Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Ticks Away

This was a good year. It was not a roller coaster or speeding bullet, or filled with any more drama than usual. I continue to be blessed with an incredibly loving and patient wife and fabulous job and workplace. We are surrounded by family and friends, both of which multiplied handsomely in 2011.

There was only one big story this year; we finally moved. After over 2 years of cramped quarters in my old bachelor pad, we made the leap and moved to a condo in a gated community with nearly 3x as much square footage. We now have access to a clubhouse and pool. I really miss the old, historic neighborhood, but it was time. We've adjusted quite nicely. The move was a wise decision for a myriad of reasons, one of which we've yet to employ: having guests. Well, we did have 3 people stay with us for 2 nights in October when a freak snowstorm in the Northeast prevented their flight home. We had just set up the guest bedroom the weekend before - talk about good timing! The details of this stay should be revealed soon.

Christmas 2011 was very nice, with the usual hopping among houses from Jupiter to Coral Gables. No scenes, no screaming children demanding more (and fancier) gifts. Examine last year's entry - the little girl in question grew up this year, maybe because she now has a baby brother? Her demeanor was far better and less greedy. Chritsmas 2011 had great food, great fellowship, and lousy weather. Well, it WAS sunny and beautiful, but warm. You know how much I hate that. The entire month of December has been unseasonable. I really long for those future days when the fireplace won't be merely on our TV.

My mother's status has not changed, but thank you Jesus she has not regressed. Her contentment with her predicament continues to disturb me, and it is becoming more and more appearent that a major disruption is needed. Read: she needs a different rehab facility that will do more than merely provide low rent accomodations.

My grandmother turned 98 this year. All things considered, she is doing remarkably well. It is with relief and awe that I state that her biggest problem lately is with her television's remote control (since the digital cable switch). She does still struggle with loneliness. I wonder if 2012 will be the year she needs a change of venue as well?

I won't consult the Mayans, but I'm looking forward to a fruitful, healthy 2012. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Get Crazy

If you've ever served or just hung out backstage for a theatrical production you know well how frenetic things can get. I have not ever lucked into backstage passes for a concert, where I've heard things can get downright Bacchulean, but I did volunteer for a few community theater and school productions and spent time behind the scenes with friends who apprenticed at the Jupiter (formerly Burt Reynolds) Theater. Not the same as that of a rock and roll festival, I grant you, but a similiar atmosphere of (somewhat) controlled chaos reigns and at any moment, something rather extraordinary can happen: an unannounced celebrity may sneak in the back door, a shower of sparks may rain on the flyspace, or a performer can ad lib something more inspired than what was planned.

Those things, in one form or another, all happen in writer/director Allan Arkush's thoroughly whacked 1983 comedy, GET CRAZY, a film he based on his time ushering at the famed Fillmore East venue in NYC in the early 1970s. This is another of those films for which you have to dig as it has not received a DVD release, likely because of the music in it, and the associated rights and royalty issues. Such has held up/prevented the release of many other films, especially from the 1980s. GET CRAZY was released on VHS way back and pops up on obscure cable channels every once in a while. I happened to notice the title on the On Demand menu and quickly grabbed it, having not seen it in nearly 30 years.

GET CRAZY concerns a New Year's Eve concert at the ficticious Saturn Theater in L.A., a much beloved hall that has seen its share of anarchy over the years, what with flower power hippies, glam boys, classic rockers, bluesmen, troubadours, and punk and New Wave maoschists taking the stage. This night in 1982 is the 15th anniversary of such shows, featuring artists, (some of whom are portayed by real life musicians) of the above genres including: Captain Cloud and the Rainbow Telegraph (hippies); Nada, an all-girl rock/punk band with occasional vocals by a rather destructive singer called Piggy; Auden, a Dylanseque recluse (played by Lou Reed); King Blues (Bill Henderson), heir to the throne of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and Reggie Wanker (Malcolm McDowell, in one of his most entertaining performances ever), a clear parody of Mick Jagger. There's even a subtle ribbing of McDowell's unfortunate lead role in CALIGULA.

The myriad of subplots include threads dealing with the preparations for and the show itself, threatened by evil record company exec Colin Beverly (Ed Begley, Jr.) and his 2 lackey yesmen who want to buy the Saturn from beloved longtime owner, Max Wolfe (Allen Goorwitz/Garfield) who seems to be in every other movie I've seen lately, and turn it into a high rise. Max is modeled after Bill Graham, the legendary concert promoter who wanted to make Big Acts accessible and affordable to the average listener. Colin could be any corporate jackass who's littered the headlines over the past few decades.

We also meet stage manager Neil Allen (Daniel Stern) and former Saturn stage manager named, yes, Willy Loman (Gail Edwards) who happens by. In the midst of the fracas, the film slows down to chart their obvious budding romance, sometimes framed in cute fantasy sequences.

But once the concert is underway, GET CRAZY really shines. By then we've been given some fine character work by each actor, who, including McDowell, sings his or her own songs. Their stage personas are natural extensions of their offstage selves, and it just adds to the fun (and sense of genuiness). Wanker's backstage excesses of every imaginable sort turn sour and inspire him to return to the mic for an encore, an uncharacteristic ballad that leaves even the punks misty eyed. By the way, the music throughout this movie is damned good. One funny motif: after King Blues does his version of "Hoochie Coochie Man" (which the film has him as the originator), the other acts cover it. Each time, Blues overhears and is impressed, at one point stating "I'm going to go bask in my own genius".

During my recent viewing, I was surprised at how much I remembered of this film. But also, how unrelentingly goofy much of it is. Some of the gags in this movie are painfully dumb, and mostly drug related: a rock group's jet flies upside down when the pilots get high, a robot named Electric Larry shows up at key moments (soundtracked by Adrian Belew's trippy "Big Electric Cat")with briefcases full of pharmaceuticals to "save the day", and one of the audience members is literally a walking marijuana joint. And so on. The pace of this movie is rapid fire, the gags nearly non-stop. There is incredible energy, undeniably. Much like Arkush's previous foray into rock comedy cinema, ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL which prominently featured tunes (and appearances) by The Ramones.

GET CRAZY is mostly recommended for music philes, the type of people who can list album tracks in order, argue about whether the Beatles sound better monoaurally or in hi-fi, and read artist bios. It is obvious Arkush has real affection for his time at the Fillmore, and this film is an imagining of what that hall might've been like had it survived past 1971. It is at various times a clever, vulgar, silly, insightful, stupid, and rockin' good time. I might consider it a small classic if it had dispensed with some of the wackier gags and just tried to be a mock documentary, or a rose-colored glasses remembrance like ALMOST FAMOUS. I still recommend it to those who..well, if you read this far you know who you are.

P.S. Lou Reed's character, Auden, sings a sweet tune live over the credits. I've also neglected to mention how funny his take on Dylan is.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve

I was never really a fan of Better Than Ezra, but this holiday tune is warm without being sugary.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wintah Wundahland

This version is a particular favorite of Uncle Angelo's on E. 4th Street:



...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Going Elsewhere

I was greeted with this sad news on Facebook yesterday. I feel fortunate to have visited earlier this year (see previous post). If you are in the NYC area, check them out one last time.


It is with heavy hearts that we write to inform you that after dinner service on Friday, December 23rd, Elsewhere Restaurant will be closing its doors permanently. The reason is simple: While we had great food and service and a loyal following to prove it, we never attracted enough business, with enough consistency, to be sustainable in this location.

We would, howeve...r, like to go out not with a whimper but with a bang. So we encourage you to join us for dinner this week and help us clear out the wine cellar as we say goodbye to our loyal friends and neighbors. Monday will be half price wine night, as always. For the rest of the week, all bottles over $60 will be 25% off. (As the end draws near, who knows, we might start letting you name your own price!) Thursday and Friday, come in and eat like family; no menus, just Megan, Leigh and staff cooking what they love until we run out of food! Please make a reservation if you can (on the left, right here on facebook).

It has been a roller-coaster of a year for us and we couldn't have made it this long without the support, encouragement and return business of you, our loyal friends and neighbors. Thank you for being a part of the journey. We look forward to seeing you this week at Elsewhere and forever at Casellula!

Brian, Allen, Megan, Leigh, Sarah and the rest of the Elsewhere Team

Monday, December 19, 2011

Your Audiology Tutorial: $%!@*?^#

As I unfold the Palm Beach Post each day I am greeted by an ad for a local audiology group, exclaiming that they are ready to fit the hearing impaired with the latest technology, and for a competitive price. Every single day. My patients bring me these ads as well as the glossy mailers which promise very low costs for sophisticated devices. Never mind that sometimes the hearing aid pictured doesn't match the description.

Such advertising is irritating. I feel it cheapens and merely commoditizes the profession. Even worse is the ad above, from a Walmart in Texas. Hearing aids, off the rack. A commodity. When someone purchases amplification at a legitimite clinic, they are not only spending $$ on an electronic device but also a service. The fitter will/should spend ample time fitting and programming the hearing aid to help the patient with speech understanding and clarity. The fitter will ensure a proper physical fit and acoustic adjustment. One does not get this when merely buying an aid from a retail store.


It is also increasingly common to purchase these behind-the-ear and in-the-ear (not custom made, obviously) devices from Internet websites. Many audiology and dispensing organizations are fighting this. How can a patient adjust these aids on their own? What if they simply make everything (including air conditioners, ticking timepieces, flushing toilets) louder while still rendering a spouse inaudible? I suppose eventually that as tech savvy folks reach their "golden years" they may be more adept at self-programmming than the current elderly, who largely are not. Anyone who has programmed or worn hearing aids know how difficult it can be to get benefit from them when they are expertly programmed. Time will tell.....

Friday, December 16, 2011

Low Key?

It's December, time to report on the annual holiday work party. I see I've done it for the last several years so why break tradition? Although, I must say that this year's event was far less colorful than past ones. Dare I say it was, low key?

We met at McCormick & Schmick's, a somewhat upscale seafood chain with really good mahi mahi (we had an alternate choice of beef). I saw the full menu and would like to go back. The key lime pie was not so good, surprisingly. The sweetness won out over the tartness. Good in a person, but unfortunate in a key lime pie.

While there was a gift exchange, it was not the "white elephant" kind, with outrageous gag gifts and the ability to trade your selction with someone who picked an earlier number. Many of the gifts were alcoholic (including the red wine I received). One of the docs also gave me the whiskey set he received. Someone on my list will be the lucky recipient of that. I like whiskey, maybe once a year. On the other hand, I don't want to encourage my FIL or anyone else to inbibe too much.

The practice gave out Employee of the Year awards, a first. It was a tie between 2 very deserving ladies: a nurse and a front office staffer. Five year service awards (sterling silver engraved bookmarks) were also handed out. A very nice time. No embarrassing drunken behavior! I was pulled out on the floor to dance, but only for a few minutes. This was not a wild bash - even the after party at Blue Martini was subdued, at least for the 1/2 hour or so I was there.

So there you go, invisible audience, another for the record. I love my workplace and everyone there. I have not always been able to honestly make that claim, unless awash in holiday booze. Here's a toast to sobriety/moderation and a stellar practice!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Everything is Illuminated

I remember clutching my grandmother's original engagement ring, knowing that I would present it to my bride-to-be. The ring was over seventy years old. It was a beauty with its regal pearl firmly set atop a silver band. I thought on all the years it had seen and survived; the stories it could tell. An inanimate object. Something that will one day turn to dust. Maybe I'm over personifying, but it had lived long enough to represent familial bonding, love, committment. It sometimes seemed as if it would audibly cry out in joy. The mere sight of it an evocation of powerful emotions.

2005's EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED features a young Jewish man named Jonathan Foer, named after the author of the book of the same name. He seems a bit off. Something about his aloofness, his cautiousness in even his posture. Perhaps those suspicions are confirmed as first-time director Liev Schrieber's camera pulls back to reveal a wall in Jonathan's room, covered floor to ceiling with a myriad of objects in plastic bags. We spy them long enough to discern that they are keepsakes, pieces of the boy's life. All with stories to tell. A scene or two later, Jonathan sits by his grandmother on her deathbed. He asks her about the significance of someone named Augustine after she hands him a photograph of his grandfather and the mysterious woman. The grandmother sighs and then passes on. Jonathan bags the false teeth she had left on her nightstand.

Years earlier, the boy had stood by his grandfather's deathbed, eventually taking his bedside curiosity - a chunk of amber containing a cricket. As he currently examines the photograph, he notices the woman is wearing the amber on a necklace. He will retrieve the artifact for his trip to Russia - a pilgrimage to a place once known as Trachimbrod- to learn of his heritage and what of the significance of Augustine.

Once in the Ukraine, Jonathan (Elijah Wood) meets up with Alex (Eugene Hütz), a youth obsessed with American popular culture, and his crotchety, anti-Semitic grandfather (Boris Leskin), the tour guide. EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED continues in a comedic vein, with the American having a real time of it adjusting to life in Russia (a dinner scene is especially amusing), and dealing with his 2 cranky travelmates. There's also a dog belonging to the grandfather called Sammy Davis Jr., Jr. The grandfather is horrified to learn that the namesake singer was Jewish.

The film gradually becomes more serious, though never overly somber, as the men get closer to their destination. An elderly woman who has much in common with Jonathan and, it turns out, with Alex's grandfather figures prominently in the final passages of EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED. The significance of seemingly trivial tchotchkes will beautifully render Schrieber's film quietly crushing. The essence of identity is also significant, perhaps even stronger, from opening to closing, with some late hour revelations about one character the anchor of not only the story, but larger themes writer Foer probes. Are we only what others remember? Is a piece of ceramic or the like the only tangible evidence of who we were? What if we were misrepresented? Only God can know.

Schrieber, better known as an actor, apparently diverts from the original novel but in ways that utilize irony not for post-modern humor, but to underline Foer's points. He manages the shifts in tone quite smoothly; we are more than ready for the film to dispense with the comedy (well done as it is) and reveal the layers of the characters' pasts. EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED at first seems slight but as it develops in your thoughts, it becomes weightier and even important. This is not a Holocaust downer like THE DAMNED or SOPHIE'S CHOICE, but rather an elegant little play that, once viewed, will have you looking twice (and perhaps more pointedly) at your grandfather's wristwatch. Or your aunt's tea cup. Or even a chunk of amber.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Buzz" Kill

Truth is, I hadn't really listened to West Palm Beach's 103.1 "The Buzz" with any regularity for over 10 years. The programming simply ceased to be interesting to me. It being a commercial station, it was merely a reflection of what was popular in "New Rock". I'm sure it mirrored the playlists of many other such stations around the country.

I can trace it back to 1999. I was driving to a friend's house and had the misfortune of hearing "Nookie" by Limp Bizkit for the first time. I knew even then that if this was the sound of new rock, I'd be looking for an exit. It only got worse, as the likes of Creed, Nickelback, and Puddle of Mudd began to take over the airwaves. In 2000, I liked exactly 2 new songs The Buzz played: Dynamite Hack's droll, white boy cover of "Boys in the Hood" and The Dandy Warhol's "Bohemian Like You". I twisted the dial elsewhere, though there was little of interest anymore in the radio wasteland.

The Buzz had signed on sometime in 1995, while I was living in Atlanta. It was there I discovered 99X, an alternative station that played classic Cure as well as newer things by Weezer, Pizzicato Five, Rage Against the Machine, and Juliana Hatfield. I loved it. I had moved from West Palm and its dearth of radio choice (The Gater, still in existance this day, was my usual preset, but I heard Zeppelin's "Livin' Lovin' Maid" a few thousand too many times). 99X was as guilty of repetition as other stations but overall it was some sort of oasis, playing music I wasn't used to hearing on mainstream FM. What a nice surprise to find a similiar station when I returned to WPB!

For a few years, it was pretty good. When it seemed there would be an electronic revolution in '97 or so, artists like Prodigy and Orgy were played quite a bit. The coup fizzled, but the music on the Buzz was still good, even if the novelty had long since worn. Then came Limp Bizkit.

In 1997 I also attended my only Buzz Bake Sale concert, their yearly daylong outdoor festival of rock and art. It was quite an experience. Plenty of concertgoers were plenty "baked", and I clearly recall a girl on all fours, a dog collar around her neck being led on a leash by her boyfriend or something. That year the lineup included Goldfinger, Cake, and the headliner, Green Day. They were all smashing. I regret leaving after Green Day, as Echo and the Bunnymen closed the show. What was I thinking? I'm sure it was the weariness that won out, for me and the girl I went with (a co-worker). The Bake Sale has been held ever since, but the lineups again reflected the new rock scene of the day and to me, most of it was/is aural sludge.

So CBS Radio lowered the axe on 103.1 this past week, switching to a pop format that plays Lady Gaga, Adele, and whoever else lands on the Billboard lists. Yeah, WPB needed another pop channel, sure. The station management, however, stated that their extensive research did indicate the desire for this change.

We've all seen this before. I documented the demise of 97 GTR back in 1990 in a previous post. That was disappointing. This one was, eh. I was long since uninvested. Plus, 103.1 The Buzz will continue to stream on their website and through smartphone apps (and HD radio). But it illustrates the fickle nature of the Arbitron diary fillers and focus groups. Additionally, local radio seems to becoming a thing of the past, at least for music. You've heard my Clear Channel rants.

It is sad that there are fewer and fewer local stations to get to know, to feel a sense of community with. But, streaming stations of all types are definitely the refuge, my favorites being Radioparadise.com and the Soma channels. We are living in an interesting time, watching the slow death of local radio, bookstores, DVD rental outlets, and the U.S. Postal Service. Perhaps this century will see a special museum for each. What will we tell the grandkids?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Murder à la Mod

It is evident immediately in 1967's MURDER à la MOD that director Brian De Palma loves film. That most voyeuristic of mediums. Celluloid not merely to document with a master shot, but a tight, intrusive zoom invading the space of his victims, er, subjects. The first images of MURDER are of a woman modeling for the camera in period garments, instructed by the cameraman (not seen) to suggestively pose and eventually remove her clothes. She is the first of several "birds" to be sleazily persuaded and bullied by this anonymous documentarian, and the first to have her throat slashed with a razor.

De Palma has used such imagery throughout his subsequent career. For a film buff familiar with his later work, watching MURDER à la MOD is a revealing experience. The (pardon the pun) obsessions and fetishes which infected many of De Palma's suspense films are evident in this, his first full length feature. Stalking cameras from the killer's point-of-view, stylized bloodletting and violence, loving angles on female forms, split screens, nimble camera dollying (usually tracking a chase) - it's all here. What's also on display is the playful method of telling the story, a sort of RASHOMONish telling of the same events several times, but from different points of view. With each episode, we learn something new, are given visual information as to why something happened, such as how that tire went flat. From a filmic standpoint, it's almost like what filmmakers call "coverage", shooting from different places to get different perspectives.

I won't bother with a long synopsis. A young filmmaker has a very devoted girlfriend who hangs out with her stylish friend over the course of a mid-afternoon. The filmmaker works with a slick producer and a really odd guy named Otto, who runs around Greenwich Village with both real and fake ice picks (titles appear onscreen to tell us which is genuine and which isn't) and flits around like he's on amphetamines or maybe too much coffee. There will be murders. We think we know who committed them, but as we back up in time and view things from a different vantage point, we may learn otherwise. I liked the scene where someone is listening to a radio soap opera, then quotes it as if they are his words to someone else. Previously, watching this same scene, we believed they were his own thoughts and feelings.

We later follow Otto, hearing the traffic jam of thoughts in his head, sounding like Frank Zappa played at 78 speed. Even without the sped up photography (undercranking?), this chap is plenty hyper. I'm not sure if De Palma and actor William Finley (who would appear in many later De Palma movies) were going for a Buster Keaton homage, though at times it seemed that way. There's even a pie in the face gag. Is he a killer? Or just weird? Finely's performance will likely divide viewer opinion.

This being a De Palma film, the violence, quick as it is, is lingered upon perhaps even more than the (mild) sexuality. MURDER à la MOD is nowhere nearly as explicit as DRESSED TO KILL or BODY DOUBLE, both of which owe much to this film. The lengthy city street and cemetery chase reminded me of a key scene in the latter film. The inserts of murder weapons evoke 1973's SISTERS and 1980's DRESSED TO KILL. The slashing and Karo syrup spurting is virtually a De Palma trademark. The palpable sleazery is evident in films as late as THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006), a film to which I was not exactly beholden.

MURDER à la MOD is included as an extra on Disc 2 of Criterion's release of De Palma's 1981 thriller BLOW OUT, a fine film. Tracing the threads over the 14 years between the 2 efforts is an exercise that probably only students of the director will enjoy. I was expecting to really dislike MURDER à la MOD, but after a tedious first half hour, was consistently entertained. The acting is more or less amateur night, especially a bank employee you will want to strangle after about 2 minutes (that scene, by the way, is unforgivably long), but the real star is behind the camera. Any De Palma retrospective would do well screening this film as the lead off.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cyrus

The titular character is a large boy, 22 years of age, who lives at home with his mother, Molly. They're very close. They go to the park every morning, taking pictures of nature and playfully wrestling on a picnic blanket. He composes songs on his keyboards (one of many in their living room) for her. He goes into the bathroom and sings along with her while she showers. She lies with him in bed when he has panic attacks at night. Invisible audience, are you crying "Oedipus complex!" yet?

One night, Molly (Marissa Tomei) spies a shlubby guy named John (John C. Reilly) urinating in the bushes. "Nice penis!" she tells him. It is a great moment for John, the first good one after a night of striking out with the ladies at a party to which his ex-wife of 7 years, Jamie (Catherine Keener) invited him. Jamie had recently told John was getting remarried. He was devastated. As 2010's CYRUS plays out, we will also see another odd relationship, between John and Jamie.

But back to John and Molly. After their funny/awkward first meeting, they immediately click. She appreciates his lack of embarrassment (though he is piss drunk at the moment), and he further proves this by running back inside to the party to sing along with Human League's "Don't You Want Me". The new couple fall into bed that very night, but she slips out in the wee hours, leaving a note telling him what an awesome time she had.

After another similiar date, and no explanations as for her hasty exit, John decides to follow Molly home. On his stakeout, he falls asleep in his car overnight, then eventually walks up to Molly's front yard, and is eventually discovered by Cyrus, her son. He seems friendly and personable, inviting John in and even sharing one of those musical masterpieces with him. Soon enough, John will learn just what a not-so-little fly in the ointment Cyrus really is.

The set-up makes CYRUS sound like another of those dreadful, child-of-divorce/divorcee-attempts-to-sabotage-parent's- new-relationship movies. That is not entirely inaccurate. However, viewers expecting MAN OF THE HOUSE or any of its ilk will quickly be bored and/or frustrated. This film is not a slapstick ballet of lighthearted comic warfare. The ensuing struggle between the 2 males grows a bit darker with each scene before the inevitable meltdown and aftermath. As I assessed this movie, I concluded that Cyrus isn't so much a bad seed or evil as just confused.

And very self-aware. Jonah Hill plays the young man as a very subtly conniving juvenile, all outwardly gracious and disarming. After several scenes of his passive-aggressive behavior designed to make his mother feel guilty and John feel like a selfish bastard, the men finally throw off the gloves and acknowledge their intentions. Cyrus will use any means necessary to be rid of the new man. Through that, Cyrus gradually also acknowledges, even verbally, that he is messed up. Er, something along those lines.

But he isn't the only one. Molly is almost as guilty, enabling her son at every opportunity, giving in and giving in at maybe the cost of her own happiness. Tomei convincingly creates this character with the right amount of vulnerability and without chewing the scenery. She seems a bit childlike herself as she tries to maintain an adult relationship with John, requiring him to be open and honest and yet she repeatedly violates her own criteria.

John is basically an overgrown adolescent, clinging to his ex-wife in ways that more than suggest he never moved on or learned how to be friends with others of the opposite sex. Even as his fondness for Molly grows, he continually disrupts Jamie's time with her new fiance, seeking her as a sounding board. With the increasing difficulty of dealing with Cyrus, John will bombard his ex with more requests for psychotherapy than she is willing to (or should) offer. Is Jamie an enabler as well?! Is there a single healthy relationship in this picture?

Writers/directors Jay and Mark Duplass' film does sometimes feel like a couch session, sometimes at the cost of ingratiating the audience. Reading back over my summary, I feel as if I'm analyzing real acquaintances of mine. This is a far from perfect movie, but it does not flinch from the uncomfortable scenarios that would naturally fester out of the plot. The script is sometimes predictable and sometimes not, leading to a final scene that will not please those who want confirmation and resolution in their movies. To me, it was just right.

My major carp with CYRUS? It looks like a television program, albeit a high quality HBO series. Digital video is increasingly sucking the life out of cinema. While Michael Mann sometimes makes it work, the Duplass brothers produce a movie that is visually without soul. Cinema should be cinema, with wide compositions and expanse of scope. Every technical aspect in this "movie" (editing, photography, soundtrack, lighting) falls short of making this worth the effort to see in a theater (I didn't). Plus, that "snap zoom" that we see in every other shot gets highly annoying. It's really bush league. It screams "indie-lite". Or, "television".

Movies, when inspired, are like paintings. Television is rarely if ever more than a really good photograph. Think on that a bit. Where does this description leave CYRUS?

But....I admired the acting. The screenplay gives a good foundation for each character, and the actors, all of whom have been impressive before, do very well here. But it's unlikely that I'll want to revisit this movie anytime soon.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

PBA, Book VIII

I almost forgot to mention that one summer while at Palm Beach Atlantic I took a course called "Understanding Motion Pictures". Seeing as a majority of the entries in Lamplight Drivel concerns films, I feel it deserves a mention.

I was excited about the class. Students were expected to write several page reviews of a film screened each week. I don't believe I had done so before that class. Many times I had scribbled a paragraph here or there about a movie I'd seen. I was greatly influenced by the cinematic rants of Pauline Kael, Herbert Swope, Vincent Canby, Michael Mills, Archer Winsten, and especially of the yearly Leonard Maltin almanacs (in terms of their entries' brevity and content). It was always fairly easy to knock off a few sentences summarizing a movie. A full-length analysis that doesn't ramble, repeat, feel bloated, or seem otherwise incoherent is another matter. I still struggle with all of that in the current reviews I write. But they're just for fun. If I wrote professionally, I would adopt the adage: "write drunk, edit sober." And then edit some more.

The college's drama instructor oversaw the class. He was a jolly fellow, known quite well to me as I had had him for several speech and communication courses (my minor). He loved cinema, loved discussing it. He had a very memorable, hearty laugh that often edged over into a coughing jag. But....he also pronounced mise-en-scène as "mize-en-seen" which made (likely only) me wince each time.

And...he directed a version of "The Glass Menagerie" for the PBA stage later that year that, ahem, borrowed an idea from Woody Allen's HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (the film we screened for our final): using a line of dialogue to be uttered by an actor in the following scene as a title card for that scene. That made me wince, too. I tried to ignore my disgust and treat it as an homage. I was partially successful.

What other films were featured in "Understanding Motion Pictures"? I remember: CITIZEN KANE, THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, CASABLANCA, GHOSTBUSTERS, DR. STRANGELOVE, and HANNAH..I think there were others. Somewhere, I still have my review for GODS. Our class would discuss each film after its viewing. Less debate than you might think, but then most of the class seemed to be in agreement that TOP GUN was great cinema. Is that unfair? That's my recollection. What stands out most vividly now is another wince-worthy memory - a girl who ripped DR. STRANGELOVE to shreds. I remember feeling my neck get warm! I took this all very seriously. I was too polite to fire back. When I was younger I was worried about popularity. Nowadays? Ha! But before you write me off as unapologetically crusty: I still care deeply about people's feelings and would take caution not to let my opinions become attacks. Somewhat like today's version of political discourse. Stop laughing now.

Our prof. also explained how he had thought about screening Robert Altman's M.A.S.H. for us, but reconsidered as he felt that the film was blasphemous (likely because of, in part, a Last Supper spoof therein). PBA is a Christian institution. Do I agree with that the film is "blasphemous"? To a certain extent I do, actually, and somewhat agree with the prof's decision to omit it from the syllabus. That doesn't mean I dismiss the film because of my spiritual convictions. I think M.A.S.H. is quite brilliant. It would've provided a great example to examine a worldview very different than what most Christians usually expose themselves to in the arts, but it still may have been inappropriate for the class. Young, impressionable minds and all.

You could make the argument that viewing films which espouse a very different religious and/or political viewpoint from your own is very healthy, allowing you to not only become more educated, but also a better critical thinker. I've made such an argument many times over the years, especially when other Christians have questioned why I've watched certain movies. For many believers, film choice is often considered in light of "offensive content": language, sexuality, nudity. Violence? Not so much in this culture. That is totally accepted. Truly warped, in my opinion.

Where was I? Class, yes. The professor would go on to teach at PBA for several years after I graduated. He was also in the church choir with me during those years, taking a role as a greedy king in our annual Christmas pageant. These days he is teaching at other colleges in Florida and writing books. He even made a film of his own. I would be so curious. Perhaps I'll screen and review it and ask him to grade it?!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

We all have for much for which to be thankful. But, I don't think the point here is (or can be) overstated regarding our country's history:


Monday, November 21, 2011

King of the Hill

Do you recognize the look on an adult's face when a child is telling a tall tale, elaborating a fib that grows larger by the second? Sometimes you may see it in a mother's eyes as she plays "True of False" with her son ("I'm taking your word that what you say is true really is true"). Or the same boy's teacher as he explains that he lives in a nice apartment building (instead of in a fleabag hotel) with his father, a spy. Or even the mother of one of the boy's classmmates, as she listens to the explanation of how his father is a pilot for the government. The expressions begin with hard lines, stern brows, then soften in realization that the poor child needs to conjure such tales to avoid a complete erosion of self-worth.

Aaron Kurlander (14 year old Jesse Bradford) lives with his family in Missouri in 1933, a time when the country was in the deepest trenches of the Great Depression. The Kurlanders live in said rundown hotel, filled with all sorts of downtrodden folks, including a curious fellow across the hall (Spalding Gray) who once "smoked dollar bills like cigars" in earlier, far more prosperous times. Things become so desparate that Aaron makes tomato soup out of ketchup and tap water for his father. It's a moment that tells much, the switched roles revealing Aaron's maturity and his father's (Jeroen Krabbé) lack of it. Mr. Kurlander spends his days selling wickless candles, forever speaking of a job he hopes to get with a fancy watch manufacturer. Aaron's mother (Lisa Eichorn) is chronically ill. His little brother (Cameron Boyd) is barely there before he is shipped off to relatives in another state. One less mouth to feed.

As writer/director Steven Soderbergh's KING OF THE HILL (1993) progresses, Aaron will be separated, one by one, from family, friends, mentors, and neighbors. It's a heartbreaking tale. Mrs. Kurlander is sent to a tuberculosis hospital. Mr. Kurlander indeed gets the sales job, requiring him to travel state to state, without his son. Bradford plays his scenes with Krabbé with the right amount of pathos and disbelief; how could his dad could leave him alone in the apartment for an indeterminate amount of time without money? One of the saddest scenes shows the boy cutting up magazines for pictures of food that he arranges on a plate and pretends to savor.

While Aaron is still in school, he'll observe the obscene wealth of his classmmates. The extravagance, the waste, the taking for granted is astonishing to him. One boy has a room filled with birdcages (he breeds them as a hobby) and autographed sports memorabilia. Aaron covers his poverty with the tall tales of which we spoke, not so embarrased of his social standing as interested in just getting some food that these people have in plenty. A girl (played by a very young Katherine Heigl) who likes Aaron invites him to a post-graduation party, where his multitude of lies catches up to him.

The scenario of KING OF THE HILL plays like many survival stories (EUROPA EUROPA, for one), the hero using his wits and the kindness of others, especially neighbor Letser (Adrien Brody, quite good). Lester is a older version of Aaron, with more years under his belt and savvy as to how to exploit any situation for reward. He's a rascal and a thief, but kindhearted. He's also certainly more of a father to Aaron than his real one. Aaron remains strong, but his spirit is crushed a bit more as he loses each contact, even the strange girl down the hall who wants him to come over and have hot dogs and dance with her. He finally does, learning more about the girl he previously dismissed. He selflessly spends fifty cents he desperately needs on a kitten for her.

I wish Soderbergh had made more films like KING OF THE HILL. It is a beautifully written, acted, and shot gem, so vivid in its depictions of a relentlessly bleak chapter of American history. The director brings his off-kilter sensibility to the project, most visible in scenes with Gray's character (who spends time with a live-in prostitute played by Elizabeth McGovern) to balance the inherent drama of the story; it's a privileged mix. The result is a warm, even sentimental at times movie that isn't the usual Hollywood tearjerker, or conversely a smug, irony drenched revisionist tale. We are not toyed with in the usual ways: sappy music cues, angelic lighting. Instead, Cliff Martinez' score is just disturbing enough to flavor the drama, yet never becoming overwhelmingly sad.

Soderbergh uses natural and artificial light instead to create beautiful images that could be frozen and admired as art, almost Norman Rockwell or Ansel Adams-like in their old school down home charm. Aside from a derivative scene in which Aaron beats some older boys in a game of marbles (uncharacteristically scored with upbeat music and featuring a slow-motion shot of Aaron's marbles shattering those of his opponents'), KING OF THE HILL never missteps. Well worth your time.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Best Granola EVER!

Unfortunately, only available at stores in the NYC area. You can order it online. I suggest you do.


http://earlybirdfoods.com/index.html

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

I owe it all to a guy named Michael Brunson, a childhood friend who lived down the street. Circa 1981, I sat with him in front of his stereo, experiencing for the first time the musical majesty that is Rush. The album: Moving Pictures. I had not heard anything like it before. The shock and joy of something new; I can still remember how I felt. Prior, I was listening to novelty songs, Disney and Sesame Street records, church hymns, and (Lord help me), Norwegian accordion albums that were absolutely interminable. All was forgotten once I heard the first notes of "Tom Sawyer." Thanks, Mike!

A few days later I bought my own copy of Moving Pictures at the local Spec's record store. I slipped on my gigantic headphones every day after school. It was like a religion. The music was hard and rockin', which I definitely appreciated (I had also recently discovered AC/DC and Van Halen, much to my parents' horror and dismay), but there was much more. Something I could not quite explain. The lyrics were different, thoughtful even. The music was so, accomplished. My young ears didn't know how to pick out time signatures or the denseness and meaning of the words, but I knew something about it all was very special. "The Camera Eye" became the first tune that ran over 3 minutes that I would appreciate. To this day I get chills when I hear the final guitar solo in it. It's one of my favorites.

Thus began well over a decade of dedicated Rush fanship. At that time, the band was heading into another stylistic phase of their career. I knew that they had been around for a while, but did not delve into the older albums like 2112 and A Farewell to Kings right away. Not long after my initial listens to Rush, another guy at my elementary school let me borrow a cassette of Hemispheres but it was way too much for me to process at the time.

But I easily got into the keyboard heavy compositions of Signals, Grace Under Pressure, and Power Windows as the 80s continued. I was obssessed. The older fans were not enamored of the new sound. "Rush was," stated one of my co-workers at the fast food joint in which I slaved during high school. But a few years on, I went back and absorbed the older albums. I was again stunned, blown away by something so different sounding once I heard the sidelong tracks from the 70s such as "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" and "Cygnus X-1". Intricate sci-fi tales with profound lyrics, some of them inspired by the writings of Ayn Rand. Rush was not your typical rock group.

The 2010 documetary RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE is a long overdue telling of the history of the power trio from the Great White North: bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and lyricist/drummer Neil Peart, from their schoolboy days to the present. Fellow Canadians Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden directed the film; their previous films had focused on heavy metal culture. Rush has sometimes been lumped in with the likes of Iron Maiden and Dokken, but they're nothing like them, really.

BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE features valuable home movie clips of friends-since-grade- school Lee and Lifeson, particularly of an 18-year-old Alex as he sits around the dinner table, explaining that he does not want to go on to college to get "a big degree". He was far more interested in playing guitar with Geddy, as explained by the principals themselves and, amusingly, their parents, who recall many loud nights in their respective basements.

The film traces Rush's early gigs in Toronto gymnasiums and church rec rooms, the lack of funds, and briefly profiles early members of the band. Namely, John Rutsey, the original drummer, who had to leave the band in 1974 (due to diabetes) just before their first big tour, promoting their first eponymous album. Of course, a guy named Neil Peart would replace him and suburban boys all over North America and beyond would soon be air drumming within an inch of their lives imitating him.

The early albums and tours get a thorough overview. The debut was a bluesy, Zeppelinesque batch of tunes that went virtually unnoticed until a program director in Cleveland heard "Working Man", correctly predicting it would be popular with many blue collar listeners. Rush would sign to Mercury and begin touring, opening for Uriah Heep and even Kiss (Gene Simmons recalls how straight arrow and serious those Canadian boys were, unlike himself and his cronies, who pretty much bedded anything that wore heels). After 1976's landmark concept LP, 2112, Rush was granted the freedom to create the opuses they wanted without record company interference, including 1978's Hemispheres, an album all band memebers recall being extremely difficult to perform and record. It is illustrative of how driven and ambitious Lee, Lifeson, and Peart were/are. Geniuses, in my opinion.

As we cruise into the 80s (when the songs were less guitar laden) and 90s (when the axes returned front and center)periods, BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE's coverage becomes broader, sketchier, but overall the film hits most of the band's personal and artistic highlights. Some time is given to discuss the double tragedy of the death of Peart's daughter and wife within a year in the late 1990s. The band went on a lengthy hiatus as the drummer took to the roads on a motorcycle (some 55,000 miles from start to finish) to heal. Out of that time came a few books and a renewed perspective for Peart. The lyrics on the new albums Vapor Trails (2002) and Snakes and Arrows(2007) reflected these experiences. Any serious fan of Rush knows how insightful Peart's lyrics can be, and I've been especially impressed at how increasingly human and heartfelt they've grown over nearly 40 years. Life'll do that to you.

RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE would be many hours long if it covered everything in the sort of detail a rabid Rush fan like myself would desire. But what we have is quite good. It is absolutely essential viewing for any Rush devotee. Interviews with all 3 band members are interspersed, as are discussions with musicians who were big fans and influenced by Rush, including, Billy Corgan, Sebastian Bach, Les Claypool, Trent Reznor, Jack Black, and many others. Corgan especially is insightful as to how the musicians inspired him. Perhaps Black says it best, though: "Rush is just one of those bands that has a deep reservoir of rocket sauce. A lot of bands - they've only got so much in the bottle. They use it up sometimes in one song. These guys were the real deal. Their bottle was so big and so filled to the brim, they were shaking it literally for decades. And still there was sauce coming out"

The bonus DVD contains outtakes from the film, as well as longer segments on Rush "fashions" over the years (these guys are great self-deprecators), the sometimes scary fans (who have Rush conventions, complete with karaoke), and a seat at dinner with the guys as they get intoxicated and silly and cajole comfortably like 3 old friends would. There are also some concert clips from the recent "Rush in Rio" video and a mesmerizing record of a live 1979 performance of "La Villa Strangiato".

Monday, November 14, 2011

Your Audiology Tutorial: Tympanometry


During a routine hearing exam battery, the audiologist may begin with what is known as tympanometry. It is an important measurement which gives the clinician an assessment of middle ear function. He or she will place a flexible plastic probe attached to a low tone generator which will measure how easily your eardrum (tympanic membrane) moves. The low frequency tone will vibrate the drum and a compliance measurement (admittance) will alert the clinician to a few things. Namely, that outer atmospheric pressure and Eustachian tube (runs between the eardrum and nasopharnyx) function are equal, or not. The tube opens and closes as you chew, yawn, change altitude, etc.

When the test is administered, the patient feels a "squeeze" in the ear canal. This is the result of a pressure seal created between the probe and the eardrum. A tymp measures ear canal volume, pressure, and drum motility. The results are designated by types (see above for graphical representation of each):

Type A: Normal E. tube function. Eardrum is moving normally with a pressure change.

Type B: Abnormal. Something is restricting the movement of the drum (likely fluid, but can also be/or ossification of the malleus, incus, and stapes bones[ossicular chain] that connect the drum to the inner ear, which would be classified as a Type As - shallow tymp). Children with fluid behnind their eardrums often have a flat or Type B tymp. The ear, nose, and throat doctor may place PE (pressure equalization) tubes in the child's ear to alleviate pressure and drain fluid.

Type C: The drum is moving but something is retracting it inwardly, toward middle ear space (could be negative pressure from the E. tube). Positive pressure can build up and do the reverse, pushing the drum outward. You can cause this by pinching your nostrils and exhaling with your mouth closed (Valsalva).

When a patient has a perforated (hole) eardrum, the measured canal volume may be quite large, as the measurement is going beyond the area between probe and drum and now into the middle ear via the perf. If the ossicular chain is disarticulated, the drum may beome flaccid (Type Ad-deep tymp).

Tympanometry is a quick, vital diagnostic that should be part of every audiometric examination.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Roger Dodger

The cinema has presented its fair share of male lotharios who are more than willing to share their so-called secrets to seducing the fairer sex. I think on Richard Lester's THE KNACK...AND HOW TO GET IT and even FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH as solid examples of this genre. Add 2002's ROGER DODGER to the list, similiarly documenting a Don Juan who proves to be all surface; not as slick as he thought, and actually quite an empty soul.

Campbell Scott is cast a bit against type as Roger Swanson, a rather jaded NYC advertising exec. Note this exchange he has with his nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) who's shown up in town (and his office) unexpectedly:

Roger: You can't sell a product without first making people feel bad.
Nick: Why not?
Roger: Because it's a substitution game. You have to remind them that they're missing something from their lives. Everyone's missing something, right?
Nick: I guess.
Roger: Trust me. And when they're feeling sufficiently incomplete, you convince them your product is the only thing that can fill the void. So instead of taking steps to deal with their lives, instead of working to root out the real reason for their misery, they go out and buy a stupid looking pair of cargo pants.

Roger is also quite cynical about women. In the opening scene of ROGER DODGER, he's holding court at a dinner with several colleagues, explaining how technology will one day render males completely unnecessary to women:
Technology and evolution will have combined...
to exclude sperm from procreation...
and our fiinal destiny will be to lift couches...
and wait for that day when telepathy overcomes gravity...
and our gender's last remaining utility is lost forever
As the film progresses, Roger is shown to be an alarming (though quite articulate and entertaining) narcissist, perhaps even a sociopath. Witness his speech to a 50ish woman he's just met at a bar:

I could tell you that what you think of as your personality is nothing but a collection of Vanity Fair articles. I could tell you your choice of sexual partners this evening was decided months ago by some account executive at Young & Rubicam. I could tell you that given a week to study your father and the ways in which he ignores you I could come up with a schtick you'd be helpless to resist. Helpless.
I quote so much of this movie directly as the dialogue is one of ROGER DODGER's best qualities. Not since the small body of films by writer/director Whit Stillman (METROPOLITAN) has dialogue been so intregral to character (and the overall film's) definition. Here, an middle-aged urbanite whose loathing of himself is only assauged by directing it to others tenfold. His speeches are lengthy and self-important but quite rhythmic and fascinating. It is the first time I've seen Campbell exploit this sort of persona, after nice-guy turns in THE SPANISH PRISONER and SINGLES. He's quite good here.

The bulk of ROGER DODGER follows the main character and his nephew through NYC as the former offers his strategies for female seduction, per Nick's request. Roger begins with nuts and bolts nuances (even old tricks like dropping a pen to look up a skirt) and eye contact. He brings the 16 year old Nick into a bar where they meet Andrea (Elizabth Berkley) and Sophie (Jennifer Beals), the kid telling them he made a bet with his uncle for one grand that he could get a woman to fall in love with him in one night. Conversations of refreshing honesty and intelligence follow. Hearing them is quite a contrast to the paper thin and idiotic exchanges we hear in most contemporary films, regardless of genre. Neither actress has ever been so warm and appealing (and genuine) as they are here. This sequence manages to be hopeful and romantic in the best possible ways. The ladies provide choice counterpoint to Roger's continuous cynicism and crassness. "Feeling a little bit of vertical displacement?" he asks his nephew after Sophie kisses the boy.

The night will continue with ill advised ventures to Roger's boss' (and ex-lover's) party, to which he was not invited, and a "fail safe", a place he considers a last resort sure thing for a man who has struck out everywhere else. And indeed Roger strikes out repeatedly. ROGER DODGER gives us a sobering view of a very lonely man whose mask is cocksureness, an alleged proclivity for female companionship, albeit the kind that usually doesn't last past breakfast.

As Nick, Eisenberg is quite perfect as the nerdy straight laced bookworm who doesn't even consume caffeine, finding himself having drinks with much older women. It's probably more fun to watch his performance now than it was in '02, as his later turn in THE SOCIAL NETWORK is similiar in many ways. Nick is not quite as neurotic as his performance as Mark Zuckerberg, rather more romantic and innocent, but still unsure of social politics, the in-person kind, that is. Nick's trajectory in ROGER DODGER is not as dynamic as perhaps I would've liked, but writer/director Dylan Kidd's screenplay allows him to react convincingly to a first kiss, to both real and childlike females.

But Roger is the more childlike of the pair. Frighteningly erudite in his speech (his ramblings, some very funny and eminently quotable, are reason enough to see this movie) but unable to truly relate and connect in an adult fashion. ROGER DODGER would be essential viewing for someone who likes to discuss things like "emotional IQ". Most of the way, it's a very astute essay. I just wish Kidd had a better wrap-up for his film; the final scene in Nick's high school cafeteria is quite dissapointing in its simplicity, seeming almost as if to tie everything up with a tired joke.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Five Easy Pieces

America Lost & Found: The BBS Story, Part VI

Spoilers...

By the closing scenes of 1970's FIVE EASY PIECES, Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson)has perhaps decided to banish himself to permanent anonymity, to an existence of complete denial (or maybe embracing?) of true self, whatever that may be. When we meet first meet him, he seems to be a average joe as he works in oil fields by day and goes bowling in the evenings. His friends and his waitress girlfriend, Rayette (Karen Black) call him "Bobby" and they idle the hours the way many lower middle class folks do, sitting in a trailer park, chugging beer, and watching TV.

Dupea is also a bit of a prick. His mercurial behavior baffles during the first half of director/co-writer (along with Carole Eastman) Bob Rafelson's great film. Why does he treat Rayette so poorly, lying to and cheating on her at every opportunity? Chalk it up to unchecked machismo? Amorality? One day he goes off on his co-worker and drinking buddy Elton (Billy "Green" Bush) after learning from him that Rayette is pregnant. A condescension, a dismissal of the cheap and pointless life that he sees with Elton and company, spills from Dupea's lips. This is to be his fate? But who is he to judge?

Then one morning while stuck in a freeway traffic jam, Bobby decides to get out of the car, sneer at a few other divers, then jump atop a truck transporting a piano. He plays the keys with violence. Not something like "Heart and Soul", but rather Frédéric Chopin's "Fantasy in F Minor Op. 49" (one of the five "easy" pieces of the title). Who is this man?

The audience learns more about Robert after he visits his sister, Partita (Lois Smith) in Los Angeles. She's playing J.S. Bach's: "Chromatic fantasia and Fugue" in a recording studio (character actor and TV vet Richard Stahl quite hilariously plays her recording engineer). Partita relays that their father has suffered several strokes and that Robert should pay a visit to their old home in Puget Sound in Washington State.

The remainder of FIVE EASY PIECES expands on the hints we've been given with great, contemplative elaboration. We journey to the Dupea homestead where the patriarch remains silent in a wheelchair. The father only stares ahead, though perhaps not so blankly. His eyes portray a steeliness, an acknowledement. This will be be essential to note when Robert opens up to him late in the the film.

And Robert, we find out, is indeed a creative soul, one who has (lost?) great musical ability. His siblings likewise are all musical prodigies; we learned of Partitia's talents earlier, then we meet Robert's violinist brother, Carl Fidelio Dupea (Ralph Waite) who is accompanied by a protege and fiancee, Catherine (Susan Anspach). Robert acts on what he believes are favorable sexual signals from Catherine. For her he will play Chopin's "Prelude Op. 28, No. 4", another "easy" piece. It is seductive to her, but Robert dismisses his playing as a genius might, stating that he played it with proficiency when he was even 8 years of age. Catherine quickly discovers Robert's contempt for himself. She's sufficiently attracted long enough for a tryst, but recognizes little potential for a healthy relationship.

Robert disagrees, trying to convince himself that he cares deeply for Catherine, for his family. Perhaps he really does, or wants to. His affection for his sister is obvious. He even rallies to the defense of Rayette (she eventually crashes the visit) during a gathering after listening to the insufferable rants of a pseudo-intellectual as she belittles the simple waitress. A complete abhorrence of the entire atmosphere in which he grew up envelops him. He hates the environment which made him, so thus, he hates himself. He unsuccessfully tried the working class shtick. He still has contempt for the manor born. We reach the film's final scene.

FIVE EASY PIECES is just brilliance. It illustrates how a fairly straightforward narrative can be engrossing and artful while also being free of pretension. Yet, such a complex character study it is! The very language of film here conveys the information necessary. Rafelson composes many great shots but never to draw attention to themselves. Laszlo Kovacs's photography is expansive and intimate by turns, appropriate to the mood of the scene. Bobby surveys the oil field with weary eyes and loneliness, the vastness of the field overwhelming in its banality. Robert stares into the ancient furniture of his childhood home with similiar loneliness, and claustrophobia. Rafelson and Kovacs create visuals that could almost play silently in their expressiveness. Many shots run long enough to suggest restlessness and frustration.

But the dialogue is a charm throughout FIVE EASY PIECES. Most famous is the diner scene, where Dupea has stopped on his trip home. Rayette and 2 hitchhikers (one who never stops chattering) accompany him. This scene is worth quoting:
Bobby: I'd like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A #2, chicken salad sand. Hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Bobby: Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
Waitress: You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Bobby: I want you to hold it between your knees.


This scene has found its place in Cinema History, not for being interal to the story, but because it certifies Jack Nicholson's familiar untamed persona. It is almost as patented as that image of his face gaping through an axed door in THE SHINING. Eastman (writing as Adrien Joyce) and Rafelson's dialogue is almost like another classical piece itself. The diner scene plays like music, expertly performed.

But so do the other scenes in FIVE EASY PIECES: Dupea's half-hearted consolations to Rayette (Black describes her soft-hearted and soft-brained character in one of the disc's documentaries: "To play her, I just stopped thinking."), his confrontations with his brother, with Catherine, with just about every other character. There is also the scene to which I already alluded, a surprising and genuine monologue by Robert to his father, the latter who only sits and listens. This scene is somewhat of a "pre-climax", really ellucidating the character of Robert Dupea. By the time we see him surveying his reflection in a service station restroom mirror, we have some idea of him. And of where he's headed.


Criterion's presentation of FIVE EASY PIECES in the BBS set includes in its extras a short interview and feature length commentary with Rafelson, an audio of the director's interview at AFI in the mid 70s, and an excellent doc that summarizes the brief but shining life of the BBS enterprise, complete with summaries of all 7 of their productions
.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Show Some Emotion

A moody, yet spirited tune from one of my all-time favorite singers, Joan Armatrading.



Word.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

127 Hours

Spoilers Ahead!
You know, I've been thinking. Everything is... just comes together. It's me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock... this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It's entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It's been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I've been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I've taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface


Aron Ralston barely has enough strength to utter these words after several days of being trapped between, quite literally, a rock and a hard place. His solo trek into the canyons and caves of Robbers Roost in Utah was another of his anonymous adventures into the wide open. Nary a mention is made to family and friends as to his plans. 127 HOURS opens in Ralston's apartment as he's packing, rifling through cabinets for the last bits of gear. Forbodingly, his grasp just misses a Swiss Army knife that he eventually gives up for missplaced. We hear his mother's voice on the answering machine. The call goes unreturned.

The young man happily speeds into the desert with windows down and music cranking. He's in his element. That's not to say he doesn't enjoy company; we learn through flashbacks that he is quite a social animal. Early scenes in this movie find him meeting up with two young female hikers who join him for some stunt diving in an underground spring. But we also get a strong sense of his love of solitude, of pushing himself against the Great Outdoors on his own terms.

Into Blue John Canyon he climbs, but that fateful rock will pin his arm to a canyon wall as he descends an especially narrow passage. His efforts to chip away the rock with a multi-purpose pocket tool prove fruitless. Aron will begin to ration his food and water, meanwhile recording his ordeal with a video camera. Each hour and day points in a terrible direction. Ralston is a cheerful guy, after a few days still trying to find rays of optimism even after he's forced to drink his own urine to stay alive. He continues to record his (lack of) progress.

127 HOURS tells a true story with which you're probably familiar. You'll know that Ralston (played by James Franco) will eventually, after the fifth day, sever his arm with a dull knife to break free. Director and co-writer Danny Boyle makes this biography distinguished by examining Ralston's mind and soul, both of which are worn down as the days pass. We see memory fragments of ex-girlfriends and family members, things we would expect to see. As he gets thirstier, he remembers all the soft drink commercials he's ever seen. The memories then work their way into his current locale, as his family is seen on and around a sofa right there in the cave. Their faces are stern, as if they are a jury, sentencing him. Is this his punishment for shutting them out, perhaps for much of his life? He cries out, eventually assigning weighty spiritual and metaphorical significance to the rock.

Boyle structures his film like a contemporary fever dream. A peer into the mind of a media saturated individual. Cuts among real memories and those of commercials and YouTube clips. The movie cuts well, nearly seamlessly, with shots seen through Ralston's camcorder screen. As the human body is depleted of nourishment, so goes the discernement of the real and imagined. In a fascinating subtext, perhaps this film argues that many of us are, due to our constant stimulation with media, in this state on a daily basis, even if we aren't literally fighting for our lives. Even though 127 HOURS is a mostly faithful recount of a specific true event, I still wonder what Marshall Mcluhan would've thought of this movie's stylistics.

I also thought about about how Ralston would often retreat to lonely outposts in the desert, in the ocean, on mountains. All alone. Many of us avoid being alone so we don't have to deal with ourselves. We fill every available moment with family and friends to take the focus away. Ostensibly, that's healthy. But never taking a hard look at yourself can rob you of individualism, of self-awareness. How can you love others if you don't love (or at least accept) yourself? For all of Aron's solitude before, it takes a precarious life-or-certain death scenario for him to realize something else -how selfish he's been.

127 HOURS also has Ralston seeing into the future, his yet to be born child calling to him, perhaps propelling him to do the momentarily unthinkable but ultimately liberating. It is a moment I think many can relate to. I certainly can. Franco plays it perfectly. The real Ralston was similiarly impressed. 127 HOURS concludes with a slide show of his further adventures. He left word with his loved ones every time thereafter.


P.S.: The arm severing scene, it must be stated, is quite graphic and lengthy. If you are at all squeamish, squinting and/or averting your eyes is advisable.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Terror in the Aisles

Boy, this must've sounded good on paper. Or in pitch meetings. Imagine a non-stop barrage of all the best scare scenes from horror films/thrillers from the past 30 + years! No boring expositions or slow dialogue scenes! 1984's failed collage TERROR IN THE AISLES has this as its promising premise. Unfortunately, a seemingly promising idea is wrapped in a completely misguided one.

Almost immediately, this film is a bust. How could it miss? TERROR IN THE AISLES is narrated by 2 latter day stars of horror cinema: Nancy Allen (DRESSED TO KILL) and Donald Pleasance (HALLOWEEN). You might rightly wonder why the "Queen of scream" of the late 70s/early 80s Jamie Lee Curtis (HALLOWEEN, TERROR TRAIN, PROM NIGHT....)didn't participate. The narration is obvious and silly, and not only in voiceover; we also see Allen and Pleasance sitting in movie theaters amongst terrified patrons, reacting to the clips in TERROR's anthology. If the commentary had been insightful, it might've been interesting. Instead, we get lines like, "why would we subject ourselves to these movies when there's plenty of real horror in the world?" We also see the moviegoers clutching each other, covering their eyes, screaming. To remind us that the films showcased are scary.

It reminded me of a test I put to certain genre films, namely comedy and horror. If a film needs an audience to tell me that it is funny or scary, it is a failure. I don't need a group of strangers to dictate or validate my reactions.

But many would cite the joy of the filmgoing experience, the collective thrill of screaming and laughing along with those strangers. How a good laugh or scare is perhaps the great equalizer. I might've thought that once. I still do enjoy seeing movies in the theater, but for the excitement of the big screen and big sound and the unquantifiable magic that occurs. The other people in the theater have often been the downside to the experience: the obnoxious comments, the cell phone chatter, the fidgeters, the noisy eaters, on and on.

But, rethinking, many of the films featured in TERROR IN THE AISLES perhaps play best with audiences shouting out instructions to those being chased by serial killers in masks. During a clip from HALLOWEEN, when Curtis wearily discards a knife, one of the actors in the fake movie theater yells, "don't drop that, you asshole!"

That is accurate. During my many nights of spending my allowance or fast-food job earned cash on all those 80s slashers, the audience was almost as much spectacle as the films themselves. In writing this review, I recalled all those Friday and Saturday nights at the Cross County 8 and Village Green theaters, listening as people broke wind, threw things, and argued and threatened each other if they didn't shut up. Those crowds were rowdy. I guess Freddy Krueger or Jason inspires such behavior. TERROR IN THE AISLES' audience does not exhibit this sort of action (aside from Ms. Curtis' heckler); it should've, it would've been more precise and entertaining.

But what about the clips themselves? We are shown key moments from:

JAWS
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
CARRIE
THE SHINING
SCANNERS
THE FURY
THE THING (1982)
PSYCHO
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
WAIT UNTIL DARK
POLTERGEIST
THE EXORCIST
THE BIRDS
VIDEODROME....

.....and many others. There are also clips, to no great effect, from films not classified as horror, like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, KLUTE, VICE SQUAD, and the 1981 Sylvester Stallone cop drama NIGHTHAWKS. Then there are comedic scenes from PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and the intriguingly awful ALONE IN THE DARK, featuring a clearly slumming (and hammy) Martin Landau. Archival footage of Alfred Hitchcock describing his cinematic methods is even featured. TERROR IN THE AISLES attempts to link the assembled clips thematically, but it just doesn't really make any sense. Many of these scenes are undeniably effective (the stomach burst in ALIEN, the transformation in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) but thrown together in this hodgepodge, it is almost ineffectual. The movie, as a result, is poorly paced and even boring! Not the wild ride that was intended.

This idea could work. Just edit the scenes to a mix of your favorite disturbing music. Correctly match the intensity of the visual and the aural. Rob Zombie or Ministry for the carnage, Incubus or Morphine for the slow dread, fast, dissonant classical piece of your choice for the chase scenes...TERROR IN THE AISLES might've been a decent trash classic if it were constructed as a music video. In this age of decreasing attention spans, it would be apt.

I'm not advocating for a remake, mind you, because then we'd have to suffer through scenes of the HOSTEL and SAW films and the like. If you really want to have a horror film marathon this Halloween, you'd be better off just getting the original films in their entirety. Good advice: skip any film that has "DON'T" in the title.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Coogan's Bluff

Since my recent move I've rejoined the mainstream of American culture and once again have cable TV. Most of my viewing time consists of 5-10 seconds on each channel as I flip around. You could call it a guy cliche to do such a thing, but it usually doesn't take me long to recognize crap. Despite multitudes of channels, often this sort of surfing reveals only a wasteland. And endless Law & Order re-runs.

However, to my surprise, the Encore movie channels are included in the extended basic cable package (also: IFC, Sundance, and Flix). All films uncut for content and commercial free. One of the great things about these channels is that they run films that are obscure and/or not available on DVD. 1968's COOGAN'S BLUFF is neither, though it is not necessarily one you think of when you survey the career of Clint Eastwood.

Walt Coogan is an Arizona sheriff who says little and gets his man by any means possible. Warrants, probable cause, Miranda rights, not necessary. In an effective opening scene, he apprehends an American Indian hiding in the desert who had killed his wife. En route to jail, Coogan stops at his girlfriend's house for an assignation, bounding his quarry to a column on the front porch while he, um, takes care of other business. Coogan's superiors happen by and find the prisoner singing the blues while tied up. They bust in the house and dress down Coogan (who is in the bathtub) for his blatant disregard for the law and unorthodox behavior. "That's a man out there, not an animal!" This scenario should sound familiar to Eastwood fans, particularly reminiscent of a certain character the iconic actor would go on to portray in the 70s and beyond.

The superiors also inform Coogan that he is to fly to New York City to bring back James Ringerman (Don Stroud), a hippie who killed someone in Arizona and fled. Here begins a classic "fish out of water" story you have seen perhaps many times. No nonsense, "get it done" small town cop outsmarts more sophisticated big city men in blue on their own turf. There will be culture shock for all concerned.

What makes COOGAN'S BLUFF worth a few hours' viewing? Eastwood gets to try out his classic lawman persona, immortalized in the DIRTY HARRY and other later films. His Coogan immediately clashes with NYC cops, especially Lieutenant McElroy (Lee J. Cobb), who wearily explains that Ringerman is currently residing in a mental hospital and getting him released requires a lot of red tape that could take weeks. Cue the patented Eastwood eye squint.

Soon, Coogan uses his own methods to spring the perp, only to be ambushed by Ringerman's girlfriend, Linny Raven (Tisha Sterling) and an accomplice (David Doyle, later of Charlie's Angels ) at the airport. They steal his firearm. After recovering in the hospital, Coogan tracks Linny down at an ultra psychedelic nightclub called the Pigeon Toed Orange Peel (where filmstrips of naked women and tranatulas play on the walls and live naked women sit on a trapeeze), spends the night with her (Eastwood's characters are almost James Bondian in their libido), then again is ambushed after she brings him to a pool hall where several cohorts are waiting. We are then treated to a Clint vs. at least seven creeps wielding cue sticks. There's also a fine motorcycle chase finale.

For a 1968 film, COOGAN'S BLUFF is pretty violent. Director Don Siegel, who worked with Eastwood several times, directs with force and economy. He's almost like Hemingway in his conciseness. It's easy to see how Siegel influenced his star when the latter directed his own films years later.

Along the way, Clint also woos a probabtion officer named Julie (Susan Clark, looking very lovely) who happens to have Linny as one of her parolees. Various things happen through the course of the movie to prevent a consummation of their sexual tension.

COOGAN'S BLUFF benefits from generous amounts of humor, some dated, some very un-PC. There's a running gag as everyone thinks the cowboy hatted Coogan is from Texas instead of AZ. There are roughouse gags (the encounter with "Wonderful Digby" at the club), the socially observational digs (the little old lady at the stationhouse who reports that everyone is trying to rape her), and the regional jokes (a cabbie charges Coogan fifty cents extra for his luggage [he's merely carrying a briefcase], then a hotel clerk charges him extra because he does not have any luggage.)The timing of some of the funnier bits is more deft than many of the so-called comedies of the same period. Clint also gets to utter at least one great line, "You better drop that blade, or you won't believe what happens next, even while it's happening."

Don't think about the plot too hard. Don't arrive at the end of COOGAN'S BLUFF and survey what just happened, how everything could've been avoided if...just enjoy. If you're an Eastwood completist, this a must.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

PBA, Book VI

When I got that 1986 midnight blue Chevy Cavalier in late January 1990, it was some sort of deliverance. I was no longer restricted by who I could receive rides from; it was liberating. My life, in a sense, had begun. I dated like crazy, ran every errand I could, and was chauffeur to my carless PBA friends.

Around that time I also met a unique girl who hailed from Jackson, Mississippi. Yes, she had the accent you're hearing in your head right now. She had fire engine red hair and often wore Laura Ashley dresses. She attended Palm Beach Atlantic and also worked at Eckerd with me. We became fast friends, strictly platonic. A back massage is about as erotic as anything got. She seemed typically conservative in the PBA (and Southern) vein.

As we hung out, I learned otherwise. "Laura" (not her real name, but it'll do) had a bit of a wild streak, eager to stir things up when given the opportunity. How clearly I remember that night on Palm Beach Lakes and Village Blvds., at a stop light next to a car with two young black guys. Laura was in the passenger seat, directing her derogatory remarks and accents at them. I was livid and scared, fearing some serious damage. Sure enough, the guys followed us onto Village and it seemed as if I would have to put the pedal to the metal. But within seconds, they flew into the left lane and sped past, shouting something at us I've blocked out. I gave Laura a few words, but soon we were laughing.

By night Laura was a goth, complete with black fingernails and black robed garments. She loved going to Respectables, a downtown WPB club that played music by The Cure, New Order, Faith No More, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, along with doses of old school ska and punk, and lesser known acts like Alien Sex Fiend and The Swimming Pool Qs, both of whom did shows there. Even before I met Laura, I went to this club semi-regularly, but was usually clad in blue jeans and untucked short or long sleeved polo. I actually slam danced or something there a few times, though mostly hung at tables with my friends and just listened to one cool song after another. A few years later, I was outside in the back bar area, eating something from the late night menu. "Marijuana is the only food you'll ever need," a helpful chap offered.

With Laura I got to meet and hang with many other goths, and it was fascinating. Back at Laura's place at some ungodly hour, many a head spinning night was had - not necessarily because of drugs or an excess of alcohol, but definitely becuase of the conversations (whatever their catalyst). These people came from much different backgrounds than me; their points of view so foreign. They looked at me with curiosity and I imagine in some cases, pity. One of them wore a T-shirt that read: CHRISTIANITY IS STUPID. Despite that, most of my exchanges with them were friendly.

That changed, however, when I met Laura's ex-boyfriend, a somehat psychotic and combustable fellow named "Rick". Rick also frequented Respect's and seemed to always be glaring at me. He thought Laura and I were an item. Laura confided many awful tales to me about her ex, including a time he picked up a hammer left by a construction crew and tried to bonk her in the skull. Lies? Who knows? My observations and overall vibe about this dude suggested otherwise. One night, I felt his hand slap me on the back. He sarcastically said "hi" as we were all swaying to Depeche Mode or something similiar.

The best story about Rick? He went nuts one day and damaged several pianos in the music department with a fire extinguisher. That was being talked about around campus. I'm pretty sure Rick got expelled.

Laura and I had a fun time, and she even played advisor/counselor when the girl I spoke of in the previous entry called me out of the blue to see if I would take her to her senior prom, on a cruise out to sea and back. This was a few months after we had broken up. Laura told me not to accept, but of course I did, and had a miserable night. It all concluded with my date and I being kicked off the ship's dance floor by her teacher/pastor, beacuse we began fighting, loudly. Once we reached the deck, it was cold and raining, but the shouting crescendoed nonetheless. I don't remember it all, but she most certainly did storm off and tell me to go to hell. Laura had warned me.

But Laura and I would have our own falling out after she and her roommate toilet papered my car in my driveway. Normally, I would LOVE that sort of thing. I had a couple of choir mates build a nest on my hood once. I don't know, though, for some reason that night I was not amused, and quite furious that this was happening. After my scene, I went back in the house and they tore off. We did not speak after that. So silly. I don't know what got into me.

A few weeks later, in a postscript straight out of a David Lynch movie, I saw her chatting with some guys near one of the dorms on campus. I drove by, stuck my head out the window and did a bizarre loud cackle at them, eliciting confused stares. It was another strange moment for me, as I never did things like that. Laura must've had some odd influence.

Many years later, Laura is one of my 380+ Facebook friends. She even sent me a case of Peach Nehi! The reason behind that is for another time, invisible audience.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Caddyshack

There are few movies more heavily quoted among middle aged American males than 1980's CADDYSHACK. Perhaps a distant second might be 1985's FLETCH, which also features actor/comedian Chevy Chase. Both films' dialogue and wisecracks are very often incorporated to everyday speak for said demographic. Someone not enarmored with such communication might take pity on these guys, believing that it is a form of denial of "real life" of responsibility, of the seriousness of a brutal world. By composing entire conversations of things like "I feel like a hundred dollars," or "Gunga Galunga", perhaps fans of these movies have allowed escapism to at least partially define them. You are what you watch?

I preach about that all the time. I'm always fascinated at how otherwise intelligent people spend their time with the most brainless TV shows, movies, and music. Hours of unchallenging drivel that just numbs the brain. When I take them to task on this, they argue that their jobs and lives have sufficient challenge, and they just want some mental bubblegum. I understand and agree. But, if that is all you consume, I don't believe that new neural pathways will be forged. The brain needs stimulation, new data to foster dendritic branching and learning. If you feed it with complex music and art that requires some effort, I believe you will have better capacities for reasoning and conceptualization and you may well stave off that dreaded placquing that can cause degenerative brain diseases.

I am not a neuro scientist, but I know enough to see the results in my own life. If I go on autopilot and only listen to the 80s "comfort food" with which I grew up, well....I crave classical and jazz and other genres and works which allow for more active listening. I suppose an argument could be made that the familiar things can be healthy for you, for blood pressure and anxiety and the like. But there has to be more.

Hold on. This is a review for CADDYSHACK, fer cryin' out loud! Not a lot of mental taxing occurs while watching it. Should I bother recounting the plot? OK, in a nutshell: Danny is working class kid who caddies at a snooty country club with members like Judge Smails (Ted Knight, red faced almost the entire time) and Ty Webb (Chevy Chase, coolly detached as usual). Ty likes the kid and shares his Zen-like outlook on life as he blatantly shows off on the links (blindfolded at one point). Smails also takes a shine to Danny and offers him the coveted Caddy Scholarship. Meanwhile, an assistant greenskeeper, Carl (Bill Murray) spends the movie trying to flush out a pesky gopher that is digging tunnels under the course. The obnoxious Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) shows up and fires off one liners that viewers familiar with Dangerfield's stand-up act will recognize.

But the plot is just a skeleton on which to hang a series of scenes in which the 4 name actor/comedians get to do their patented shticks. CADDYSHACK is most interesting, to me, as a document of the men's wildly different comedic styles. Chase is all diffidence and nuance, goofily suave and blissfully bored. Knight is pure bombast, spending the movie being outraged at one thing or another. He has that certain timbre in voice when he's angry and impatient. We saw a bit of it on The Mary Tyler Moore Show but here it boils over, especially in his scenes with Dangerfield, who plays a perhaps neuveau riche loudmouth who flings wads of cash and is a complete antithesis to the sort of member the Bushwood Country Club desires. His style is crude and unsubtle, and often hysterically funny.

That leaves Murray, whose Carl has become iconic in its incoherency. He stalks the grounds with water hoses and explosives, on a mission to exterminate the gopher, a character all its own (played by a cute furry puppet). All the while he mumbles things that sound ad-libbed ("I'll fill your bagpipes with Wheatena") and acts like a proto-stoner-hippie-guru-of-some-sort. He's mostly off on his own, though he does have one scene with Chase, sharing a joint. Perhaps the broadest comedic moment involves his retrieval of a Baby Ruth during a swimming pool disinfection. Knight and his wife (thinking the candy bar is, er, something else) recoil in horror as Carl bites down on it, "It's not so bad!".

This may all sound pretty undisciplined. Harold Ramis co-wrote and directed CADDYSHACK in the most casual way possible, and in the film's defense I say it was the correct choice. Script? The plot isn't taken seriously for a second. The supporting cast seem almost as blase as the star players. It's a very loose, harmless movie (although my mother freaked when some female toplessness was visible in a few scenes when I watched it with her when I was 12, oops!) that provides some chuckles and a few golden moments. All of the comics are in a good form, though it would've been better if they all interacted a bit more and the silly storyline were dropped entirely.

It's easy to see why so many people my age quote CADDYSHACK so often, but I wish they would also maybe utter a few lines from SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS or LION IN WINTER for balance. Be good for their grey matter.

NOTE: CADDYSHACK was filmed in part at the Rolling Hills Country Club in Davie, FL in 1979. Over 20 years later, I went to Nova Southeastern University, right across the street from it. One of my clasmmates lived in a condo which had a good view of it. Funny. I looked for Carl a few times.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Elsewhere


As you learned from the last entry, I had a glorious trip to the NY/NJ area recently. I took time to enjoy a night at my friend Allen Stafford's restuarant, Elsewhere, located in the Hell's Kitchen District in Manhattan. Allen has quite a bit of experience in the NYC restaurant world, having been the "man about town" in the Grammercy Tavern, Casalulla, and other wonderful spots. Allen helped design the interior and menu of Elsewhere, situated on 43rd street in what used to be a French eatery. Much of the architecture is the same from the previous tenant, including some words in Francais painted on the walls. Allen reports brisk business these days. Additionally , Elsewhere has a special snack menu in the afternoons, which has proven popular with theater goers, pre- and post-matinee.

I went on a Friday with family and friends and was led to the back room, complete with a real tree growing out of the floor among the tables. We were treated to some bacon and lavender flavored popcorn, featured on the sharing menu. A complimentary "Leigh's Biscuit" layered with brown butter and sprinkled with sea salt and crushed black pepper arrived and it was tempting to scarf several more.

My chorizo encrusted lamb chop was sizable and scrumptious (love these restuarant review adjectives!). My wife had the "Bo Bo Chicken", the name of which refers to a respected brand name of poultry from China. The dish came with a cider glaze and served with braised kale over a bed of freekeh. Others in my party had braised rabbit, striped bass over polenta, and diver scallops. I sampled everyone's plates. Not a disappointment to be found. Well, maybe that no one ordered the "Pig's Ass" sandwich.

After the entrees came a cheese plate of cow and goat variety (don't recall the exact names) along with hams and mustards. Elsewhere, like Casalulla, has an impressive selection of regional cheeses from around the U.S.A. and is featuring specialty cheese nights throughout October (New Yorkers, you should go). Dessert was also quite nice: peach marble cake with mascarpone ice cream; the portion was just right. Others had the decadent sweet corn hush puppies with blackberry honey and scoops of cactus pear sorbet. No one tried the "dutch baby" (pancake); it sounded fabulous.

When in The City, take time to go Elsewhere!


ELSEWHERE
403 W. 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036
212-315-2121
info@elsewherenyc.com