pot. The fourth nurse, whose name Evelyn now remembered as Clarice, reached it first and filled an empty cup with coffee. She handed the cup to Evelyn, who thanked her.

"Pardon me," Sandra retorted in her usual supercilious manner, "but not all of us are that worldly. My mother had raised me to be a lady. So, if you don't mind . . ."

The exhaustion on Barbara's face immediately vanished. She now looked as if she was ready to establish her own battleground. "A lady?" She snorted with derision. "Get her! I suppose you're trying to say that the rest of us 'worldly minions' aren't ladies?"

Sandra's eyes blazed with anger. "You're twisting my words! All I'm trying to say is . . ."

"Hey!" Martha's outburst interrupted the verbal battle. "You two can go at each other's throats another time. Right now, I'm more interested in Evelyn!" She faced the pregnant woman. "Well? Did Rafe say something to upset you?"

With four pairs of eyes riveted upon her, Evelyn realized she could no longer dodge the issue. Damn! If only Barbara and Sandra's fight had lasted a little longer. Might as well tell the truth. Or the girls will hound her until she does.

Evelyn cleared her throat. "If you must know," she began in a shaky voice, "Rafe had asked me to marry him."

* * * * 

The moment Evelyn slammed the door in his face, Rafe found himself frozen on the spot. Her actions had taken him by surprise. He had been certain that she would accept his marriage proposal.

Once the shock wore off, he felt an urge to bang on the door. Demand why she had rejected him. Yet, a mixture of uncertainty and fear prevented him. Nor did Rafe want to attract any unwanted attention, in case Evelyn's other roommates happened to be inside the house. He leaned his forehead against the door, hoping that somehow, she would read his thoughts. When that hope vanished, Rafe heaved a deep sigh and returned to the Buick.

He drove all the way back to Hickam Field and the new barracks that now housed the Army's pilots. When Rafe had first arrived in Hawaii over six months ago, he found himself homeless. He had arrived on a Friday night and most of the base's personnel, including the Quartermaster, had disappeared for the weekend and Rafe ended up at a local motel. Upon his return from the Tokyo raid, he had better luck and was housed with the rest of the pilots in new quarters.

After a twenty minute drive, Hickam Field loomed ahead. Upon arriving at his new quarters, Rafe found a noted taped to the door:

"Rafe,

Welcome back. Meet us at the Hula-La.

Red"


The Hula-La. The bar brought back memories of that last evening of peace, when Rafe had drank himself silly before getting into a fight with Danny. He even recalled seeing his own photograph on the wall behind the bar. Scrawled above were the words - KILLED IN ACTION. Rafe could only assume that his photo had been replaced with those of Danny, Anthony and other pilots who had recently died. He did not look forward to seeing Danny's picture on that wall. Then again, he was not in the mood to spend a lonely evening by himself.

With a sigh, he entered his quarters, took a shower, changed into civies and after climbing back into the Buick, drove toward the pilots' favorite bar. Rafe parked the convertible in front of a gazebo, topped by a thatched roof. Oriental and Polynesian knickknacks decorated the bar's interior and large statue of a Hawaiian girl in a hula skirt rose above the structure. He could hear strains of the Andrews Sisters singing "Rum and Coca-Cola", as he entered the bar.

"Rafe!" "Hey! Look who's here!" "How was the mainland, Rafe?" The young captain smiled, as his fellow pilots cried out to greet him. His eyes fell upon the photographs pinned to the wall behind the Hawaiian bartender. Sure enough, there photos of those who had either been killed during the Pearl Harbor attack last December, or during the Doolittle Raid. Rafe recognized several among them - Billy, Joe, Anthony and Danny. His smile disappeared.

Everyone's favorite red-haired pilot strode forward and slapped Rafe's shoulder. "Welcome back, Rafe. Glad to see you." There seemed to be no hint of Red Winkle's usual stutter.

"Thanks Red, "Rafe murmured. The pair joined the others at the bar. "Hey, everyone. What's buzzing?"

Gooz Wood replied in his usual laconic manner, "Nothin much. We just came back from another patrol. I guess you heard about Midway."

"Who hasn't these days? That's all everyone was talking about, while I was back home." Rafe grew silent. Again, his eyes shifted toward the photographs.

One pilot said, "Man, I would have loved to have been in that action. Midway!" His eyes gleamed with exultation. "Get another shot at the Japs after that Tokyo raid." Rafe and several other pilots stared at him. He was one of the new replacement pilots assigned to fill Rafe's squadron after the Doolittle raid.

"Midway was a Navy operation," said a familiar gruff voice. The pilots stepped aside to reveal the tall, slightly bedraggled figure in overalls. It was Earl, the squadron's chief mechanic, standing in the doorway. "After what you fellas did to Tokyo, naturally the Navy boys wanted their time in the sun."

Rafe allowed himself a slight smile. Army versus Navy. Not even wartime could stop that age-old rivalry. "I doubt that publicity had anything to with that, Sergeant," he said. "The Navy were simply the right people to stop the Japs at Midway. An Army operation probably would have been ineffective."

"If you say so, Captain." The mechanic joined the pilots at the bar. "I hope you don't mind me joining you, sir."

"Be my guest, Earl. Drinks are on me." Whoops filled the air, as Rafe dug several bills out of his pocket. The others soon issued their orders to the bartender, who began serving drinks. Rafe ordered a straight bourbon.

Once the bartendder had served all of the drinks, Rafe, Red, Gooz, Earl and a fourth pilot named Steve McCormick, retired to an empty table behind a beaded curtain. Like the other three pilots, Steve was a survivor from the Tokyo raid. Rafe took a sip of his bourbon and said, "By the way, fellas, thanks for not picking me up, this afternoon. Where were you?"

Anxiety flitted across Gooz's face. "Wasn't Evelyn there to pick you up?"

"Unfortunately, she was."

Red replied, "We ra. . . ran into . . . ran into E-E-Evelyn at the movies. When we told her a-a-abo. . . about you, she asked to p-p-pick you up in . . . instead." His stuttering seemed to have returned with a vengeance.

A sigh left Rafe's mouth. He had not meant to make Red that nervous.

"Evelyn?" Earl's brows quirked upward. "Isn't that Lieu . . . uh, Captain Walker's girl? The Navy nurse?" The sergeant's question drew a heavy silence from his four companions. He frowned. "Did I just say something wro . . .?"

Rafe interrupted. "No, didn't," he said curtly. "She was Danny's girl."

Another stretch of silence followed. Rafe barely paid attention to the tension from the other four men. Or the music blasting from the jukebox. "You okay, Captain?" Earl asked uneasily. "You seem a bit sore just now." 

"No," Rafe said, shaking his head. "Everything's fine." His mouth formed a grim line. "Just swell."

Earl gave Rafe a leery glance. "Uh huh. I, uh, I wondered what happened to her. Pretty lady. She must have taken Danny's death pretty hard."

Someone coughed. Red. Rafe poured himself another shot of bourbon. "Yeah," he finally answered. "She did." More silence followed. Rafe found himself wishing he had remained at the barracks. Hell, he regretted a lot of things. Including his marriage proposal to Evelyn.

"If everything is swell," Red asked, "why are you looking so sore?"

Without even thinking, Rafe replied, "Because I had proposed marriage to Evelyn and she said no." His mouth clamped shut the moment he spoke his last word. Dammit! When will he ever learn not to drink and talk at the same time? 

END OF PART 2"

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sacher Torte

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Below is an article I had written about the Austrian dessert known as Sacher Torte


SACHER TORTE

During my viewing of travel series episode that focused on the city of Vienna, Austria; I first learned about the dessert known as Sacher Torte. Although the dessert looked delicious, I found myself wondering about the differences between a cake and a torte. We all know that a cake is a sweetened bread-like dish that serves as a dessert. A torte is a multi-layered cake filled with creams, fruit jams and jellies, mousses, buttercreams and very little flour. I have yet to learn about the origin of the torte. But I recently learned about the origin of one of the most well-known tortes - namely the Sacher Torte.

In 1832, the famous Austrian statesman, Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, charged his personal chef to create a special dessert for important guests. However, the chef fell ill and the task was given to his sixteen year-old apprentice, Franz Sacher, then in his second year of training in Metternich's kitchen. Sacher created a torte made from chocolate meringue that was filled with apricot jam, covered by a dark chocolate icing and served with unsweetened whipped cream. 

The guests and Prince Metternich enjoyed Sacher's dessert very much, but no further attention was paid to it. Sacher completed his training as a chef, worked in Pressburg and Budapest, before returning to Vienna. There, he opened a specialty delicatessen and wine shop. Sacher's eldest son, Eduard, carried on his father's culinary legacy by completing his own training in Vienna with the Royal and Imperial Pastry Chef at the Demel bakery and chocolatier. There, he perfected his father's torte recipe and developed the dessert into its current form. The cake was first served at the Demel and later at the Hotel Sacher, established by Eduard in 1876. Since then, the dessert remains one of Vienna's most famous culinary specialties.

Below is the recipe for "Sacher Torte" from the epicurious.com website:


Sacher Torte

Ingredients

4 1/2 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour (spoon gently into cup and level top)
1 cup Apricot Glaze
Small Batch Chocolate Glaze
Sweetened Whipped Cream, for serving


Preparation

1. To make the torte: Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400°F. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment or wax paper. Dust the sides of the pan with flour and tap out the excess.

2. In the top part of a double boiler over very hot, but not simmering, water, or in a microwave at medium power, melt the chocolate. Remove from the heat or the oven, and let stand, stirring often, until cool.

3. Beat the butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty standing mixer fitted with the paddle blade on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. On low speed, beat in the confectioners' sugar. Return the speed to medium-high and beat until light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the chocolate and vanilla.

4. Beat the egg whites and granulated sugar in a large bowl with a handheld electric mixer on high speed just until they form soft, shiny peaks. Do not overbeat. Stir about one fourth of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites, leaving a few visible wisps of whites. Sift half of the flour over the chocolate mixture, and fold in with a large balloon whisk or rubber spatula. Repeat with the remaining flour.

5. Spread evenly in the pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (The cake will dome in the center.) Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, and invert the cake onto the rack. Remove the paper and re-invert on another rack to turn right side up. Cool completely.

6. To assemble: Using a long serrated knife, trim the top of the cake to make it level. Cut the cake horizontally into two equal layers. Place one cake layer on an 8-inch cardboard round. Brush the top of the cake layer with the apricot glaze. Place the second cake layer on top and brush again. Brush the top and sides of the cake with the remaining glaze. Transfer the cake to a wire rack placed over a jelly-roll pan lined with waxed paper. Let cool until the glaze is set.

7. Make the chocolate glaze (it must be freshly made and warm). Pour all of the warm chocolate glaze on top of the cake. Using a metal offset spatula, gently smooth the glaze over the cake, allowing it to run down the sides, being sure that the glaze completely coats the cake (patch any bare spots with the spatula and the icing that has dripped). Cool until the glaze is barely set, then transfer the cake to a serving plate. Refrigerate until the glaze is completely set, at least 1 hour. Remove the cake from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving.

8. To serve, slice with a sharp knife dipped into hot water. Serve with a large dollop of whipped cream on the side.


MAKE AHEAD:
The cake can be prepared up to 2 days ahead and stored in an airtight cake container at room temperature.

Extra! Tips from Epicurious:

Quality ingredients will really make a difference in this cake. Valhrona chocolate is perfect because of its dark, almost bitter flavor. For the most authenticity, look for the Austrian brand D'Arbo apricot preserves and Austrian Stroh rum for the glaze. For the best results, be generous with the apricot glaze — don't miss a spot, and let plenty sink into the cake before you pour on the chocolate.


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Monday, March 27, 2017

"THE BLACK DAHLIA" (2006) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "THE BLACK DAHLIA", the 2006 adaptation of James Ellroy's 1987 novel and the famous 1947 criminal case. Directed by Brian DePalma, the movie starred Josh Harnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank: 



"THE BLACK DAHLIA" (2006) Photo Gallery