Friday, May 25, 2012

“Hide Away” – Movie review



This week in the final screening of the Spring Semester for my movie class, we saw the drama “Hide Away”, starring Josh Lucas and James Cromwell.


When a man buys a dilapidated old boat, neighbors become suspicious of his secretive nature – but what will happen if they learn his secret?


In Traverse City, Michigan, a businessman (Lucas) arrives one mid-autumn morning to meet a man at a pier to purchase his rundown, broken sailboat. Paying with a cashier’s check, the man immediately boards the boat to triage the damage to the vessel and prioritize the repair work needed. People in this small community – other boat owners at the dock, residents of the town and area shop owners – try to befriend him as he proceeds to try to restore the boat, but they occasionally find their efforts to engage him to be a bit of a challenge because of his sullen demeanor.

As he fixes the boat both internally and externally, it becomes clear to all that he is assiduously avoiding people, quite possibly because he has something to hide. At one point, he becomes so despondent that he attempts to commit suicide by leaping off his boat into the water, but is saved when one of the elderly residents (Cromwell) hops in a rowboat and pulls him out. Instead of drowning himself, the man then drowns his sorrows by going on a daily drunk. He is so frequently a customer at the neighborhood market which sells wine that the young woman who works the checkout counter becomes curious and follows him back to the boat where he lives during her break one day. She eventually shows up at his boat, seeking succor after a recent beating from her live-in boyfriend.

Gradually, flashbacks reveal the secret the man is hiding as he relives his own personal trauma – he witnessed his wife and children perish in a car accident and feels he is to blame for their death. Eventually, he allows himself to open up a bit and becomes friendly with a divorced man who rents space at the dock. In addition, he gets to know the man who saved him when the older man helps him with mending the boat’s sails. Ultimately, he also develops an intimate relationship with a waitress at the café by the pier. But after many months of working on the boat, what will he do if he ever finishes and will his secret ever be revealed to the others?


If you’re looking for an upbeat, fast-paced movie with an intricate plot that contains plenty of twists, then “Hide Away” is probably not the movie for you. “Hide Away” has a ploddingly deliberate pace that is hurt even more by the fact that there really isn’t much in the way of dramatic momentum that propels the story forward. Further frustrating matters is the fact that the movie is quite dark – meaning its visual presentation (which, of course, matches its theme). Basically, the sailboat in “Hide Away” is representative of the movie itself – they both just sit there and ultimately go nowhere. This film meanders about to the point that it’s almost infuriating.

As you may have noticed, I didn’t include any character names in the story description. There’s a good reason for this – the movie never clearly identifies who any of the characters are. “Hide Away” is an introspective tale that never spells out everything, but neither is it very clear about matters; instead, it makes allusions to things, requiring viewers to draw their own conclusions, but often resulting in raising more questions than it answers for the audience. While we are given to understand that Lucas’ character is a tortured soul, it’s a bit of a reach for the audience to believe that he feels healing and redemption by the conclusion of the film.

Josh Lucas, the film’s star and co-producer, was interviewed by our instructor after the screening. Lucas was clearly very proud of this film, as it has gotten quite a few glowing reviews at the film festivals where it has been shown, including SXSW, where it was particularly well-received. He said that the script was based on the true story of a man who is from Oregon; originally, they wanted to shoot the movie there, but they moved it to Michigan when that state provided them substantial tax credits, which wound up saving them a considerable amount of money on their meager budget. In its original form, the screenplay was only 75 pages long because it didn’t have any dialog; they eventually wound up reworking the script to add dialog and make the movie a bit longer.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Great Gin Cocktails




Recently, I wrote a blog post about a seminar I took during The Manhattan Cocktail Classic – it covered how to set up a home bar and best practices for making cocktails. This post is about what was arguably the most important part of the seminar: the cocktails we made that day. The name of the course was “Making Great gin Cocktails at Home: From Classic To Contemporary” and it was taught by Tony Abou-Ganim. The seminar was sponsored in part by Bombay Sapphire Gin, which is what we used to make all of our cocktails on this day.

Upon arrival at the seminar on this warm and unusually humid mid-May afternoon, we were greeted with a rather refreshing Tom Collins.

  • 1 ½ oz. Bombay Sapphire gin
  • 1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • Top with cold Perrier sparkling mineral water

In a mixing glass, add the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup and shake with ice until well-blended. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with cold Perrier, stir and garnish with an orange & cherry. Note that if you substitute the Perrier with sparkling wine, then you’ve got a drink called The French 75.


The first cocktail that we made together was a classic known as The Aviation. Originally created back in 1916, this drink has the reputation of being the last great pre-Prohibition libation. It is best served straight-up in a chilled coup cocktail glass.

  • 2 oz. Bombay Sapphire gin
  • ½ oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • Splash of Rothman & Winter Créme de Violette (for color)
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz simple syrup

In a mixing glass, add the gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, lemon juice and simple syrup and shake with ice until well-blended. Strain into a chilled cocktail coup. Garnish with 2 cherries on a pick.


Later, Tony taught us about the history behind a gin cocktail called The Negroni – originally, it was based on a cocktail called The Americano, which consists of Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda. An Italian count named Negroni wanted an extra zing to it, so he ordered his Americano with a shot of gin – they named the drink after him and The Negroni was born:

  • 1 oz Bombay Sapphire gin
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth

In an ice-filled mixing glass, add gin, Campari and sweet vermouth; stir until well-chilled. Strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a slice of orange (don’t skip the garnish here – it really is the key to making this one properly).

When people think of a good daytime gin cocktail, The Ramos Gin Fizz is often the first thing that comes to mind. However, there’s another mixture called The White Lady that’s something of a variation on that classic:

  • 1 ½ oz Bombay Sapphire gin
  • ¾ oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz simple syrup
  • 1 small egg white

In a mixing glass, add gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white; shake vigorously with ice until well-blended and egg white is completely emulsified. Strain into a chilled cocktail coup.

Our final concoction of the afternoon was something that might best be described as a Mojito made with gin instead of rum. Called The Southside, the key to it is fresh mint, which should be stored upside down in cold water to keep it fresh and prevent the leaves from turning limp. In order to try one, do the following:

  • 2 oz Bombay Sapphire gin
  • 1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 15-20 mint leaves
  • Perrier sparkling water

In a thin Highball glass, muddle lime juice, simple syrup and mint leaves. Muddle just enough to release the oils and not shred the mint. Fill the glass with crushed ice and add the gin. Stir with a long handled spoon to incorporate all the ingredients until the outside of the glass begins to frost, adding more ice as you continue to stir. Top with a splash of Perrier and stir one last time. Garnish with a bonnet of mint.

Friday, May 18, 2012

“Nobody Else But You” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the French drama, “Nobody Else But You” (originally released in France as “Poupoupidou”).


When an author with writer’s block stumbles across a celebrity’s death, he decides to make the story his next novel – but after realizing his life is in danger while trying to do research on the story, will he live long enough to ever have a chance to actually write the book?


While in a small, frigid town on the French/Swiss border for the reading of a relative’s will, David Rousseau, a successful crime novelist, learns of the recent death of Candice Lecoeur, a young woman who was local minor celebrity – as well as being a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe. With his publisher breathing down his neck for his next manuscript, inspiration instantaneously hits him and David chooses to make Candice’s cautionary tale the subject of his upcoming work. Rather than returning to Paris, David prolongs his stay at the small motel where he’s been struggling through a bad case of writer’s block so he can start doing a little research behind this woman’s life and tragic death.

Shortly after beginning his investigation, David begins to suspect that things are not at all what they seem – while Candice was reported as having committed suicide, he starts to believe that this is not the case. Breaking into her former home, David discovers Candice’s old diaries and proceeds to voraciously pour through them all, learning about her background and providing a certain degree of context to her life. Meeting with the town’s chief of police to discuss his concerns, David immediately runs into resistance; the chief insists the case has been closed as they have sufficient evidence to believe she died as the result of taking her own life.

David schedules a number of clandestine meetings with the policeman who originally handled the case; they both confess their doubts to each other, resulting in the two of them deciding to collaborate on looking into the details of Candice’s life in order to determine once and for all what really happened to this woman. Along the way, as they both acquire more information about Candice’s personal history, David realizes that someone doesn’t want him snooping around because he experiences some strange “accidents” from which he barely survives. But just as David believes he’s made a breakthrough in the case, should he take the safe route and quit, or continue to risk his life digging deeper into the matter?


This is something of an oddball murder mystery in the sense that the victim not only bears a striking physical resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, but also, so much of her own personal life parallels that of the late star as well. Almost a supernatural undercurrent runs along the narrative of the main story not only because of this reason, but also, because the deceased character provides a voice-over narration of the flashbacks that are brought to life from her diary entries as the character of David reads them.

While I would recommend this movie, it is with some reservations; it might be worthy of a rental or download at some point, but maybe not a flick you’d want to rush out to see in the theater (although it’s in theaters right now, it’s in something of a limited release, so finding a theater playing this movie might prove quite the challenge anyway). This film was hugely successful in its French release last year, but I suspect it will have trouble finding much – if any – audience here in the U.S., despite many American cultural references (especially the songs from its soundtrack).

To the film’s credit, the sometimes disturbing scenes are offset by a little humor – a tone set early on in “Nobody Else But You”. The movie is otherwise enjoyable to watch, provided you can stay with it; the complicated story allows the viewer easier access due to the whole Marilyn Monroe motif, which the characters explore extensively throughout. Among the misgivings I had were its ending; once the truth is revealed about the circumstances behind Candice’s death, it is unclear what impact this has on the author. While not really ruining the film by any means, its resolution might leave a few viewers a bit off-balance.


Monday, May 14, 2012

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic: A Seminar With Tony Abou-Ganim




It’s May! The weather gets warmer … the trees grow greener … and my thirst is harder to quench! … But no worries – The Manhattan Cocktail Classic has finally come to town!

Thankfully, they hosted a seminar called, “Making Great Gin Cocktails At Home: From Classic To Contemporary”, led by The Modern Mixologist himself, Tony Abou-Ganim! If you’re familiar with the TV show “Iron Chef America” on The Food Network, then you’ve probably seen Tony at some point …



Tony’s seminar focused on Bombay Sapphire gin, but I’m sure you could probably use your favorite gin for most of these cocktails, which I’ll discuss next time. This part of my blog post, however, will focus on another aspect of Tony’s seminar, which is how to supply your home bar.

The seminar began with Tony introducing us to some basic barware items that every mixology hobbyist should have at home: a Boston shaker (shaking tin with mixing glass), a Hawthorne strainer, a Julep strainer, a bar spoon, a muddler , a jigger, a lime squeezer and a canvas bag to use when making crushed ice. A nice surprise was that at the end of the seminar, we were allowed to take all of these items home with us!



About the Boston Shaker, Tony stressed its importance by saying that just as the chef’s knife is an essential tool in the kitchen, so the Boston Shaker is to the bartender.

Regarding the difference between the two strainers, Tony said that the choice between which strainer to use depends upon how the drink is made. If you make the cocktail in the tin shaker, then you should use the Hawthorne strainer because it fits perfectly over the top of the shaker and you can easily control the flow of the liquid when it is poured into the glass. On the other hand, if you try to use the Julep strainer in the shaking tin, it may not work; since the strainer needs to be held at an angle (as opposed to the Hawthorne strainer, which is held flat atop the shaker), the shaker is so wide that the Julep strainer could easily fall right in. With the smaller dimensions of the mixing glass, however, the Julep strainer is perfectly sized and shaped for straining all drinks made in that glass.


Interestingly, the muddler – especially if you have a large one – can be used to crush ice as well as for muddling cocktail ingredients, provided you don’t have a device at home that will automatically crush ice for you. That’s how we used the canvas bag that was among the tools provided for the day; filling the bag with ice, we folded it closed and used the muddler to beat the daylights out of it in order to effectively crush the ice for a Mojito-like cocktail we were making. It’s a poor man’s approach to crushing ice, but effective nevertheless.

Bitters, Tony said, were an essential element of your tools when making any cocktail. Originally, martini recipes included the use of bitters, but eventually, common practice moved away from this. Use of bitters in mixing a cocktail, he said, was like the use of salt and pepper when cooking. Unfortunately, Tony added, bitters often go either underutilized or unused altogether in the home bars of most people. In order to illustrate this point, he told an old bartenders joke, “Which will last longer in your home – your marriage or your bottle of Angostura bitters?”.

In Part II of this blog post, I’ll talk about some of the amazing gin-based cocktails we made during this seminar.

Friday, May 11, 2012

“Small, Beautifully Moving Parts” – Movie Review




This week in my movie class, we saw the new comedy-drama, “Small, Beautifully Moving Parts”, an independent film that has a cast of mostly unknowns.


When a woman learns she’s pregnant, she sets out on a trip to find her mother – but after years of no contact, can they somehow manage to repair their distant relationship?


Sarah ( Anna Margaret Hollyman ) is a New York City-based technologist who geeks out on just about every modern gadget currently available. Learning that she’s pregnant, she temporarily leaves her boyfriend behind for a trek to California to visit her scattered family – but primarily, to hunt down her estranged mother who has gone “off the grid” (no phone, no e-mail, etc.). Upon landing in Los Angeles, she is thrown a baby shower by her sister and immediately starts to have second thoughts about motherhood after seeing the children brought to the party by her sister’s friends. Worse, her second thoughts are filled with concerns about her parenting ability since she had such a poor relationship with her own mother.

Shortly thereafter, she leaves to visit her father, who immediately needs her assistance with an extremely urgent technical matter. While troubleshooting the problem, Sarah finds that her father has learned Portuguese because he met a Brazilian woman online, with whom he now communicates via video conferencing. Sarah discusses the reason for her visit and tries to get an understanding of her mother’s behavior throughout the years; her father explains to Sarah that her mother was always the type who constantly sought out something better – perhaps an upgrade of her lifestyle because she was never fully satisfied with whatever it was she had at the time.

After getting accidentally detoured to Las Vegas when her rented car’s GPS has a bit of a meltdown, Sarah gets a call from her father, who says he Fed Ex’d a postcard to her mother to inform her of Sarah’s impending visit. Sarah is disheartened to hear that not only did her mother send a response by fax, but that she also didn’t want Sarah to come. Not one to take no for an answer, Sarah heads off to the desert in order to locate the dome-shaped commune where her mother supposedly lives. Finding her mother spending her days meditating, Sarah has to do a bit of arm-twisting to convince her to consent to the visit. Eventually relenting, Sarah’s mother finally gives her daughter the opportunity she’s been waiting for – but will Sarah ultimately be able to bring closure to the situation or will this potentially turn out to be the biggest mistake of her life?


For a short movie – and this one ran less than an hour and a half – “Small, Beautifully Moving Parts” felt much longer, perhaps in part due to what seemed like something of a sluggish pace. Although we know from the outset that Sarah is on a mission to Mom, “Moving Parts” doesn’t have a very strong narrative thread that carries momentum to push the story forward; instead, it occasionally feels as though it meanders about a bit, lingering too long on things that are irrelevant and are fairly inconsequential to the resolution of the story. Perhaps this might in part be due to the fact that the movie has not one, but two directors, who also both co-wrote the screenplay.

Essentially, this is one of those “road trip” movies – in that way, our instructor somewhat likened it to the “Road” pictures that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby used to do decades ago. Although it’s certainly a road movie in the sense that its protagonist spends much of the time driving around the southwestern portion of the United States in a rented car, it is certainly more accurately themed as a technology movie – the central character is not only a technology person, but also relies on high-tech devices exclusively – almost to a flaw.

The screening featured interviews with the co-writers/co-directors Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson as well as an interview with the film’s star, Anna Margaret Hollyman, who played the role of Sarah. Hollyman said that one of the most difficult parts of making the movie was wearing the attachment that made her appear as though she was pregnant; for one thing, she found it very uncomfortable to wear during the scenes where they had to shoot in the desert because the weather was so hot. Additionally, Hollyman said that after wearing it almost every day during the shoot, she found it weird no longer wear it once filming was done – she almost felt as though an appendage was lost. Annie Howell said that they shot this film on a schedule of only 21 days and that some potential distributors were trying to get her to shorten the name of the movie to simply “Moving Parts” because their title was too long; eventually, she wound up getting her way and the film kept its original title. Lisa Robinson talked a little bit about some of the technical details of the filmmaking process; she mentioned that the film was shot on a small Canon SLR-type still-picture camera that also was capable of shooting video as well. Robinson said that she found it to be a good choice because it made for easy setups done inexpensively.


Sunday, May 06, 2012

Agave-Based Spirits


Every year when Cinco De Mayo rolls around, New York City’s Union Square Wines & Spirits holds its annual tasting of agave-based spirits. A great selection of fine tequilas and mezcals are always on the menu, sometimes even served in cocktails. While I wish I could’ve tasted them all – especially the Fidencio Mezcal – this year, I only had the opportunity to taste two tequilas – Don Julio and Siete Leguas – and one mezcal, the legendary Del Maguey. Ah, well. There’s always next year. But then again, this year wasn’t so bad either. Here’s a summary of the spirits I had an opportunity to try.


Don Julio

The 100% Blue Agave plants that Don Julio uses to make its tequila are not purchased from farmers, as is the case with many other tequila producers – instead, the plants are grown right there on the Don Julio estate itself.



I started the tasting with this one and found it to have an extremely sharp bite and somewhat acidic quality. If you want to make a cocktail and really be able to taste the tequila in it, then I would highly recommend this one.


The reposado was immediately distinguished from the unaged blanco by its smoother, sweeter taste that has considerably less sting. Aged eight months in American Oak barrels, it has notes of caramel, chocolate and some people event said they detected mint. Of all the Don Julio offerings, this one was by far the favorite.


Also aged in American Oak barrels, añejo remains in the cask longer than reposado. Aged 18 months, it is spicier and more full-bodied than the reposado, although I found the difference between the añejo and the reposado to be more subtle than the difference between the blanco and the reposado.


Siete Leguas

Despite an agave shortage that caused about one third of the plants to die, Siete Leguas has still been able to make its tequila to their usual high standards by waiting for the plant to reach seven to eight years of age before being harvested for the spirit.


This blanco might be described as a kinder, gentler tequila compared to the Don Julio as it has much less bite. Fans of Patron might like this one as this company originally made that brand before Patron decided to mass produce their product.


Aged in large bourbon barrels for anywhere from nine months to a year, their reposado offering is sweeter, smoother and mellower than the blanco.


For two years, the añejo is aged in much smaller bourbon barrels; the point of the smaller casks is to allow greater contact with the wood, resulting in more flavor to the tequila. With hints of caramel, its taste has been described as somewhat more tannic than the reposado.


Del Maguey

With a reputation as one of the best mezcals around, Del Maguey’s product is single distilled and high in alcohol. Their mezcals are made from agave plants that are always over eight years old.



With agave plants grown at 6,000 feet above sea level, it has a pungent aroma with a very sharp taste.


The higher above sea level, the thinner the air – and this seems to have a direct impact on the agave plants used in this mezcal, which are grown in soil that is 7,000 feet above sea level. The yeast and sugar changes the profile of this offering, along with the local herbs and spices indigenous to the area.

Santo Domingo

In addition to the thinner air at the higher levels, plants are in closer proximity to the sun; this results in the agave producing more sugar, causing the spirit made from them to be sweeter. Such is the case with this mezcal, whose agave plants are grown 8,500 feet above sea level. With all of its mezcals made from crushed agave plants roasted in a pit, Del Maguey’s products tend to be extremely smoky; the exception, though, would be the Santo Domingo. So, if you prefer a mezcal that’s a bit lighter on the smokiness, you might want to give Santo Domingo a shot.



Saturday, May 05, 2012

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” – Movie Review


This week in my movie class, we saw the new comedy-drama “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, with an ensemble cast that includes Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith.


When a collection of senior citizens head to India on individual missions, will this experience serve them well or further contribute to the turmoil already existing in their life?


The brochure for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India makes the place look like the perfect destination for senior citizens on a vacation – unfortunately, it’s not until you get there that you realize you have been a victim of false advertising. Besides the hotel being rundown and filthy, the plumbing doesn’t work and the phones are broken – other than that, it’s an ideal spot, which is precisely what its manager Sonny (Dev Patel) would have you believe. Sonny is working hard to restore the place and make his fortune in the world, but it will take more time, money and expertise than even this energetic young man possesses.

Sonny’s devious marketing strategy appears to be working because it seems to have inspired a group of recent retirees to book an upcoming stay at the hotel. Each one of them has their own unique reason for wanting to vacation there: Evelyn (Dench), newly widowed, finds herself barely left with enough money to live on and must suddenly learn a new sense of independence; having just walked away from his distinguished law career as a judge, Graham (Wilkinson) decides to return to the land where he was raised in order to try to reconnect with a long-lost love; reluctantly retired, Muriel (Smith) desperately needs hip replacement surgery – and since it can be done relatively inexpensively and quickly here, India makes sense.

These three are joined by other oldsters from the same homeland: Douglas (Bill Nighy) and his wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) wind up there after their savings is depleted as a result of investing in their daughter’s failed technology start-up; Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) are single and make the trek for similar reasons regarding the opposite sex – he’s looking to rediscover his youth via sexual conquests while she is hopeful of finding her next in an ongoing series of husbands, preferably a wealthy one, at that. But with this motley group intermingling in the same hotel, will they be successful in finding what they are looking for or will the experience result in the biggest mistake any of them have ever made?


“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is the film version of the novel by Deborah Moggach, “These Foolish Things”; the film is purported to have been a big hit in the U.K. and is now being released in the U.S. Given this stellar ensemble cast, you would rightly expect some rather fine performances – and you’ll get them, especially from Maggie Smith, who is the funniest character among the seniors. Unfortunately, the script is not up to the task as it is replete with clichés and corny jokes that are even older and more tired than much of the main cast. The story moves at a tortoise pace and with seven elderly travelers, there are maybe one or two subplots too many; less is more in this case – paring it down to five characters might’ve made it easier to follow.

Just as the hotel in this story was marketed to the geezer crowd, so is this movie being marketed to the same people, as well. The question is, do seniors make it out to the theaters in enough numbers that this flick will need in order to make any kind of a dent at the box office this weekend? Probably not – which means it likely will get lost amidst the other releases. If you’re looking to avoid long lines and crowded theaters, you may want to consider going to see “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” instead of “The Avengers”. “Marigold Hotel” isn’t a terrible film – it’s well-intentioned, sincere and sweet; the problem comes with its triteness and lack of edge to make it sufficiently interesting to anyone outside of the demographic that matches its stars.

While I can’t really recommend this movie as one to see in theaters, it might be good as a rental/download or a viewing when it inevitably shows up on cable TV. Although my reaction was one of the few dissenting voices in response to this film, most of the students in my class really seemed to like it quite a good deal; you might indeed like it, as well. Then again, a large number of the students in my movie class fit right in the sweet spot of the group that this film is targeting, so that might explain the positive reaction. There were some considerably younger members of the class that claimed they enjoyed “Marigold Hotel”—but I believe they may have been the exception that proves the rule.