Sunday, October 31, 2010

“Outside The Law” – Movie Review



This morning, my movie class had a bonus screening where we saw the drama, Outside The Law , a foreign film from Algeria that was shown at the Cannes Film Festival. 


After World War II, three Algerian brothers struggle to succeed in life while their country remains controlled by France – but when they form an alliance to win their homeland’s freedom, will they survive to see the fruits of their labor?


As boys in the Algeria of the 1920’s, brothers Said, Messaoud and Abdelkader saw the French gendarmes take away the land that was owned by their family for generations so that it could be used by the colonial regime occupying their county.  Despite this kind of treatment experienced by a good deal of their countrymen, many Algerians maintained a loyalty to the French by fighting and dying alongside them during World War II.  Once the war was won, it was then believed by the Algerian citizens that they would be rewarded by the French by being given their independence – but this was not to be.  In fact, France’s grip on this northwestern African nation would instead become ever tighter, which then caused Algerians to revolt. 

Forced to find their way in a new world they neither created nor expected, the three brothers set out on individual paths in life.  Said, a cunning entrepreneur, organizes boxing matches in the streets of his hometown; Messaoud, after serving for the French in World War II, joins the army and fights in Indochina; the intellectual Abdelkader, on the other hand, winds up being imprisoned for his political interests and efforts to free Algeria from the French.  Ultimately, the three move to France and start out life in an Algerian-occupied shantytown before discovering their unique path. 

Said earns the disdain of his family when he pursues an illicit career assisting a pimp; Abdelkader, now out of prison, is encouraged by his former inmates to find and follow members of FLN, a group of Algerian revolutionaries seeking to free their country from the oppression of the French government; Messaoud, battle-scarred and disillusioned, starts a family and soon joins his brother Abdelkader so that he can provide a better life for his son.  As the FLN grow increasingly dangerous, the French government form an organization called The Red Hand, a covert anti-terrorist group designed to defeat them – but can the brothers survive once the French clamp down on the Algerian revolt?



This was a very complicated film because at some point in the story, you genuinely question who is the real protagonist versus the antagonist.  It’s very possible that your loyalties may change throughout the story’s telling – and if that’s true during only a cinematic portrayal of this tale, then how much more complicated must it have been during that period of world history when these events occurred?  At the outset, you might just find yourself being reminded of more reasons to hate the French (as if you needed any) because their colonialist actions are so brutally enforced – but then, as you see how their treatment of the Algerians foments terrorist activities by Algerian nationals living in France, the French eventually become more sympathetic – especially when seen now, within the context of a society attempting to survive in a post-9/11 world where the defeat of global terrorism is of paramount importance.


During the post-screening class discussion, there was some debate about whether or not this was an even-handed portrayal of the Algerian struggle with France.  Our instructor pointed out that when this film was screened at Cannes, it was rather controversial due to the fact that many French believed that the story was slanted to the perspective of the Algerians.  One student said that the story made the French look like the Germans – I suppose this may have been specifically meant as something of an unfavorable comparison with the Nazis.  While I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that – the French were unreasonably savage in their dealings with Algeria – it would seem that once they were left to deal with the Algerians’ terrorist actions subsequent to World War II, the French government conducted their business in a way that was equally as vicious. 


Certainly, I’m no expert on either world history or politics, but I’ll nevertheless recommend this movie based simply on the fact that it may very well appeal to history buffs, especially those who take particular interest in post-World War II events; additionally, people with a strong political bent may find this film equally compelling, if not more so.  One caveat that could be a deal-breaker for some is that not only is this a foreign film, but also, the entire movie contains subtitles – some of which can occasionally be rather difficult to read since they display in white letters shown on sometimes very light backgrounds (especially true early on in the film).  However, if you have ever been perplexed by the question of why the Muslim world hates not merely the United States, but also all of the Western nations, then the film “Outside The Law” may very well serve to provide a great many answers. 



Friday, October 29, 2010

“127 Hours” – Movie Review

Last night in my movie class, we saw the suspense-drama “127 Hours”, starring James Franco and directed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”). 


After an adventurous mountain climber ventures into a canyon, he gets stuck when a falling boulder wedges him against the wall of a chasm – but when he does what’s necessary to extricate himself, will he be able to make it home alive?
Aron Ralston (Franco) is a man with a great sense of adventure – and is the foolhardy risk-taking adrenaline junky that many young men on testosterone-overload also tend to be.  As a result, he decides not to tell anyone when he sets off to hike through Bluejohn Canyon in Utah one Saturday – a dangerous choice that he will eventually come to regret.  Too optimistic and egotistical to seriously believe that anything could go wrong during his little weekend jaunt, he sets out with a full backpack and high expectations based on his previous experiences.
Merely a few hours into his trip, he attempts to cross a narrow chasm by using a boulder at its opening as something of a bridge – but once the weight of his step causes both he and the boulder to plummet down the abyss, he suddenly finds his right arm painfully wedged against the side of the chasm by that very same boulder.  Unable to move either his arm or the boulder in order to free himself, Ralston attempts to survive on an ever-dwindling water supply and rapidly-depleting bagful of snacks until he can be discovered by someone and saved. 
Eventually, Ralston makes a few abortive attempts at earning his freedom, including the creation of a makeshift pulley assembled with some of his mountain climbing gear.  After being stuck for days and fearing his demise, Ralston finally realizes that the only way he will be able to get out is by amputating his right arm.  Searching through the contents of his backpack, he discovers a cheap set of utility knives and makes a go of the procedure – but even if he succeeds, will he be able to live long enough to return from the canyon alive?
This movie is based on the book “Between A Rock And A Hard Place”, authored by the film’s real life protagonist, Aron Ralston, who chronicled this story that actually happened to him a number of years ago.  From what we are given to understand in this movie, Ralston – both the character in the film and the real person – came away from this experience changed in more ways than merely physical.  While one woman in my class called this “a static road movie” (because the character does go on a “journey”, of sorts), I would characterize it more as a story about personal redemption since Ralston – as portrayed – appears as something of an arrogant, presumptuous, selfish, careless, reckless individual and undergoes a major character arc by the end of the film. 
Despite the terrific performance by Franco, I found this character flaw in the protagonist prevented me from really rooting for Ralston; basically, my reaction was simply that the guy got what he deserved, so I felt very little in the way of compassion for him, even though we see him gradually learn humility as his ordeal wears on.  Assuming you won’t experience the same obstacle I did, I’ll highly recommend this film based on the fact that it’s suspenseful and its story most unusual – not to mention compelling because you know it to be based on a true occurrence. 
A number of students in the class were greatly relieved by the fact that when Ralston performed his surgery, the director’s choice was not to linger too much on the details.  While a scene such as this one requires some blood to be shown, this is by no means a horror-exploitation movie, so it tastefully minimizes the amount of gore yet doesn’t manage to sanitize the scene so much that it makes the viewer feel as though the movie was produced by Disney.  In spite of this, the instructor estimated that there were about 8 or 10 students that walked out on the movie well before this rather intense scene. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Autumn Cocktail Classics Tasting




On Saturday afternoon October 23, 2010, I attended an autumn cocktail classics tasting at Union Square Wines & Spirits and wound up having a fabulous time learning new cocktail recipes that I’d like to share with you …


To start off, have you ever watched the show “Entourage” on HBO?  If not, you’re really missing some very interesting and entertaining television.  But besides that, let’s talk cocktails for a moment, shall we?  If you in fact are an “Entourage” fan, then you likely know about the tequila called Avion, which has a silver (un-aged), reposado (aged up to six months) and añejo (aged up to two years), all of which are 80 proof (or 40% alcohol, if you prefer).  If you’re a Scotch or whiskey drinker, then I will definitely recommend Avion’s añejo, which was tasted neat (but could also be enjoyed with a slight bit of ice).  Due to its aging, it’s got an outstanding kick to it and if you’re a fan of Patron, this one is definitely something that you need to try. 


While the reposado might be the choice for mixing margaritas, the one with the best cocktail was the silver, with something called the The Autumn Apple, which contains 2 ounces of the tequila, squeeze of a quarter lemon, half an ounce of agave nectar, an ounce of apple juice and a cinnamon stick.  I have to tell you that this particular cocktail was amazing and that the key to it is the cinnamon stick, because when you sniff it, the stick greatly enhances the flavor of the cocktail itself. 



Without a doubt, Domaine de Canton’s French Ginger Liqueur was – and has been, throughout the past few years – my favorite.  Is it merely a coincidence that it’s been marketed by the brother of the guy who makes St.-Germain?  Probably not – because just as St-G is such a distinctive liqueur for spring/summer cocktails, Domaine de Canton is the same for fall/winter mixes, as well.  Simply put, this is something you absolutely must try in your mixology arsenal if you haven’t done so already, because it will stand out so prominently that people will promptly wonder why they haven’t tasted this before (which, coincidentally, might be the exact same reaction to sampling St-G for the first time as well – but please done get me started on that one … at least not yet, anyway … ).  For some really amazing recipes with this outstanding cold-weather liqueur, then by all means, hurry up and click here


By now, some of you might get the distinct impression that I’ve completely abandoned my fellow Scotch lovers – but you’d be so wrong!  While I generally prefer to enjoy my Scotch on its own – whether neat or with a bit or water or a single ice cube – we have one here that makes an excellent chilly-weather cocktail.  First of all, there’s a product named The Spice King by Wemyss Vintage Malts – an 8 year old 80 proof Scotch, it was served in a cocktail called The Not So Rusty Nail.  With a mix of Drambuie, an orange slice and just a splash of soda (preferably Perrier, if you can!), this is an incredibly aromatic concoction that will help you forget the fact that summer is long gone. 


Finally – and of course, I save this for last because (heaven help me) I do so love the smoky Scotches, there’s Wemyss' The Peat Chimney.  Also an 8 year old, this one is a blended malt that was served in something deservedly called The Smokey Pear because it accentuates both the smokiness of this peaty Scotch as well as enhancing its pear notes.  Made with 3 parts Peat Chimney, 1 part pear liqueur, 1 part fresh lemon juice and a slight squeeze of honey, The Smokey Pear is a cocktail that’s sure to please as a digestif on a chilly autumn night. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

“Welcome To The Rileys” – Movie Review

Last night in my movie class, we saw the drama, “Welcome To The Rileys”, starring James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Kristen Stewart. 

When a couple is driven apart after the death of their daughter, they meet a teenage runaway whom they care for – but will this newly-formed family be enough to improve everyone’s life?
Things have gotten so bad between Doug and Lois (Gandolfini and Leo) that she’s overlooking his cheating and he takes no interest in her acute agoraphobia and loss of libido.  Although together for 30 years, their marriage has been strained recently since the death of their 15 year old daughter in an automobile accident.  They’re both relieved when opportunity for a break arises when Doug leaves their Indianapolis home to attended a work – related convention in New Orleans where he will promote his plumbing supply business. 

Upon arriving in The Big Easy, Doug soon bails out on his colleagues and lands in a strip bar where he’s hustled by Mallory (Stewart), a young dancer offering more intimate entertainment in the expensive VIP Room.  Although initially steadfastly resisting, he ultimately relents when he spots some of his business associates enter the club; with nowhere to exit and too embarrassed to be seen by them all by himself in this den of iniquity, Doug decides to take up Mallory on her offer.  But once they get their privacy, Doug insists that nothing happen between them, so she leaves.  On a chance meeting later, he offers to drive her home, where she lives in squalor in a run-down house long overdue to be condemned.  Feeling sorry for her, he decides to move in, fix up the place a bit and take care of the girl by adopting the role of a surrogate father. 

Eventually, Doug calls Lois and tells her he’s not returning; stunned by this news, she overcomes her psychological fears and somehow manages to drive all the way down to New Orleans to meet with her husband.  Once there, she learns from Doug about his paternal relationship with Mallory.  After meeting the girl and seeing her surroundings, Lois decides to move in with them and aid Doug in parenting this teenager.  But when they both realize that Mallory is in no way similar to their deceased daughter, will their attempt to forge a support system for this girl merely result in driving a greater wedge in their marriage?

Leading off this review, let’s get one thing out of the way, the thing that many would likely want to ignore, but can’t.  It is virtually impossible to look at Gandolfini on the big screen and not be able to see him as the legendary HBO series TV character of Tony Soprano; unfortunately, he was a little too successful in that role and it will probably remain something of an albatross around the neck of his acting career for the remainder of his days.  But there are other things distracting about his performance – the fact that he’s supposed to be from Indiana and appears to have something of a southern accent, just to mention one small thing!  Or does he have a southern accent?  That’s the other problem – the accent lacks continuity; sometimes he has it, sometimes he doesn’t.  As you may already know, movie scenes are not necessarily shot in the order in which they may appear in the final movie – as a result, it would seem that there were some days when Gandolfini actually remembered to (incorrectly) have a southern accent and other days in which he did not.

But the fun doesn’t end there.  The pace of this movie is a little hard to take – it plods along and the artsy attempt by the filmmakers to establish the characters and their back-story in something of a layered approach is borderline infuriating.  Add to this the fact that the story doesn’t really go anywhere and everything adds up to one big frustrating experience.  It is fairly clear by the conclusion of this movie that the screenwriter didn’t really know how to end the story, so its resolution is somewhat anti-climactic.  Although I obviously don’t recommend this film, I must admit that there was a reasonably strong contingent in the class that claimed they liked it as a “slice of life” story.  I just wished the filmmakers could’ve provided a smaller slice. 

The evening, however, wasn’t a total loss because as often happens, the interview turns out to be the highlight on a night when the movie disappoints.  Visiting the class on this night was Steve Schirripa – AKA, Bobby Baccala  from “The Sopranos”, whom we recently saw in our bonus screening of Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter”.  A Brooklyn boy, he didn’t start out with an acting career in mind – in fact, he found his way into show business relatively late in life, not earning a living as an actor until he was in his 40’s.  Around 20 years ago, he ventured out to Las Vegas to be a bouncer and was soon invited to join performers in small roles in movies and TV shows shot in Los Angeles.  Returning to the east coast to attend a family wedding, he wound up getting an audition for “The Sopranos” about a decade ago and remained with the show until its end, when his character got “whacked”.  Schirripa told a great story about the wind-up of “The Sopranos”; he said that every week, there would be a read-through of the script for the next episode’s shooting – if your character was going to be hit, show creator David Chase would call you into his office before that week’s read-through so that you would be prepared for The End.  Schirripa said that in his case, Chase came over to his home to visit him; when he showed up at the front door, Chase allegedly said to him, “I guess you know why I’m here!”.  Schirripa said, “When he started off like that, I felt like I was getting bumped-off in real life!”.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Best Dive Bars In New York City

Recently, The Village Voice published an article on The Best Dive Bars here in New York City.  A pretty interesting piece, I thought I'd share it with you ...

Here's a link to the article:

New York's Best Dive Bars

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Irish Whiskey By Cooley Distillery


(Note:  This review also appeared on the Drinking Made Easy Web site November 2, 2010)

A Friday night in mid-October doesn’t exactly put you in a mood for St. Patrick’s Day – nevertheless, I attended a tasting of Irish Whiskies from Cooley Distillery.  Cooley was represented by John Cashman, who served up a total of eight blended and single malt whiskies.  Cooley is unique because they are the only Irish-owned Irish Whiskey distillery in Ireland; surprisingly, there are currently only four in Ireland – one owned by the French, one owned by the British and the other two owned by Cooley. 


Cashman explained that 95% of all Irish Whiskies are blended and Cooley is unique because they are the only peated malt manufacturer among the Irish Whiskies.  Their peated malt makes that particular Irish Whiskey product almost taste more like a Scotch.  Cooley is proud of the fact that their Irish Whiskies are double-distilled, rather than triple-distilled as are many – this results in a sharper taste and higher alcohol content. 

John Cashman 

Cooley’s Irish Whiskey products include types that are known as single grain, single malt and single cask. The single grain Irish Whiskey contains a cereal that is not barley; usually, it’s something like 95% corn and 5% malted barley – the barley exists mostly for the fermentation process and doesn’t produce much in the way of taste.  It’s in the mash to help break down the enzymes to sugars.  Single Malts are 100% malted barley.  Single Casks are Irish Whiskies from the same vintage that are aged in the same barrel. 


This night’s tasting consisted of eight of Cooley’s Irish Whiskey products, some of which are rare and expensive, but there are others that are reasonably priced so as not to completely blow a hole through your alcohol budget.  Although the menu suggested the order in which the whiskies would be tasted, Cashman assured us that he would not follow the order of that menu because he wanted us to go in what he felt would be a better order – starting out with the mildest whiskies and working our way up to the real “feel the burn” types. 

We began with Greenore Single Grain Irish Whiskey.  Aged eight years in former Bourbon barrels, it’s 40% alcohol and is recommended to be good for any kind of cocktail in which a whiskey of some kind is used.  A light taste, this one could be sipped on its own, without any water or ice.  Consisting of 95% corn, it has a sweet taste to it due to the corn, with hints of vanilla as a result of being aged in a bourbon barrel. 


This was followed by Greenore’s next offering, which was aged 15 years.  With a slightly higher alcohol content – 43% – it is a much mellower whiskey, with a distinctly woody taste, suggesting the extra aging allows you to experience a bit of the barrel in which it lived.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective on this matter), this has been discontinued and will soon be replaced by an 18 year old.  As a result, whatever bottles remain in the United States are the few that are left and there ain’t no more, so if you want to pick one up, I suggest you hurry – but be warned that this is more than double the price of the Greenore with only eight years of aging. 


Next up was Kilbeggan Blended Irish Whiskey -- “a traditional Irish Whiskey”, as Cashman put it.  This one is allegedly the biggest selling brand worldwide and considering it’s also 40% alcohol with an extremely reasonable price point, it’s no wonder why.   However – arguably the very best Irish Whiskey we tasted on this evening – was another Kilbeggan offering, its 15 year aged product, which is much more expensive … but deservedly so!  Voted The World’s Best Blended Whiskey with a 40% alcohol content, this one has an excellent taste.  One of the attendees perhaps put it best when he said, “It’s so smooth, it’s like drinking silk!”.  Cashman called this one something of a collectors’ item because it was an anniversary blend that has now been discontinued – so, if you are lucky enough to find a bottle, hurry up and buy one (but don’t drink it … at least, not yet, anyway … ).


We began the second half of the tasting with Tyrconnell Single Malt, which has something of a fascinating history (“Boardwalk Empire” fans, take note here).  In the days before America’s Prohibition Era, Tyrconnell was the number one seller when Irish Whiskey accounted for approximately 60% of the sales of spirits in the United States.  Cashman said that if you ever have a chance to see any old newsreels or documentary film footage that shows the original Yankee Stadium here in New York City, you’ll see that the advertisements in the outfield show signs for Tyrconnell.  Sadly, this time of prosperity ended when Prohibition began.  Perhaps most notable about the whiskey itself is the fact that it has a very strong finish; made of 100% malted barley contributes to the fact that it has a particularly spicy taste.  Cashman pointed out that there are few single malts at this price, making it a particularly good entry level product for people new to whiskey. 


For the final three of the evening, it is difficult for me to maintain any kind of objectivity about them because they are without a doubt my favorite Irish Whiskey – Connemara.  Starting off with the standard Connemara Peated Single Malt, this smoked grain hits you almost immediately.  Another one that’s 40% alcohol, one of the great things about this one – at least if you like peated whiskey (and as a Scotch lover, I certainly do) – is the fact that it hits your nose hard on even the gentlest sniff.  Upon then tasting it, the peat absolutely explodes on your tongue, followed by the sweetness of a vanilla flavor, which provides a great balance.  Interestingly, this one is a combination of four, six and eight year old whiskies. 

The evening’s penultimate tasting was Connemara’s 12 year old, also a 40% alcohol Irish Whiskey, which is the most expensive of the brand.  This one has more of a fully rounded taste to it, so if you find the standard Connemara a bit too much, this one you might like simply because of the fact that the extra aging takes a bit of the edge off the otherwise intense taste. 

We ended the evening’s tastings with Connemara’s Cask Strength, which has a considerably higher alcohol content, at a whopping 58%!  The Cask Strength Whiskey is bottled at whatever is the strength of the cask at that time, which can be anywhere from 50 – 65% alcohol.  Cask Strength has some considerable heat and burn (a good thing, for hardcore whiskey fans), but its aftertaste is milder and mellower – this one would definitely do well with a bit of water.  Like the standard Connemara, it mixes four, six and eight year old whiskies. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Brunch Cocktail Alternatives

(Note:  the following article originally appeared on the Drinking Made Easy Web site, October 13, 2010)

Going out for brunch on a weekend can be a fun way to spend an afternoon (especially if you can find a Liquid Brunch spot that offers an all-you-can-drink option!  Hey Now!)  But sometimes, it can be more convenient (not to mention cheaper) to have your weekend brunch at home.  If you’re thinking about having an at-home brunch but want something other than the standard fare such as a Mimosa or Bloody Mary, maybe it’s time to consider suggestions for alternative brunch cocktails (and their recipes).

The Bellini

If you’re a fan of Mimosas, then there’s a good chance you might just appreciate something called The Bellini because it’s simply a fruit juice mixed with a sparkling wine (preferably, a Prosecco, keeping with its Italian origin).  The history of The Bellini dates back centuries; an article from The L Magazine claims that The Bellini is “a collaboration between Venetian bartender Giuseppe Cipriani and Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini, whose pink-robed figure evoked the mixologist’s fruitful concoction”.

According to the Web site Shot Drinks , one recipe for The Bellini is as follows:
  • 3 oz.  Peaches
  • Dash Lemon Juice
  • Maraschino Liqueur
  • Champagne
Mixing Directions:

Puree ripe peaches in a blender and spoon into a large, chilled wine goblet. Sprinkle with lemon juice and sweeten with maraschino liqueur. Fill with ice cold champagne.

Now, I think we can agree that using fresh fruit in any cocktail versus using a canned or bottled juice most certainly improves its taste.  The problem here, however, is that the mere thought of pureeing peaches sounds like a bit too much work for me to do on a Sunday morning (especially if I’m hung-over from the night before – but let’s not even go there … at least for now).  For another thing, I’m not entirely sure that either the lemon juice or Maraschino liqueur are absolutely necessary as the Maraschino mixed with the peaches could result in a super-sweet drink (which may be what you want – as with any recipe, use your own taste buds as your guide).  It is with that in mind that I suggest you check out this video for an even simpler recipe:

The Kir Royale

This one is also a very sweet tasting brunch cocktail, distinguished by its unique hue due to the inclusion of one of its ingredients.  The Great Cocktails Web site attributes something of a swashbuckling story to the origin of this tincture:
The German soldiers who ransacked a French village's supply of wine didn't know what they were starting. The villagers weren't going to give up their precious wine that easily! 

A rescue party led by Canon Felix Kir, the local priest, brought about the derailment of the train carrying the soldiers and the wine, thus allowing the villagers to take back what was rightfully theirs.
For this deed of heroism, it's said that the villagers created and named the Kir in the priest's honour.

An alternative version of this story is that it was Canon Kir himself who invented the drink!  As is often the case with these cocktails, necessity proved a great inventive spur.  The war and occupation led to poor quality wine production.  Kir discovered that if he added some of the easily-available locally-produced blackcurrant liqueur to white wine, it would mask the unpleasant taste.
They give the following rather straightforward recipe for The Kir Royale:
  • 1 part crème de cassis
  • 4 parts champagne
This blackcurrant liqueur they reference is crème de cassis, which is what gives the Kir Royale that unusual color I alluded to above.  If you’ve got a few extra shekels bouncing around in your pocket waiting for an upscale spirit to spend them on, then I would strongly recommend you invest in a bottle of Chambord if you’re going to experiment with the Kir Royale.

Death In The Afternoon

Does the name “Death In The Afternoon” sound familiar to you?  If so, you may know it better as the title of an Ernest Hemingway novel about Spanish bullfighting.  However, it’s also the sobriquet of a cocktail that was actually named after the book.  Absinthe Online tells the following story behind this most funky libation:
A recipe verified in the 1935 humoristic celebrities' cocktail book titled 'So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon' edited by the famous journalist and author Sterling North and Carl Kroch.  Hemingway wrote: "This was arrived at by the author and three officers of the H.M.S. Danae after having spent seven hours overboard trying to get Capt. Bra Saunders' fishing boat off a bank where she had gone with us in a N.W. gale."  It seems highly unlikely that Hemingway would have drunk this concoction if given a choice. In most cases the mixture ruins both ingredients, which would have annoyed him. In this case, they most likely took advantage of the mixture to ward off the effects of a bad day in rough water, as champagne was considered a sea-sickness 'cure'.
While this one may be my favorite of the three listed in this blog post, I do feel that I owe you a rather necessary word of warning before you skip off to embark on a Dance With The Green Fairy …

This cocktail is not sweet, like either of the first two I mentioned.  Matter of fact, it’s rather strong -- like a real punch in the face!  Having said that, if you think you’re still brave enough to try it, then follow this recipe: 
  • 1 jigger of absinthe added to a champagne flute
  • Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescence (often known as “louching” or The Ouzo Effect)
Now, here’s my advice to the newbie:  add a bit of sugar (or some kind of a sugar substitute, like Splenda) to the mixture and stir (preferably, with a fork) – the sweetness of the sugar should offset the considerably bitter taste of the absinthe a bit. 

A Winery Grows In Brooklyn

The following story appeared on NY1 news -- click the link below to check out their Web site and watch a video about the new winery.

Right in my neighborhood in The BK, you can now make your own wine ...

Brooklyn Winery Lets City Dwellers Crush Grapes

Brooklyn's first winemaking center is now open for business in Williamsburg.
Staff members at the 8,000-square-feet facility guide visitors through each step of the winemaking process.
The winery was started by two friends, John Stires and Brian Leventhal, who quit their web jobs earlier this year to take their winemaking hobby to a new level. They found an old nightclub on North 8th Street, just in time for the fall grape harvest.
Brooklyn Winery Lets City Dwellers Crush Grapes
"It was scary. There were times when I was backing out and John was pulling me back in and vice versa, but we had to do it," said Leventhal.
"There's been a lot of skeptics but with our friends and family we've had nothing but great support from them," said Stires.
The pair brought in a winemaker from northern California. The grapes come from there too, as well as from Long Island and the Finger Lakes wine regions.
They are planning 10 varietals, which they hope to sell at restaurants, wine shops and their own wine bar right inside the winery. A big part of it all is allowing folks to hop into winemaking.
"People come in, meet with our winemaker, literally go through discuss how they want to craft their wine," said Leventhal.
Brooklyn Winery Lets City Dwellers Crush Grapes
Depending on the number and variety of grapes used, the wine will cost about $600 for 24 bottles and up to $5,700 for a full barrel -- about 300 bottles. The wine will be hand-bottled and corked when it is ready.
The first batch of white wines will be ready next summer and reds will be ready about a year from now.
"We have to wait until the summer until the wine is done and I want to try it sooner," said one winemaker.
Some late harvest grapes will soon arrive at the winery, including Cabernet Sauvignon and zinfandel.
For more information, visit

An App For Your Crap


NOW ON SALE! GET YOUR POO LOG for only 0.99!

Finally! What every iPhone and iPod Touch has been waiting for – the Poo Log, a digital timer and journal for recording and studying the wondrous uniqueness of each bowel movement. Based on the best-selling book, "What's Your Poo Telling You?" by Josh Richman and Anish Sheth MD, Poo Log is the top choice app for discerning Poo-ers everywhere.

With a clever mix of bathroom humor and legitimate medical information, Poo Log allows you to track your digestive workings and graph your poo – all with one hand. With handy references, trivia, and interesting nuggets throughout, this digital Poo Log makes every trip to the can an e-loo-cidating experience. Who knew one could learn so much from poo?

* Universal Appeal (everyone poops, after all)
* Poo Timer
* Poo Log
* Graph Your Poos
* Poo Pastimes (fun trivia)

Reviews of Poo Log, the book:
* Great gift for the poop lover. – Sandy, Amazon reviews
* The Poo Log gives you a giggle while you dribble – Larissa, Amazon reviews
* Hi-Larious! – A. Miller, Amazon reviews

What's New in Version 1.1

* Ability to set the date and time for each poo entry!
* Additional bug fixes and performance improvements

“Conviction” – Movie Review


Thursday night was the opening night of the Fall Semester of my movie class and we started strong with the drama “Conviction”, starring Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell and Minnie Driver. 


When a man is wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, his sister decides to put herself through law school so she can become his attorney and fight to have him freed – but when a corrupt and incompetent legal system prove major impediments, will she ever get her brother his long-deserved day in court?


In 1980 Ayer, Massachusetts, the elderly Mrs. Brow is brutally murdered.  Following two years of the police building up evidence, Kenny Waters (Rockwell) is arrested and charged with the crime; after a trial which featured witnesses that testified of his confession to them and physical evidence pointing to Kenny, he is found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.  His sister, Betty Anne (Swank), refuses to accept this verdict and despite being a high school dropout, vows to earn a law degree for the sole purpose of being her brother’s attorney so she can fight for his freedom. 

While admirable, Betty Anne’s task might be considered foolish not just because of her lackluster educational background, but also because of the fact that she’s a single mother of two boys working to not only raise them but also, put herself through school. Add to that the fact that the seemingly insurmountable evidence against her brother calls into question his innocence, and it seems that this poor woman might be wasting her time, energy and money all for nothing.  After many years, she eventually passes the bar exam and begins investigating how best to free her brother.  With recent technological advances, she becomes aware of the use of DNA evidence to prove an accused person’s guilt or innocence and miraculously manages to gain the support of legal expert Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) towards that end. 

Discovering that the results of the DNA test officially eliminate her brother as a suspect, Betty Anne then sets out to try to get signed affidavits from the witnesses who testified at the trial stating that they lied and why they were coerced into doing so.  This, however, proves to be easier said than done since the ramifications could result in bringing charges of perjury against them.  Additionally, she learns of corruption in the local police department that also led to her brother’s conviction.  Facing political and legal roadblocks that create one delay after another, will Betty Anne ever be able to prove her brother’s innocence and earn his exoneration?


For those who don’t already know, this movie is based on a true story.  This shouldn’t really matter in the end because ultimately, the movie has to stand or fall on its own merits, regardless of whether or not it’s fictional.  That said, this is a very strong movie and one which sports a cast of some accomplished acting talent.  Even though you may know (or have a reasonably good idea) how the story ends, you should be able to enjoy the ride on which the filmmakers take you.  I found one of the most interesting parts of the story was the flashbacks to the youth of Betty Anne and Kenny which helps you to understand the strong bond between these siblings and why she fought so tenaciously for her brother’s freedom. 

If there are any criticisms of the film, it would be the fact that Minnie Driver’s role seems like something of a contrivance in telling the story.  Did her character of Abra Rice – a fellow law student in Betty Anne’s class – truly exist?  I don’t know.  It seemed, however, a bit superfluous – an ally bestowed upon Betty Anne by the screenwriter merely to help advance the story.  If, in fact, it turns out this was a real person, then it might call into question what her motivation was to help Betty Anne so frequently and to the extent that she did.  Additionally, Swank – who also took a title of Executive Producer on this movie – has some occasional moments where she appears to be chewing up the scenery, but whether or not this is something you might be able to overlook may depend on the degree to which you develop an emotional investment in the story. 

The guest interview for the evening was Andrew Karsch, one of the movie’s producers.  He spoke about the fact that it took almost a decade to get this film made, in part because even though there were various well-known stars attached to the project at many points along the way, ultimately, most studios tended to feel that this was not going to be the type of movie for which young people would likely purchase tickets – an incredibly important point because that’s the main demographic that Hollywood pursues and caters their product toward.  He also spoke of the fact that the epilogue of the movie leaves out the tragic end – the fact that in real life, Kenny died a mere six months after winning his freedom;  Karsch said this choice was made because they wanted the film to end on a positive note and were afraid that revealing this information would wind up depressing audiences. 


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Hereafter” – Movie Review


Monday night, my movie class held an unprecedented weeknight bonus screening of the drama "Hereafter", which had the distinction of closing this year's New York Film Festival.  The film stars Matt Damon and was directed by Clint Eastwood (who also produced and wrote/performed some of the soundtrack, as he has done on some of his past movies). 


When three people are strongly influenced by death, their lives are forever transformed.


While on vacation in some tropical paradise with her boyfriend, Marie (Cécile De France) makes a fateful decision to venture into town one fine morning to purchase some gifts when the entire area is engulfed in a tsunami.  Wreaking damage and death everywhere, it appears Marie has been taken as one of its victims – or has she?  Unconscious and faint of pulse for a prolonged period of time, she is eventually revived by some locals who have somehow managed to fish her out of the water.  Upon returning to her job as a broadcast journalist in Paris, she now finds that this near-death experience has permanently altered her view of life and the world. 

Meanwhile, George Lonegan (Damon) is struggling to put behind him his former profession as a famous and successful psychic who gained notoriety for being able to help his clients make contact with friends and family who have passed away.  Working as a forklift operator for the past three years, he has forsaken his profession as he believes, “a life about death is no life at all”.  Right now, his main goal is simply to try to figure out how to live his life in some manner that is as close to normal as is humanly possible.  Unfortunately, this proves even more difficult since he is strongly urged to resume his original career path at the behest of his older brother Billy (Jay Mohr). 

Concurrently, Marcus & Jason (Frankie & George McLaren) are two identical twin schoolboys growing up just outside of London.  Theirs is not an easy childhood as they are forced into adult responsibilities all too soon because their mother is a drug addict who is constantly being hounded by inspectors from Social Services to ensure that the boys are being taken care of properly.  Tragically, Marcus’ world is turned into a massive state of upheaval when his brother Jason is killed as the result of an automobile accident; with his twin now gone, he is taken away from his mother and forced to live with foster parents. 

Ultimately, the three lives converge in, of all places, The London Book Fair.  George decides to attend the event when he’s laid off from his blue collar job and decides to take some time off before pursuing another path; as a big fan of the legendary Charles Dickens, he goes to hear a reading of the author’s work.  By now, Marie is an author herself, having recently written a book about her near-death experience and the possibility of an afterlife; as a result, her publisher has her attend the book fair as a promotional opportunity.  Marcus is there only because his foster parents drag him along to meet their grown son, who’s currently working security for the fair.   But once the three lives intersect, what impact will this meeting have on them all?


While I wouldn’t necessarily classify this movie as devoutly religious by any means, it’s certainly deeply spiritual, at the very least.  Clearly, there exists the belief by the filmmakers that an afterlife not only does exist, but that it is knowable on a human level.  As with any movie, your own personal life experiences will greatly impact how you receive this story.  Suffice it to say that for someone non-religious like myself, it was great entertainment – which is in no way a criticism, despite the fact that Eastwood is clearly aiming at something cerebral here.  For others who cling to religion or believe in psychic powers, there may very well be a much stronger reaction to this film. 

The majority of the class liked this movie quite a good deal and I would tend to agree with them.  On a personal level, I found that you don’t necessarily have to buy into this whole belief system that the movie touts in order to enjoy the story – as I said, you can either come away from this feeling greatly entertained or deeply moved, depending on the world view and personal experiences you bring into this viewing in the first place.  Don’t be misled into thinking that this is Eastwood’s attempt at a ghost story or that he’s getting on his soapbox to convert everyone.  Instead, it’s merely a question posed and some answers suggested.  There’s definitely some objectivity to the telling as the story does show a few rather unctuous con artists who gladly wish to defraud mourners out of their money during their emotionally weakened state. 

Should you see this movie?  I would definitely recommend it, but of course the caveat here is that depending on your background and whatever personal baggage you may bring to it, you could either find it incredibly uplifting or balefully disturbing.  Take your pick.  However, I would suggest that if you do see it, try to go with a few friends as this movie will certainly have you wanting to continue a discussion of the topic long after the movie’s over.  Eastwood has definitely knocked another one out of the park with this flick – he seems to be able to surprise us yet again with one more stunning, thoughtful, provocative movie after another.  Go see it and make up your own mind – you’ll either be changed or more resolute in your beliefs, whatever they may be.

Some familiar faces to look out for in this movie include Richard Kind (as Damon’s client) Derek Jacobi (conducting the Dickens reading), Marthe Keller (a doctor running a hospice) and Steve Schirripa (AKA, Bobby Baccala from HBO’s “The Sopranos”.  Apparently, there were quite a few “Sopranos” fans at this screening because there was quite the audible reaction when he first appeared on screen). 

Monday, October 04, 2010

The 8th Annual NYC Burlesque Festival



This past weekend, I attended The 8th Annual New York City Burlesque Festival.  While the festival itself occurs over a four – night period, I only attended the event on Saturday Night, October 2, 2010.  The first two nights took place in Brooklyn, but I was unable to attend either one of them (despite the fact that opening night was actually just a few blocks away from my very own neighborhood) and the last two nights were in Manhattan.  Saturday night was the big event, a three-hour show of ecdysiasts working their craft for a sold-out crowd at BB King’s night club in the heart of Times Square; Sunday, the festival wound down with several afternoon classes in the art of the striptease being offered by many of the professionals who performed the previous night, culminating with The Golden Pasty Awards being handed out that night. 


The show was scheduled to start at 7:30PM and the doors to open about an hour before; I didn’t show up until 6:45PM, and when I took a look at the long line snaking outside the club and down 42nd street, I wondered if I’d even get a seat, since I purchased a General Admission ticket online only a couple of nights prior.  While standing on line, I managed to strike up a conversation with the two young ladies in front of me; neither of them had ever attended this event before and they hadn’t already bought a ticket because they heard you could purchase them at the box office on the night of the show.  Unfortunately, they soon discovered that this evening’s show was completely sold out and as a result, the only tickets to be had at the box office were of the Will Call variety. 


Behind me was an unescorted woman who was clearly quite pumped-up about the evening – having attended last year’s festivities, she knew full well what to expect and wasn’t at all shy about sharing her experience with anyone willing to listen.  She grabbed my arm and waxed enthusiastically and fondly about what she witnessed the previous year, telling me exactly what to expect this evening.  “The show was very long, but well worth it because the acts got increasingly erotic as the night wore on … “, she reminisced, her eyes rolling up.  “Put it this way”, she concluded, squeezing my arm even tighter, “By the end of the evening, I’m going to be jumping your bones!”  With that for an entree to the night’s excitement, I was ready for a fun Saturday. 


Once we found our way inside the theater, I was soon separated from this woman who would be my night’s “date” and the ushers had no problem finding me a seat for the evening – lucky for me, it was a booth with three women who were in a cocktail kinda mood for a Girls Night Out.  We began by listening to a jazz trio performing the best of The Great American Songbook, as Tony Bennett once called these tunes.  Shortly thereafter, the show began, more or less on time, with host (hostess?) Murray Hill, the famed (in NYC, anyway) drag king comedian (comedienne?) who is the annual Master (Mistress?) Of Ceremonies for this event.   Although I had heard of Murray Hill for some years now, this was the first time I had the pleasure of experiencing his (her?) act in person; he (she?) was quite funny – perhaps the only downside of the performance was Murray’s attempt at singing (twice!).  Stick to the jokes, babe …


Despite the advice I had gotten while queued up for the event, I found that the show was quite the opposite of what had been described to me – instead of the acts getting increasingly better as the night wore on, they seemed to me to be getting worse.  For the most part, the best acts were presented early on and the later the hour, the worse the performers.  In fact, the group of three ladies with whom I shared a booth were so bored that before the two hour mark, they had paid their check and left for more promising ventures in The Big Apple (my only regret being that they did not ask me to join them).  How to describe the majority of the evening’s strippers?  Too old, too fat, too ugly and too bad.  Were these women truly The Modern Queens Of Burlesque or were they merely The Women Of Walmart?  I report, you decide. 


Finally, a comment about the venue – BB King’s Blues Club in the Times Square section of Manhattan.  Depending on why you are there and which event you’re there to see, this could either appear to be a very small club or a rather extensive, comfortably-sized place with Lucille’s Bar & Grill conveniently adjacent downstairs.  Was this a good place for this particular event?  Well, I guess it depends on your perspective.  From what I’ve been given to understand, the event has been held here for as many years as it has been held in NYC.  However, from what I’ve heard from others who are veterans of this event, The Burlesque Festival has greatly outgrown BB King’s – the proof being the speed in which the festival sold out for this evening.  Also, the spotty service accentuated by the $5 “service charge” tacked on to the check for the night suggest that maybe a better location might be in the offing for next year or beyond. 



Sunday, October 03, 2010

“Nowhere Boy” – Movie Review

This morning in my movie class, we had our 2nd bonus screening of the Fall Semester with the British biopic, “Nowhere Boy”, the life story of the young John Lennon in his pre-Beatle years.  The movie stars Aaron Johnson, Kristen Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff.


While a troubled John Lennon wrestles with adolescence and a sense of identity, he begins to find himself through music – but when the mother who abandoned him as a child returns to his life, can their relationship be repaired?


In working class Liverpool, England of the 1950’s, John Lennon (Johnson) seems to be constantly marching to the Headmaster’s office, where he’s either punished in some way, scolded or suspended, depending on the infraction du jour.  When his beloved Uncle George unexpectedly passes away, he is left to live with George’s wife, John’s Aunt Mimi (Thomas).  Mimi, a very straight-laced and serious woman, has no patience for young Lennon’s youthful playfulness and the two seem to quarrel incessantly.  Feeling misunderstood, he spends a little too much time with his mischievous schoolmates, for whom Lennon appears to play the role of leader. 

Eventually, he becomes aware that his estranged biological mother Julia (Duff) is in proximity to the neighborhood in which he’s been raised, so he goes off to pay a visit and somewhat satisfy his curiosity.  After years of unsuccessfully trying to regain contact with her son, Julia is nothing short of delighted to see the young man show up at her door.  They wind up spending the day together at the various amusements in Blackpool, bonding and seemingly making up for lost time.  A fan of rock & roll music – and especially Elvis Presley – Julia encourages her son’s musical interests, teaching him how to play the banjo; he eventually teaches himself the guitar and forms a skiffle band with his schoolmates, calling the group The Quarrymen.  Playing at a fair one summer, John is introduced to an even younger Paul McCartney, who proves to be a superior guitarist – and because of this, John eventually invites him to join the group. 

With the band gaining in popularity and success, John faces turmoil at home as Mimi is extremely vocal about her disapproval of his increasingly close relationship with his mother, whom Mimi regards as a bad influence on the boy’s life.  After the three engage in an ugly, emotional confrontation on the night of John’s 17th birthday, the young man finally learns the truth about his mother’s absence and his aunt’s presence during his upbringing – but can the three forgive and forget and succeed in forging a more constructive familial relationship?


In the lecture preceding this morning’s screening, our instructor said that when filmmakers decide to produce a biographical movie, they have to ask themselves three very important questions:  First, Is the subject well-known enough that prospective moviegoers would have sufficient awareness of this person?  Next, Does this person merit a movie about his/her life’s story?  Finally,  What point in this person’s life will the movie depict?  For “Nowhere Boy”, the answers to the first two questions were fairly self-evident.  But the last question didn’t have such a clear-cut answer.  Our instructor said that, at least according to the movie’s production notes, the filmmakers chose the early life of John Lennon because the period of The Beatles Years had been sufficiently done (perhaps overdone). 

While the performances were quite good, it was the story and especially many of the nuances and seemingly minor details of both the performances and the telling of the story that really made the movie such a strong recommendation, as far as I’m concerned.  One of the amazing things that we see in its telling is that Julia had a flirtatious and borderline incestuous relationship with her son once they were reunited – while it never appeared to totally cross the line, it was, however, portrayed as quite inappropriate, causing more than a few awkward moments for the adolescent Lennon. 

The overwhelming majority of the class loved this movie and I did, too.  I highly recommend this film and encourage you to see it when it opens, which coincides with what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday. Would this movie appeal to people who aren’t Beatles fans?  It’s hard to say and I have a difficult time being objective about this, but based on the high quality of this movie, I believe the story is so good that it stands on its own merits.  But will the movie be a success?  Unfortunately, probably not – unless Baby Boomers do the unexpected and turn out in droves to buy tickets.  Since the majority of American movie audiences are of a demographic so young that they are barely aware of The Beatles (never even mind remembering them), it probably won’t draw too much of an audience – but I sincerely hope that I’m wrong here.  “Nowhere Boy” certainly deserves a better fate than that.