Saturday, 28 September 2013

Favourite children's stories

As a child which were your favourite children's stories? 

Mine were Pinocchio and Jack and the Beanstalk. This was before Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, the Famous Five and the Five Find-Outers, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, the William stories, and C.S. Lewis came along and nudged me toward books for young adults. Incidentally, I discovered the term ‘YA’ somewhere in the nineties long after I grew out of my teens. Did the term originate later or was it my ignorance? The latter, I guess.

The magical world in the two fairy tales held me spellbound. I suspect I used to like these books more because of the covers of the Classics Illustrated editions that I owned and read over and over again. I was so fascinated by the clean and colourful illustrations that I used to draw some of the strips and paint them with water colours, which came in a pocket sized flat box of 10 or 12 circular shaped colours with a small flimsy brush. I’d sit with this set, a little plastic palette, a steel container filled with water, and an A4 sized drawing book, and proceed to recreate those charming pictures. It was annoying when the colours got mixed or the round paints came off. Nonetheless, many a happy hour was spent this way.
 

Although I liked Pinocchio, I felt sorry for Geppetto’s wooden puppet. I think he has been one of the most recreated and vulgarised characters in all of literature, adapted in so many mediums that you forget what the original looked like. For instance, I don’t particularly remember Pinocchio as being whiny, Shrek told me so. I remember him as being a quiet little fellow. Well, he didn’t inspire me as much as the adventurous Jack did. I thought it was very brave of him to climb a giant tree with his harp and confront the monster lurking in the sky. The huge tree spiralling up endlessly caught my imagination like few things did in those days.

Pinocchio and Jack and the Beanstalk are fairy tales, morals actually, but I wonder if these and other similar children’s stories can be considered as fantasy, sf, and supernatural literature; perhaps, a child’s initiation into these genres. Alright, let’s not take the fun away from the kids.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Books by weight

On August 18, I wrote about our visit to a book exhibition on India’s 66th Independence Day. Out of hundreds and thousands of books on sale, I bought one, Me Tanner, You Jane, an Evan Tanner paperback by Lawrence Block. I have yet to read it.

Last Sunday, we went to another book exhibition at the same venue, a large auditorium at Churchgate in the central business district of South Mumbai.

Butterfly Books, the organiser this time, was selling over a million books in various categories including world war and history. There were separate sections on cookery, architecture and interiors, children and young adult, management, sports and leisure, travel, health, reference, classics and general fiction, and more.

The fiction section consisted of all kinds of books, paperbacks and hardbacks, but it lacked structure. It was a complete mismatch of authors and their books. You had Joanna Trollope rubbing shoulders with John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell hobnobbing with Frederick Forsyth. Missing in action were several popular and widely-read authors like Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Louis L’Amour, Enid Blyton, Stephen King, and Roald Dahl.

What was unusual about this sale was that books were being sold by weight rather than at discounts. For instance, children’s books and Mills & Boon were sold at Rs.120 a kg while fiction was sold at Rs.120-200 a kg, the maximum rate. We picked up five paperbacks weighing 0.8 kg for Rs.120 (a little over $2) that included The Arsenic Labyrinth by noted British crime writer Martin Edwards, Persuasion by Jane Austen, Icon by Frederick Forsyth, and two M&B.

I am waiting to read The Arsenic Labyrinth as I liked the first Martin Edwards book I read, All the Lonely People, and reviewed here. The tagline on the back cover piques your interest. It says, ‘You’d never believe it to look at me now, but once upon a time I killed a man.’

The Butterfly Books exhibition is on until October 10. I should go back and take some pictures and pick up some more books.

If you want to read about a fascinating book exhibition at the other end of the world, assuming you're living in South Asia, 
head over to TracyK’s engaging blog Bitter Tea and Mystery and read about the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2013.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A parody of presidential films

For Overlooked Films at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom this Tuesday, a somewhat upside-down look at films about American presidents and how they might seem in the Indian context.

Hollywood loves to sell the American President and the rest of the world loves to lap up his films. I, for one, enjoy watching the flag-waving, jingoistic, and superpatriotic movies (I know they all mean the same thing) that Hollywood studios dish out periodically.

While I can imagine a rather youthful and charismatic American president as a pilot taking on aliens or as commander in chief fighting terrorists, I can’t imagine his Indian equivalent doing anything of the sort. This is because the average age of the last three US presidents, Obama, Bush, and Clinton, on the day they entered the Oval Office, was 45-55, while the average age of the last three Indian prime ministers was 75.


Harrison Ford as President James Marshall in Air Force One.
 
It would be a comedy of errors to visualise our head of government, attired in national costume, usually a white kurta pyjama or dhoti, fighting a rogue agent with his bare fists while clinging with one hand on to the loading ramp of Air India One. Neither can I picture the ageing prime minister delivering a knockout punch to the agent and barking, “Get off my plane!” as President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) does in Air Force One (1997). I had goose bumps.

Imagining the next scene in the Indian context would be even more preposterous. Marshall is flying through the air like a kite without a string as the crew of a rescue plane, Liberty 24, frantically tries to rein him in. The daring mid-air rescue culminates successfully with the crew welcoming their gravity-defying president with a smart salute and the words, “Liberty Two Four is changing call signs—Liberty Two Four is now Air Force One!” immediately followed by a loud whoop somewhere in the White House. More goose bumps.

Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day.

I can't envision the Indian prime minister exhorting a ragtag group of pilots in the middle of an alien invasion either. President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) not only rasps out a 156-worded speech loaded with chauvinistic fervour in Independence Day (1996)—“We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”—but the war vet even hops into a fighter plane and leads the air assault against the aliens. Plenty of goose bumps.

Frankly, I was in two minds whether to include Mars Attacks! (1996) in this farcical post as President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) does not exactly paint himself in glory. He welcomes the Martian leader into the Oval Office and offers his hand of friendship, saying “Why can't we work out our differences? Why can't we work things out? Little people, why can't we all just get along?” Instead, the Martian’s spiderlike hand comes off and attacks the trusting president. When I heard James Dale’s peace offer I thought of the Indian prime minister and when I saw what the Martian did I thought of his Pakistani counterpart.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Reviewing Books

If a book I've committed myself to review turns out to be 'disappointing' I make an effort to present it objectively to the reader, including a good number of excerpts from the text, so that the reader might form his or her own opinion independent of my own.
— Joyce Carol Oates

"Prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job. It not only involves praising trash but constantly inventing reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feeling whatever."
— George Orwell

The only reason I reproduced the quotes by Joyce Carol Oates and George Orwell was because they were well said.

Actually, I have been thinking about book reviews, my own and those by fellow bloggers, and—I'm sticking my neck out here—I think a majority of reviewers hate panning books. Instead, they are content with offering mild criticism of a book they didn't like much, for whatever reason.

I don't pan books either. In fact, I find myself saying only good things about the books I review on this blog. The thing is I am not conscious of it. I realise that I could have pointed out certain flaws only after I have read a book and reviewed it.

People say writers have a responsibility towards their readers because they invest their time, money, and expectations in the book. So if a particular book doesn't live up to one's expectation or the hype, it should be trashed, particularly if the author is one of your favourites. I don't agree. I read books, especially fiction, because I enjoy reading and as a form of self-gratifying entertainment and I treat them as such, and along the way I learn something. I also have a theory that every book, no matter how bad it may be, has redeeming qualities which is still no reason to pan it.

This debate is older than the first book you read. Still, what do you think?

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Mysterious Card and The Mysterious Card Unveiled by Cleveland Moffett, 1896

Here are two vintage short stories for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase which is being hosted by B.V. Lawson at In Reference to Murder - www.inreferencetomurder.typepad.com this week.

“Richard Burwell, of New York, will never cease to regret that the French language was not made a part of his education.”

I have read many short stories but none, in recent memory, were as frustrating as The Mysterious Card by Cleveland Moffett (1863-1926). It starts with a bang and ends in a whimper. Perhaps, the American journalist, author, and playwright meant to provoke the reader for seven months later he produced a sequel, The Mysterious Card Unveiled, and redeemed himself.

The two stories numbering 31 pages in all were first published in The Black Cat magazine of February and August 1896 respectively.

The Mysterious Card is a straight tale with an element of suspense that increases several levels in The Mysterious Card Unveiled. Read together, the stories are a blend of the occult and the paranormal with a touch of horror depending on how you look at it.

In The Mysterious Card, Richard Burwell is visiting Paris on business while his wife and daughter are vacationing in London. Bored and lonely, the unassuming gentleman goes to the Folies BergĂ«re, a cabaret music hall, and is sitting in its garden when a mysterious woman accompanied by a tall distinguished man with glasses leaves a card on his table and walks away. 

Author Cleveland Moffett
The card bears some French words written in purple ink. Since Burwell does not know the language, he decides to find out their meaning and gets the biggest shock of his life. The people he shows the card to are so repulsed by what they see that they want nothing to do with him. Hotel managers and proprietors throw him out, his wife labels him a monster and disowns him, and his closest friends desert him. The French police arrest him but the American Legation (diplomatic mission) in Paris bails him out with the condition that he leaves the country within 24 hours.

Burwell returns to New York, angry, confused, anxious, humiliated, and dejected, as his frantic quest to unravel the secrets of the card ends in a manner he wouldn't have thought his entire life.

Then, one day, Burwell sees the mysterious lady in a carriage on Broadway. After many attempts he succeeds in meeting her at her house and finds out that she is ailing and dying. She recognises him and murmurs, “I gave you the card because I wanted you to…to…”

As I said, the two stories are only 31 pages long and I’m not going to spoil it for those of you who haven’t read them, which means I can tell you very little of what happens in the sequel.

The events in The Mysterious Card Unveiled take place 11 years after Richard Burwell returns home. It is a first-person account by a kind and scrupulous physician who is treating him for mental disorder and unspecific ailments. He is actually looking for someone to talk to, someone he can unburden himself on. The doctor, an enthusiastic student of palmistry, takes a keen interest in Burwell when he discovers on his patient’s palm a sinister double circle on Saturn's mount, with the cross inside, “a marking so rare as to portend some stupendous destiny of good or evil, more probably the latter.”

Much happens from this point to the end of the story, which is actually a flashback as the tall man with the glasses approaches the physician to explain everything from the beginning until the time his sister, the mysterious lady, dropped the card in front of Burwell. The woman, with a passion for the occult, had discovered that he was possessed by the demon, “a kulos-man, a fiend-soul,” as she called him, and was responsible for murders and mutilations and other unthinkable crimes.

Final word
The secret of the mysterious white card—the cursed life of the wealthy and philanthropic Richard Burwell—is revealed in the end, though, in an unexpected way.

As many writers of that period did, Cleveland Moffett touches upon the age-old principles of good and evil that exists in human beings, “the great truth of a dual soul existence,” and how it can be used worthily.


The two short stories are written in a clear and simple style, again reminiscent of writing of the late 19th and early 20th century. I particularly liked Moffett’s graphic description of the kulos-man as evident from the following lines: “Think of a loved face suddenly melting before your eyes into a grinning skull, then into a mass of putrefaction, then into the ugliest fiend of hell, leering at you, distorted with all the marks of vice and shame. That is what I saw, that is what they had seen!"


About the author

Cleveland Moffett was known as a teller of weird tales. These two stories were some of the most famous tales published by The Black Cat magazine. He also wrote plays and articles for magazines and weeklies. He translated Cosmopolis, a novel by French author Paul Bourget. The reason The Mysterious Card received a lot of attention was because he did not reveal the secret of the white card. Interest in this story inspired him to write the sequel and unravel the puzzle. Moffett also wrote detective stories like True Tales from the Archives of the Pinkertons (1897) and Real Detective Stories (1898). Most of his work is available in the public domain.


Author photo: www.digitalgallery.nypl.org

Monday, 16 September 2013

In The Heat of the Night (1967)

A book-to-movie adaptation for this Tuesday’s Overlooked Films at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger): I got the motive which is money and the body which is dead.

Does watching the movie first and then reading the book on which it is based sound appealing to you?

I have mixed views about this. It takes away the spark of imagination and the joy of reading the book. That’s one way of looking at it. On the other hand, it can make reading of the book a more pleasing exercise, particularly if it is a big book, and allows you to draw comparisons between what you see and what you read.

Take Harry Potter, for instance. I saw all the seven films including two parts of The Deathly Hallows (Book No.7) well before I read the books and it did not diminish the appeal of the series. In fact, it only enhanced it for me. First of all, there is far more in the books than in the films and, second of all, I didn’t have to stretch my imagination to visualise Harry and his friends, Dumbledore, Snape and the others while reading the books. Among other things I don’t think I’d have imagined the soul-sucking Dementors the way they are pictured in The Prisoner of Azkaban, one of the most chilling evil creatures I've seen on screen. 

I saw In The Heat of the Night (1967) a full year before I read the book (1965) by John Ball and Sidney Poitier’s portrayal of homicide detective Virgil Tibbs was outstanding. Now had I read the novel first, I don’t think I’d have thought of Poitier essaying the role of the black man from Philadelphia, caught in the wrong place and at the wrong time, in a small racist town in Mississippi. Poitier scorches the screen with his unwavering intensity, the eyes boring into police chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger, who is no pushover) and others in the meagre force, as they wrongly accuse him of murder and then utilise his skills to investigate and solve the crime, and then grudgingly thank him for a job well done. It seemed as if the racist boot was on the other foot.

I thought Norman Jewison’s adaptation of John Ball’s novel—comparable with that other great book-to-movie classic To Kill a Mockingbird—was more explosive in its visual depiction of racism. On the other hand, the book is milder, as evident from Gillespie’s less than fierce attitude towards Virgil Tibbs and the colour of his skin. Rod Steiger might have something to do with it.

In spite of seeing the movie first, I enjoyed reading the book, as both had something different to offer. I don’t consider this approach a spoiler in any way. It can be fun sometimes.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Batman & Spider-Man, 1997

“I am here at my father’s side for the same reason that I love you: not because I am compelled to but because I choose to.”
Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, to Batman

Batman & Spider-Man, one of the earliest DC-Marvel crossovers, has terrific graphics that isn’t spoilt by the above average plot revolving around our two superheroes on one hand and mafia lord Wilson ‘The Kingpin’ Fisk and mad man Ra’s al Ghul on the other.

In a strange turn of events, Batman and Spider-Man join hands with the massively built underworld czar of New York to stop Ra’s al Ghul from realising his insane dream of a world where all men, all nations, are under his control. He wants Fisk’s powerful backing and vast criminal network to succeed in his evil plan, beginning with the Big Apple. The Kingpin may be the most dreaded underworld don but he’s not stupid enough to compromise his empire or destroy the city he loves and helped build.

If Fisk appears to side with supervillain Ra’s al Ghul, it’s because he has a secret agenda—an antidote that will cure his beloved wife, Vanessa, from a Ghul-induced terminal illness. But does Ghul really have it?

Over the years I have known about Batman’s many girlfriends, from Catwoman to Batwoman and Poison Ivy to Batgirl, but I didn’t know that he had a thing for Talia al Ghul whose desperate plea to the Dark Knight for “one night…for one moment (when) we can just forget who we are… what side we’re on. Can’t we just?” Yes, says Batman, if she left Ra’s al Ghul.

The 52-page comic-book is not bad although I’ll admit I’m up to my chin with Spider-Man’s corny sense of humour. Poor Batman gets the brunt of it.


For more Forgotten Books this Friday, check out Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sitcoms or Sexcoms?

India’s ministry of information and broadcasting regularly pulls up, and even bans, television channels for showing “offensive” content.

In May this year, the central (federal) ministry banned Comedy Central for a few days for violating Programming Code 1 (Offends against good taste or decency) in two shows telecast last year. The channel apparently telecast a show in which a man reportedly performed standup comedy with “suggestive gestures” which, according to the ministry, offended good taste or decency, was obscene, and denigrated women.

The ministry, in its order, maintained that the channel apologised for “inadvertently airing the aforesaid episode” due to “unintentional genuine error” and promised not to repeat it. I think the channel was let off with a stern warning for I don’t remember it going off the air.

But, talk about bureaucratic verbosity.

The I&B ministry takes its job seriously; in fact, so seriously that English channels are forced to blot out certain words that could offend Indian sensibility. Words like “sex,” “crap,” “shit,” and “penis" are taboo. So even before Joey, Raymond, Jerry, Frank, Chandler, Alan, Charlie or Sheldon are about to utter dirty words, their mouths are washed with soap and water. The words are either blanked out or substituted by less offending words, often with hilarious result.

Of the two censor weapons, I find blanking out words more annoying. You'd think the actor has had facial paralysis in mid-sentence. In a Friends episode, for instance, when Joey finds out that Chandler and Monica (now then let’s play it safe) are sleeping together, he bursts out: “You two were having sex!” Instead, what we hear is “You two were having ______” and you mouth the missing word silently. There isn’t an Indian viewer who didn’t score well in ‘Fill in the Blanks’ in school.

If I were to give the I&B ministry the remotest benefit of the doubt, it would be on account of the excessive use of cuss words, however banal, in most sitcoms and dramas, be it Two And A Half Men or Grey’s Anatomy where the word “sex” is par for the course because everybody is sleeping with somebody.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Girl from Sunset Ranch by Amy Bell Marlowe (1914)

This review of a semi-western book is my contribution for Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

“If I could only clear dad's name!”

The Girl from Sunset Ranch, or Alone in a Great City, by Amy Bell Marlowe, a pen name of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, is classified as a western as well as for young readers, particularly girls. The 243-page book is a mixture of the two and will appeal to readers of both literary forms.

The story originates in the open and invigorating ranges of the west and plays out almost entirely in the narrow and stifling environment of the east. Caught between these opposite worlds is Helen Morrell, a lovely and kind-spirited 16-year old girl and the sole owner of Sunset Ranch, one of the few remaining great ranches of the west.

Helen was born on Sunset Ranch and brought up by her father, Prince Morrell, the wealthy cattle king who kept away from the public glare. He had a good reason. Years before he set up the ranch near Elberon, Montana, the cattleman, originally an Easterner, had fled New York to escape arrest after he was falsely accused of embezzling money from the bank account of the firm in which he was a major partner. 

"Here’s the very nicest girl
who ever came out of Montana."
As the years passed, Morrell, an honest gentleman, built his cattle ranch into a cattle empire and repaid all his firm’s creditors but could not remove the stain on his name. This pained him no end.

Then, one day, as Morrell is dying, he tells Helen about his past and appeals to her to go to New York and clear his name. The cattleman has another reason for sending his little girl eastward: he is afraid to leave his daughter alone behind—“in this rough place out here”—and wants her to grow up among people with refinement.

Helen, who never tires of mentioning how much she loves Sunset Ranch, has spent her childhood and early youth among cowpunchers, squaws, greasers, and half-breeds, simple folk who dote on her as much as her father did. In fact, Big Hen Billings, the whiskered giant foreman of the ranch, treats her like his own daughter. So trustworthy is he that Prince Morrell has made him executor and guardian of Helen.


Two months after her father’s death, the poor little rich girl heads east, by the transcontinental train, to keep a promise she made to a man she loved more than anyone in the world and the only family she ever knew.

In New York, the brave, kind, and open hearted Helen Morrell is confronted by a world far removed from the gentle plains of distant Montana. She discovers the dark side of the Great City; selfish and pompous relatives who live in a mansion on Madison Avenue and hate her presence, to the extent that she must enter and exit through the ‘lower’ door; the greedy man who framed her father: the old bookkeeper who worked in Morrell’s firm and now lives in abject poverty; and the old nurse with the soft skin and a kindly smile confined to the attic by her Uncle Starkweather and his three daughters, her cousins.

“Such a thing as inhospitality could not be imagined by Helen Morrell. A begging Indian was never turned away from Sunset Ranch. A perfect stranger—even a sheepman—would be hospitably treated in Montana. Her cousins hadn't the decencies of red Indians.”

Helen is shocked but does not lose hope and returns hatred with love at every turn. The pretty cowgirl, who hasn't told anyone that she is the owner of Sunset Ranch and thousands upon thousands of acres of grazing land or is worth more than half-a-million dollars, finds warmth and hospitality on Madison Street, the underbelly of New York, in her friendship with a poor Russian girl. Later, she meets a young handsome lawyer whom she had rescued after he fell off the cliff near her ranch and who now helps her clear her father’s name. In the end Helen is only too glad to return to Sunset Ranch, back to doing the things she loves doing, "roping steers, breaking ponies, and riding bareback like an Indian."


Final word
The Girl from the Sunset Ranch is a delightful and charming story of a girl with strong moral values and one who is mature far beyond her young age. An interesting element in the book is the many different ways in which Helen, her foreman, Big Hen Billings, her Jewish friend from Madison Street, and her three cousins speak, which brings the narrative alive.

For me, the key aspect of this book was Amy Bell Marlowe’s constant comparison between life in the west and in the east, as evident in the hospitality of Sunset Ranch and the unfriendliness of Starkweather Mansion and the way the homeless and the outsider are treated in the two opposite poles of America. I got the impression that Marlowe came from the Frontier for the pseudonymous writer never loses an opportunity to belittle the east. The west is where the best is could well be the tagline of this book.

About the author
An article on Wikipedia says that Amy Bell Marlowe was a pseudonym used by the Stratemeyer Syndicate which published this and other books as part of the ‘Amy Bell Marlowe's Books for Girls’ series. The Syndicate was founded by Edward Stratemeyer and is best known for producing the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Rover Boys, and Tom Swift series.

Other books by Amy Bell Marlowe are Frances of the Ranges, or The Old Ranchman's Treasure, 1915; The Girls of Hillcrest Farm, or The Secret of the Rocks, 1914; A Little Miss Nobody, or With the Girls of Pinewood Hall, 1914; and Wyn's Camping Days, or The Outing of the Go-Ahead Club, 1914.

Unusual terms
Taking a leaf from the excellent blog published by Ron Scheer, a noted expert on westerns, especially frontier fiction, I reproduce below some of the unusual words I came across in the book. The meanings are courtesy internet.

1. Coulees: applied rather loosely to different landforms, all of which refer to a kind of valley or drainage zone.

2. Greenie: a newcomer, a greenhorn

3. Tenderfoot: an inexperienced person

4. Mazouma: Hebrew for money

5. Chee: a word used for emphasis when talking about something good

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Just Between Friends (1986) and Stepmom (1998)

The husband, the wife, and the other woman is the theme of the films under review this Tuesday, for Overlooked Films, Audio & Video over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Take a good look at the two posters. You’ll notice that the names of the male actors appear after those of the female actors. In fact, you’ll also notice that the male actors are nowhere in the main picture frame. That is because the films are more about the women and less about the men. Yet, the men are very much there, though, almost by accident. But, take them out and there would be neither a story nor a film in either case. 

The men are caught between two women who love them (or loved them) and who stake a legitimate claim to their families, their children, and their future. It may seem as if Just Between Friends and Stepmom is about the proverbial “husband, wife, and the other woman’ and while they are to a considerable extent, the films are really about the relationship between the women and their coming to terms with the reality that they love (or loved) the same men—their lives entwined by a twist of fate.

The relationship that Holly Davis (Mary Tyler Moore) and Sandy Dunlap (Christine Lahti) share in Just Between Friends is identical to the one that Jackie Harrison (Susan Sarandon) and Isabel Kelly (Julia Roberts) share in Stepmom.

While a tragedy helps close friends Holly and Sandy bury their differences and come together in Just Between friends, the terminal illness of Jackie and her gracious acceptance of her ex-husband’s girlfriend, Isabel, helps the two women bond in Stepmom. On her part Isabel accepts Jackie’s natural instinct to raise her children the way she wants and tries to fit into that role as best as she can.
 

Chip Davis (Ted Danson) and Luke Harrison (Ed Harris) are two fine men, caring husbands (ex in the case of Luke), and doting fathers. Chip loves his wife Holly in Just Between Friends while Luke is considerate towards his ailing ex-wife Jackie who lives with him, their two children, and his new flame, Isabel, in Stepmom.

Directors Allan Burns and Chris Columbus handle the relationships between the two pairs of women with great sensitivity. There is mutual respect, understanding, sympathy, and even compassion between the women. For instance, in a Thanksgiving scene in Stepmom (I think), Isabel is about to click a family photo of Jackie, Luke and their two children when Jackie beckons Isabel to join them. Isabel sits with the family on the couch and is pleasantly surprised when Jackie puts an arm around her, as all five of them smile into the camera.

Just Between Friends and Stepmom are two very nice films and what makes them a touch more special is the excellent casting, especially Mary Tyler Moore and Susan Sarandon as the wronged wives who never actually grieve over the cruel blow fate deals them.

Recommended