Food & Wine Thursdays: Rose The Riveting

it’s almost May, which means every single wine article written for the next several weeks must only be about pink wine. I don’t mind this, because I like pink wine very much. For this year’s annual pink wine article, I’d like to dispel several myths.

  1. Pink wine is unmasculine. This is incorrect. In addition to being an excellent pairing for grilled sausage, roast pork, or even filet mignon. Now a Saison beer on the other hand is girlier than the State of Arkansas.
  2. Pink wine is only good in hot weather. Bullshit. Pink wine is good year-round and, much like President Obama, is an ideal substitute for either a robust white wine or a lighter-bodied red wine.
  3. Pink wine is a blend of white wine and red wine. No. Although there is so-called “blush” wine that is actually made from the blending of white and red wine, these wines are terrible. A pink wine is made the same way as a red wine, except that the grape skins (where the color comes from) are left in contact with the colorless juice for a shorter period of time.
  4. The best pink wine comes from France. Wrong. The best pink wine comes from your mom. Whether or not she is French does not factor into it.
  5. Pink wine was invented in 1937 by Hieronymous P. Sobel in what was then Upper Volta. That is incorrect. Although Dr. Sobel moved to Upper Volta in 1931, by the time of his invention of pink wine, the area where he was living was being administered by Niger.

And that’s it! For a more detailed take on the origins of French wine, you should read this article by some jerk I barely know.

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The Wild World of Video for 4/23/14

I’m still in the midst of reporting on WonderCon for CBR, so no full column this week, but I didn’t want to leave you hanging, gentle reader, so consider this video from nostalgia times:

There were a lot of cartoons in the 1980s. Every few months, something new would pop up: cartoons about plants that turn into cars, cartoons about seeking cities of gold, cartoons about really awkward robots trying to conquer the Earth. Then there was this one.  In the U.S., it was know as Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea, but was originally known as Les Mondes Engloutis in its native France. It aired on Nickelodeon, back before it got a terminal cause of loudness, and it was out there.

The premise: our Earth is the top layer of different stratified worlds. At the core is the city of Arkadia with it’s amazing inner sun, the Tehra. When it begins to fail, an emissary is sent out in hopes of finding a way to fix the sun. The emissary meets the escaped slave Spartakus and two modern Earth children. Oh, there were also these pirates …

Uh, yeah … anyway, these characters wandered the lands beneath the sea for two season encountering various characters based on historic figures like Albert Einstein and mythical figures such as Nimrod, all the while still looking for an answer to the troublesome sun.

Since it was produced in France, it had a look unlike anything else on the cable channel. The fanciful designs, the oddly muted colors and the generally relaxed pace grabbed my attention. Paired with The Mysterious Cities of Gold, itself a Franco-Japanese co-production, I think it may have given me my first taste of pseudohistory with its reweaving of tales both real and fictional to get to a conclusion that I can only call “inclusive.” Though, I suppose fans can debate what really happened at the end as all of the characters the main group met in their travels make their way to Arkadia and seemingly merge with an artifact that allows them all to leave the Earth or something.

I’m telling you, this show was trippy. But I’m glad Nickelodeon had the space to broadcast it.  At the time, the channel was still a few years away from producing its own content and seemingly bought anything and everything they could to fill airtime. This created the eclectic lunacy of its early years with content as varied as gentle life-lesson puppet show Today’s Special and the infamous You Can’t Do That on Television!? They may have already started making Double Dare, but original animation and scripted live action shows were still a ways off and in that early era, they allowed me to see a format I would come to love.

And it ultimately gave root to a passion for history that has stayed with me to this day.

 

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Lifetime Theater: The Bad Son

Lifetime movies have an admirable economy of action. The twin constraints of budget and time force them into a predetermined box and yet, most of the movies I have profiled managed to pack in at least one subplot alongside the main one. Sadly, the budgetary concerns make that a pretty static box, since there’s no money for a big shootout, or a car chase, or a dinosaur, or even a dinner out at like an Olive Garden or something. There’s enough money for people having some intense conversations about family in the same three or four sets, and maybe some transition shots of the rainy streets of Vancouver. And that’s it.

On the subject of those conversations, family is the one universal theme in the Lifetime movies I’ve profiled thus far, and before anyone reads too much into that, this is only my seventh, and family is a pretty big theme in fiction at large. Just think of how many movies place a premium on their ragtag group of heroes creating a makeshift family. What is more remarkable about Lifetime movies, is that (in my limited experience) tend to be about the destruction of family rather than the creation of one. Today’s movie is 2007’s The Bad Son, and it once again plumbs the depths of the mom fears for which this network is infamous.

The movie just starts (there’s that economy) at a grainy crime scene “six years ago.” The shorthand director Neill Fearnley (every TV movie known to man) uses for flashbacks is a persistent grain, like he hired Abraham Zapruder to shoot this thing. The problem is that Vancouver (doubling here for Seattle, which is the least offensive place Vancouver can double for) is so rainy, it introduces a little bit of grain into scenes that aren’t supposed to have it. During one point, I thought the slight grain meant that the action took place a couple of hours in the past. Anyway, this crime scene is pretty horrific: a pretty young woman has been beaten, strangled, and her face was burned off with acid. Sadly, they didn’t get the excellent gore FX from Lizzie Borden, as we see the young woman, and she totally has a face.

Then it’s the present, and we introduce our heroine Ronnie McAdams, played by Catherine Dent of The Shield. She’s a freshly divorced single mom whose sixteen year old daughter just wants to move the fuck out. The age of consent in Washington State is sixteen — and you can thank Twilight for me knowing that — but does that mean it’s also the age of majority? Can’t Ronnie be like, “no, you can’t move in with your boyfriend Trey.” Also, she has a boyfriend Trey. This is the b-plot that’s meant to contrast with the main one: Ronnie’s family is falling apart in the beginning (due to, in a tossed off bit of dialogue that is the most Lifetimey thing ever, her man leaving her for a 24 year old bartender) but through perseverance and good sense, she can put it back together again. The girl has to get in trouble with the law first, but in the end, everything’s good.

Ronnie is a detective, and when she catches a disappearance, she gets drawn into a six year old murder case. The disappeared girl, Colleen Brennan was the wife of John Finn (Ben Cotton, best known to me as Pastor Mike on The Killing), and he was the prime suspect in two other murders. Finn loses more wives in the exact same way: beaten, strangled, burned with acid. They’re all the same type too, small-boned attractive redheads. And here’s the thing, Finn, redheads are a precious natural resource. I’ll thank you not to just go murdering them. Anyway, this seems like a pretty open-and-shut case. I mean, you can get away with murdering one wife, but three seems like it’s pushing it. The answer lies with Finn’s mom.

Frances Reynolds (Finn’s mom — her name comes from her second husband) is an old battle-axe who works as a civilian employee as the Supervisor for Central Communications for the Seattle PD. She knows police methods, and more importantly, she can bury damaging communiques. She’s been crushing the detective assigned to the case under harassment complaints and constantly feeds him and anyone else a series of false leads. When Ronnie catches the disappearing girl case, the department pairs her up with Mark “Rico” Petrocelli, this detective, to finally bring Finn down. There’s the obligatory “I don’t work with partners” scene that not even the actors seem engaged with.

The amazing thing about this movie is that there’s no twist. Not a one. What we think is happening in the beginning is exactly what turns out to be happening in the end. Finn falls in love with a young woman — a little too young, but that’s those Cullen-friendly laws for you — gets frustrated with her, and in a fit of rage, murders her. Then his mom sweeps in with the disposal and stymies the investigation. Boom. That’s it. And it takes the movie 88 minutes to get there. Ronnie and Rico just follow Finn around, worried that he’s repeating the cycle with yet another pretty young redhead and hope they can save this one’s life. They finally get him on the murders when they flip his uncle Jerry.

GODDAMN IT, JERRY.

And that’s what this movie is really about. On the outside, you have the stereotypical thing that a hypothetical Lifetime viewer might want: a doting son extremely close to his strong-willed mother. But on the inside, there’s serious rot. Their relationship, even without the murder and corpse-mutilation, is portrayed as creepy. It’s not as creepy as it maybe should have been, but the delivery of certain lines (“No one will ever love you like I do”) hints at some Oedipal undertones. Uncle Jerry is relentlessly abused both by mom and Finn, and he’s the crack that allows the police to get in. It’s the contrast illuminated by Ronnie’s own problem, an inverted arc of families. That’s not to say it was good or especially interesting, but it was there.

After the much-grittier Playdate, Lizzie Borden, and An Amish Murder, The Bad Son was very dry and inert. I’m wondering if this was because it was five years earlier, and the network has since warmed up to gore. The movie was in desperate need of some kind of twist — making Jerry the killer would have been good for starters — to break up the monotony of two cops going after the obviously guilty man from the beginning. Oh well. It’s a Lifetime movie. I should really expect less.

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New Satellite Show Episode 12: Clap for M.O.D.O.K.

modokAs the Show celebrates its one-year anniversary in the podcast universe, Louis offers some notes on “Man of Steel,” which inevitably leads to discussing Zack Snyder. We switch gears into Satellite Show: SVU territory when Dante and Rob learn about that very special episode of “Too Close for Comfort.” An attempt at a WonderCon preview turns into a discussion of how the exhibitors on the panel look at conventions differently from the others. Innocent bystanders may be crushed underfoot! Also, this month’s Yakmala film is Erik’s personal favorite, “Staying Alive.” He’s watched it many times! Oh, and yes, you will clap for M.O.D.O.K.. Host: Erik. Panel of Experts: Rob, Louis, Dante, Clint, Justin.

Click here or subscribe on iTunes.

Note: Finola Hughes is NOT Australian. She is from Jareth’s Goblin kingdom.

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Now Fear This: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Don’t underestimate the eye candy.

In theory, Netflix is amazing: any movie you could ever want to watch, just a click and a modest subscription fee away. In fact, what you get are a couple movies you really want to watch and then a whole bunch that you’ve never heard of, look terrible, and finally answer the question, “Oh, that’s where Josh Hartnett has been hiding.” For TV shows, it’s pretty awesome, even if they refuse to put The Shield on there. Anyway, one evening Mrs. Supermarket and I were looking for something to watch, and one of those terrible-looking films popped up on the menu (selected by Netflix’s fevered criteria; “because you watched Flight, you’ll like movies that give you the experience of cocaine”), and we looked at each other and went, “You know what? What the hell.” That movie was Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Right away, we knew this wasn’t quite what we signed up for. We expected the usual long list of hired guns for the writer credit, and someone like McG or Brett Ratner slumming it for the director. Nope, the writer and director are the same guy: Tommy Wirkola, best known for the cult Nazi/zombie flick Dead Snow. If that weren’t enough, the producers are Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, a.k.a. the guys who made the two best comedies of the last ten years. This is all over a kinetic credit sequence of olde-timey newspaper headlines and simulated collage animation telling the story of the two most famous witch hunters in the world: the former victims Hansel and Gretel now all grown up and badass. This promises us the dumb fun of the poster, but hints that there might be a little more going on underneath the glitz.

And boy is there. The film places its tongue rather firmly in cheek with the opening narration, delivered by Jeremy Renner’s Hansel. For one thing, Renner doesn’t even attempt an accent; he keeps the San Joaquin drawl that’s served him well on his journey toward well-deserved stardom. As his sister, Gemma Arterton even attempts one of those “American” accents the Brits must teach their first year of acting school. The narration, subsequent dialogue, and line readings establish Hansel and Gretel as anachronistic American cowboys, witch hunters from a good old U.S. of A that might not even exist yet. The level of technology supports this: Hansel uses a retro-future pump action shotgun, while Gretel favors a crossbow with the rate of fire of an assault rifle. Miniguns and syringes (the latter treating one of the film’s cleverer flourishes: Hansel’s super-diabetes contracted after mainlining candy in the original myth) also make appearances, as does a gag based around putting a missing kid’s picture on a milk carton. The message is simple: don’t worry what time it is. Just watch this cool shit we’re about to do.

Hansel and Gretel are the western ideal of wandering badasses for hire, and they’ve been contracted by a small German hamlet to deal with the rash of witch activity and child abductions. The characters are reintroduced (the cold open of the film is a retelling of the famous bedtime story) rescuing a young woman accused of witchcraft. This woman, Mina, becomes Hansel’s love interest in the story. She’s also a redhead, and loyal readers will remember exactly what that means. (Also, yes, there is a significant redhead named Mina – total coincidence, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like that.) Yes, Mina’s a witch, but she’s a good witch, which is something that our titular heroes didn’t even know existed.

WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITCH!!!

The cause of all the problems are a coven of three witches — there are always three — led by grand witch Muriel (the eternally young Famke Janssen) who are in the midst of a doomsday plot. See, there’s one thing that reliably kills witches, and it’s the one thing Hansel and Gretel found out when they decided to go all Aesop Unchained on their tormentor: fire. Muriel’s big plan is to grant witches immunity, and so they’ll be free to steal kids wherever they go. Well, not free, since this won’t protect them against Hansel and Gretel’s arsenal of anachronistic death, but it’s the next best thing.

The film might have been as bad as it looked, as disposable and instantly forgettable as its poster implied, but for one simple fact: it’s rated R. I wanted to sing and dance during the first explosion of gore. I wanted to shake Wirkola’s hand at the gratuitous-yet-tasteful nudity. I wanted to fire my gun up in the air every time Hansel or Gretel said “fuck.” While it would be easy to dismiss the movie as wallowing in the baser aspects of our nature, in fact it’s the opposite. The hypocrisy of the MPAA is well-documented elsewhere, but suffice it to say, I infinitely would prefer that children see the consequences of violence (in the form of blood and injury), than to think that it’s good clean fun. Also, boobs never hurt anyone. As for cursing, I’m sorry: I don’t believe in magic words. The movie’s rating frees Hansel & Gretel to create the kind of delirious action romp that feels like the Shaw Brothers by way of John Carpenter.

The creature design reinforces the retro aesthetic. The grand finale features witches from all over the globe, and many of the performers appear to be recruited directly from the circus. When you have excellent makeup supported by a performance with the interesting physicality of a human prodigy, you turn a forgettable face in the crowd into a visually fascinating character. The FX team went all out in their character design, even for individuals who exist only to be blown away in a hail of magical gunfire. Edward the troll, a reluctant servant of Muriel’s, is similarly well-designed. Wirkola wisely switches the trick when filming him, alternating between a man in a suit, a puppet, and (for a few brief shots) a CG creature. Edward could probably have been done by digitally enlarging a human performer, but the old school creature creation gives him both weight and a pleasantly inhuman mien. It’s a case of a filmmaker going the extra mile when he didn’t have to, and it pays dividends.

“She said she was Team Jacob…”

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters wasn’t going to win any Oscars, but then, it never wanted to. It merely wants to entertain, by any means at its disposal, and it does just that. In an age of bloated, bloodless blockbusters, sometimes all you need is something lean and mean with a little red on the bone.

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Stephen Colbert?

I admit I was surprised to hear that CBS chose Stephen Colbert to take over the Late Show after David Letterman’s retirement. Although very funny and an incredible interviewer, Colbert hasn’t appeared publicly out of character more than maybe a dozen times since the show premiered, which begs the question: what exactly will an hourlong network Colbert show be?

It is a bold choice for CBS and, if he’s able to bring a younger audience to late night, could prove to be a master stroke. I’ll be sorry to see the character of Stephen Colbert disappear from television, though it’s a credit to his abilities that he’s been able to last this long. It was only a few weeks ago that I wondered aloud to a friend how much longer he could keep it up.

My big question is whether or not the Late Show will maintain the tried, true, and very tired format of monologue, sketch, guest, “act 2 bit,” second guest, musical act/comedian that has been the format for decades. I hope not. It would be a waste of Colbert’s abilities as one of the greatest improv comics
of all time. I’d like to see the show maintain some of its political bent (a challenge in this environment) and use the hourlong opportunity for a single more in-depth interview and an emphasis on musical showcases, something which the Colbert Report excelled at in its later years.

Because the fact is, while I will follow Colbert to CBS and add the Late Show to my DVR queue, I won’t keep watching it unless it speaks to me in the same way that the Colbert Report has for years. I eventually had to stop watching Conan because, as much as I love him, the TBS show ended up being just more of the same.

Now the even bigger question: who will replace Colbert at 11:30 on Comedy Central? I hope they keep it a smart hour and don’t just slot in another Tosh-esque clip show or fratty sketch sitcom. I’d welcome a reincarnation of W. Kamau Bell’s Totally Biased or maybe Marc Maron can become the Charlie Rose of funny and bring WTF to late night television.

(The latter could be unlikely given Jon Stewart’s known antipathy toward Maron. Unless this could be a burying of the hatchet?)

Oh, and for those who would like to see more women or minorities in Late Night, why don’t you actually watch the ones that are on instead of letting shows like Totally Biased and Lopez Tonight fall into the cancellation heap? Also, Chelsea Handler pretty much owns E! right now. She might not be the feminist ideal for many of you, but she is absolutely crushing it. And don’t forget Arsenio Hall is back in late night too.

Given the fragmented nature of entertainment now, these syndicated and cable shows can have just as big a reach and a bigger impact than the network late night shows. Of course CBS already knows this, or else they wouldn’t have drafted Colbert. Let’s see what happens.

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The Wild World of Video for 4/9/14

It’s my birthday week, so I’m taking the day off. Rest assured: I’ll be back next week with a new episode of New Satellite Show. The following week depends on how WonderCon goes. Maybe I’ll have an outtake or something.

And speaking of outtakes, here’s one of my favorites. I love Orson Welles. Besides having fantastic cinematic skills, the man was an object lesson in hubris. His abilities and confidence brought him low to where he had to shill for Paul Masson. This outtake comes from one such commercial:

Maybe I’ll one day sell Bulleit Bourbon with the same Welles Excellence.

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