Thursday, October 25, 2012

Days of Future Past: The Perils of Do-It-Yourself Part 1




All the men in my father’s family were avid believers in DIY. Whether it was due to fierce independence, egoism or, most likely, cheapness, the Anderson boys stubbornly believed that consulting “experts” was a silly waste of money. Who needed experience and book learnin’? They were convinced they could accomplish any given task to a degree of basic acceptableness. The result might not be fancy or perfect, but look how much money they’d saved!

My Uncle Larry often took this idea to the extreme, even going so far as to deliver his first two children himself. Well that’s not entirely true --he did have the help of a local woman with midwife experience-- but still, Audrey and Jerry Anderson were brought into this world without any need of one of those newfangled maternity wards.

But Uncle Larry changed his tune in the summer of 1958 when young Audrey came down with a severe stomach ache. At first, Uncle Larry dismissed the problem as “female trouble” even though Audrey was only 7 years old. He prescribed a treatment of baking soda, hot water and bed rest, claiming she’d soon be “fit as a fiddle”. What followed were two hellish days in which Audrey threw up an estimated fifty times. Aunt Sally gave up on changing Audrey’s fouled bed clothes and moved the suffering child out onto the front porch where she quivered on the floorboards with a tin bucket at the ready. Eventually the sleepless Aunt Sally confronted her skinflint husband saying --and I paraphrase-- “Look you stupid fool, I’m taking Audrey to the hospital, and if anything happens to her I'm never coming back. You can fix your own damn bacon for breakfast.”

They were too late to the hospital. Little Audrey’s appendix had burst. She remained hospitalized for three weeks while all manner of toxic detritus was pumped from her body. Meanwhile Audrey, barely conscious, desperately clung to life. As thunder clouds approached one dark afternoon, Dr. Harris, who had attended elementary school with Uncle Larry, took my relative out into the hall and gave him a thorough ass-chewing. He told Uncle Larry that Audrey’s chances were 50/50 at best and that if she died it would be due to Uncle Larry’s negligence. Dr. Harris also informed my uncle that if he heard of any more “kitchen table births” at the Anderson household he would have the deputies come and arrest my uncle for manslaughter.

It seems unlikely that Dr. Harris could have made such charges stick, but he was a tall, imposing man who had graduated from Duke so he was rarely contradicted. His words had the desired chastening effect on Uncle Larry, who spent the next three days at his daughter's beside, silently praying and wallowing in guilt. Slowly, Audrey began to strengthen and a few days later she was able to sit up in bed. Later, with help of a nurse, Audrey took a short, gingerly walk down the hall as a smiling Dr. Harris monitored her progress. The color returned to Uncle Larry’s face as well, and he flopped down on a bench in the hallway and succumbed to that sort of garish, abject weeping that often afflicts grown men.

Audrey’s convalescence caused her to miss the first few weeks of school that fall, but eventually she had a full and complete recovery. She would go on to thirty-five years of employment  as an office manager at the Spruance plant in Richmond. She was offered early retirement two years ago and happily jumped at the chance. Today, she lives a quiet life with her husband Kenneth and always seems to have a houseful of visiting grandchildren.

On this occasion, Audrey and Uncle Larry both dodged their respective bullets. You would think this close call would have taught Uncle Larry a valuable lesson. He did give up his amateur medical practice, but centuries of inbred Scot-Irish frugality do not evaporate overnight. He could still, as my father would say, “squeeze a nickel until the buffalo hollered.” And a few years later Uncle Larry dreamed up a new risky gambit to save a few shekels...

Part Two HERE





Days of Future Past: The Perils of Do-It-Yourself Part 1




All the men in my father’s family were avid believers in DIY. Whether it was due to fierce independence, egoism or, most likely, cheapness, the Anderson boys stubbornly believed that consulting “experts” was a silly waste of money. Who needed experience and book learnin’? They were convinced they could accomplish any given task to a degree of basic acceptableness. The result might not be fancy or perfect, but look how much money they’d saved!

My Uncle Larry often took this idea to the extreme, even going so far as to deliver his first two children himself. Well that’s not entirely true --he did have the help of a local woman with midwife experience-- but still, Audrey and Jerry Anderson were brought into this world without any need of one of those newfangled maternity wards.

But Uncle Larry changed his tune in the summer of 1958 when young Audrey came down with a severe stomach ache. At first, Uncle Larry dismissed the problem as “female trouble” even though Audrey was only 7 years old. He prescribed a treatment of baking soda, hot water and bed rest, claiming she’d soon be “fit as a fiddle”. What followed were two hellish days in which Audrey threw up an estimated fifty times. Aunt Sally gave up on changing Audrey’s fouled bed clothes and moved the suffering child out onto the front porch where she quivered on the floorboards with a tin bucket at the ready. Eventually the sleepless Aunt Sally confronted her skinflint husband saying --and I paraphrase-- “Look you stupid fool, I’m taking Audrey to the hospital, and if anything happens to her I'm never coming back. You can fix your own damn bacon for breakfast.”

They were too late to the hospital. Little Audrey’s appendix had burst. She remained hospitalized for three weeks while all manner of toxic detritus was pumped from her body. Meanwhile Audrey, barely conscious, desperately clung to life. As thunder clouds approached one dark afternoon, Dr. Harris, who had attended elementary school with Uncle Larry, took my relative out into the hall and gave him a thorough ass-chewing. He told Uncle Larry that Audrey’s chances were 50/50 at best and that if she died it would be due to Uncle Larry’s negligence. Dr. Harris also informed my uncle that if he heard of any more “kitchen table births” at the Anderson household he would have the deputies come and arrest my uncle for manslaughter.

It seems unlikely that Dr. Harris could have made such charges stick, but he was a tall, imposing man who had graduated from Duke so he was rarely contradicted. His words had the desired chastening effect on Uncle Larry, who spent the next three days at his daughter's beside, silently praying and wallowing in guilt. Slowly, Audrey began to strengthen and a few days later she was able to sit up in bed. Later, with help of a nurse, Audrey took a short, gingerly walk down the hall as a smiling Dr. Harris monitored her progress. The color returned to Uncle Larry’s face as well, and he flopped down on a bench in the hallway and succumbed to that sort of garish, abject weeping that often afflicts grown men.

Audrey’s convalescence caused her to miss the first few weeks of school that fall, but eventually she had a full and complete recovery. She would go on to thirty-five years of employment  as an office manager at the Spruance plant in Richmond. She was offered early retirement two years ago and happily jumped at the chance. Today, she lives a quiet life with her husband Kenneth and always seems to have a houseful of visiting grandchildren.

On this occasion, Audrey and Uncle Larry both dodged their respective bullets. You would think this close call would have taught Uncle Larry a valuable lesson. He did give up his amateur medical practice, but centuries of inbred Scot-Irish frugality do not evaporate overnight. He could still, as my father would say, “squeeze a nickel until the buffalo hollered.” And a few years later Uncle Larry dreamed up a new risky gambit to save a few shekels...

Part Two HERE





Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Happy Birthday Cathy

Catherine Deneuve celebrates her 69th birthday this week.



As if we needed a reason to post pics of her!

Happy Birthday Cathy

Catherine Deneuve celebrates her 69th birthday this week.



As if we needed a reason to post pics of her!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

In Memory of Sylvia Kristel

Repost from May 2009




For several years, I lived within walking distance of an old Dobie Gillis style neighborhood grocery store that some eccentric but enterprising soul had transformed into a movie theater. They tended to show second run Hollywood hits on weekends, but Monday through Thursday was devoted to a steady diet of Art House fare. This was before the days of Netflix, before the days of cable TV even, so if one wanted to see a movie one actually had to trim one’s ear hair, become somewhat presentable and go out in public.

It was in the friendly confines of that theatre that I saw my first foreign films, and therefore my first indication that not everywhere in the world was exactly like southern Virginia. People in foreign films didn’t care much about washing their cars, whether the Redskins would make the playoffs or understanding the book of Ephesians in minute detail. They didn’t go deer hunting, listen to car races on the radio (seriously, lots of folks did this) or worry about whether their yards needed mowing.

They did seem to enjoy themselves a lot. They sat down to sumptuous meals that consisted of something other than fried chicken and Pepsi. People ate slowly and talked and laughed and had witty conversations. They went on relaxing and enjoyable vacations. Most families I knew just went to Virginia Beach and ate bologna sandwiches and squabbled.

Characters in foreign films also knew how to be charming, romantic and elegant. Consequently, they had sex more often and with much less effort than my good ol’ boy friends who went out “bird-doggin” women every night. I wasn't sure what "bird-doggin" was, but I did know the women in our neighborhood, and they didn't seem the type that would be easy to bird-dog. Whatever that was.

The romantic aspect alone was enough to peak my interest in learning about European lifestyles, and I became something of a regular at that modest cinema palace. I saw such films as Amarcord, Clair’s Knee, Belle Du Jour, Weekend and, of course, everyone’s naughty fave, the original Emmanuelle.



The zeitgeist on display in Emmanuelle was so alien to me that the film may as well have taken place on the planet Saturn. Here you had a group of white people living in a foreign country, Thailand in this case, who weren’t even missionaries! I had been taught that spreading the gospel and military service were the only acceptable reasons for overseas travel.

The women in this film spent their days lazing in the sun, playing tennis, skinny-dipping and having copious sex with strange men and each other. I was dumbfounded. When did they iron? Who shelled their peas? Did they forget about Wednesday night choir practice?



In my mind, this movie defied rational explanation, and it shockingly laid to waste every preconception I had about how adult men and women should conduct themselves. I loved every frame of it.

In Memory of Sylvia Kristel

Repost from May 2009




For several years, I lived within walking distance of an old Dobie Gillis style neighborhood grocery store that some eccentric but enterprising soul had transformed into a movie theater. They tended to show second run Hollywood hits on weekends, but Monday through Thursday was devoted to a steady diet of Art House fare. This was before the days of Netflix, before the days of cable TV even, so if one wanted to see a movie one actually had to trim one’s ear hair, become somewhat presentable and go out in public.

It was in the friendly confines of that theatre that I saw my first foreign films, and therefore my first indication that not everywhere in the world was exactly like southern Virginia. People in foreign films didn’t care much about washing their cars, whether the Redskins would make the playoffs or understanding the book of Ephesians in minute detail. They didn’t go deer hunting, listen to car races on the radio (seriously, lots of folks did this) or worry about whether their yards needed mowing.

They did seem to enjoy themselves a lot. They sat down to sumptuous meals that consisted of something other than fried chicken and Pepsi. People ate slowly and talked and laughed and had witty conversations. They went on relaxing and enjoyable vacations. Most families I knew just went to Virginia Beach and ate bologna sandwiches and squabbled.

Characters in foreign films also knew how to be charming, romantic and elegant. Consequently, they had sex more often and with much less effort than my good ol’ boy friends who went out “bird-doggin” women every night. I wasn't sure what "bird-doggin" was, but I did know the women in our neighborhood, and they didn't seem the type that would be easy to bird-dog. Whatever that was.

The romantic aspect alone was enough to peak my interest in learning about European lifestyles, and I became something of a regular at that modest cinema palace. I saw such films as Amarcord, Clair’s Knee, Belle Du Jour, Weekend and, of course, everyone’s naughty fave, the original Emmanuelle.



The zeitgeist on display in Emmanuelle was so alien to me that the film may as well have taken place on the planet Saturn. Here you had a group of white people living in a foreign country, Thailand in this case, who weren’t even missionaries! I had been taught that spreading the gospel and military service were the only acceptable reasons for overseas travel.

The women in this film spent their days lazing in the sun, playing tennis, skinny-dipping and having copious sex with strange men and each other. I was dumbfounded. When did they iron? Who shelled their peas? Did they forget about Wednesday night choir practice?



In my mind, this movie defied rational explanation, and it shockingly laid to waste every preconception I had about how adult men and women should conduct themselves. I loved every frame of it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Recipe: Slow Cooker Green Chile Chilaquiles






Chilaquiles is sort of like Mexican lasagna, but with tortillas instead of noodles. Here’s my very simple version, which uses mainly pantry ingredients:

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded (leftover rotisserie chicken works great)

1 medium onion, chopped fine

8 oz sour cream

4 oz can chopped green chile peppers

1 tsp Mexican or Southwest seasoning

1 tbs ground cumin

1/4 cup chopped cilantro


10 oz can green enchilada sauce

2 cups shredded mozzarella or jack cheese, divided

6 oz (approx.) tortilla chips, partially crumbled.


Combine chicken and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 1/2 can enchilada sauce and about 3/4 of the cheese. Stir until well blended.

Spray a 4 quart slow cooker with cooking spray and make a thin layer of tortilla chips at the bottom. Layer half of chicken mixture on top. Make another layer of crumbled chips and layer rest of chicken mixture. Top with another layer of chips and cover with remaining enchilada sauce and cheese. Cook on low for 4 hours. Serve with a salad.

I can honestly say this dish never fails...it’s always delicious. It’s a scoop and serve, so it’s perfect for family movie night or a relaxed get together. And like this chef, it ain’t pretty but it’s good.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Green Chile Chilaquiles






Chilaquiles is sort of like Mexican lasagna, but with tortillas instead of noodles. Here’s my very simple version, which uses mainly pantry ingredients:

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded (leftover rotisserie chicken works great)

1 medium onion, chopped fine

8 oz sour cream

4 oz can chopped green chile peppers

1 tsp Mexican or Southwest seasoning

1 tbs ground cumin

1/4 cup chopped cilantro


10 oz can green enchilada sauce

2 cups shredded mozzarella or jack cheese, divided

6 oz (approx.) tortilla chips, partially crumbled.


Combine chicken and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 1/2 can enchilada sauce and about 3/4 of the cheese. Stir until well blended.

Spray a 4 quart slow cooker with cooking spray and make a thin layer of tortilla chips at the bottom. Layer half of chicken mixture on top. Make another layer of crumbled chips and layer rest of chicken mixture. Top with another layer of chips and cover with remaining enchilada sauce and cheese. Cook on low for 4 hours. Serve with a salad.

I can honestly say this dish never fails...it’s always delicious. It’s a scoop and serve, so it’s perfect for family movie night or a relaxed get together. And like this chef, it ain’t pretty but it’s good.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Falafel and Circuses: Where Do We Go Now? (2011) ✭✭✭✭




Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now? is a moving, charming, at times simplistic allegory on religious strife in her home nation of Lebanon. Set in a small town little changed from biblical times - a sort of Middle Eastern Lake Woebegone - Labaki reduces centuries of gnarled problems into bare essentials, and applies a refreshing feminist twist to the solutions.




With a population split roughly 50/50 between Islamist and Christian, Labaki humorously weaves the village's eccentric fabric of life. A television placed in the public square offers an amusing source of communal entertainment, but also a source of tension when news reports of nearby sectarian violence are broadcast. The town’s other landmark is a dusty and overflowing cemetery; filled with the remains of those killed in Lebanon’s bloody and pointless civil war. From the multitude of gravestones adorned with smiling portraits of the dead, it’s clear the village has lost an entire generation of young men.




When a series of misunderstandings reopens old wounds, the peaceful village threatens to erupt in another religious war. Labaki, who plays widowed cafe owner Amale, concocts an unusual and hilarious strategy to distract the men from their violent impulses. But ancient hatreds can only be held at bay for so long, and soon the region’s ingrained bloodlust will claim another innocent victim.




Labaki walks a fine line in her approach, balancing her desire for sunny entertainment with the need for a frank appraisal of brutality. It’s a path as treacherous as the narrow mountain pass that connects the village with the outside world, and Labaki occasionally stumbles. Her periodic insertion of fanciful song and dance routines presumably serves some symbolic purpose, but in context the effect is jarring and distracting. The storytelling gets a tad sloppy in the final act, with frequent mood shifts working at cross purposes.



But there’s no denying the wisdom of Labaki’s political analysis. In the film’s best scene, she clears a group of brawling men from her cafe with an impassioned plea shared by grieving wives and mothers the world over. Her implication that poorly educated men egged on by breathless TV news reports are responsible for the region’s problems may seem unsophisticated, but her case is compelling.



Nadine Labaki’s previous film as writer/director was the enjoyable 2007 production Caramel, a witty comedy set in a Beirut beauty shop that was rather surprising in its conventionality. Nary a mention is made of the city’s tortured past and the film’s gentle tale of romantic catharsis could have taken place in Tokyo or Cleveland. Here Labaki’s canvas is much larger, confronting Lebanon’s pain while offering a healing prescription from the pharmacy of common sense. Where Do We Go Now? is an uneven step forward for the talented Labaki, but a step forward none the less.

Falafel and Circuses: Where Do We Go Now? (2011) ✭✭✭✭




Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now? is a moving, charming, at times simplistic allegory on religious strife in her home nation of Lebanon. Set in a small town little changed from biblical times - a sort of Middle Eastern Lake Woebegone - Labaki reduces centuries of gnarled problems into bare essentials, and applies a refreshing feminist twist to the solutions.




With a population split roughly 50/50 between Islamist and Christian, Labaki humorously weaves the village's eccentric fabric of life. A television placed in the public square offers an amusing source of communal entertainment, but also a source of tension when news reports of nearby sectarian violence are broadcast. The town’s other landmark is a dusty and overflowing cemetery; filled with the remains of those killed in Lebanon’s bloody and pointless civil war. From the multitude of gravestones adorned with smiling portraits of the dead, it’s clear the village has lost an entire generation of young men.




When a series of misunderstandings reopens old wounds, the peaceful village threatens to erupt in another religious war. Labaki, who plays widowed cafe owner Amale, concocts an unusual and hilarious strategy to distract the men from their violent impulses. But ancient hatreds can only be held at bay for so long, and soon the region’s ingrained bloodlust will claim another innocent victim.




Labaki walks a fine line in her approach, balancing her desire for sunny entertainment with the need for a frank appraisal of brutality. It’s a path as treacherous as the narrow mountain pass that connects the village with the outside world, and Labaki occasionally stumbles. Her periodic insertion of fanciful song and dance routines presumably serves some symbolic purpose, but in context the effect is jarring and distracting. The storytelling gets a tad sloppy in the final act, with frequent mood shifts working at cross purposes.



But there’s no denying the wisdom of Labaki’s political analysis. In the film’s best scene, she clears a group of brawling men from her cafe with an impassioned plea shared by grieving wives and mothers the world over. Her implication that poorly educated men egged on by breathless TV news reports are responsible for the region’s problems may seem unsophisticated, but her case is compelling.



Nadine Labaki’s previous film as writer/director was the enjoyable 2007 production Caramel, a witty comedy set in a Beirut beauty shop that was rather surprising in its conventionality. Nary a mention is made of the city’s tortured past and the film’s gentle tale of romantic catharsis could have taken place in Tokyo or Cleveland. Here Labaki’s canvas is much larger, confronting Lebanon’s pain while offering a healing prescription from the pharmacy of common sense. Where Do We Go Now? is an uneven step forward for the talented Labaki, but a step forward none the less.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wreck of the Hesperus: Hide Away (2011) ✭✭✭✭1/2





Morose and meditative, Hide Away is a film that’s executed to near perfection. Its scant narrative involves a nameless man (Josh Lucas) who purchases a run down, barely floating sailboat moored at a remote marina in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lucas makes the crumbling vessel his home, and spends lonely, quiet days in frustrating attempts at repair, occasionally relieved by periods of deep remorse and binge drinking. Lucas is clearly a man on the run from some emotional trauma, but the depth and cause of his misery remain an enigma. And if his attempts at self therapy are unsuccessful, a final plunge into Lake Michigan’s icy water may be the only cure.




But Lucas’ seclusion is incomplete. His mysterious labors do not escape the watchful eyes of the marina’s manager (Ayelet Zurer) and an old salty dog (James Cromwell) who observe with detached curiosity. In addition, Lucas periodically receives unwanted visits from a dapper businessman (Taylor Nichols); visits that prompt Lucas to go into hiding within the bowels of his decrepit schooner. As the golden light of autumn gives way to winter’s freezing fog, Lucas’ psyche is challenged by severe bouts of cabin fever. Slow trudges through deep snow to the local grocery store for flirty exchanges with a young cashier (Casey LeBow) serve as his only recreation.



Perhaps due to his Native American heritage, director Chris Eyre has always excelled at creating eccentric characters and introspective atmospheres. The mystical, reflective textures of Hide Away are custom-made for his sensibilities, and Eyre builds memorable sequences within the film’s austere framework. During a regatta, Lucas watches a parade of sailboats decked out with Christmas lights and drinks himself to near oblivion, creating an intense portrait of holiday loneliness and depression. As January snow mounts on his boat’s rotting hull, Lucas can only hunker down below deck where haunted memories await in a cramped, waterlogged purgatory.


While every filmmaker manipulates time, Eyre works in ways that make the concept seem quaint and irrelevant. His short, largely wordless scenes draw a unique perspective of man’s small place in the natural world. Yet, that world has an abundance of metaphysical resources capable of healing even the most painful wounds. Despite his isolation, Lucas is never truly alone. As the leaves of spring begin to bud, the human and spiritual spheres patiently watch from a distance, waiting for his summons.




Wreck of the Hesperus: Hide Away (2011) ✭✭✭✭1/2





Morose and meditative, Hide Away is a film that’s executed to near perfection. Its scant narrative involves a nameless man (Josh Lucas) who purchases a run down, barely floating sailboat moored at a remote marina in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lucas makes the crumbling vessel his home, and spends lonely, quiet days in frustrating attempts at repair, occasionally relieved by periods of deep remorse and binge drinking. Lucas is clearly a man on the run from some emotional trauma, but the depth and cause of his misery remain an enigma. And if his attempts at self therapy are unsuccessful, a final plunge into Lake Michigan’s icy water may be the only cure.




But Lucas’ seclusion is incomplete. His mysterious labors do not escape the watchful eyes of the marina’s manager (Ayelet Zurer) and an old salty dog (James Cromwell) who observe with detached curiosity. In addition, Lucas periodically receives unwanted visits from a dapper businessman (Taylor Nichols); visits that prompt Lucas to go into hiding within the bowels of his decrepit schooner. As the golden light of autumn gives way to winter’s freezing fog, Lucas’ psyche is challenged by severe bouts of cabin fever. Slow trudges through deep snow to the local grocery store for flirty exchanges with a young cashier (Casey LeBow) serve as his only recreation.



Perhaps due to his Native American heritage, director Chris Eyre has always excelled at creating eccentric characters and introspective atmospheres. The mystical, reflective textures of Hide Away are custom-made for his sensibilities, and Eyre builds memorable sequences within the film’s austere framework. During a regatta, Lucas watches a parade of sailboats decked out with Christmas lights and drinks himself to near oblivion, creating an intense portrait of holiday loneliness and depression. As January snow mounts on his boat’s rotting hull, Lucas can only hunker down below deck where haunted memories await in a cramped, waterlogged purgatory.


While every filmmaker manipulates time, Eyre works in ways that make the concept seem quaint and irrelevant. His short, largely wordless scenes draw a unique perspective of man’s small place in the natural world. Yet, that world has an abundance of metaphysical resources capable of healing even the most painful wounds. Despite his isolation, Lucas is never truly alone. As the leaves of spring begin to bud, the human and spiritual spheres patiently watch from a distance, waiting for his summons.




10 Years of The Savages

The Savages struck a vibrant chord with me when it was first released 10 years ago. It’s all about a pair of 40-ish siblings...