Thursday, December 18, 2008

This is a good guide for what to get me, too!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The one commenter at the bottom of this article has a point. Not everything I describe is exactly new. I thought the Smackdowns were, though! There was also a neat progressive supper I had to cut. I hope to write more about that eventually...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

This beautiful Australian site has interesting stuff about bars and cocktails. When reviewing the Park Hyatt, they give me a little plug, which always thrills me. I've been meaning to add it to my blogroll and will as soon as I have a few free minutes later today.

Update: The blogroll people are off-line for security reasons. I won't be updating it for a little bit, it seems.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Here's an interesting article in Maclean's about taxidermy chic.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lots of new stuff up at Gremolata today. Blog entries about George Bush and Pisco Sours as well as an interesting review of a new Gaelic whisky.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hey, look at that, it's me holding forth!

Monday, November 03, 2008

More drinking through the recession ideas here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New post up on the Gremolata Drinks blog. Cheers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

AHG 25 – The "Woody Allen" Issue

I've been in what I call "lockdown" since I came back from wherever it was I was earlier this summer. I have a little too much work to do and since it's all speculative or worse, unpaid, it just makes sense to just stay home every day and write and cook beets.

The only real exception I've been making is for when "Jesse" comes to town. She even got me out and drinking in the day time once – a pretty rare thing for somebody who generally likes to live by Mencken's credo:

"First, never drink if you've got any work to do. Never. If I've got a job of work to do at 10 o'clock at night, I wouldn't take a drink up to that time. Secondly, never drink alone. That's the way to become a drunkard. And thirdly, even if you haven't got any work to do, never drink while the sun is shining. Wait until it's dark. By that time you're near enough to bed to recover quickly."
Of course, sometimes my job involves drinking alcohol – in the day, even. At least I sometimes claim that my job involves drinking alcohol in the day.

But I digress. The point is that there I was, out in the middle of the day, drinking with "Jesse," "Sherry," "Hugh," and "Adrian" when suddenly "Scott" came in and completely changed the tone of the day. And by that, I mean that he wanted us to do shots.

So, in order to justify my drinking to my inner Mencken, we turned the topic to film. That made it seem like I was working a little. Not that I do much film stuff for a living anymore. I used to teach a course at U of T with a lady named "Sara" but our enrolment was low and so we got axed. Actually a lot of my teaching got axed recently. And so, should you have any work for me – consulting, teaching, writing a very short brilliant column on any topic I feel like for a lot of money, sweeping the floor etc – I'd love to hear from you.

But I digress. Again. There we were drinking in the afternoon and talking about the exciting possibility that Woody Allen might be releasing a movie that doesn't completely suck when "Scott" revealed that he had never even seen a Woody Allen movie.

Not liking Woody Allen, I can accept. But never having seen one? How is that even possible? And, to make matters worse, Scott said that every time he flipped by one of his films on his way to something else, the characters were always just talking about themselves – often on a therapist's couch.

That, of course, led to another round of shots and heated debate. Then I came home and forgot all about the whole conversation until one day recently, when I was too depressed to get out of bed (in my defense, it's a really comfy bed) and there was a Woody Allen marathon playing. So while Al went off to work (or wherever it is he goes sometimes), I just stayed put and watched Radio Days, Purple Rose of Cairo and Crimes and Misdemeanours and thought about the project of trying to get somebody who hates Woody Allen interested in watching Woody Allen.

Here are my thoughts:

“Andrea” loves Bananas. I totally get why. And that wouldn’t be a bad way for “Scott” to start. His very early films are all slapstick and absurdist fantastic comedy. And you gotta love that. But “Andrea” also thinks that every film after is an apology for his first. Intriguing position but, ultimately, I don’t think she’s correct.

But I do agree that in the 1970s he did go a little far in the other direction. In those films, he expressed his intellectual leanings and with Annie Hall and Manhattan, his characters are a part of realist dramas and are often mostly mouthpieces for his ideas about philosophy.

But when the guy got to Zelig, Radio Days and The Purple Rose of Cairo, he figured out how to stop having his big ideas simply expressed by his characters. He figured out instead (in a way that is only transcendent genius) how to make the stories themselves express the philosophical ideas he’d been trying to work out with his characters. How do we negotiate the line between fantasy and reality? How do we maintain selfhood and identity? Is there a unique selfhood and identity which is possible in a post-modern subject?

Except way less pedantic and academic than that. Because he’d figured out how to marry his comic genius to his intellectual wanderings in about six brilliant films.
“Andrea” thinks Purple Rose is boring. I profoundly disagree. It’s mesmerizing. And I’ve seen it so many times that, not only do I know precisely what Mia Farrow will say to Jeff Daniels, I also know what Jeff Daniels' fictional character said to Ina Beasley in Dancing Doughboys. And, although I know how the movie will end, I desperately want it to be different this time. Perhaps Mia Farrow will stop one time and face the screen and say” “You've seen this film a lot of times. What should I do here?”

But in the end, in a way it doesn’t matter. Cecilia chose wrong. And continues to chose wrong every time I watch it. What’s worse, no matter what I would tell her, she’d choose wrong. And no matter what all the fictional characters advise, she chooses wrong every time.

“Because then you see, the story has tragic proportions.”

“But that’s fiction. That’s movies. You’ve seen too many movies. I’m talking about reality. If you want a happy ending, you should see a Hollywood movie.” (Crimes and Misdemeanours)

But it isn’t a happy ending. She chooses reality and gets burned. And it’s only when she chooses to lose herself in a Hollywood movie (and I still get chills here) and chooses to go back into fantasy that she can survive.

Reading outside the film and putting it into the context of Allen’s life, what makes it particularly brutal is that the director himself seems to be working out his intensely personal problems on screen. The rest of his oeuvre seems to be one giant celebration of his love for hookers and a rehearsal for screwing over Mia Farrow and doing something grossly inappropriate with a young woman who may or may not be related.

Now I’m the first person to admit that watching the guy work out how he will fuck up in the future may be distasteful and the equivalent of watching of a giant train wreck. I like that sort of thing. You may not. But I think we should all rally for Scott to go out and rent Zelig. Or at least What’s Up, Tiger Lily. Or, at the very least, Bananas.

That’s it this month. Al’s covering some little baseball event in Florida or something. New films and a new Al’s Corner next month, we promise.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

As the stock market continues to bottom out, this might come in handy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

In case you're looking for something to read before Dexter comes on (or something to drink during, you might check this Gremolata article out.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

If you only read one Al’s Hidden Gems newsletter this year, make it this one!

AHG 24: All-time Hidden Gems

A lot to cover in this issue (reader hate mail and our picks for all-time hidden gems) so we’ll get right into it. For our two-year anniversary (of the letter, that is), we’ll be providing a round up of some of our very favourite movies which we think you might have overlooked. This will hopefully give you some ammunition for the next time you wind up in a video store and are faced with Sex and the City: the Movie. But before we get there, I have to clear up a few things and ramble for a bit. So, if you want to get straight to the movie recommendations and skip the digressions, scroll down about 10 paragraphs to the line which reads “RESUME HERE.”

I’m always surprised when more people don’t share my antipathy towards Sex and the City. I mean, it’s not like I’m never going to watch the movie (I’ll be on a plane again some time, even with high fuel prices), it’s just that the show deteriorated so severely over the years – from something which (I thought) even almost challenged conventional images of women on TV into a drab, repetitive show which reinforced the very worst stereotypes of women (shallow, self-obsessed, and obsessed with marrying well so that they can procure real estate and more shoes). Not even shots of New York in the backdrop can salvage this movie for me.

Could it be that “fabulous” parties and shoe talk aren’t enough to glue a show together for six seasons? (Say that in a Carrie Bradshaw voice)

And don’t even get me started on those hideous drinks. So, one day, when I was complaining about the failed promise of SATC, my friend “Peggy” pointed out something glaringly obvious, which I should have figured out on my own. She said: “Yeah, it’s really just a TV show.”

Which was a very good point. And something I think I should repeat to “Chris,” who has written me almost every day to take me to task for my critique of Mad Men. My position, you may recall was that it had no plot or story arc.

Of course, I still watch it. But pretty well only for Betty’s dresses. And, I do have to admit that something did finally happen on MM last time.

My recap for Season Two: (SPOILER ALERT):

Episode 1: Betty’s car breaks down. It is later fixed. (but off-camera)
Episode 2: Peggy took a bath
Episode 3: Don drank some milk
Episode 4: Don rode in an elevator. It seemed like a really long ride. How tall is that building, exactly?
Episode 5: Betty and Don littered in an otherwise nice park
Episode 6: Jackie Kennedy was on TV. Most of the characters sat and watched.
Episode 7: Joan finally figured out where to put the photocopy machine
Episode 8: Betty threw Don out
Episode 9: Freddy peed his pants

Dramatic upturn in activity in the last two, hey?

But my slagging of Mad Men elicited some pretty strong hate mail. The reader insinuated we had no patience and no intelligence and that we had to wait for the backstory to get slowly filled in.
Now, I don’t want to make an ad populum argument here, but way more people supported my nonplussed feelings about Mad Men than took offence. In fact, in support of MM? One. Against? Six. Hardly a good sample, I know. But here’s my response to the one Mad Men supporter.
I don’t have a problem with a slow emergence of back story. I didn’t mind watching four seasons of The Sopranos to find out why Tony occasionally passed out in the presence of sliced meat. However, in the meantime, I was so charmed with the discourse regarding, oh, say, Columbus Day tensions, appropriation of culture and notions of authenticity that I didn’t give a damn about how long it took to get to the prosciutto.

With MM, I keep waiting for some of that same frontstory discourse to keep me going through the 21 episodes of style-over-substance. Yes, they communicate a lot of stuff visually, but nothing really novel. Like, sure, we know that women really had the short end of the stick back then. (Unlike now.) Yeah, we know that men were an old boys network. (Unlike now.) And, yeah, we know that everybody (except the occasion beat proto-hipster who drifts through the show and has a brief encounter with Don) is repressed by an empty consumer culture in which people sell us things we don’t need. (Somebody get me some shoes and real estate, please.) Other than the beautiful and striking stuff about risk assessment when it came to child safety, smoking, second hand smoke, drinking and seatbelts, I am almost never challenged by the discourse.

The reader pointed out that “Draper is not who he is. And we gradually learn a little more, while never quite answering who he is. Because even he doesn’t know.”

Yeah, great. But do the screenwriters?

I’ll admit that the idea of a TV character representing an ultimately unknowable self would be intriguing. And if the show were to get into esoteric thoughts about the nature of subjectivity, I’d be on board. And I’ll even admit that Betty leaving Don with no evidence of his cheating even kind of smacks of the Lacanian idea that the “letter always reaches its destination.” But I doubt it will go that way, ultimately. Because nobody other than me would be so idiotic as to write a screenplay based on their thoughts about Jacques Lacan. It’s really just a TV show. And, in the end, my money is on Don not knowing who he is cause of the patriarchal oppression of the day and his involvement in empty consumer culture.

The last two episodes, however, had real promise. I hope it continues. And I’ll keep watching to see if it does. I don’t care how many times I have to watch Don washing his hands, Peggy making toast and Joan putting on lipstick to settle this.

RESUME HERE (for those wanting to get right to the recommendations for “all-time hidden gems”)

Lost in America.

Albert Brooks can be a little hard to take, and so I can understand if you have reservations about this pick. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, for example, is almost a deal breaker for me and Brooks. Defending Your Life is so-so in my books. Lost in America, however, is totally worth a shot. It’s a really funny film about a guy who, like Janis Joplin, really wants a Mercedes Benz. Plus, it introduced me to the concept that there are two types of people who go to Vegas: Us vs. all the other schmucks who come here to see Wayne Newton. I think I’m in the first camp. Although we did see Wayne. Twice.

For foodie movies, many people sing the virtues of Big Night. I agree. It’s a great movie. However, if you’re looking for something new, you might have missed Tampopo – perhaps my all-time favourite film about soup. My second favourite film about soup is Babette’s Feast. Al’s always wanted to make an evening of the two, like, cook up a decadent meal and watch the two together as a double bill. I’m assuming it would be me cooking up the decadent meal, since Al only knows how to cook three things: cheese fondue, grilled cheese sandwiches and coke floats. (In his defence, he makes really good best coke floats.)

Next, I’m going to add an oldie but goodie: A Face in the Crowd. I ran across that movie on a few years ago and was struck by how the film’s critique of celebrity culture was nearly identical to contemporary discourse nearly half a century later. I love it when that happens.

I saw Man Bites Dog a very, very long time ago but I remember thinking that it was an amazing film about reality TV long before reality TV had really been imported into North America from Europe. Since, I was accused of watching too much reality TV recently, I add this film to make me look smart and to point out that its origins are mostly Dutch. I’m really hoping Man Bites Dog has held up over the years. Please let me know.

Al told me there’s a documentary about David Lynch coming out and suggested we rent it. I rolled my eyes at the thought. Apparently, it portrays him as an exacting and controlling director with an uncompromising artistic vision – not just a folksy little guy who likes to put midgets on film and have a little fun.

I’m always surprised when people discover that a wildly successful director with an unconventional style is also something of a megalomaniac. I mean, how do you think he got to be David Lynch?

But I digress. The point is that it reminded me that The Straight Story is right up there. It’s about a guy who drives his tractor. That’s my favourite Lynch (although I do love Sailor and Lulu).

And then there’s Fitzcarraldo. Herzog often seems a little self-indulgent to me, but this film is brilliant. It’s a little hazy to me at this moment but Al made me watch it a long time ago and, either we’d had too much champagne or it was an absolutely beautiful story about speculators in South America.

Al also introduced me to Jean de Florette, a film about a tax collector (played by Gerard Depardieu) trying to start up a farm in France with hostile neighbours undermining his attempts. Funnily enough, I believe Gerard Depardieu tried to buy a vineyard in real life but found the hostile locals blocked his efforts. Another one for the Robert Downey, Jr. theory.

(Al points out that you shouldn’t watch JDF without checking out the sequel, Manon des Sources.)

A little bit less epic is Secondhand Lions, a totally fun little adventure movie starring Michael Caine, Robert Duvall and that creepy kid who sees dead people. It’s a pretty entertaining little diversion.

Now, a long time ago, “Beth” suggested The Stone Reader. I asked Al to go get it a few times but he never did. So last night I actually went with him and watched over him until he got it. He kept saying he’d already rented it once. I insisted that, no, he had stubbornly defied my requests every time. About two minutes in, I realized he was right. He’d gotten it and I had fallen asleep right at the beginning. I must have been pretty tired, cause this movie is awesome. I fell in love with it. I think if you wanted a good double-bill, rent it with one of our previous gems – My Kid Could Paint That and spend the evening thinking about art and literature. Nice work, Beth. It’s runner-up for all-time hidden gem. (And sorry it took me about a year to figure it out.)

And now for the other winner: Lars and the Real Girl. It’s a good, every day kind of premise and a situation I think we can all relate to. It’s about a guy who falls in love with a mail-order blow-up doll.

Good work Al.

P.S. Here are few reader recommendations that we haven’t quite got around to. I’d be happy to hear reports back.

Crazy Love
Breakfast on Pluto
A Bear`s Tale
The Myth of Fingerprints
The Daytrippers.
Ruby In Paradise
The Visitor
Black Book

Friday, September 19, 2008

I'm glad to see Nobu getting in trouble for two reprehensible things. First off, the practice of holding waiters' tips. Just because it is common for restaurant owners to eye and confiscate waiters' tips doesn't make it right. When I went to bat at one place where they were planning a hike in the tipout, I was told it was "industry standard." Common ad populum fallacy.

The second thing is raping the ocean. Serving bluefin is nearly the same as serving panda.

At any rate, I'm happy to see a high profile place busted for these things. When they have to reform, hopefully it will do something in the way of changing industry standards.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hi folks. Been running around trying to get this off the ground, finish a proposal, start a new course and a few other odds and ends. By the way, Sue and I will be at the Gremolata re-launch at Hart House on the 25th.

Friday, September 05, 2008

AHG 23

Okay, right off the bat, I'd like to say that somewhere along the line, I've given people the impression that I like the show Mad Men. I'd like to clear up that impression. Just 'cause I've watched every episode and generally clear Sunday nights for the event, doesn’t mean I like it.

One reason I watch it is the dearth of good reality television in the summer. Another reason is probably the lack of commercials (which changed this week when they added three commercial breaks). A third reason might be how beautiful it is. But mostly, I think have a morbid curiosity about how long a show can run in which absolutely nothing happens.

There's no real story arc, no character development, a lot of meaningless digression and, seemingly, no plot. If this is the new style of television, I may have a future career as a TV screenwriter after all.

Or even film, if Al's picks this month are any indication.

We started with Margot at the Wedding, which was supposed to be some kind of “tragi-comedy,” a little like, well…this newsletter, I suppose. The guy who makes these films (I really didn’t like The Squid and the Whale either) is supposed to be some kind of genius auteur or something but I really don’t get it.

Next was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Now, three days before we rented this movie we talked about getting it. And seven days after we rented this movie we talked about how it had turned out. And two hours
before watching this movie we had roast beef. And, yes, that’s exactly what it’s like to watch this frustrating movie, which is obviously inspired by Memento and/or Pulp Fiction. Memo to screenwriters and directors: please don’t mess around with the linear time frame just ‘cause you think it’s cool. It’s not. And in this case, we suspect it was just a way to disguise the lack.

I’m not even going to dignify The Savages with a blurb. Al will rent anything with Philip Seymour in it, including Before the Devil and The Savages, which were both beyond bad. Memo to screenwriters and directors: attaching Philip Seymour to your project just ‘cause you
think he’s cool will not disguise the lack. Although, I’ll concede that it will guarantee you at least one sale at the video store.

While I was on the plane coming back from somewhere, I sat next to a real live objectivist ex-York university professor. He followed Ayn Rand’s teachings and had had a “controversial” career. In the back of my mind somewhere, I think I could remember the controversy but, frankly, my mind is too full of details like which cocktail-shaking technique makes a drink four degrees colder to remember trivial York
politics. Anyhow, he told me to watch Definitely Maybe on the personal TV. I did. Because for that brief flight, I had no independent thought. This light romantic comedy seemed an odd choice for a political scientist or economist or whatever he was. Still, it was a lot better than the romantic comedies Al made me watch on the plane. Fool’s Gold? Really, Al?

So I had to step in and make some choices. I was now guided by rational self-interest and half-way through The Fountainhead. And we watched Death at a Funeral, which was definitely worth it. Then, continuing on the morbid-comedy
trip, we rented The Bucket List. An unexpected pleasure. I’m sure most of you have heard of In Bruges (which “Sergio” had recommended). Also quite good. Really, you wouldn’t do badly with a triple-bill.

But in the end, the real winner was actually one of Al’s picks: Two- Lane Blacktop. Much like the other movies I was criticizing, it was pointless and slow. At the same time, though, it was absolutely mesmerizing. I’m not really saying you all should rent it. If you want entertainment, try the three above. But it’s a really beautiful time capsule and, in case you weren’t aware it had been re-released, you might want to check it out.

Al`s Corner

Okay, now for the usual truthiness.

The Maggot at the Wedding, I never heard of. The Squid I liked; the Whale, not so much.

The Lack …… I think that was one of those we rent – like, for eight or nine days, but use mostly as a coaster. We never seem to be able to get it close enough to the machine with the big slot in it that it actually registers on the TV. You’ve got to get those things pretty close to the slot before you get anything.

But Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead … well, now, I’m a little surprised to hear, like, that there’s time-shifting in there or something. As far as I can recall, that sucker was moving along smooth
as Land O’ Lakes, with hardly even a visible edit. Sort of like Rope.

That Chris says it was inspired by Memento, well now I know she needs to get her medication upgraded because I can’t even watch – what’s it called again? – without plenty of pencil and paper. I also jammed a copy of Memento into a Diet Coke once – you know, just to see. Know what I got? Nothing but fizz. Another urbane mist.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

In case you're wondering what it is I've been getting up to in Holland Marsh.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

An enterprising blogger has taken it upon himself to publish all the recipes from cocktail hour in New Orleans. I link to mine but am going to spend some time looking at everyone else's. Cocktail hour is about my favorite event at Tales (because of all the people you meet) but, unfortunately, you never get a chance to try everyone else's drinks. Now I can rectify that.

I make my ancho chile syrup, incidentally, with dried anchos, fresh poblanos and occasionally a few other complementary peppers should they be in season. I bring to a boil with sugar in about the same ratio that I would use for a normal simple syrup, then simmer and then strain through a cheesecloth.

Sue and I make a few bar syrups (grenadine, lime cordial, ginger and seville orange). They'll be for sale at the Gremolata re-launch at Hart House September 25th - should you wish to buy and save yourself the trouble of tinkering with spice to sugar ratios.

P.S. One more thing. Somebody commented on the fact that a Brazil-inspired cocktail should have cachaca in it. I tried to leave a comment to this effect on the Slashfood board but it's not up yet. This is an excellent point and, of course, my original recipe called for Leblon. Things get lost in the mix when logistics for making thousands of drinks and sponsors are involved.

The original recipe was as follows:

The Capoeira

Leblon Cachaca 1.5 oz
Grand Marnier .5 oz
Acai frozen pulp 1 oz
Lime juice 1.5 oz
Ancho Chile Syrup 1 oz

I think it's a really different animal than a lot of the other cocktails going around. This is gritty and spicy balanced with sweet.


Monday, August 25, 2008

From the Star's Food and Drink section: all about terroir.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I am a little jealous of this guy. I'll admit it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Aside from Auntie Mame, here are some other things that happened at Tales.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

This, to me, is a fascinating topic. In case anybody cares, I don't drink milk - raw or cooked. I was weened on wine. Still, somebody in the comments section who likes to use ad hominem to advance his argument wondered whether I'd compared it with skim in order to produce results. Raw won - taste, colour, mouthfeel and smell.

Clearly, this silly twit doesn't know me. I don't drink or eat skim (or fat-reduced, or calorie reduced, or alcohol reduced, or sodium reduced) anything - ever. The milk I compared it with was the highest fat I could get at the store, my reasoning being that would be the most fair comparison. After a blind taste test (although the smell gives it away with eyes closed) I concluded that if I were a milk-drinker, I would prefer the raw.

Now, not trusting my own judgment, I took my milk samples out to my local and did blind taste tests on consenting adults who signed waivers and all that. One of my consenting adults even seemed to be a super-taster (we did PROP tests too that night) It was unanimous. They preferred the raw milk over the 3.5% I'd bought at the store. Some of the descriptors I used in the article were from my guinea pigs (since I have a hard time getting past the milk taste. Nobody came down ill, btw.

In case anyone's interested, I thought I'd add one more thing: nobody came up with any other sources for raw milk for me. One person suggested I try a Mission Impossible-type break into Riverdale Farm. If Schmidt hadn't come through for me, I wouldn't have gotten any.

Friday, July 25, 2008

AHG – The Alcohol-in-the-Movies Issue.

Okay, you’re right. A little alcohol talk seeps into most of these newsletters. This one is just going to be a little more saturated than the others. Why? Well, because the truth is that Al and I had no time to rent any movies at all, what with our hectic travel schedule.

First there was Seattle. On the plane out west, though, Al made me watch 27 Dresses. I told him it was a chick flick and I didn’t want to, but he was pretty insistent ‘cause he said he wanted to have somebody to discuss it with afterwards. So I did. It was pretty well as bad as you’d expect – with the exception of a charming scene where the couple gets drunk and sing "Benny and the Jets" and get all the lyrics wrong.

That, of course, advanced the plot, since they were so drunk that they got over their inhibitions and slept together. Fairly cheap trick, but a tried and true screenwriter’s fallback, which I noticed was the entire premise of What Happened in Vegas, the movie Al made me watch once we got to California. I don’t know what it is with him.

Now my friend – we’re going to call her “Danielle” – had seen it already but by total accident. And she said that since she’d had no expectations, it wasn’t that bad. Well, unfortunately, that raised my expectations to a level perhaps ever so slightly higher than they should have been.

It’s like somebody wanted to re-make Doris Day-Rock Hudson again. Now I’ll even admit to really liking Doris Day movies but I see no need whatsoever to make modern versions of them. And if we must remake them, can’t they just keep re-making them with Kate Hudson? ‘Cause I could just stare at her for ninety minutes thinking about how damn much she looks like her mother. But, really, if I just want to see that kind of thing, I’d actually rather just watch Lover Come Back, in which the happy couple gets together after eating VIP cookies – each
of which packs the wallop of three martinis.

The gag seemed a lot more original back then.

But I digress. After that, Al went to Edmonton but, I, funnily enough, was too busy to join him on that leg. No, really, I was. For one thing, I had to watch Auntie Mame again to prep for Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. What a great movie. It happens to fit in with something I’ve been wanting to write about – progressive 1950s movies versus reactionary 1960s movies. I’m not going to give you the whole list because then you all could go ahead and pitch this article somewhere but what I’ve noticed is that, while we call the 1950s
“candy floss,” the darkest, most progressive, most controversial films which contained biting social commentary were all produced in that era.

By contrast, in the really radical 1960s (which the boomers can’t shut up about), we have, well, Doris Day. Okay, you’re right – Annette Funicello did some stuff back then, too. And that muscle beach stuff was pretty poignant.

Anyhow, Auntie Mame was great. And the epic drinking going on during the film was great, too. Oh, and the epic drinking on-screen was amazing also. It all takes place during prohibition, though, so I wondered if it wasn’t something of an anachronism that people were drinking so much. Surely people didn’t drink during prohibition?

That reminds me. I did a seminar earlier that day and we were going to play a bit of The Untouchables as people walked in. It’s hard to find a video rental place in the French Quarter, though. So we didn’t. But
that would be another great booze movie to watch. Or Some Like it Hot. That’s always fun. Or any movie you can find with WC Fields in it.

Anyhow, we got home and, frankly, were a little cocktailed out. It was time to give my liver a rest and switch to wine. Fortunately, Al had the perfect movie to watch for our new, sedate life: The Secret of Santa Vittoria.

It was really pretty great. It started off a little goofy, but was an entirely entertaining story about wine and Italian bravery during WWII – not a story you hear very often!

So that’s your hidden gem for the month. (Or Auntie Mame, if you prefer.)

Al`s Corner

Okay, so first off, I don’t make the fabulous Christine watch anything. Mostly, I just make her laugh. Like when I fall asleep on the couch with my mouth open and she sticks a piece of food in there. She gets particularly hysterical when it’s a piece of food the cat had been playing with.

Two, I don’t remember that plane ride.

And, three, it wasn’t 27 Dresses but 25 Dresses and a Couple of

I can’t even type ‘mumu’ without thinking of Homer Simpson. And I
can’t tell you what I’m thinking when I see the name Annette

Best thing about Seattle: Downhill.
Best thing about Anaheim: I don’t live there.
Best thing about New Orleans: Air-conditioning.
Best thing about Edmonton: Again, that I don’t live there, but also
that I didn’t have to worry about falling asleep with my mouth open.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In case you all were wondering how things went at Tales of the Cocktail, here's Stephen Beaumont's version. He likes me, he really likes me!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hard to imagine there are yet more food memoirs coming out. (And I'm in the middle of reading another one today.) Anyhow, reading the three for this article got me very hungry for Chinese food.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

As many of you no doubt know, New Orleans` Tales of the Cocktail starts tomorrow. With all of the excitement, some of you may have missed the fact that one of Al`s future Hidden Gems, Auntie Mame will be shown on Saturday, July 19th at 3PM. It`s a really exciting event, seeing as it`s the 50th anniversary of the film, I`ll
be hosting and our special guest is Jan Handzlik, who actually played young Patrick in the film!

Where is this event, you ask?

At the W Hotel New Orleans, 333 Poydras Street. A chance to check out
another venue, too!

Of course, I can fill you in on all the details when we see each other earlier that morning at Bottoms Up! A Spirited History of Drink in Canada - 10:30AM at the Hotel Monteleone. I repeat, that`s Saturday morning at 10:30.

This is a one and only chance to see Kevin Brauch, James McCartney and I (three for the price of one!) discuss the lurid history of bootlegging, Canadian whisky and a whole lot of other fun stuff. I know it`s early in the morning but we have pretty pictures and Crown Royal Cask 16 to wake you up. Come find out how Americans drank Canada dry during prohibition!



Friday, July 11, 2008

Here's the latest at Gremolata. Hey, how do I not have Gremolata on my blogroll? Have to fix that soon. A bit busy preparing for Tales at the moment.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

AHG 21

You'd think that in the summer Al and I would be out engaging in all the X-TREME outdoor activities you naturally associate with us. You know, like gin smackdowns, opossum-raccoon matches, outdoor movie marathons and crokinole tournaments. But, as you may have noticed, there's been remarkably little summer this far. What there has been of it has been rainy. Or maybe it just feels that way to me since I spent
the first part of it in Pittsburgh.

Anyhow, 'cause of the weather and/or Pittsburgh, we're pretty much in the process of calling off all summer activities and retreating into what can only be described as our more typical winter activities – reality TV, movie rentals and sparkling wine. I hear good things about Cordoniu Sparkling Pinot Noir Rose that the LCBO is kind enough to let us have – I’m dying to try it.

That said, other than Living Lohan, there's a real dearth of good reality TV out there this year. Some of you may already be crying
oxymoron with the notion of “good reality TV” but I'm willing to bet a good percentage of you folks out there have, like us and “Chris,” spent a fair share of time watching Gordon Ramsay screaming at underpaid line cooks, incompetent owners and wannabe chefs. Yes?

And so “Chris” suggested I write up a Ramsay vs. Ramsay Smackdown. He
said this:

"I love RKN. I hate H'sK. I think it's because the first one has the whiff or reality to it, along with the garlic and scallions and real-gravy campaigning. The latter is reality-TV rubbish. But I would love to hear what Mantequilla and the rest of the AHG crew say."

Now about two months ago, I would have agreed with Chris on this. But, truth is, Al and I kind of overdosed on RKN. And, I'm hoping I'm not getting too pedantic here but I wonder if we shouldn’t also draw a distinction between Brit RKN and Fox RKN. As my friend "Rod" pointed out, the American version is a caricature of its former self.
Sensationalized? Well, yes. Producers playing up a winning formula of Ramsay abusing folks? In spades. But in the early episodes of the British version, chefs seemed to get genuine help from Ramsay. Now they pretty well only get fodder for a lawsuit.

Say, speaking of lawsuits, the new season of Restaurant Makeover has been running and, boy, is it ever toned down. The chefs almost never abuse the menu and the producers have refrained from running shots of filth and everyone talking about what a disgusting mess the restaurant is. It's way kinder to the owners and chefs. Unfortunately, it’s also almost unwatchable, seeing as there's practically no conflict or humiliation.

No danger of that with Ramsay – ever. And what kept me watching it was the way he would utterly humiliate the owners and/or chefs – but never the front of house staff. It's cathartic therapy of a sort – all bartenders and wait staff living vicariously through Ramsay who tells every idiot owner from our collective traumatic past exactly the same things we wanted to scream at them but couldn't 'cause of the way they
held that $125 weekly pay over our heads.

Like the time Ramsay said to the big Italian lug:

"I have never, ever, ever met someone I have less confidence in."


Then the tide sorta started turning for me. "Emma" pointed out that Ramsay isn't nearly as tall as he thinks he is, Al started noticing that he takes his shirt off at least once per episode and I started to grow tired of the term "rustic."

I think it comes from watching too many in a row. So we turned to Hell's Kitchen which, in a weird way, is kinda interesting to me because of the hopeless hopefuls. I mean, sure, “Chris” is right. It is certainly reality-TV rubbish. And he's also correct to point out that there's no learning about food in HK or even any food porn. But I really like shows where you start to root for the bitchy girl to get
her come-uppance – Ramsay style. (Jen, I'm looking at you.)

I do admit it’s going to run pretty thin pretty soon and then we’ll be
out of food reality-TV shows. Gasp. Fortunately, while we were in the States, we were introduced to a new show: Top Chef. They were running a marathon and it was great – more like the top designer shows, wherein genuinely talented people compete with each other. I'm happy to say Chicago Top Chef has begun airing in Canada – thus solving our what-to-watch-this-rainy-summer dilemma.

Anyhow, that's it for that. I'm going to try and keep AHG short this month. But before I let you go, I need to direct you to this month's gem: Kenny.

"Emma" recommended it, mentioning that she saw it on a plane and actually had folks asking her to keep it down. It was really funny – I can totally see getting into trouble on a plane with a few cocktails and Kenny. You may not want to watch it with polite company, either. It's about a port-o-potty operations manager. The first bit is replete with plenty of bathroom humour. It was, in retrospect, a mistake to
watch it while eating dinner. I'm not even a fan of bathroom humour, generally, but this is really quite a fine film.

Special thanks to “Ron” who managed to find it for me. It's not at the local video store – it's an Australian film and doesn't seem to have had a North American release yet. So use whatever means necessary to track down Emma's pick and watch – after dinner.

Al's Corner

Oh, yeah, “Kenny.” Definitely worth looking for – no shit. Of course, took me some doing to pick up on the accents. Aussies, eh? Once I got that down – ditto for my lunch – I remember Kenny consoling a buddy who was starting to fret about his upcoming wedding. Our hero advised that you could always cut out the middle-man, namely marriage, itself. Simply: “find someone you hate and buy them a house.”
As for Mr. Ramsay’s fabulous entertainment packages, I mostly tend to enjoy the smokes practically every “chef” must have after a rough night at the office. Much like how I enjoy my own after taking a shower.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Here's a piece in Gremolata about Holland Marsh farms. I loved VanHart's tomatoes, in particular.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Too tired to come up with an intro for this.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

I'm a little hurt that Sherry didn't mention me in this but you all might enjoy reading about my friend anyway. Or anyways as she would say.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Hitchens makes an excellent point here. It also always strikes me that I'm perfectly capable of pouring my own wine. It's a little like when those guys pull out your chair for you. Thanks to Malcolm Jolley for pointing me to the link.
I couldn't agree more with this column. All the proposals to encourage more interesting food have been bizarre and deluded. Just open it up already.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

AHG 20 – Where Al gets real political

So, right after we got back from Orlando, Al started to seem real sombre-like and, other than Gordon Ramsay shows, turned his attention entirely to really serious, apocalyptic and political-ish type movies.

I'm not saying this is a hundred per cent for sure related to having spent time in the land of Mouse, it's just that I wonder a little about the timing.

We kicked off the month with I Am Legend, which was kinda watchable. Maybe I had more tolerance for it than I should have, since I like zombie movies and the whole "last man" trope in science fiction and wanted to see how it played out. Not nearly as bad as we expected.

Plus, I was also prejudiced in its favour because I like watching movies with New York in the background. This is probably how I managed to make it to the end of Cloverfield. Al seemed to be really enjoying it, despite the fact that the acting and character development was way beyond bad. Not only that, 'cause of the shaky hand-held camera gimmick, I couldn't even be entertained with good monster shots. And, when the statue of Liberty's head landed in the middle of Soho, my disbelief was already headed for trouble. Are we meant to think the monster carried it from Liberty Island?

Then, Al disobeyed me and rented Michael Clayton. With total disregard for the Clooney edict, he made me watch this thinly disguised Monsanto bash-fest. I guess the thing is, I sorta think Monsanto bash-fests are well deserved and, to tell the truth, I didn't even think Clooney was so awful in it - this once.

Next was Lions for Lambs. It had its good points and its bad ones. For example, I couldn't take the Streep character at all. And Robert Redford played a prof who was spending a full hour with an undergrad student. Please. Do five minutes of research. Ask any prof the last time he spent an hour with an undergrad. Fully clothed, that is.

But, holy crap, was Tom Cruise ever amazing. Now, I don't like Cruise when he's acting, but this time he was playing a misguided megalomaniac and was just swell. It was just like watching those Scientology videos (you know the ones) where he laughs insanely to himself about absolutely nothing and gestures a lot. It got me thinking: I wonder when Cruise will take a run for senate for real? That's something to look forward to.

Although, to tell the truth, it couldn't be much more entertaining than the recent antics. I mean, I got kind of excited about Obama about a year or so ago and slowly started not rooting for Ms. Clinton. I felt vindicated as she got campier and campier and her husband got ruddier and ruddier and those folks didn't seem to take the hint that maybe they'd already, ahem, lost.

Of course, like many, I'm sure, I started to think back to Primary Colors and wondered if perhaps the Clintons had some evidence that their opponent had dabbled in cocaine with young men or something and were carrying the pictures around and waiting to drop it on him – just like that monster did with the statue's head. But they would've dropped it by now, so I suppose they're waiting for him to make a big gaffe all on his own.

And then, sure enough, Ms. Clinton was on the TV set just the other day, pointing out that in that Primary Colors movie, John Travolta (another scientologist who should take a shot at running for office – perhaps on an environmental platform) only won in June. And, what's more, she reminded us that RFK was shot in June, too.

So, there's hope for her campaign after all.

I wonder now, though, whether I even like Obama as much as I used to. My friend Chandra says she thinks he's got a bit of a smug frat boy sneer on his face these days – like he's had it all a bit too easy. The thing that got me was when he was saying how we weren't all going to be able to heat our houses to 72 degrees anymore. Next, he'll be telling us to put on a sweater. Personally, I don't think any platform that sounds like your mother is the sort of thing that gets you elected.

Besides, I sort of don't mind the idea of McCain these days. I've always enjoyed him on Jon Stewart and, I have a feeling that he might keep going on the show, if elected. And, if not, his disappointment might be kinda severe and frankly, that might not be so great for his health. Not to mention he might blow a gasket.

Next, we watched Charlie Wilson's War, a movie about a guy who kept getting elected despite his cocaine use and hanging out with strippers. Makes you kind of nostalgic, eh? I mean, for a time when politicians could openly use drugs and operations in Afghanistan and surrounding areas were still covert.

Finally, last night, we watched Evan Almighty. I'm not even gonna pretend to dignify this movie with any faint praise. It was awful. If I do say so myself, the funniest moment in the movie was during the credits when I pointed out that the message seemed to be that if a wealthy neighbourhood is flooded thanks to faulty engineering, political action to correct the situation and punish the culprits is swift and decisive.


Q: There was no hidden gem this month. What am I supposed to watch?

A: Sorry. You should watch Manda Bala, a doc about frog farming in Brazil. Sort of. It's also about kidnapping squads in Sao Paolo. It was amazing. Go get it.

Q: It might have been the cigarette I had but I could not understand No Country for Old Men. I completely missed what happened to the guy who took the money. Did he get killed in the hotel where the woman beside the pool wanted to have a beer with him? If so, who killed him? Why was some big corporation involved in the sale that kicked things off? Isn't that a bit bogus?

Seriously - all I saw a movie about a guy who killed people. For that it got raves? What did I miss? And when I asked some people about the ending, a bartender responded "You mean when he stabs the priest and sez 'I'm so tired'?" Then someone said "no that was TWBB" and then someone else "Oh now you spoiled it for me." And I'm like- you know - wha'?

A: Thank you for pointing this out. I was way too easy on No Country for Old Men last month. I thought there was an interesting intensity in a few spots. Basically, I thought it was a standard Coen Brothers overly-stylized, content-free "thriller." I don't know why they try to do anything other than movies like Raising Arizona.

I'm pretty sure that the fact that you were high as a kite had nothing to do with the fact that you were underwhelmed by No Country for Old Men. I thought it was over-rated myself.

Although you do gotta like that guy's hair.

Al's Corner
Well, in Cloverfield, not actually getting a clear view of the critter was perfectly okay. It’s sort of like our cat – the invisible one. I mean, you can sense he’s right in the middle of the table, stealthily hooking a pork chop off your plate but, like, you just can’t see him. Very scary.

And, while I’m up, I thought Christine did a bang-up job this month and told her so. Thing is, she tells me this bit might pretty much have run its course. This shouldn’t happen. You should tell her. I’d have to go back to watching CNN.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rod Weatherbie of Taste TO wrote a piece about In Our Cups on Friday, which I thought I'd draw your attention to. Thanks Rod!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A couple of food sculpture slide shows have made me desperately want to hone my carving skills: first, this; then this. The first set is especially great.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I was out with friends last night who mentioned that, if they move, it will be to a place where Happy Hour is a cherished institution. Or, at least legal. Well, they might have to rule out France. Too bad. You hate to see anti-prohibitionist forces take up over there. Last time it led to the ban on absinthe.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

And here, a review of some good and some not-so-good food memoirs. Mouth Wide Open was my favourite, obviously.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Our recycling bin just arrived - what a fucking monstrosity. Fortunately, we're getting a new porch this year and can redesign it around the recycling bin. 'Cause dragging it up and down the steps when it's full is going to be a real big drag.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The bad news is that I think we must give up our tuna sashimi. The good news is that oysters are probably okay! Johnny Flynn, here I come. More on the topic here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm going to visit the newly opened Holland Marsh farmer's market fairly soon - hopefully to write a feature on it. For now, there's this in today's Star. Important, especially, for the locavores among you.

Monday, April 28, 2008

AHG 19 – The “Green” Issue.

So, to celebrate Earth Day, we decided to do our part. We threw away all our non-environmentally friendly trash bags, lightbulbs and everything that looked even remotely nefarious and bought all new “green” things. It was about a truckload of stuff – both coming in and going out. But we felt pretty virtuous by the end.

And, for that actual “Earth Hour?” Well, we put away the remote control for the night. We cracked open some organic wine from Australia, ate some nice Chilean Sea Bass ceviche, pulled out candles and a board game. It was very lovely and serene – like it must have been in the days before the internet.

About ten minutes in though, Al managed to place his score sheet on a lit candle and start a small fire. He then started frantically waving a lit piece of paper all around the room – little pieces of it breaking off and scattering and starting new little fires all over the room. Al then started to run around, picking up the newly lit things and waving them about. Within seconds, there were about half dozen
little fires.

After stamping out all the little fires with my bare feet, the obvious question had to be asked: “Where did he ever learn that oh-so effective technique of fighting fire with oxygen?

Al: “I was trying to snap it out. Sometimes you can just snap it out.”

Anyhow, at that moment, I did several things. First, I made plans to buy a fire extinguisher. Next, I turned every light in the house back on, got some good old non-organic champagne and put on a movie - There Will Be Blood. Then I swore we’d never do another “Earth Hour” stunt again.

Now, it could have been the previous near-death experience (or the fact that I kept shaking my head and replaying the phrase ‘snap it out’ in my head) but, I have to say, I don’t think this movie lived up to the hype. For one thing, it was way too long.

158 minutes of non-stop Daniel Day-Lewis, mind you, is not even a record. It was a merciful eight minutes fewer DDL minutes than Gangs of New York was, for example. But still. So we stopped and watched Blind Date. We tried to watch it again the next day. Even with a fresh outlook it seemed long, slow and kinda pointless.

Next was No Country for Old Men. You’ve all seen it, so I’ll keep it brief. Way better than that P.T. Anderson film – even if it’s kind of artificial and forced to compare the two. Pretty good for a Coen Brothers thriller – I usually prefer their comedies.

Anyhow, after that, we were pretty much done with the new releases and on to looking for hidden gems. And, at first, when he kept picking Billy Bob Thornton movies, I thought this was going to be Al’s worst month ever.

Then, I think Al was really trying to make up for nearly burning down the house (and Mr. Woodcock) and so he rented Inside the Smiths. I’m pretty sure it was to make me happy. First of all, the day before I’d taken a break from non-stop Peggy Lee and listened to a little Violent Femmes and, to Al, I’m pretty sure any bands from the 1980s who aren’t Steely Dan sound pretty well all the same.

At any rate, even though I did listen to the Smiths in high school andcould name at least two and a half band members, Inside the Smiths was way, way, too far inside, even for me, let alone Al. You’d have to start that movie with a working knowledge equal to or better than, say, Johnny Marr’s. And don’t expect to ever actually hear any Smiths songs in this doc, either. Our Smiths needs are a little more basic
and pop-y, I think. The Smiths for Dummies is probably about our level.

So we moved on to a great doc about a slightly less obscure genre: Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. “Ann” had actually recommended it some time ago and, I must say, she was dead on. Lots of Motorhead. And, thanks to an ex who was obsessed with that group, I have a certain soft spot for Lemy.

Another good doc (which Al actually picked all on his own) was My Kid Could Paint That. It’s about a little kid who supposedly painted these abstract masterworks. Sounds dull, I know. I thought it would be some schmaltzy feel-good crap about elephants, cats and small children with paintbrushes who Oprah likes. But it was actually a truly excellent film about art, narrative, celebrity, savant-freaks, the limits of journalism and even a bit of Heisenberg.

Then was King of California, which was kind of slow but had some nice themes about prospecting and mass culture. It also had a really nice ending. Or at least a really nice Billy Bragg song at the end. I can’t remember which.

And last, but not least, was Wristcutters: A Love Story. The premise is great. If you kill yourself, you don’t get to go to heaven, hell, purgatory or any of the good places like that. Instead, you go to an afterlife where things are pretty much the same, only a little worse.

Probably a lot of Billy Bob movies there.

It was really pretty funny, starring that kid from Almost Famous (who isn’t a kid any more) and, officially, this month’s hidden gem. There you have it.

Al’s Corner.

Just what we need – a fire extinguisher. Another energy-sucking

And it wasn’t anywhere, like, six fires. Unless you’re one of those who thinks six is near, like, four.

And it wasn’t just any board game but the Simpsons version of “Clue”and those scoresheets take some thinking ’cause the weapons aredifferent from the original – the poisoned donut, for instance, and, of course, the extend-o-glove. The rooms are pretty much the same, though. You know, The Kwik-e-Mart, Barney’s Bowlarama and so on.

Christine always insists I be Smithers and when I ask why, she keeps
saying, “Don’t you know?”

And it wasn’t a piece of paper, it was a paper towel and they burn a lot differently than a piece of paper. With a piece of paper, you can just snap it out. Nine times out of 10.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Interested in the cultural side of Florida? Did you know Florida even had a cultural side? Either way, you might want to check this out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Will be at the Beaver tomorrow evening at cocktail hour - testing out a few concoctions to see which one gets to go to New Orleans. Come out if you're thirsty.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

When we were in Puerto Vallarta, Senor Descompuesto and I were waiting for the rest of our party so we could check out and enjoying the sun on our shabby little hotel balcony. Descompuesto observed two little kids playing on the rooftop across the street. There were no railings or parents supervising.

"Good to see safety regulations haven't taken over the world," said Descompuesto.

He was so very right. And he knew he was talking to a sympathetic friend - we have had many conversations over the years about our disdain for bubble wrap. For the rest of the trip, though, I made note of the many times we ate food in places which a Toronto health inspector couldn't even begin to understand, climbed up slippery steps with no "Pelligroso!" signs, were exposed to second-hand smoke, traveled in boats with no life jackets and were served to the point of intoxication - to name a few of our freedoms.

It was lovely.

At any rate, there's a woman (who is clearly after my own heart) writing about this sort of stuff here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Time to get Al's Hidden Gems up on the blog, I think. Here's issue #18. If you want to subscribe, let me know.

AHG 18

Truth is, I was hoping I'd be writing this to you from sunny Florida.

Instead, I'm writing from frigid Toronto where, like Dorothy in Kansas, I eagerly go to sleep every night hoping for the colours to change from dingy grey to Technicolor. No luck so far.

Now, it's not as if I think Florida is anything like a reasonable sun destination. Rather, that's where Al must spend a certain portion of March every year because that baseball team "works out" (strenuously, I'm sure) in Dunedin. And, I like Dunedin. There's at least enough to do to fill a good hour there. But Air Canada wanted, like, a thousand dollars or eleventy million points to take me to Tampa Bay during March break and I have a rule that I don't spend cash money to go to Florida. Even in the tail end of Toronto's absolute worst winter ever.

Good thing. Al told me it was about 54 degrees F (12C) the first few days. That's still about 50 more degrees than we had here, but not nearly enough to be enticing.

So anyhow, I did what I usually do when Al's somewhere good and I'm not, namely, bought a side of beef, two cases of gin and sealed up the doors and windows. The only problem was: Who was going to get the movies?

You'll be happy to know, I came up with an ingenious solution. I sent the cat. Not the fat, stupid cat. Let's be reasonable. I sent Vinnie. The results, I have to say, were about the same as when Al goes to the store.

He got the Jane Austen Book Club, which (no surprise) was pretty bad - even to someone who studied all those books repeatedly in school. Next, he got that Darjeeling Limited film about a never-ending train ride in India. And I do mean it, the train ride seemed pretty well interminable. I've really never understood the appeal of that Wes Anderson fellow. Rushmore, okay. But the Royal Tenenbaums? Really? Or that Life Aquatic crap? And, turns out, he was the producer of the
Squid and the Whale. Call me old fashioned but I like my films to have a point.

Then Vinnie picked Bernard and Doris, which I really enjoyed but probably mostly because I'm sort of fascinated by Doris Duke.

Finally, he rented Two Days in Paris, which I actually have to recommend fairly highly. It's practically a hidden gem. Quirky little comedy about a rabbit's head, Jim Morrison's grave and a disintegrating relationship. Good stuff.

Then Al came home and took over the rentals again. I think he was really trying to prove something at first - you know, like, that he was better than the cat, after all. So he went way out on a limb.

First was Romance and Cigarettes - a musical with James Gandolfini and, wait for it... Steve Buscemi. I had to appreciate the fact that they didn't try to write songs to fit in with the plot and simply used existing songs to express the plot. That was kind of neat. The other good things, well, there were none. If I ever sit on a plane with John Turturro (director and writer) again, I'm going to have to have a chat with him about this effort.

Then Al rented The Draughtsman's Contract. Now, the thing is, I really do sort of like Peter Greenaway, but you gotta be in the right mood. And we just weren't.

Finally, Al stopped trying so hard. He got The Kite Runner, which was absolutely terrific but not exactly hidden. Plus, something really neat happened with that film - I realized how blind I really am.

See, one of the neat things about Al is that he'll rent anything. As I've mentioned before, he doesn't just look to the new releases. He'll get avant garde art house flicks, low budget films about New Jersey, gay coming-of-age films, documentaries about well, just about anything and EVEN films with subtitles. Which, my friend was really envious of, since her husband refused to read his entertainment. It's like that Slice poster says, "If I wanted to be Smarter, I'd Watch a Book."

Anyhow, over the last couple of years, I started to feel my enthusiasm for subtitled films wane. When he brought them home, I kind of shrugged them off and looked for the Steve Carell or Will Ferrell flicks at the bottom of the pile.

I wondered (in a Carrie Bradshaw voice): "Am I becoming really dumb? Like dumber than before?"

Evidence for this was mounting, too. We'd been watching more and more reality TV. When Al came back from Fla, he was brimming over with excitement about That's Amore, which is arguably the worst thing ever to hit the screen. And I watched at least a whole episode and wanted to watch a second one, even though I wasn't sure whether to be more offended as a woman or an Italian.

But then I really enjoyed The Kite Runner and, about 20 minutes in, I was right back to where I was a few years ago - not realizing I was reading at all - thanks to my new glasses. Turns out I wasn't getting dumber after all, just going blind. (Well, my IQ may well be dropping, too; I almost certainly lost ten points just watching That's Amore.)

Anyhow, then came the hidden gem. This one is courtesy of John and Mary, who had actually recommended it to us way back in the fall. It's called King of Kong and it's a terrific documentary about the competitive video gaming world.

It's full of scandal, controversy and questions of performance enhancing drugs, just like the real sports world. It was terrific.

Thanks guys for this month's hidden gem. Vinnie would never have found it on his own.

Al's corner

Okay, it's not so much the cat, okay? Vinnie can be trusted with certain things, although has never been great about counting his change. And backgammon! Well, because he's got the attention span of, maybe, one half peanut, he never wins more than one of five. I got to hand it to him for his film selection, though, and, remember, he's limited to the bottom two/three shelves.

No, my issue is with my sweetie's reference to "brimming over with excitement about That's Amore." This was in Florida. I'm pretty sure the remote was stuck on that channel. And I was only excited because Christine needed to know about the greatest collection of idiots ever assembled. I mean, the most memorable line was, "C'mon girls, I'm-a really hungry! Getta all of da meata-balls inna your mout!'' When
Vinnie heard that, he had to go stare at a dust-bunny for 15 minutes.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Having fought more than my fair share of battles against owners who believe that stealing front of house employees' tips in order to subsidize low management and kitchen salaries is a reasonable practice, I'm more than happy to see this ruling against Starbucks. One more reason not to support that chain. That and the horrific coffee.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Here's a review of a really great book about anxiety.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Our Sociopaths, Ourselves

I used to think the recipe for the successful series like The Sopranos, Weeds and Big Love was simple. Take a family representing the “cultural other,” (drug dealers, mobsters and polygamists) and give it the same mundane problems as any suburban family.

Tony might be capo but he still struggles with whether or not to cut off his daughter’s Discover card after a house party gone wild. Nancy Botwin may be the town drug dealer but her biggest problem is actually a free-loading brother-in-law. And, while we might expect the Henrickson women to blow up every night in a jealous rage over their sister wives, the truth is they’re more likely to fight over whose turn it is to pick up the lamb chops.

All unhappy TV families, it seems, are all alike after all. Add a snappy soundtrack to the freak show and you’re good as gold.
While this is undoubtedly a component of the success of the new genre of high-end, “thinking man’s” soap operas, watching the latest offerings – Mad Men and Dexter – has forced me to re-evaluate my thinking. The moment of epiphany was striking – there are at least two (and I will argue there are more) extremely popular, critically acclaimed, multi-million dollar budgeted shows revolving around a main character who is a sociopath.

Dexter Morgan and Tony Soprano are explicitly labelled “sociopaths.” To the best of my understanding, this is a lay term and is unused by mental health professionals. Sociopaths are actually people with antisocial personality disorder – folks ruled by impulsive behaviour who have no regard for the feelings of others.

Don Draper may seem like a borderline case but I would argue he’s a textbook case – and more about that later. For now, I want to address the obvious, namely, that almost all of these shows are about men behaving badly. Really badly. What’s more, the much-loved ambiguity of all of these new shows means that the men resist any form of reform. Their bad behaviour will remain unchecked and, in an odd way, almost sanctioned by the directorial choices to resist a narrative of straight conventional redemption or death.

Don’t get me wrong, the ambiguity is why I watch, too. That, and the lifestyle pornography of watching folks drink, swear, gamble and smoke gratuitously.

The Wire is a show about dysfunctional cops, some of whom terrorize innocent people living in subsidized housing in order to smoke out the murderous drug dealing Avon Barksdale. When they manage to arrest and imprison sociopath Barksdale, another, younger sociopath steps from the wings onto centre stage proving, of course, the futility of the whole exercise.

Californication has a much less interesting message. It’s about a quirky writer named Hank Moody who, by virtue of the fact that he took the love of his life for granted for a decade and was finally dumped, has decided he has a license to be abusively rude to friends and family, an atrocious parent, steal private property and to spite-fuck every woman in Southern California. And because he does it all with an occasional clever turn of phrase and a knowing wink, the audience is apparently supposed to take it all as the amusing eccentricities of the artist.

But it’s not amusing. It’s not nearly well-written enough to be amusing. And so, from the fact that Showtime has ordered another season, I can only gather that it has determined there’s an audience for watching grown men behave with less class or grace than the average frat boy with an on-line prescription for rophypnol on frosh week.

Speaking of bad behaviour, I’ve never really understood the fascination with Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David’s antics and the ensuing reactions and misunderstandings have always stretched the limits of disbelief suspension. Turns out, according to new studies, I may not be insane enough to get it.

David Roberts, a clinical psychology student at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill showed episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm to an unresponsive group of schizophrenics, according to a recent article in the New Yorker. They, apparently, immediately opened up and began talking about their identification with the main character. Turns out he’s not just a vain, rude, impatient asshole; Larry David’s character is actually pathological.

The sheriff on Deadwood is the guy everyone claims to love. Bu the real star of the show is ruthless Al Swearengen, a bullying pimp whose propensity for brutality would have made him a real star during Spanish inquisition days.

Lest we be accused of neglecting network shows, my friend Dorothy Cummings points out that Gregory House is consistently downright cruel to patients, loved ones and colleagues. But he’s considered a hero ‘cause he’s so very smart and tells it like it is – regardless of people’s feelings. Similarly, the big stars of reality TV are mostly arrogant and insulting men (usually Brits) who insult singing, dancing and cheffing hopefuls who are sworn at, belittled and sent back into the obscurity from which they came.

A new entry into the reality TV hall of fame is Scott Baio is 46…and Pregnant. I’ve watched this show only twice and it happened both times to be the exact same episode but, from what I can tell, when Baio is just acting like an adolescent moron he is at his most charming. The rest of the time he is pretty close to an abusive asshole to his pregnant girlfriend.

Big Love, with its tender “God Only Knows” intro, promised to be something really quite different. I was fascinated with the show for its first season, when it promised to be a sophisticated and nuanced argument for gay marriage.

But then something went horribly awry. Whoever is in charge of the storyline might actually be responsible for sending progressives in Rick Santorum’s direction, since every man involved in plural marriage but one (Bill Henrickson’s right-hand man) is repugnant. Bill is a power-hungry, emotionally abusive, violent, manipulative, vengeful, lying, absentee father.

Dexter is the only self-actualized sociopath and, perhaps as a result, the best of the lot. Even though he’s a horribly damaged serial killer with no power for empathy, I’d still rather have him around than Hank Moody. I mean, at least he wouldn’t do anything gross with his bodily fluids on my couch. But, main character aside, the show is another voyeuristic odyssey into betrayal, spousal abuse and systematic butchering.

Next up is Don Draper. He cheats on his wife. He goes out to get ice cream (well, cake, actually) during his kid’s birthday party and doesn’t return. He rejects his desperate brother’s friendly overtures for no clear reason and his devastated sibling goes on to kill himself. He callously steps into his good friend Roger Sterling’s job and office while the latter recovers from a heart attack.

Oh, and, then there’s that whole fake-your-own-death-and-adopt-the-identity-of-a-dead-soldier thing.

If the guy’s not what Dr. Melfi would call a sociopath, he’s at least exhibiting tendencies.

Ah, yes, back to Tony. By the time we got a few seasons in, we started to realize that Tony wasn’t a charming, misunderstood guy trying to heal. Tony was, instead, an unrepentant, foul-mouthed, smoking, lying, childish, drinking, coke-taking, gambling, philandering, compulsive, sexist, abusive, gluttonous, murdering, ill-tempered, pimp-extortionist-drug dealer. And his personal hygiene may not even be above reproach.

But despite his sins, we watched him obsessively. It’s porn. We love watching people do all the things we’ve decided we shouldn’t do: smoking and drinking; smoking and drinking while pregnant; snorting coke with hookers; driving without seatbelts; having unprotected sex; marrying more than one spouse; dealing drugs and (presumably more for men than most women) spite-fucking supermodels.

Other than being poorly behaved men, the common bond these fictional men share is their ability to act completely according to their own desires and impulses. And while they frequently have to deal with the consequences of their behaviour, none of them ever seems to have a moment’s qualm about how the other person feels.

Tony barely hesitates when he suffocates his nephew. When Hank Moody figures out he has slept with a teenager (and really, folks, be honest: is it that hard to tell the difference between a teenager and a grown person?) he isn’t vaguely concerned about her mental health and well being. He is only worried he will get caught. And Bill Henrickson pursues a relationship with a fourth wife despite the fact that he knows it will deeply wound his first.

What all of these characters lack is empathy. And we, apparently, are fascinated with this peculiar omission. Why? Is it something we wish we didn’t have so we could act more recklessly? Is empathy beginning to feel like our kryptonite, a characteristic we wish we didn’t have, so we could leap tall buildings and snort coke with hookers?

Maybe. Or, maybe it’s just a projection of who we already are. Patricia Pearson, in her new book on anxiety, A Brief History of Anxiety: Yours and Mine, suggests that we’ve surpassed the culture of narcissism Christopher Lasch described in 1979 and entered a full on age of “pure, self-interested fearlessness that approximates…sociopathy.” She argues that self-promotion, shamelessness and behaving badly have replaced craft, talent and skill.

It’s an interesting argument. And one which, after a few years of watching sociopaths on TV, I’m ready to listen to.

Just as soon, that is, after I write the script for my new idea for a pilot. It’s a laugh riot series about an incestuous cannibal guy who runs a comedy club. He’s really a good guy – deep down inside. He just happens to sleep with his sister and can’t stand corny jokes.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

From today's Star, a review of Elizabeth Abbott's Sugar: A Bittersweet History.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Here we are with another batch of food books. This time, a history of taste, spice, citrus and poison.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Interested in donuts? Apples? Both? Great then, here you go.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm more than a little upset to hear that Marc Emery is likely going to serve five years in prison. The Post has a good editorial on it here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

If you're headed to the Greater Victoria Public Library, you might be interested in their staff picks.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

If you're looking for reasons to break those resolutions, you might want to read this.