Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chivas Royal Salute



In the sultry hot summer weather of a late August evening, what better way to relieve your customary torpor than to attend a Scotch tasting? OK, well, it wasn’t exactly the first thing that crossed my mind, either. But when I learned that the Scotch in question was Chivas, I was not exactly in a position to decline. Throw in the fact that they were also serving the ultra rare Royal Salute – which I had never even heard of before, much less tasted – and I’m there! So, it was with great anticipation that I headed to Union Square Wines & Spirits for a few drams of this famed brown spirit.


Upon arrival, attendees were greeted with a most refreshing cocktail that I highly recommend – a very summery punch made with Chivas 12 year old and pineapple juice, peach juice and a splash of lemon juice served over ice in a wine glass containing various fruits (strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, on this evening) as a garnish. A real thirst-quencher, you taste a gentlest hint of the spirit, yet its sweetness is not so cloying as to induce puckering.


Between passed hors d'oeuvres and an extensive spread of cheese and crackers, we sampled Chivas 12 Years, their Gold Signature 18 Years, their 25 Years (which was not present on the original menu) and finished with Royal Salute. To commemorate the tasting, the store discounted all featured Chivas products 15%, although the 25 Years was not currently in stock and would have to be specially ordered (even with the discount, however, its $340 price tag was still a bit steep for the likes of yours truly).


Chivas started making Royal Salute in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth; it was decided to sell the expression as a 21 year old Scotch because the Queen herself was age 21 at the time she ascended to the throne. Marketed as a 21 year old Scotch, this means it is a blended Scotch which contains other Scotches that are aged at least 21 years; the oldest Scotch in the blend is aged between 40 to 45 years. It is sold in colored bottles – green, red or blue, although only the blue colored bottles are available here in The United States. The Royal Salute product line also comes in more expensive versions that are aged even longer – specifically, 38 years and 62 years.


On its own, Royal Salute 21 has something of a smoky, spicy flavor on the center of your palate; adding a little bit of water will bring out its citrus elements – grapefruit and lemon are those that are said to be frequently found. According to one of the company representatives, this is an excellent Scotch to pair with sushi, of all things!


For more information about Chivas tastings around the country, please be sure to register at the Web site The Chivas Brotherhood. Also, if you’d like to experience a tasting similar to this one, you might want to try contacting Chivas’ Brand Ambassador Peter H. Karras, who might just be able to hook you up with something not too far from where you’re located.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

“Lovelace” – Movie Review



This weekend, my movie class had its final bonus screening of the summer with “Lovelace”, starring Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard and a whole bunch of other familiar names and faces in various supporting roles.


When a young woman is forced into prostitution and pornography by her abusive husband, she finds unexpected national acclaim for a controversial movie in which she stars – but is she doomed to be forever exploited or can she somehow escape and live a normal life?


As a young woman of 22, Linda (Seyfried) finds herself trapped in the oppressive yoke of her strict and religious parents (Sharon Stone & Robert Patrick).  It is then that she meets Chuck Traynor (Sarsgaard), an older and worldlier man who owns a topless bar near the small Florida town in which she lives.  Swept up in his romantic charms, Linda runs off with Traynor, who soon marries her.  Unfortunately, Linda quickly discovers that she has gone from one imperious martinet to another as her new husband abuses her both physically and emotionally.   

After Traynor shows pornographic filmmaker Jerry Damiano (Hank Azaria) a 16mm film of Linda having sex with him, Damiano is so impressed that he immediately hires Linda to star in his next project – “Deep Throat”, in which Linda’s last name is changed to Lovelace.  Despite constant interference and interruptions by Traynor, Damiano is eventually able to complete the film; shortly after its release, it earns great renown – and considerable money, for an adult film of the 1970’s – due to its controversial theme.  Caught up in the eye of this hurricane of fame is the movie’s star, Linda Lovelace.    

Although her celebrity has allowed her to meet such luminaries as Hugh Hefner (James Franco) and Sammy Davis, Jr., both Linda and the film have been subject to ridicule – she winds up being the punch line to jokes by Johnny Carson and Bob Hope.  Even more distressing is the fact that Traynor’s non-stop abuse is complicated by the fact that he controls all of the money in their one-sided partnership; thanks to her notoriety, he conjures up half-baked business schemes to drain every possible penny out of the name Linda Lovelace.  Increasingly miserable and in fear for her life as an out-of-control Traynor’s drug usage escalates, can Linda emancipate herself from this existence and finally be in charge of her own destiny?   


As a callow youth in my early teens during the time when “Deep Throat” was released, I have vivid memories of how that movie became such a  cultural phenomenon – to say nothing of having vivid memories of my own pubescent fascination with its subject matter.  That said, it wasn’t until about a decade later that I finally saw the flick – and even then, it was a drastically edited version which displayed the more controversial scenes in such a distorted way as to render them unwatchable.  In this era of readily-available Internet porn, “Deep Throat” would today certainly be considered rather tame. 

Many times when viewing these screenings, I’m surprised – and as we all know, not all surprises are necessarily good.  “Lovelace”, however, was a very pleasant surprise.  It is not a movie from which I expected very much, but it delivered big time.  “Lovelace” boasts a great cast with fine performances and some really good – if not utterly audacious – filmmaking choices.  One thing that I particularly admired from the film’s story telling standpoint was how the filmmakers manipulated time – starting the story in the “present” of the early ‘70’s, it appears to initially be told in a somewhat sugar-coated way with Traynor almost coming off as Linda’s knight in shining armor who arrives in the nick of time to rescue her.  However, they then move forward six years and allow Linda to tell the account in flashbacks from her perspective – grittier and considerably darker than we were originally led to believe. 

I have no doubt that upon the release of “Lovelace”, most professional film critics will likely take a big, steaming dump all over it – undeservedly so.  This is a very watchable and entertaining film; people who expect it to be titillating will be immensely disappointed.  “Lovelace” is not a story about the pornography business so much as it is a compelling tale about a woman who somehow managed to survive domestic abuse in a time when our culture was considerably less knowledgeable and sympathetic to such things.  Posthumously, Linda Marchiano deservedly emerges as the all-time feminist heroine and the motion picture “Lovelace” is a creditable tribute that honors her memory.


Lovelace (2013) on IMDb 6.5/10826 votes


Thursday, August 01, 2013

“The Artist And The Model” – Movie Review



This week in the final summer session of my movie class, we saw the Spanish drama, “The Artist And The Model”, starring Jean Rochefort and Claudia Cardinale.  


When the wife of an elderly artist brings home a young girl to work as his model, will this inspire his creativity or only serve to cause more problems for all involved?  


During World War II, Marc Cros (Rochefort) is an elderly artist who lives in the French countryside with his wife Léa (Cardinale).  At this stage of his life, he is facing something of a professional challenge – although successful in his earlier days, he now feels that his best creative work is far behind him and that there is nothing left for him to do.  While in town shopping, Léa discovers Mercè (Aida Folch), a beautiful young woman who seems destitute.  A sympathetic Léa invites Mercè back to the house for lunch with her husband and together they learn that the girl recently fled Spain when Franco took over. 

Considering both her husband’s situation and this waif’s dilemma, Léa offers Mercè a job working as the artist’s model; Mercè gratefully accepts the offer and moves in to Marc’s studio.  With no experience as a professional model and unaccustomed to being naked in front of complete strangers, Mercè is extremely uncomfortable in her new role, which immediately irritates Marc, who must instruct her at every step of the way.  Eventually, though, Marc recognizes the beauty Lea saw in her – in fact, Mercè reminds them both of what Léa used to look like decades ago when she first posed for Marc.  Seeing her in this way now serves to fuel Marc’s creativity; he begins sketching her, painting her and in his grandest work of all, sculpting her likeness. 

Over time, Mercè learns how to become a model, albeit with great difficulty given that she has problems holding a pose for very long.  One night while taking a walk, she stumbles upon Pierre, a handsome young man who turns out to be an injured fighter in the underground.  Mercè brings him back to the studio where she can care for him.  However, upon the arrival of a German soldier writing a book on Marc, suspicions become aroused and Pierre realizes he must leave.  Will everyone be endangered at this point or will Marc be able to finish his sculpture?


While I’m sure that most of the professional film critics will fall all over themselves with praise for “The Artist And The Model”, I’m going to be one of the amateurs who has to admit that this one really left me scratching my head wondering exactly what the hell I just watched.  The movie seems very muddled in the sense that there doesn’t appear to be a clear vision for a narrative tale that the filmmaker was trying to tell – it was really all over the place and quite unfocused.  Was this going to be a love story between the artist and the model which threatened his marriage?  Or was this going to be a suspenseful tale about defeating or evading the Nazis?  It seems as though the film couldn’t manage to make up its mind.

In addition to the clumsily-told story, I found much of the behavior of some of the characters rather confusing at times.  Why was Léa not jealous of Mercè’s youth and beauty?  Was she so magnanimous as to subvert her ego in the greater good of restoring her husband’s creative inspiration?  Why was the German soldier not more suspicious of these strangers whose presence was not completely explained?  Also, I found Marc’s narcissism as an artist a bit of a turn-off and why Mercè didn’t rebel at his grumpiness and leering will forever remain something of a mystery, I suppose. 

Prior to the screening, our instructor interviewed both Director Fernando Trueba and Aida Folch, who played the model.  Trueba talked a bit about how he got into film when he watched old Hollywood movies as a teenager; his first film was made when he was only 24 and it was quite successful.  Despite seeing the acclaim he received for his work, following its opening, Trueba’s father asked him if he had gotten this whole filmmaking thing out of his system and would pursue a real career.  Folch talked about getting the role for this movie.  Having worked with her on another film a few years before, Trueba called Folch and told her he was thinking of her for a part in this film, then inquired as to whether or not she spoke French.  Regrettably, she told him she did not, so he abruptly ended the conversation.  Folch then moved to France for a number of months and upon returning to Spain, contacted Trueba and showed him her new-found proficiency in French, proving that she was now capable of the role he had in mind for her.


The Artist and the Model (2012) on IMDb 6.8/10205 votes