Thursday, June 27, 2013

“Petunia” – Movie Review

 

petunia

In the final meeting of the June session of my movie class, we saw the comedy-drama “Petunia”, starring Thora Birch, David Rasche and Christine Lahti.

Synopsis

When members of a highly dysfunctional New York City family simultaneously encounter personal crises, can they somehow find a way to keep the family unit together or will everything completely unravel?

Story

Charlie Petunia (Tobias Segal) is a gay man who is sexually shy; at his brother Michael’s wedding reception, his new sister-in-law Vivian (Birch) introduces him to George (Michael Urie), whom she happens to know is also gay. The two seem to hit it off and begin something of a relationship once they discover both men live in the same Manhattan apartment building. Meanwhile, Percy (Rasche) and Felicia (Lahti) – the groom’s parents – appear to be on the verge of creating a scene with their ongoing bickering. Following the reception, Vivian is starting to express some misgivings about her brand new marriage to Michael (Eddie Kaye Thomas), causing him immense concern about their future together.

Meanwhile, their other brother Adrian (Jimmy Heck) has entered therapy in order to deal with his own issues: he’s a sex addict and now that Vivian is married to Michael, he desperately wants to sleep with her. As a doting mother, Felicia meets with George in order to convince him to relieve Charlie of his virginity, which he then sets out to try to do, despite Charlie’s resistance. Another problem with this is that it turns out George is currently married to Robin (Brittany Snow), who permits her husband’s homosexual extramarital affairs at the sacrifice of her own sexual needs.

Speaking of sexual needs, Felicia is feeling rather frustrated these days herself. Fearing that Percy’s lack of interest may be due to the fact that she is aging, she has cosmetic surgery performed in the hope that it will spark his interest. Percy, however, confesses to Adrian that his own aging process has caused him to considerably slow down in that department, forcing him to seek prescription medication in order to get things back in working order and hopefully save his marriage. Vivian suddenly reveals that she’s now pregnant – but is Michael the father? Even if he is, will she have an abortion despite Percy and Felicia begging her to give them a grandchild?

Review

Possibly the most painful thing about watching “Petunia” is seeing it strain to try to be funny, which it fails to do with alarming frequency. It shoots for funny and misses, occasionally reaching mildly amusing. This is a movie that’s more annoying than it is entertaining; its menagerie of characters alternate between obnoxious, creepy and infuriating, resulting in a story without a clear protagonist for whom to root as well as a film seeming excruciatingly long. Given the cast, one might understandably expect “Petunia” to have a considerable amount of promise, but it fails – or perhaps it is more accurate to say “refuses” – to deliver.

Although it seems as though Charlie is supposed to be the character in whose story the audience is to be more invested, he’s not exactly the most sympathetic character ever recorded on film. In fact, I found him to be such a milquetoast that it’s something of a challenge to care about his predicament or root for him by the end of the movie. To a large extent, he is his own worst enemy and isn’t someone who can get out of his own way. None of the characters appear particularly heroic – including and especially Charlie. Ultimately, he succeeds in spite of himself, not so much because of any particular action he has taken.

In the class, our instructor interviewed cast members Christine Lahti and Tobias Segal as well as director/co-writer Ash Christian and one of its many producers Jordan Yale Levine. Christian and Levine were pretty tight-lipped when it came to discussing the film’s budget, but Levine noted that the way he thanked/repaid investors was to give them a Producer credit in the movie – so, if you watch the credits and count the long number of people with a Producer/Executive Producer credit, chances are good that they probably put up some money to fund the film’s production.

 Petunia (2012) on IMDb 7.6/1071 votes

Sunday, June 23, 2013

“Stuck In Love” – Movie Review

 

stuck-in-love

This weekend in my movie class, we saw a bonus screening of the new romantic-comedy/drama, “Stuck In Love”, starring Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly.

Synopsis

When a divorced writer tries to win back his ex-wife, his efforts appear thwarted when complications develop with their teenage children – but can they still reunite even if they somehow manage to overcome these difficulties?

Story

Despite being an award-winning novelist, Bill (Kinnear) has been dolefully unhappy with his life for the last couple of years since his wife Erica (Connelly) divorced him.  So desperate is he that every Thanksgiving, he reserves a place for her at his dinner table even though his teenaged children Samantha (Lily Collins) and her younger brother Rusty (Nat Wolff) both know she will never show up.  Undeterred, Bill remains hopeful that someday Erica will eventually come to her senses and eventually return to him one day. 

Both Sam and Rusty are trying to follow in their noted father’s footsteps by pursuing a writing career.  Sam, however, seems to have an advantage on her younger brother – not just by virtue of the fact that she’s a college sophomore while he’s still stuck in high school, but because she’s just had her first novel published.  Considering herself very much the literary intellectual, Sam looks condescendingly upon Rusty’s main influence – the commercially successful Stephen King.  She also appears to be a step ahead of him in another regard:  she leads a rather promiscuous lifestyle while he’s still a virgin. 

Suddenly, Sam and Rusty soon find themselves entangled in their own romantic relationships – she with a fellow student whose mother is dying of a brain tumor and he with a classmate who has a most severe substance abuse problem.  Although both Sam and Rusty appear to be on good terms with their father, Sam resents her mother for dumping him and refuses to speak to her.  When Erica implores Bill to help her reconcile with their daughter, he sees this as an opportunity to get Erica back in his life as well – but when both offspring wind up encountering romantic conflicts of their own, will this prevent Bill and Erica from restoring their family unit? 

Review

In many movie reviews, the word “confection” is frequently used to describe films such as “Stuck In Love” – however, when pulled out of context, it may be difficult to ascertain whether or not it is being used in the pejorative form.  Without a doubt, “Stuck In Love” is most definitely a confection – but whether or not you buy into some of the dramatic conceits may determine your interpreting this term as an insult or not.  While the cast’s performances do frequently rise above the material, painfully obvious convenient moments dropping in merely to move the story forward might be what some would consider “cringeworthy”.      

Gorgeous Kristin Bell seems to try to make the most of what appears to be a throw-away role of Tricia, Bill’s f*-buddy, who ultimately plays something of a cheerleader in trying to get him out of his romantic lethargy.  More striking to me was Lily Collins, who seemed in this movie to be the spitting image of Connelly – although she sometimes comes across more like Erica’s younger sister than her adolescent daughter.  Ultimately, the failure of “Stuck In Love” also comes in the difficulty of being able to root for its protagonist, Bill, who seems to be narcissistically trying to push both of his children into his own profession simply in order to validate his own life – perhaps its source being a mid-life crisis arising from the divorce, but the film never explores this. 

Should you see this movie?  Well, my misgivings aside, it’s not a complete waste of time – the gentle humor skews towards weak jokes, so don’t expect anything about “Stuck In Love” to be a cutting edge comedy.  If something comfortable, familiar and unchallenging is what you crave, then this might just be your film.  This is more of an airplane movie than something you want to run out to theaters and stand on line to see; should it show up on cable during one rainy day, “Stuck In Love” would probably be as good a choice as just about anything else. 

Stuck in Love (2012) on IMDb 6.8/10526 votes

 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

“The Attack” – Movie Review

 

the_attack

This week in my movie class, we saw the drama, “The Attack”, a foreign film featuring actors mostly unknown here in the United States.

Synopsis

When an Arab physician working in Israel learns his wife has died in an explosion, the police inform him she was the suicide bomber causing that apparent terrorist attack – but when he tries to find out the truth, will it cost him his own life as well?

Story

Amin is a noted surgeon practicing at a hospital in Tel Aviv when he becomes the first Arab to win a coveted award from a prestigious medical society – the only sour note on that evening is that his beloved wife, Siham, cannot accompany him as she is out of town visiting family. The next day at the hospital, he is met with congratulatory greetings from colleagues – but everyone’s serene lunch break is brutally interrupted when a nearby explosion is heard off in the distance. Within minutes, the injured are arriving at the emergency room of Amin’s hospital, where he must try to save as many lives as possible.

Hours after his shift, Amin receives an emergency call to return to the hospital immediately – it turns out a body recovered from the explosion may be that of his wife and he must confirm it is indeed Siham. Upon positively identifying her remains, the police proceed to interrogate Amin, informing him that they suspect Siham was the suicide bomber who caused the explosion in this apparent terrorist attack. Initially, Amin is in total denial about his late wife’s culpability in a bombing which resulted in the death of 17 innocent people at a restaurant – but when he obtains proof that Siham was in fact directly involved in this attack, he immediately sets out on his own personal mission to investigate how this could have occurred.

It turns out that Siham never actually got to Nazareth to see her grandfather and instead, took a detour to Nablus where other family resided. Going there, Amin learns that Siham is being hailed as a hero for her martyrdom as a result of this highly-publicized terrorist attack. Discovering that a controversial sheik who promotes terrorism is located at a nearby mosque, Amin sets out to try to meet with him so he can understand more about how Siham was recruited and why she chose to go this route. But when the terrorist group feels threatened by Amin’s presence, will he be able to survive in his quest to obtain the answers he seeks?

Review

Who are terrorists? Why do they do what they do? How can someone who has enjoyed the privileges of a free and open lifestyle then turn against that same society in such a violent and horrific way? These are among the questions that are posed in director Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack”, an excellent film that explores the complexities behind what compels a person to become a mass murderer on behalf of their devout religious beliefs. Combining a love story with suspense and political thriller, Doueiri succeeds in telling a gripping tale; despite the complex details of the story, he lays out everything in a comprehensible way, judiciously tossing in flashbacks to fill in the gaps when needed.

One of the things that makes “The Attack” so good is its even-handedness – despite originally being from Lebanon, Doueiri presents valid points from both the Palestinians and the Israelis for why things are as they are. Terrorists and Tel Aviv police alike voice reasonable outrage for their current situation. Exploration of the question of how someone seemingly normal is turned into a terrorist is especially germane in light of the recent Boston Marathon bombing. Doueiri does an outstanding job of maintaining the tension throughout the movie; examples include the particularly gruesome scene where Amin must identify Siham’s remains, followed shortly thereafter by Amin’s rather intense police interrogation, as well as the times when Amin confronts the terrorists in Nablus.

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed director Ziad Doueiri, who also co-wrote the screenplay for “The Attack”, which was based on a novel. Almost as fascinating as the movie itself is its back-story with respect to financing. Originally, an outfit in Qatar had provided a significant amount of money, supplemented by French and Belgium investors. However, after the film was completed, the Qatar group took in a viewing and subsequently requested to have its name removed from the credits – generously offering to pay a sum of money in order to have this done. Their reason for this was due to the fact that they didn’t want to be associated with the motion picture because of its subject matter. Why did they even get involved in it in the first place? At the time, the recommendation to help fund in “The Attack” came from their paid script reader – an Australian woman, who was considerably less sensitive to the Arab-Israeli conflict than the wealthy Qatar businessmen.

    The Attack (2012) on IMDb 6.4/10289 votes

 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

“Unfinished Song” – Movie Review

 

unfinished_song

This week in my movie class, we had a bonus screening of the British comedy-drama, “Unfinished Song”, starring Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton and Vanessa Redgrave

Synopsis

When a grumpy widower joins the chorus group to which his late wife belonged, he suddenly finds that he’s making new friends – but when they get a chance to participate in a singing competition, can they rely on him to perform his solo or will he completely dismiss them?

Story

Old age is catching up to Arthur (Stamp) and his long-time wife Marion (Redgrave) – and in the case of sickly Marion, at least, it appears that old age is winning. Arthur’s life now focuses on caring for Marion, who is a member of a chorus group comprised of other elderly people and led by a youthful and vivacious Elizabeth (Arterton). Eventually, all of the rehearsals for an upcoming audition take their toll on an exhausted Marion, putting her back in the hospital. Unfortunately, after an extensive work-up by the doctors, Marion is informed that her cancer has resurfaced and that she doesn’t have much time left.

Bitter about losing his companion, Arthur takes out his anger on both the choir and his estranged son, James (Christopher Eccleston). To the best of her ability, Marion tries to continue participating in her choir because she enjoys her friendships and finds the experience somewhat therapeutic. Provided with a solo, Marion performs at the audition and shortly thereafter, the group learns that they are invited to be among the competitors in a singing contest. Sadly, as the group prepares for the competition, Marion passes away; following the funeral, Arthur takes this opportunity to tell James that he wants nothing more to do with him.

As Marion’s last request, Arthur joins her choir after her passing. Elizabeth not only welcomes him, but encourages Arthur as well; when she discovers that Arthur can actually carry a bit of a tune, she has him perform the solo that Marion was originally scheduled to sing. While spending more time with the group, Arthur’s heart begins to soften somewhat and he attempts reconciliation with James but is rebuffed. Come the day of the competition, Arthur is nowhere to be seen; panicking, Elizabeth gathers the rest of the group and heads off, scrambling to rearrange their scheduled performance at the last minute. Can Arthur put his personal disappointments aside and join his newfound friends at the competition or will he simply revert to his reclusiveness and ultimately let them down the way he has let down James?

Review

Terence Stamp has had a long and distinguished career but for me, Stamp will always be General Zod. The “original” one. Sorry, but I just can’t disassociate him from that role. It’s one of my many limitations. And speaking of limitations … Paul Andrew Williams – writer/director of “Unfinished Song” – seems to have found his limitations with this film. While I’m not overly-familiar with his work, I’m given to understand that Williams’ track record is comprised of grittier stuff. In trying to create a touchy-feely comedy/drama about life and aging, he may be out of his depth.

What is it about the British and their obsession with producing so many “coming-of-old-age” movies? “Marigold Hotel” and “Quartet” are just a couple of relatively recent ones that come immediately to mind – also, there’s “Calendar Girls”, which is a bit less recent but significantly better than either of those or “Unfinished Song”, for that matter. My main problem with this film is that it falls straight out of a sentimental tree and manages to hit just about every clich├ęd branch on its way down. Neither all that funny nor all that touching, it comes across as very formulaic and contrived in its attempts to evoke any degree of emotion from the audience.

Clearly, the filmmakers are hoping to hook into the same audience that made the above – referenced “Marigold Hotel” such a big hit. Whether they will be able to do so or not remains to be seen. “Marigold Hotel” at least had a bit of a clever twist in terms of its situation. As was accurately pointed out by another member of the class, the twist in “Unfinished Song” was actually borrowed from the documentary “Young@Heart”, which was also shown in this same class several years ago. If you have never seen that particular documentary, I highly recommend you do so – it’s a much better film than “Unfinished Song”, not to mention the fact that as a documentary, it’s a true story.

 Unfinished Song (2012) on IMDb 6.9/10737 votes

 

Friday, June 14, 2013

“Breakup At A Wedding” – Movie Review

 

breakup-at-a-wedding

This week in my movie class, we saw the new comedy “Breakup At A Wedding”.

Synopsis

When a videographer is hired to record a couple’s wedding, he decides to include all the events leading up to the wedding itself and release it as a documentary – but after the bride informs the groom she’s got cold feet the day before the wedding, they decide to conduct the ceremony without actually getting married.

Story

When Phil & Alison become engaged, they hire Victor as their videographer; fancying himself as the next great documentary filmmaker, Victor decides that instead of merely videotaping the wedding ceremony itself, he will also shoot a considerable amount of behind the scenes footage as well – the bachelor/bachelorette party, rehearsals and private moments between the couple.  Confident he can pull together enough compelling material, he will then try to market it as documentary in order to embark on a new and even more successful career. 

Victor’s video cameras triumphantly manage to capture all of the stress, chaos and panic that inherently lead up to any and every wedding, until something quite unexpected happens.  The night before the actual wedding, Alison confesses to Phil that she really doesn’t want to get married to him at all.  In fact, she wants to break up with him altogether.  Of course, the problem they both face at this point is that it’s far too late to cancel the wedding.  So, they agree to proceed with the ceremony, but won’t sign the marriage certificate so that technically, they won’t be married. 

Crestfallen by Alison’s abrupt reversal, Phil decides to step up his game and use the opportunity of the wedding to convince her that they should indeed be married.  To this end, Phil plans a surprise that he chooses to spring on Alison at the reception, in the hope and expectation that this grand gesture will cause her to snap out of her funk and come to her senses, prompting the epiphany that these two belong together for the rest of their lives.  But when the wedding day arrives and everything that can go wrong does go wrong (and then some), does Phil still have any chance at winning over Alison?

Review

While a noble attempt at an independent comedy, “Breakup At A Wedding” is at least 15 years too late to its own wedding party.  A mockumentary in the spirit of films such as “Spinal Tap” or “Borat” (and television shows like “The Office” and – perhaps to a lesser extent – “Arrested Development”), I believe audiences may have seen this format enough times that unless it either has some kind of twist or unbelievable content, it can just be something of a yawn.   Given that the overwhelming majority of the jokes in “Breakup At A Wedding” are not exactly knock-you-on-your-ass funny, that leaves the film being rather flat.

Another problem I had with “Breakup At A Wedding” was its pacing.  As both a comedy and a documentary (of sorts), it has an appropriate length of an hour and a half.  However, it starts at a somewhat manic pace and tries to maintain that rather frantic level of activity all throughout the movie.  Unfortunately, this results in emotionally wearing down the audience who might be making a valiant attempt to keep up in a race they not only can’t win, but probably won’t even have enough stamina to finish.  When you’re going to make a comedy that’s essentially a faux documentary, it’s the jokes that need to keep you engaged and sadly, they’re not able to keep up with this end of the bargain.

Prior to the screening, our instructor interviewed the filmmakers, director Victor Quinaz and screenwriter Anna Martemucci; following the screening, he interviewed one of its stars, Philip Quinaz, who played the groom (Phil). “Breakup At A Wedding” is very much an all-in-the-family venture – Victor and Anna are husband and wife and they were inspired to make this movie as a result of their own wedding.  Philip, primarily a musician, is Victor’s bother.  Since the movie isn’t going to get a wide release in theaters, you might want to watch for it in the Video-On-Demand section of your cable TV service, or order it online from its Web site by clicking here:  Breakup At A Wedding 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

“A Hijacking” – Movie Review

 

A_Hijacking_Official_Movie_Poster

This weekend, my movie class had a bonus screening of a new Danish thriller by Tobias Lindholm (writer of “The Killing” on the AMC television network) called “A Hijacking”.

Synopsis

When a cargo ship is hijacked by a gang of Somali Pirates, will the crew survive even if a ransom is paid?

Story

Mikkel is the cook on The Rozen, a Danish cargo ship headed for Mumbai, and he’s getting a little itchy to return home to his wife and young daughter after a long time at sea.  Suddenly, in the midst of The Indian Ocean, the ship is overtaken by a group of Somali Pirates who hold the entire seven – man crew hostage and demand $15 million in ransom from the shipping company for which the crew work.    With the pirates’ delay in contacting the shipping company, the crew members are concerned that they may not go home for a long time – if ever. 

Peter, the CEO of the Copenhagen – based shipping company responsible for the Rozen, is immediately alerted to the fact that the ship has ceased communicating and has instead sounded an alarm, indicating they are in distress.  Once they are contacted by Omar, a translator – negotiator for the Somali Pirates, they realize that the Rozen’s crew have been taken hostage; Peter hires Connor, a security expert experienced in dealing with the pirates.  Connor recommends that they bring in a specialist with expertise in hostage negotiations, but Peter – known to be a shrewd negotiator himself – dismisses this idea and assumes responsibility for negotiating with Omar. 

The negotiations progress slowly as the two sides are far apart; with the shipping company gaining increasingly poor public relations in the media, its board of directors grows impatient with Peter when the crisis reaches the four month mark and informs him that if he has not resolved the conflict within the next month, they will bring in an outside negotiator to settle the matter.  With tensions aboard ship becoming increasingly strained and both the crew and pirates turning desperate once supplies run out, can an agreement be reached or will the hostages lives become further endangered?    

Review

With excellent word of mouth based on critics’ feedback on Rotten Tomatoes, I was prepared for quite a movie going experience – and that’s what I got, but “A Hijacking” is far from a perfect film.  While coming in at well under two hours, the motion picture feels as though it is much longer.  Is this due to its pacing?  Perhaps so, at least in part.  But there’s definitely more to it than merely that.  The picture is not easy to watch due to the fact that the viewers very much feel the stress level of both sides – the hostages onboard the ship and the executives desperately trying to negotiate a deal as soon as possible.  The fact that the hostage situation drags out for over four months certainly does not help matters at all either.

But it may very well be that the movie is being criticized for the very thing that makes it so effective in the first place:  its screenplay.  “A Hijacking” is a well – crafted thriller that keeps tension at its highest possible level all throughout the film and that is perhaps why the experience of watching the film is so emotionally draining on its audience.  While the threat of violence is always pervasive, the motion picture is not replete with on-screen violence – perhaps the main difference between American filmmaking techniques versus those of The Danes.  Other great aspects that display the craftsmanship with which the screenplay was executed include the way the main characters were set up and developed throughout the story.  Foreshadowing is also used extensively and to maximum effect. 

Can “A Hijacking” find an audience here in The United States?  The movie alternates between English and Danish with subtitles, which may prove frustrating for some viewers.    Also, the ending, while realistic, may not be very satisfying to an American audience; therefore, while a well-made film, “A Hijacking” may encounter great difficulty reaching success in this country – which is quite unfortunate since it’s rather good.  For U.S. audiences with chronic Attention Deficit Disorder and craving plenty of unrelenting explosions, the subtlety of “A Hijacking” may be lost on many.   

A Hijacking (2012) on IMDb 7.0/101,689 votes

 

Saturday, June 08, 2013

The Glenlivet Alpha

 

Invite

Warning: The scotch review you are about to read is one of the most unusual tastings this intrepid blogger has ever experienced. While reading it, you will undoubtedly question its veracity. I assure you, however, that the details herein are 100% true. And besides, it’s not the right time of year for an April Fool’s gag, anyway

If you were invited to a scotch tasting featuring a new expression from a well-known brand, would you attend? Well, I suppose if you’re a whisky fan you probably would and if you’re a scotch enthusiast, it’s a foolish question – of course you’d go! But what if I told you a couple of disconcerting facts about the tasting? Namely: (a) the new expression you’d be sampling would not be available in the United States (so even if you liked it, you couldn’t buy it here) and (b) the entire tasting would be conducted in the dark! Would either or both of these additional pieces of information make you more or less inclined to reserve a spot for yourself?

In the case of this humble blogger, the mystery behind this entire event was utterly irresistible. With this entire tasting cloaked in secrecy, how was I going to skip the thing? So, I reserved a spot, received confirmation and anxiously awaited the evening, which was held at 632 Below in the Meatpacking District part of Manhattan.

Upon arrival, I was advised that both photographers and videographers were present and to keep that in mind if I had issues with my image being recorded. Once I entered, I was greeted with a dram of The Glenlivet 12 (which was happily refilled while awaiting the commencement of the tasting). Additionally, I was advised by one of the hostesses to check my cell phone and wristwatch with them because they didn’t want any distracting noises during the tasting – since we’re in the dark, they wanted our senses focused on simply taste and smell, as it was explained to me.

AlphaInfrared1

Following a bit of a wait (which included a warm up of the scotch with a variety of passed hors d'oeuvres), we eventually got on line, paired up and escorted down to the basement by a waiter wearing night vision goggles. Our waiter would quite literally act as our guide all throughout the tasting – since we were being led into a room in total darkness, we each had to place a hand on his shoulder as he walked us to our seats and then he would serve us the dram each of us would be sampling.

Besides being in pitch black, the basement area was a bit of a tight squeeze – you could feel the presence of another person sitting on either side. If the stress of being in total darkness wasn’t going to get to me, the claustrophobia would. With everyone seated, the event began with The Glenlivet’s Brand Ambassador Craig Bridger conducting the tasting. We were informed that in addition to the photographer and videographer in the upstairs reception area, there would be additional photographers in the basement – equipped with special infrared cameras, they would be photographing everyone in the dark during the tasting.

First, we were teased a bit by being given a glass containing a dram of Alpha but were told not to sip it just yet. Instead, we were instructed to simply nose the glass. Before even an initial delibation, Alpha had a certain presence of complexity about it merely from its aroma; there were so many different types of scents hitting you simultaneously, it was difficult to isolate one from another. Then, we placed the glass on a table in front of us and our waiter placed an object into our hand which we were told to smell – it was cinnamon. Another item was given to us to smell – crushed oatmeal cookies. We returned to the dram again and took another sniff – this time, with the memories of the cinnamon and oatmeal cookies still fresh in our mind, we could detect these scents in Alpha.

AlphaInfrared2

Finally, we were given a chance to actually taste the dram; I detected an initial sweetness on the front of the tongue followed by a bit of a sting on the back. We were then given some items to taste – first, almonds, then a small slice of pineapple, followed by a tiny piece of banana cream pie. All of this, we were told, would be evident in the taste of the Alpha, provided you swish it around your tongue first (or “chewing” as it was referred to by Craig). Taking another sip, we were told that the wood from the cask imparted the almond flavor and that the hint of pineapple was something of a typical flavor from many of The Glenlivet’s expressions.

Winding up the tasting, Craig informed us that the 100 proof Alpha was aged in two different barrels, then “married” before bottling. One barrel is a former bourbon cask (typical of scotch) while the other is a new cask. The aging? Well, no exact mention was made of that – something else that they appear to be keeping a mystery.

Chatting up another company representative afterwards, they confirmed that there are no short-term plans to sell the Alpha in the United States, but it can be purchased throughout The United Kingdom, South Africa and Japan.

For more information, check out this video:

 

 

At this point, I’d normally recommend attending one of these unusual tastings should you get the opportunity – unfortunately, that probably won’t be the case. We were informed that this would be the only tasting of Alpha conducted in the country.

Friday, June 07, 2013

“When Comedy Went To School” – Movie Review

 

Comedy

This week, the Summer semester of my movie class began and we saw the documentary “When Comedy Went To School”, narrated by comedian – actor Robert Klein.

Story

During several decades of the 20th century, many New York City residents – mostly Jewish families – would spend at least part of their summer vacation at one of the many resorts in The Catskill Mountains (often referred to as simply The Catskills), an area in upstate New York approximately 75 miles north of Manhattan. The resorts included various kinds of entertainment and many of the acts would make a living by booking engagements at each of the hotels in the area; working the various Catskill resorts became known as The Borscht Belt Circuit.

Among the types of entertainers that performed at these resorts were comedians – many of whom went on to great success beyond merely The Borscht Belt Circuit. These included such renowned filmmakers as Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and a host of others. Typically, these people would begin their career at the resort with a job as a busboy or kitchen assistant, then working their way up to what was called a “tummler” – basically, a clown that would periodically entertain poolside guests by performing outrageous acts like dropping and breaking a tray full of plates or diving fully-clothed into the pool.  If they were lucky, they would someday graduate to before actually go on stage.

By the late 1960’s, however, times, tastes and values began to change in that culturally volatile time. Ultimately, fewer people were spending their summers vacationing in the Catskills; one by one, many of the resorts either began to close down altogether or they would remain open, but only as a shell of their former entities. Despite this, the resorts proved to be a training ground for generations of comedians who used the opportunity to hone their craft by learning not only what it took to keep an audience engaged, but also how to refine jokes they had written.

Review

Some documentaries are targeted to a very narrow group of viewers – and boy, is “When Comedy Went To School” one of them. Other than comedy junkies interested in the historical aspects, I would imagine this would be limited to older Jewish New Yorkers who not only remember that era but also vacationed in the Catskills on at least a semi-regular basis. That said, however, I just so happen to be one of those comedy junkies and as a result, found that there’s a great deal to like about this film – among them, interviews with comedians of that period reminiscing about their time in The Catskills as well as long-time and former guests of the various resorts recalling the many acts they saw that later became famous.

Where the documentary falls apart for me is with the script, which calls for some cheesy recreations to simulate scenes from that era. Further, some of the dialog that sometimes on-screen narrator Robert Klein is burdened with seems to make attempts at weak humor crammed-in with a brute force approach for whatever reason. As a whole, I think the film would have turned out better if the filmmakers just had more faith in the subject matter and spent less time trying to appear entertaining – certainly, many of the interviewees were entertaining enough themselves.

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed the film’s narrator, Robert Klein. Klein was his usual hilarious self and told a great many stories about his own background as a youth working as a waiter at one of the Catskills resorts. Additionally, it turns out he can do a pretty good imitation of Rodney Dangerfield and wound up telling an amusing story about how he saved Dangerfield’s life long ago. Quite the raconteur, Klein also told about his experiences working with the late composer Marvin Hamlisch on the hit Broadway musical, “They’re Playing Our Song”.

If you want to see a trailer for this movie, please click on this link to be taken to the film’s official Web site:  “When Comedy Went To School”.