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  1. I knew nothing at all about "Black Swan" before watching it, other than glancing that it was a Best Picture Nominee in 2010 - one of only a handful of horror films to be nominated for Best Picture (*) - that was good enough to attract my attention. To be honest, although I knew the name Natalie Portman very well, I don't think I'd ever seen her before - she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in "Black Swan," and it seemed reasonable that she was at least nominated (although this is certainly not one of the most memorable performances I've seen). One problem for the viewer in this film is that there are several divas at work here, and they all look a lot alike - yes, even a 39-year-old Winona Ryder. I understand that ballerinas are largely cut from the same mold, but it would have been nice to help the viewer visually - maybe with an actress of color? For example, I'm *still* not quite sure to whom, early in the film, Nina mistakenly said, "Congratulations," thinking that she (Nina) had lost the part to this other ballerina - Nina was wrong, of course, and the other ballerina furiously came back and dressed her down. Was that Lily? (Mila Kunis?) I don't *think* it was, but I wasn't familiar enough with the characters to be sure - whomever it was, it was *extremely* out of character for Nina not to have hunted her down and apologized profusely, which she never did. I've never seen "Swan Lake," so I was pleased to get a little synopsis of the plot. That said, I suspect there are ballet aficionados out there who loathe this film, for various reasons - refer to "Shine" and piano, which I detest with every fiber of my being. Writing this a day later, I'm already forgetting aspects of this film - I suspect that a year from now, I'll remember almost nothing about it, which may say more about me than the movie. Still, this was not an unforgettable motion picture experience. I wish I had a vote for the Academy Awards - it wouldn't change much (one vote never does), but it would at least be a fair, intelligent vote that isn't wasted. (*) It should be noted that, of the six "horror" films to be nominated for Best Picture, only three are pure horror films: "The Exorcist," "The Sixth Sense," and "Get Out." The other three, "Jaws," "Silence of the Lambs," and "Black Swan" are either thrillers, or (in the case of "Black Swan") psychological dramas.
  2. Some of you may be wondering what in the *hell* I'm doing watching this series, and it's all because of this. What I'm doing is so severe that I've decided to nauseate myself, and this is the most disgusting show I've ever seen - I've decided to power-watch it, especially during meals - rest assured, the *last* thing it will make me want is to sink my teeth into a juicy steak ... wish me luck. Season One (Oct 31 - Dec 5, 2010) - 1.1 "Days Gone Bye" - Directed by Frank Darabont, Written by Frank Darabont - 1.2 "Guts" - Directed by Michelle MacLaren, Written by Frank Darabont (2) - 1.3 "Tell It To The Frogs" - Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Written by Frank Darabont (3), Charles H. Eglee, and Jack LoGiuduce - 1.4 "Vatos" - Directed by Johan Renck, Written by Robert Kirkman - 1.5 "Wildfire" - Directed by Ernest Dickerson, Written by Glen Mazzara - 1.6 - "TS-19" - Directed by Guy Ferland, Written by Adam Fierro and Frank Darabont (4)
  3. You cannot really unsee or unhear this. But it is actually kind of infectious. I'm 6 years in to a fascination of exploring the metal branch of the music tree and friends send me stuff. This is one of those things.
  4. "Kings and Queens of England & Britain" by Ben Johnson on historic-uk.com The above is a useful historic guideline for the film, especially the part at the end dealing with the House of Windsor, which was formed in 1917. In fact, you can look forward to 100th-anniversary events being publicized for this coming July 17th. Before I get to the spoilers, let me say that I found the first 15 minutes of this film intensely boring; now, 30 minutes in, it seems to have blossomed, and has become very enjoyable to watch. If you find it tedious in the beginning, push through, and I suspect you'll be rewarded (again, I'm only 30 minutes into the movie as I type this, so I can't be sure, but it did win an Academy Award for Best Picture, which is worth something). *** SPOILER ALERT *** (Do not read if you're going to see the film) Near the beginning of "The King's Speech," speech therapist (and amateur actor) Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) is auditioning for Shakespeare's Richard III by reading the "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech, those lines followed by, "made glorious summer by this sun of York ...." To me, this is an obvious quibble on "son of York," as the future King George VI (Colin Firth)- his soon-to-be patient with the stuttering problem - currently holds the title Duke of York (which is given to the second-born son of the current King). The closeness of "sun of York" and "son (or Duke) of York" is too much for simple coincidence - this was a clever piece of dialogue that probably went mostly unnoticed. Needless to say, there's also an obvious parallel between the kyphosis of Richard III and the stuttering of the Duke of York. About 40 minutes in, it's clear George V (Michel Gambon) is near death, and he "signs his duties" away for others to execute. A couple interesting facts about the death of George V: 1) In 1986 (fifty years after the death), his physician's private diary was unsealed, and it turns out George V was euthanized with lethal doses of morphine and cocaine - this was known to absolutely nobody for fifty years, and 2) the morning after George V's death, the great German composer Paul Hindemith (a name very well-known in classical music circles) composed Trauermusik ("Mourning Music") in just six hours, and the piece was played on the BBC radio network that same evening. Wow, when you first see Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) at the party, it seems *just* like Winston Churchill - until he turns around and you see his face. You won't recognize this, but Spall played Beadle Bamford in the film of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." This film makes a wonderful history lesson regarding the 20th-century English monarchy. However, it is painted accurately only in broad brush strokes. For example, in real life (not in the film), Churchill was a staunch supporter of King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), and urged him not to abdicate the throne. A memorable quote, made during a conversation between King George V's sons, shortly after his death, and the ascension of David as King Edward VIII: Duke of York: "David, I've been trying to see you." King Edward VIII: "I've been terribly busy." Duke of York: "Doing what?" King Edward VIII: "Kinging." *Damn* Derek Jacobi is a good actor. Oh my goodness, the King is about to give his war speech, and they've chosen to play the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony as background music. I'm not going to denigrate this work by telling you what other movie it was played in, but I will say that this is one of the greatest movements ever written in the history of classical-romantic music, and very fitting for such a grave occasion. What's interesting is that they played the opening chord twice (when it's only supposed to be played once), imitating a stutter. Also, how ironic is it that Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany? And for the duration of the speech, Lionel Logue was quite literally conducting King George VI - that was not coincidence. And how wonderful that the closing music is the most famous piece for clarinet ever written, the Mozart Concerto.
  5. I find it incredibly rewarding to see an actor I know from Hollywood on a television program - sometimes an obscure actor that today's generation doesn't know about. I look at it as an opportunity to share my knowledge so that life plays out its complex role as a continuum, just as it should do. Joe Mantell (originally born without that second "l" in Brooklyn, due to his immigrant-Austrian parents), is one such actor. Mantell received an Academy Award nomination for the 1955 Best Picture, "Marty," for his portrayal of Angie, Marty's best friend. He's also responsible for the famous last line, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown," and had a role in "The Birds." But Mantell lived to be 95 years old, and had a long and prolific career (although he was sort of typecast into one kind of character). The best article, by far, I've seen on Mantell is here: http://deadeyedelirium.blogspot.com/2010/10/joe-mantel-1915-2010.html (which I will fix as soon as I get a real computer) I've since seen Mantell in *five* episodes of shows that I've power-watched: All In The Family: "Archie The Babysitter" Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Guilty Witness" Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Indestructible Mr. Weems" The Twilight Zone: "Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room" The Twilight Zone: "Steel" Who was to know that Mantell would live *fifty* more years after his terrific performance in "Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room?" As the terrific blog post above says, Mantell was great in Marty, but he's also been great in everything else I've seen him in, and I've only seen probably 5% of his output.
  6. Wow, I could write an entire book about this one, thirty-minute episode. If it shows how little about television I know, I never heard of this series, "Bullshit!", hosted by Penn & Teller, until a couple of days ago, and I'd never seen an episode until just now - after it was over, I could not believe that this ran on Showtime for 7 seasons, with 89 episodes being aired. I guess this is what 24-hour cable television did to things. I first saw Penn & Teller at the National Theater in June, 1989, and remember thinking to myself that Penn came across as being a real jerk. We could buy programs about the show, and wait in line to get Penn's autograph, and he was just a loud, pompous, ass out there on the sidewalk, not even acknowledging people, or looking at anyone - just standing there and screaming like a lout, as he mindlessly grabbed peoples' pamphlets, scribbled his name, and threw them back. Over the years, I remember seeing articles about him - one in particular in Time Magazine, I believe, and he came across to me as creepy to the point of off-the-charts, don't-leave-your-child-with-him creepy. I can't be sure it was Time Magazine, but I distinctly remember a section about him beginning his days with watching porn in the morning (this is in the VCR days), and there was a picture of him crouching over a TV set with a creepy grin, and a blurred-out porn movie in the background. If anyone else has read this article, I can't imagine that they'd forget it, and (exact magazine aside - it might not have been Time), I'm pretty sure my memory is accurate - that said, I can't find *any* reference to it on the internet, so I can't prove it. Okay, *so what* if the guy wants to spend his private time watching porn first thing in the morning, but is that something you want to say in a national magazine as an important part of a feature article? Really? I'm sorry, but that defines "creepy." And then I discovered he was an Atheist. But not just an Athiest; a militant, in-your-face, Angry Atheist. I have no problems with anyone's religious beliefs (or absence of religious beliefs), as long as they don't hurt anyone, or impose their views, but he strongly imposes his views of Atheism. I guess George Carlin did, too, and I kind of like George Carlin, so I'm ambivalent on this issue. Anyway, in the past couple of years, I've seen Jillette pop up from time to time - in a sketch, or a story, or an interview, and my feelings about him being an unabridged asshole started to soften - the man was becoming more-and-more thoughtful, and underneath the very large, very loud, veneer of a big doofus doing nothing but screaming, seems to lie something of a thoughtful person. Opinionated? Oh my goodness, yes. But so what? He listens to people, and tries to reason; I just wish he wouldn't come to conclusions about things so quickly, when the answers aren't readily apparent. Well anyway, there's this series called "Bullshit!" which consists of - you can pretty much guess - challenging widely held viewpoints (and yes, it's a very one-sided and biased show). And there's one episode that caught my eye because it involves a person that I've often (silently) called bullshit on: Maddox. Maddox (whose real name is George Ouzounian), as many of you know, was an internet pioneer, hosting a supposedly popular website called "The Best Page In The Universe," which is geared towards a fraternity-level mindset and sophistication. That's all fine, but way back before DonRocks existed, I never quite understood why he was so popular - some of his stuff was funny in a "Diceman" sort-of way, but it got old very quickly. His idea of comedy is to make fun of people (including the elderly) while trying to act "manly," all justified, of course, by the fact that it's just parody, and his critics don't understand him. Well, I understand him, and he's just not very funny, and he's not very smart either. Season 8, Episode 8 of "Bullshit!" is entitled "Old People," and sets out to debunk commonly held beliefs about old people - a sector of the population which is, and has always been, particularly dear to me. And a sector of the population that, in my opinion, our culture should be hanging its head in shame about when it comes to how they're treated. Old people are a common target of Maddox's high-school humor, and unfortunately for him, he got caught in the crosshairs of someone bigger, louder, more opinionated, and more famous than he is: Penn Jillette, and Jillette, in this episode, makes him look like the exact opposite of the image Maddox so desperately wants to portray: I have no doubt that he was selectively edited (and therefore hosed in the process), but he comes across as a wavering nerd - the absolute opposite of "manly" - in fact, he comes across as a shy, scrawny little kid, who makes impossibly stupid, generic, cruel remarks about the elderly, and is then made to look like a complete ass - which is what I've always thought he was. He's not funny at all; in fact, he's probably the kid who got bullied in grade school. Of course it's all satire and parody, so none of this matters, right? Let me ask you all this: Does *anyone* think this guy is funny? He has this supposed "legion of followers" that claim people are "too dimwitted to understand his style of comedy." To borrow a phrase from the show: Bullshit! He has no talent, and someone needs to pull him aside, and gently tell him that he desperately needs to take a public speaking course. Thus Penn Jillette, once a Maddox-like lout in my eyes, continues to redeem himself to some degree. Here's the episode. I must warn you: It's pretty boring, and not particularly good TV, but at least you get to watch a jerk - who does what he does under the guise of "comedy," "satire," and "parody," - being decisively slapped down, and for that alone, it's worth watching (although you can see the entire take-down in my previous link). Train wreck on track nine - beware: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxJt0ynGshQ
  7. I never had the pleasure to hear Albertina Walker in person, but listening to her recordings I came to feel that I knew her. She was one for the ages. She died in 2010, and was mourned across the gospel and r and b world. Aretha Franklin was one of many artists who sang at Albertina's funeral. I am not a Christian, and I don't believe in God, but I can really appreciate the kind of religious ecstasy that can be found in Albertina Walker's singing, as here:
  8. Purchased for $27.99 at Chain Bridge Cellars, $22 less than the 2003 Gruaud-Larose purchased yesterday. The 2010 vintage in the Northern Rhone is outstanding: "The Rock And Rhí´ne of 2010" by Jancis Robinson of jancisrobinson.com, in which she begins by saying, "Buy Rhí´ne before the Chinese do!" Guigal is the most famous (*not* the best) producer in the Northern Rhí´ne Valley. Known more for his Côe-Rotie than his Crozes-Hermitage, you'll be spending $75 for the former, and just over 1/3 of the price for the latter while still reaping the benefits of this wonderful vintage and the producer's winemaking style - the $50 supplement is exclusively due to which vineyard the grapes came from (Côe-Rotie, btw, is notoriously difficult to work in - it's so steep that the grapes must be hand-harvested, as a tractor would most likely flip over sideways - I don't know this for a fact, but I've seen the hill, and it is treacherous). At first, I thought it was disappointing, but that was 'bottle funk' which blew off within fifteen minutes. This appellation is required to be 85% red grapes, and 100% of those red grapes are required to be Syrah (the other 15% can be white grapes which can potentially enhance the aroma). This is statute, and must be followed to the letter (enforcement is another issue). I honestly thought I whiffed some Gamay at first, but after being open for several hours, this is a very good wine on absolute terms, and for the money, it's excellent. About 30 minutes in, I got my first whiff of black pepper (black pepper is a hallmark component in the nose of Syrah from the Northern Rhone). I bought some kebobs from Amoo's today (two skewers of chicken, and two skewers of some of the best lamb meat I've ever eaten), and this wine - especially with the otherworldly lamb - is perfect. No rice, no bread; just chicken, lamb, and mast-o-kheyar. Try to avoid eating yogurt with red wine - it doesn't work together no matter how hard you try, but with just the chicken, and especially the extraordinary lamb, this wine was great. Crozes-Hermitage (rhymes with (use the English words) "Grows Air Me Taj" - as in Taj Mahal, and the "H" is silent) is the largest appellation in the Northern Rhí´ne. But boy, it sure looks like Saint-Joseph is bigger on this map, doesn't it? That's because it *is* bigger, in terms of geographical boundaries, but the *acres under vine* isn't as big (make sense?) Buy this wine and drink it now with full-bodied meats (the lamb I had tonight was textbook), or cellar it (70 degrees or less, please) for 5-10 years and beyond. Storing it in a basement (below grade) is perfectly fine; just don't stick it in a living room wine cabinet because a power outage will bite you in the ass. Writing about wines got to be so damned boring for me (try it sometime); and that's one reason why I switched to restaurants - I had naturally gravitated to fine dining through 15 years of studying fine wine, and then I spent another 12 years going to and studying about 6,000 restaurants ("Anything worth doing is worth overdoing," I always say). Because wine writing had become so dreary, I got bored and needed to a new challenge - now *that* has become so dreary that I'm getting bored again (the DC restaurant scene has declined dramatically, and is stuffed to the gills with corruption and bullshit - it's one big circle-jerk - and no area journalist, for one reason or another, will take on any investigative journalism). It's all one, big, happy party, with checks and balances not admitted through the front door. Who knows, maybe I'm coming home in writing about wines. Or maybe I'll become a literary critic or a park ranger. Or a mathematician or a computer scientist where I can pitch in to help eradicate disease or reverse climate change. All I know is: I thank God for the members of this website because they've made the mundane fascinating - and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. You guys have kept me going when I didn't think I could continue, and it's you, not me, who have made this website something special and unique - I'm essentially just a librarian who happens to have read every book in the library.
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