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In an open letter, a local artist urges city leaders to embrace our creative spirit.

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Starting this evening with Scott Turow's Opening Address, Savannah will become a literary hub once more as the 7th Annual Savannah Book Festival kicks off Presidents Day Weekend.  Bestselling authors Mitch Albom and Dr. Eben Alexander will join Turow as headliners.  Jane Thimme takes roll of the nearly 35 additional authors who will grace podiums all day Saturday, Feb. 15 for free presentations open to the public—where among them will be some of the biggest names in nonfiction. A. Scott Berg Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling writer, A. Scott Berg’s recently published Wilson, is an authoritative biography on America’s 28th president.   One hundred years after Woodrow Wilson took office for the first of two terms, he still stands as one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century.   Berg sheds new insight with benefit of being the first scholar to access two sets of Wilson-related papers and hundreds of the president’s personal letters. Shortly after taking the oath for his second term, Wilson declared war against Germany because of its unrestricted submarine warfare and efforts to get Mexico to attack the U.S.   “The world must be made safe for democracy,” the president said. With congressional approval, America entered WWI.  Essentially all American foreign policy to this day goes back to that one sentence, Berg said.  America's isolationism ended and a new era of American military and foreign policy began. From the idealist determined to make the world “safe for democracy” to the man who suffered a massive stroke in 1919, Berg has written an intimate and revealing portrait of Woodrow Wilson. John Rizzo John Rizzo’s Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA spans more than three decades during which he served under eleven CIA directors and seven presidents.  Rizzo never anticipated that he would become “a symbol and a victim of the toxic winds swirling in post-9/11 Washington.”  From serving as the point person answering for the Iran-contra scandal to approving the rules that govern waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Rizzo witnessed and participated in all of the significant operations of the CIA’s modern history.  Company Man is an authoritative insider account of the CIA—a timely and candid history of American intelligence. Lily Koppel New York Times writer Lily Koppel draws readers back to the fifties with The Astronaut Wives Club.  As America's Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on perilous missions, television cameras focused on their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine and quickly grew into fashion icons as the country raced to land a man on the moon. Annie Glenn, Rene Carpenter and Trudy Cooper were among the women who formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship to each other. As their stars rose, and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives, they continued to rally together.  They have been friends for more than fifty years.  Lily Koppel tells the story of the very human, vulnerable and disillusioned women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history. Deborah Solomon Deborah Solomon’s American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell justifies a fresh look at the artist’s life.  Art critic and frequent contributor to the New York Times, Solomon offers new and disturbing biographical material.  She has illuminated a life utterly different from Rockwell’s humorous and optimistic paintings.  As the star illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post for nearly 50 years, Norman Rockwell “…mingled fact and fiction in paintings that reflected the we-the-people, communitarian ideals of American democracy.” (Amazon)  Many Savannahians viewed Rockwell’s captivating Four Freedoms series (inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt) at the Telfair Museum in 2002—Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship and Freedom from Fear. Solomon opens a door to Rockwell’s darker side revealing his anxiety, depression, loneliness and feelings of inadequacy.   Although disparaged by critics in his lifetime as a mere illustrator, Rockwell has since attracted a passionate following in the art world.  American Mirror intensely explains why he deserves to be remembered as an American master of the first rank. Daniel James Brown Daniel James Brown’s compelling book, The Boys in the Boat, tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for Olympic gold.  Publisher’s Weekly lends high praise“For this nautical version of Chariots of Fire, Brown crafts an evocative, cinematic prose…he makes his heroes’ struggles as fascinating as the best Olympic sagas.” John McMillian John McMillian’s Beatles vs. Stones explores the multifaceted relationship between the two greatest bands of our time, each launching in the 1960’s.  “The Beatles want to hold your hand,” wrote Tom Wolfe, “but the Stones want to burn down your town.”  Both groups maintained that they weren’t really rivals, but they plainly competed for commercial success and artistic credibility.  In Beatles vs. Stones, the author goes after the truth behind the ultimate rock ’n’ roll debate. McMillan, a history professor at Georgia State University, reveals how music managers helped to promote the Beatles-Stones rivalry and engineered moneymaking empires.  The author explores how the Beatles were marketed as cute and amiable, when in fact they came from hardscrabble backgrounds in Liverpool.  Ironically, the Stones who were cast as an edgy, dangerous group, mostly came from the London suburbs.  Beatles vs. Stones tells the  dynamic story of this classic rock culture battle with sophistication, keen storytelling skills and passion for the subject. Claudia Roth Pierpont Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Roth, Unbound is not a biography of Philip Roth, one of the most renowned writers of our time, but a critical evaluation of Philip Roth—the first of its kind—that takes on the man, the myth, and the work. Philip Roth is one of the most renowned writers of our time. From his debut, Goodbye, Columbus, which won the National Book Award in 1960, and the explosion of Portnoy’s Complaint in 1969 to his haunting reimagining of Anne Frank’s story in The Ghost Writer ten years later and the series of masterworks starting in the mid-eighties—The Counterlife, Patrimony, Operation Shylock, Sabbath’s Theater, American Pastoral, The Human Stain—Roth has produced some of the great American literature of the modern era. And yet there has been no major critical work about him until now. Here, at last, is the story of Roth’s creative life. Roth Unbound is not a biography—though it contains a wealth of previously undisclosed biographical details and unpublished material—but something ultimately more rewarding: the exploration of a great writer through his art. Claudia Roth Pierpont, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has known Roth for nearly a decade.Her carefully researched and gracefully written accountis filled with remarks from Roth himself,drawn from their ongoing conversations. Here areinsights and anecdotes that will change the waymany readers perceive this most controversial andgalvanizing writer: a young and unhappily marriedRoth struggling to write; a wildly successful Roth,after the uproar over Portnoy, working to help critical evaluation that takes on the man, the myth and the work.  From his debut, Goodbye, Columbus, which won the National Book Award in 1960, and the explosion of Portnoy’s Complaint in 1969, to his poignant reimagining of Anne Frank’s story in The Ghost Writer, and then the series of masterworks starting in the mid-eighties including The Counterlife, Patrimony and American Pastoral, Roth is considered to have produced some of the greatest American literature of the modern era. Pierpont, a staff writer for the New Yorker who has known Roth for nearly a decade, has captured the story of Roth’s creative life by studying the writer through his art.  Her carefully researched account is filled with remarks from Roth himself, drawn from their ongoing conversations.  Readers will learn more about his family, his inspirations and friendships with such figures as Saul Bellow and John Updike. Other quick glimpses include Mike Ritland, a former Navy SEAL who trains select dogs for SEAL missions.  His memoir, Trident K9 Warriors is an insightful account of these highly trained work dogs, their extraordinary loyalty, courage and the lifesaving role they play in military missions. We each read through our individual lenses to conjure up personal interpretations, but seeing and hearing the authors up close can garner new meaning and understanding—and provide grist for great discussion.

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John Freeman has interviewed more authors than most people have read books. His new collection of conversations takes the reader into the mind of some of the luminaries of modern literature.  Zach Powers reads on.   [caption id="attachment_12342" align="aligncenter" width="432"]Photo by  Deborah Treisman Photo by Deborah Treisman[/caption]

For most of us, there’s a clear line between a novel and an author. The most we ever experience of the person behind the book is the bio on the back cover and maybe a carefully posed headshot. Not so for John Freeman. He makes his living interviewing writers the world over, from Nobel laureates to New York Times Best Sellers. For his new book, How to Read a Novelist, he pulls together several dozen of his most interesting and illuminating interviews, ranging from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood to David Foster Wallace. The book reveals that there is no one definition of the writer’s life. Each author seems to have a focus and a process as unique as the works they create.

Savannah Magazine: I’m a little intimidated talking to someone who interviews authors for a living. I wonder if I should have you interview yourself for this.
John Freeman: If that happens you’d have to charge me, and I’d just keep talking until we run out of time.
Savannah Magazine: Have you been to Savannah before?
John Freeman: I’ve never been to Savannah. I’ve been to other parts of the state. You know, I think I drove through Savannah once, but I’m looking forward to going. I think I stopped in a Denny’s, which is probably not the best way to experience it an hour.
Savannah Magazine: I hope that’s not the best we have to offer. Your new book is a collection of interviews you’ve had with an astounding list of authors. How long have you been doing this type of interview?
John Freeman: I guess I would say about 15 years. Out of college, I worked in publishing for two years, and then I quit my job and moved to New England and started cobbling together a life as a freelance book reviewer. After maybe a year or two of doing it, I just hit on the idea of interviewing an author I knew well enough that talking to her wasn’t terribly terrifying. Her name was Allegra Goodman. She had four books out and had about four kids. A real prodigy of sorts. She had published her first book when she was a student at Harvard. I went and sat and talked with her about this new book she had coming out, which was full of scientific information and Jane Austen-like representations of the inner life of her characters. And it was so beautiful, and I thought there was a strange dissonance between sitting down with this person who was very straightforward and funny and kind of light and the intense seriousness and intellectual rigor of her book. I got such a hit of excitement talking to her. Not because I was meeting a celebrity or something, but because I felt for the first time that miraculous gap between who an author is and what they create, and how in the course of a conversation that gap can be slightly shrunk to some degree, and at the same time made more mysterious. From that moment on, if someone asked, I would do it again, but no one asked so I started asking if I could talk to authors. Within a year or two, I was starting to talk to the authors I really admired like John Updike, who I interviewed for the first time in about 2000. At that point I had moved back to New York, and writers come through New York often because a lot of their publishers are there and it’s sometimes the start of their book tour. I was also writing for overseas newspapers, so suddenly, I went from occasionally interviewing an author to what felt like interviewing one a week. For about ten years there, I was meeting all kinds of people who I never expected to meet. And I was constantly traveling in a kind of comet trail of surreal appreciation for what a great job I had kind of meandered into.
Savannah Magazine: You talk about the task of telling stories and what compels authors to tell those stories. You felt something the first time you talked to an author. What made it compelling for you? Is it sort of your telling the story of the author’s story?
John Freeman: I always felt, as a reviewer, one of the hardest tasks is describing what it felt like to be inside a book. I think a reviewer doesn’t describe a book, they describe their experience with it. That has a second layer when it comes to describing a person, because you have to describe them, what it feels like to meet them, and then you also have to, if you’re a good journalist, compress and make the story dramatic. The story a writer tells when they explain how it is and what it is they do. For me, that seems really important, especially when it’s an author whose life or work or both are kind of a form of bearing witness to the world and to history, to the way that literature, fiction in particular, can take large moments of history, whether it’s America’s past with slavery in Toni Morrison’s book or Japan’s kind of post-World War II world in the work of Haruki Murakami, and bring it down to a human level and make it specific, make it into a human narrative instead of a cultural or community narrative, which is what I think history is. As a journalist, to take that doubling moment and make it intense and coherent and as compelling as it is when the author describes it to you is a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun, and it feels important.
Savannah Magazine: This is more of a personal question. Haruki Murakami is one of my big influences. How was it to interview him?
John Freeman: He seemed really great. I was interviewing him when he had a book called What We Talk About When We Talk About Running, and it was about him leaving his jazz club, giving up smoking, and starting to become a runner at the same time. I was also a runner. I met him at a hotel, and he seemed monkish in the sense that every day he does the same thing. He gets up, goes for a run, writes for a couple hours, takes a break, has lunch, translates , spends his afternoons going over what he wrote and reading a bit. That’s his day, every day, wherever he is. To find that all those books and their crazy flights of fancy and their spooky imagination—why making spaghetti seems so ominous—has come out of something so simple as a daily routine. It was kind of inspiring because as a guy from the suburbs, occasionally as a writer I was worried: what do I have to write about? It turns out you can write about anything if you go into the dark corners of your imagination, which is Murakami’s way of approaching it. He talks about it like he’s some kind of miner. He’s just going into a dark space and excavating until something glints in the dark and then he keeps hammering away until he finds a vein, something precious and special. One of the reason I put the book together is that there are just so many different ways to be a writer, so many different approaches, so many different interactions between the writer’s life and their work. Some write away from their life, but it’s coded in their work, maybe unconsciously. And then some people like Updike write so autobiographically that if you read a biography of him, then you can see very clearly why he was writing certain books at the time he wrote them.
Savannah Magazine: That leads me to another question I had. How does interviewing an author change your experience of reading their work?
John Freeman: I worried about this because I love reading more than meeting writers, but in all the best cases, all the interviews collected in this book, it really improved it. And also, when I sat down to read a new book by Murakami or Günter Grass, I wouldn’t think about having met them. It was almost like it took place in a separate universe. My feeling is that reading is kind of like a controlled dream state. The author is the person who you interact with in waking life, but they don’t come with you into the dream. They’re the ones kind of creating the dream, but they’re not there. They’re not a voice-over, they’re not a presence in the dream. Even like with Jonathan Safran Foer and Philip Roth, they write themselves as characters into the dream, but having met them, they don’t come into that space. I was glad for that. I think there is something to be said for not treating writers like celebrities. They’re not meant to be frontmen or frontwomen of their own work. They’re there to write, and they have this job of sitting alone in a room or wherever it is they do their work, in solitary confinement of sorts, doing it. So to be out there and explaining it is an extra benefit, but it’s not what they’re there for. I worried sometimes that this culture of celebrity would carry over to the reading life but for me it never did, and this is after having interviewed hundreds of novelists. howtoreadanovelist
If You Go:
See John Freeman at the 7th Annual 2014 Savannah Book Festival, 10:15 a.m., Feb. 15, at the Telfair Academy.  

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Andrea Goto recaps her Food and Wine experience.

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At Telfair Museums’ Annual Monte Carlo night, Andrea Goto goes all in.

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From the Editor
If marriage is the consummation of love, we townies are the ultimate tourists.  After all, what is a love affair that lasts a week compared to one that endures for a lifetime?  To riff on the old chastity saw, our 12 million annual visitors may drink the milk—but we Savannahians bought the sacred cow. Sure, we’re attracted by the Hostess City’s public image—lush gardens, living history and colorful characters—but we treasure her candid expressions more.  We love her unexpected awkwardness (37th Street, anyone?) and her sleepy morning face (a bewilderment of birds and walking hangovers).  Because we’re in a relationship, we’re not content to admire Savannah.  We want to know her.  That’s why we don’t just tour; we explore. Our storied city has not one but more than 139,180 faces (U.S. Census 2011), and we at Savannah magazine enjoy the privilege of meeting many of them.  In this issue, we took apart the icons that put our city on the map and sought out the individuals who give life here meaning. Behind the ubiquitous smiling face of Paula Deen, for example, we found chicken “golden-alizer” Michael McCollough and kitchen muse “Jelly Roll” Jones. In the shadow of Supreme Court Justice and Savannah son Clarence Thomas, we found his cousin, the “Mayor of Pin Point,” and his whole historic community of delightful, disarming neighbors. Beneath the glitzy, bawdy stage face of The Lady Chablis, we discovered a sensitive and nurturing friend. We hunted ghosts but found an even eerier entourage.  We peeled away the sweet layers of the Vidalia onion and met the locals who live for its brief spring harvest.  We had cocktails with a comedic concierge and took a Slow Ride with a seriously silly pirate.  We discovered and debriefed 21 rising stars who hold the city’s future in their talented hands.  We dug up Savannah founder Gen. James Oglethorpe’s experimental garden, alive and well miles away at the Historic Bamboo Farm. In short, we’re discovering Savannah, again and again.  Whether you drink the milk or buy the cow, we invite you to explore with us. Warmly, Annabelle Carr, Editor
Slider Credits:
>> Photography by Tim Willoughby >> Styling by Lynn Serulla

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Lyn Gregory and Susanna Sonnenberg, author of She Matters, discuss the importance of female friendships.

Susanna Sonnenberg has written two memoirs--the first about the fraught relationship with her mother.  Her latest book tackles the nuances and complexities of women’s friendship with an honest, raw look at the ones she's enjoyed, survived and endured since childhood.  The stories of these friendships paint portraits full of passion, inspiration, love and betrayal and are a testament to the importance of female friendships in shaping the lives of women. Susanna was born in London but grew up in New York and now lives in Montana with her husband and two sons. Savannah Magazine: This is your second memoir. What about this genre inspires your writing? Susanna Sonnenberg:  In my first book, Her Last Death, about my pathological mother, I needed rigorous honesty as a counterpoint to all the lying I was raised with. The form demands honesty and authenticity.  It’s what makes for good writing for me. SM: You focused on your relationships with women, not men, in this book.  What made you decide to restrict yourself to female relationships? Susanna: When we tell the story of our lives, we discuss jobs, college boyfriends and other elements as the events in our lives, but our female friendships aren’t billed as prominent markers in telling our stories.  I was interested in what was not getting said, the underlying bones of our lives, those dramatic relationships that don’t get talked about. SM:  Some of the friendships you recount in your memoir are short lived and others extend over long periods of time.  Are these “bursts” of friendship as important in shaping our lives as the long term ones? Susanna: I do. I write memoir listening to the nagging, little voices, memories that never leave you. If you are still thinking about that person years later, something happened. There’s a reason they come back to you. I was trying to look as the ways every experience makes us who we are; in the development of self, I wanted to use friendship as the lens. SM: Some of the most painful and honest sections of your book, recount fractured friendships such as Nina and Claire. These must have been hard to write about so openly. Susanna: It did help me understand these relationships at a deeper level and the process brought me a lot of compassion for the women involved and also for myself. There is a myth that all women’s friendships are happy and supportive but they are always more complex and challenging than that simple description. SM: Did you lose any friendships over the publication of your book? Susanna:  Either I cleared it with a friend before I included specific information or I changed some details to obscure the identity of the relationship. SM: As a result of analyzing your friendships, can you share with us what are the most important characteristics of enduring relationships? Susanna:  Forgiveness and the ability to repair damage done.  We all mess up; we all disappoint.  Most often it happens in ways that have nothing to do with the friendship but one’s own history.  We have to be brave enough, strong enough to find ways through.  And sometimes, in spite of great love, it just isn’t possible to make it work. SM: Have you ever been to the South before?  What do you imagine Savannah to be like? Susann: I’ve spent time in Virginia and New Orleans but not Georgia, even though one of the important friendships in the book is with a woman from Georgia.  I picture it as very proper and beautiful.  It does take three planes to get there though!    

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John Krasinski's Peter is charming and witty, but his one-liners can’t save him from the devastatingly difficult realities of marriage, commitment and family life.  Allison Brooks offers advice.

Peter (John Krasinski) heads a seemingly nuclear Silver Lake family in this predictable boy-meets-girl, boy-likes-girl, things-don’t-work-out film—although there is a bit of a twist from the age-old story. When Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a 23-year-old film student working on her thesis, moves to California to finish the sound direction for her project, Peter agrees to help her as a favor to his wife, Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt). Slowly—and I mean slowly—director Russo-Young reveals that nobody’s perfect in this film: Peter can’t fight his attraction to Martine, Julie invites her ex-husband (Dylan McDermott) over for family dinner, and Martine can’t seem to ever say no to sex. The most refreshing part of the film comes unexpectedly: a side story focusing on Kolt (India Ennenga), Julie’s daughter from her first marriage. Kolt so effortlessly portrays how it feels to be a teenage girl in love with a man she can’t have. Poetically delusional, she tells her friends she and David (Rhys Wakefield), Peter’s assistant, have a complicated relationship due to their age difference. When she sees David making out with Martine in his car, we feel her heart break. While Russo-Young fails to grip her audience with a strong plot and general character formation, she does capture the complications of sexuality quite well. Apart from Peter and Martine, she explores Julie’s relationship with one of her patients (Justin Kirk) who describes his fantasies about her in detail, and Kolt’s much older Italian tutor (Emanuele Secci) suggests uncomfortable sexual undertones throughout the story. With no solid conclusion, the film doesn't earn the audience's devotion.  Nobody Walks has less staying power than the characters intwined in the film's relationships.  As I left Trustees Theater, I heard a group of 20-somethings discussing the film: “I understood the point but none of the characters were likable enough for me to care about them.”
Nobody Walks
Starring: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt Director: Ry Russo-Young  

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Jonathan Able parties with the VIPs for night four of the Savannah Film Festival.

Is it just me, or does the film festival keep getting bigger and bigger? For Wednesday’s 7 p.m. showing of Hyde Park on Hudson, all seats were filled in the spacious Trustees Theater.  Audiences had flocked to the theater well in advance, some arriving as early as 4:30 p.m. to secure slots in both the pass-holder and ticketed lines. Thanks to the film’s modest run time of about 1.5 hours, the Hyde Park audience still had a small sliver of time to catch the evening’s second screening, Dracula, for a Halloween fright at the Lucas Theatre. Film industry luminaries and big-ticket donors made their way to City Market for their nightly reception—hosted this time by the upscale Southern eatery, Belford’s.  The welcoming space, with warm wooden floors and ample dining rooms, was filled to capacity with moviegoers eager for a good time.  Whether it was the excuse to frolic on Halloween or just a much-needed hump-day fix, the crowd had the size and energy of Opening Night. Belford’s attendees passed around trays of savory quiches, miniature roast-beef-and-gouda sandwiches and bacon-wrapped scallops, all of which were devoured by hungry guests within minutes of being served. VIP vixen Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) was dressed in a crimson pirate costume in honor of the haunted holiday, and Ty Pennington (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) appeared as a ninja turtle (or was it a Geico gecko?) to join in the evening’s festivities.  

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Laura Linney lights up the silver screen for Jonathan Able at the Director’s Choice screening. To those of you in attendance for last night’s Director’s Choice screening of Hyde Park on Hudson I apologize.  That piercing shrill you heard at the beginning of the film was mine. To be frank, I’d heard very little in advance about director Roger Michell’s (Notting Hill, Morning Glory) new offering.  I simply couldn’t contain my surprise and delight to find that Laura Linney would play a pivotal role.  You see, my obsession with Linney dates back long before her introductions to Downton Abbey.  I loved her through her independent years in The Squid and the Whale, The Savages and Oscar-nominated Kinsey.  And I love her still. But Hyde Park on Hudson is hardly Laura’s show.  Set in 1939, the action is largely concentrated on a single weekend, in which King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visit President Roosevelt in his mother’s home, Hyde Park.  Historically, this marks the first time British monarchy visited the U.S.  On screen, Bill Murray’s overwhelmed Roosevelt longs for the “company” of his 5th cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckely, played by—you guessed it—my girl. Linney is lovely.  Murray is magnificent.  But the heart and soul of this film are the king and queen, portrayed by Samuel West and Olivia Colman, respectively.  The two characters, who come seeking Roosevelt’s assistance at the rise of Word War II, play off each other effortlessly in an unexpected comedy of errors.  “Bertie” and his wife are hilariously baffled by Americanisms, pre-dinner cocktails, Native American culture and—worst of all—hot dogs, which serve as a punch line throughout the film. By contrast, it’s difficult to see the appeal in Daisy’s storyline.  It’s unrequited love in its most trivial sense, mingled with the President’s other trivial, romantic affairs.  Daisy is Victor Hugo’s Eponine without the added thrill of the French Revolution.  Saccharine at best, the Lifetime-esque drama between Daisy and the President leaves us wanting more. As much as Daisy’s story disappoints, Linney herself is still a cinematic force, proving that Hyde Park on Hudson is a film of performances, not plot lines.  My love affair lives on.
Hyde Park on the Hudson
Starring:  Bill Murray and Laura Linney Director: Roger Michell

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