Wednesday, January 30, 2013

For Big Game, Table Bordeaux for Charles Shaw

Trying to find Three Buck Chuck? Ask Trader Joe’s for Charles Shaw. Photo from Trader Joe's.


face it: For any house party featuring sporting events, dips, chips, and assorted other foods rule the day. Next comes beer, and bringing up the lonely third place is wine, just barely above sodas.

Break out the vintage Bordeaux while people gawk over the last throw, kick or hit? I think not. What's the point? The point is to watch the game, and not to wax philosophically about the sophisticated bursts of exotic tropical fruits or nightshade-hued tobacco titillating the palate. Who cares? In the middle of a hot contest, food and drink that’s too good is merely a distraction.

Think of game day, and especially the Super Bowl, as having a non-compete clause with food, beer or wine. Sports will win, hands down.

What to do? Save money, protect the fragile wine ego, and go with a completely respectable table wine. Not plonk – never plonk, not even for marinating – but definitely table wine.

Table Wine: A Short History
Yes, ancient Romans drank wine by the shipful. Yes, the French practically drowned themselves in it. Yes, Thomas Jefferson made it his mission to popularize wine in the USA, but for most of history, as in millennia, wine was simply awful.

Why else would ancient Greeks dissolve pine sap in their wine, the precursor to Restina? Do you really think rosin tastes that great? No! Wines were gross, and something close to turpentine made them taste better. Other cultures tried ash, mercury, ground insects – yes, these people were desperate. And while it is true that not all wines were bad, the ones that were stored for ages often boasted a ridiculously high sugar content and needed to be cut with water. That’s what’s meant by all those mixing bowls in Homer’s “Odyssey.”

Only within the last 200 years have winemaking techniques improved en masse, increasing both quality and quantity. Long, long ago in a country far, far away, some may have preferred papa's bathtub brew, but why settle for that when Joe-joe's family farm down the road makes a perfectly drinkable bottle for a scant few coins, without having to turn the feet blue (literally and figuratively) stomping on all those cold grapes?

What grape goes best with game day? An uncomplicated table wine. Photo by Aaron Schwab.

In short, winemaking got outsourced from an in-home experiment to a larger cottage industry. Bit by bit producers began to notice what works and what doesn’t, what makes great grapes and what hinders them, how to store them to reduce oxidation (the death of many a good wine, ancient and modern), and how to market such wines to village stores a few towns over. Producers of good table wines became a local treasure, establishing vineyards and wineries that have begun to stand the test of time.

Still skeptical? Hop a flight to France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, wherever. Go to the neighborhood outdoor café, order some cheese, salad, and a hunk of bread, and ask for the regular house wine. Better still, save yourself a few shekels and poll well-traveled friends to see if they’ve ever had a truly bad table wine experience. Then write me. I’ll eat my hat if the results show a rate greater than 25 percent. I’ll buy one especially for the occasion: small, slight brim, no straw.

In Praise of Table Wines
Sometimes basic table wines are absolutely perfect for the occasion at hand: informal get-togethers, a casual glass of wine for no reason at all, something to have around the house for day-to-day fare, perfect for when the focal point is other than food. Trying to impress the boss? Skip this. Getting together with “the guyz” of either gender? Totally fine. Store this wine? Never! Table wines are meant to be drunk soon and not savored for years to come. Buy a case only if the party will be a big one, else the wine will turn to plonk by the end of the year.

Nachos are a game day favorite that wash down well with table wine. Photo by Shyle Zacharias.

Caveat Emptor
All that being said, avoid running out and buying everything that says “Table Wine” on the label. Some of that stuff really is plonk. To steer clear of the bad wine minefield, let me offer two suggestions:

1. Ask a sales clerk. Almost every wine store carries one or two inexpensive labels that tend to sell well. Simply make sure to ask for a good quality table wine.
2. Go to a Trader Joe’s wine department and find Chuck.

Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw
Sometime in the past few years, a certain wine producer increased its price by 50 percent, despite the fact that the old price comprised part of its nickname: Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck now sells for $3. What happened? Did the Trade Joe’s executives look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth? Yes – and they got away with it, too. No one’s complaining. No harm, no foul, and the wine sells as well as it ever has.

Why would people tolerate such a radical change in price? Because Three Buck Chuck is a perfectly fine table wine: uncomplicated, solid, easy-to-drink, and nothing to task the mind. Of the various Charles Shaw wines at Trader Joe's, try:

In ancient times, the beauty of the mixing bowl cloaked the plonkishness of the wine. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum.

Red wine tinged with sweetness and lots of fruits (jammy, fruit forward)

Cabernet Sauvignon
Red wine a little less sweet (dry) than the Merlot

White wine, nice, light and fruity instead of heavy (no oak)

All go well with chips&dips, and even solo. Visit to find a Trader Joe’s.

Word to the wise:
If beer and wine are on the menu, make sure to have pitchers of water nearby. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, even if they insist on rooting for the wrong team.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Two Stories Diverge in 'Water By the Spoonful'

Yaz (Zabryna Guevara) is Elliot's (Armando Riesco) rock in "Water By the Spoonful. Photos by Richard Termine.


every interesting-sounding tale and much anticipated drama delivers on its promise.

“Water By the Spoonful,” in an extended run through 10 Feb. at Second Stage Theatre, has the pedigree and potential to be a blockbuster.

It’s written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, a Tony nominee for the book of 2008’s Best Musical Tony winner, “In the Heights.” Furthermore, QAH also received the Pulitzer Prize last year for “Water By the Spoonful,” a sequel to her acclaimed 2007 play “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue.”

So what went awry in “Water By the Spoonful” that made it a slog of an experience? Two dissonant threads unravel. This tantalizing premise makes the story exciting but also splits it apart so that the play is bogged down by its disjointed construction. (See video at:

Odessa (Liza Colon-Zayas) is the den mother to Orangutan (Sue Jean Kim) and Chutes and Ladders (Frankie Faison) in "Water By the Spoonful."

Elliot (Armando Riesco), a veteran of the Iraqi War, is struggling. He suffers in a meaningless job and from guilt-ridden flashbacks. His cousin, Yaz (Zabryna Guevara), is the shoulder he leans on as he readjusts to civilian life.

Meanwhile, in the other strand of “Water By the Spoonful” is Elliot’s estranged aunt Odessa (Liza Colon-Zayas) aka Haikumom in the chat room she leads. The crack addicts in various stages of recovery in her online support group include a disaffected young Japanese-born ex-pat nicknamed Orangutan (Sue Jean Kim), a wisecracking IRS agent in his 50s with the handle of Chutes and Ladders (Frankie R. Faison) and newbie Fountainhead (Bill Heck).

Fountainhead (Bill Heck) and Odessa (Liza Colon-Zayas) have a moment in "Water By the Spoonful."

This staging of a cyber 12-step group fails to be dynamic and theatrical because QAH relies too heavily on stagnant monologues.

Sadly, the disparate stories in “Water By the Spoonful” baffle more than they engage.

Visit to learn more about “Water By the Spoonful.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

In Spite of it All, Hope Springs Eternal in ‘56 UP’

IT is difficult to walk away from the extraordinary “56 UP” not feeling optimistic.

Indeed, optimism about the future is the current that flows through the latest installment of Michael Apted’s “The UP Series” of documentaries. The film continues its roll out across North America, opening today in several cites, including Los Angeles, Hartford, CT and Montpelier, VT.

The filmmaker has been interviewing most of the subjects in “56 UP” every seven years since they were bright-eyed 7 year olds in 1964, to see where they are, what they are thinking, where they are going, what they are doing. (See video above.)

“The UP Series” began as “Seven Up,” an experimental series from Granada TV. Taking the Jesuit maxim: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man” as a starting point MA, then a researcher, interviewed English 7 year olds from various economic backgrounds about their lives and dreams. The idea was to ascertain how deeply ingrained the class system was in Great Britain. MA would go onto interview as many as his subjects as would participate in seven-year intervals.

He has said these very different individuals are like his family, not a surprising notion considering how long he has been undertaking this project.

“Like a family, we’ve had our good times, our disagreements, but now, all but one of the participants are back for “56 UP,” the director said in press notes. “I never know how each new film will turn out, except that it’ll be quite different from the last. 21 UP was full of hope, 28 was about children and responsibility, 35 was concerned with mortality when some were losing parents, and 49 had a sense of disappointment with lives maybe not fully achieved.”

Peter, center, is part of a band that includes his wife, left, and a colleague. Photo from First Run Features.

At 56, all are doing fine – meaning their heads are in a good place – their various challenges notwithstanding. The current interviews, which is the norm, are interspersed with archival footage from past interviews. It’s very illuminating and insightful. Of course, life has treated some better than others. None, however, has given up on life. With only one or two exceptions, all improved their station in life, if only marginally.

Incredibly, no one appears to be unhappy. This should be an inspiration for us all.

Visit to learn more about “56 UP,” including playdates.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

SIHH: 'A Time for Everything,' Including Chaplin's Watch

INDEED, encounters do not just happen by chance.

The latest proof of this adage is that of Carmen Chaplin and Jaeger-LeCoultre one of whose encounters has spawned a film about time and an appearance of an iconic watch at the prestigious Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, Switzerland.

It all went down when the actress-director granddaughter of a chap named Charles Spencer Chaplin gave in passing the master Swiss watchmaker aka Manufacture from the Vallée de Joux to know that she had access to one of its watches, one that was gifted to her grandpa by its government.

You see, old Charlie moved his family to Corsier-sur-Vevey in the 1950s.  By now he’d made an indelible mark on Hollywood and the world. He was a big man. As such, a government would not allow his presence there to go unrecognised as it would for regular folk. No doubt after much deliberation, it was decided that Charlie's welcome present would be a watch. No chocolate or chocolate chip cookies, but a watch. And not just any watch. One made by the biggest, bestest, most motherest of all watch crafters in the whole of the country – Jaeger-LeCoultre. Nothing less would befit a man such as Charlie, understand. It was a Memovox. (See video above of some of the restoration of the watch.)

Carmen Chaplin watches the restoration of a very special watch. Photos by Johann Sauty.

There was a ceremony with all due pomp and circumstance. Of course, the watch was engraved. The message:  Hommage du gouvernement Vaudois à Charlie Chaplin – 6 octobre 1953. For the language-impaired: A tribute from the government of the Canton of Vaud to Charlie Chaplin – October 6th 1953.Charlie lived happily in Switzerland until his death – on Christmas Day 1977. Long before he died he gave that Memovox to his then-teenage son, Michael, the father of Carmen. Michael in turn gave the watch to Patricia, the mother of Carmen, on their wedding day as a sign of their love. “It was a real good-luck charm because they have been in love now for 45 years,” Carmen has said.

What a good story, no? Jaeger-LeCoultre, not a company to pass up an opportunity to collaborate, to promote itself in an organic way and knowing that the SIHH was coming up and what would it display, not to mention its 180th anniversary. With all of these considerations, its people – let’s call them floaters –  floated the idea to watch-lover Carmen that perhaps she would like to direct a film (full creative control, including titling rights for “A Time For Everything”) with the theme of time and, and and, incidentally could she get her hands on her grandfather’s watch, which would be displayed along with some other Jaeger-LeCoultre golden oldies?

Detail of the Memovox.

If so, the Manufacturer, as part of its SIHH program, would honor the man and his watch and screen the film starring the filmmaker, her mother and her daughter. It all went down dating to Monday and continues today and tomorrow, the last day of SIHH.

THIS, folks, is the stuff of encounters.

Visit to learn more about the latest collaboration between Carmen Chaplin and Jaeger-LeCoultre; visit to learn more Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Roe v. Wade Is 40, Necessary and Welcome

THREE momentous events these last two days.

Yesterday, Barack Hussein Obama was officially sworn in again as the 44th president of the United States of America. The day also ushered in Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first to ever coincide with a presidential inauguration. Was there ever a fight for this national holiday! Another big fight ushered in the third momentous event this week: Roe v. Wade.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

On 22 Jan. 1973 in a 7-2 decision, the High Court ruled that abortion is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. The Court asserted that an abortion occurring within the first three months of a pregnancy was a matter between a woman and her doctor, not the State.

Most don’t realize or don’t recall that Roe v. Wade had an ignoble beginning. Initially, the Texas plaintiff falsely claimed that she was raped in order to obtain an abortion. In 1969 when Norma McCorvey – who would become Jane Roe – was pregnant, rape and incest were the only two conditions under which a woman could legally have an abortion in Texas. This was also true for much of the country.

Roe would confess her lie and eventually went on to give birth while her case was being litigated. The U.S. District Court in Dallas ruled that Roe’s decision to have an abortion was an individual private one – invoking that part of the Ninth Amendment that was en vogue at the time. However, the court did not overturn the Texas anti-abortion law. This triggered the case's course toward the Supreme Court.

Planned Parenthoods around the country will be marking the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade with various celebrations. Photo from Planned Parenthood.

Over the last 40 years, many lives have been saved because women no longer had to seek out back alleys and other unsafe/unsavory places to have an abortion. Of course, others would argue that many lives have also been lost.

When Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, invoked the word “trimester” in upholding a woman’s right to have an abortion he could not have foreseen the firestorm that would be ignited. That one term along flamed a debate that still rages today – when does life begin, at conception or at some later time, including the three-month mark.

That question has cost millions dearly, confused a population and been litigated and debated far and wide, especially in political circles. Still, there is no definitive answer. The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL, and National Right to Life Committee (NRLC, as well as others have lined up on either side of these questions as pro-choice and pro-life.

No one would deny that rights under Roe v. Wade have been abused by some women who use abortion as a form of birth control, even terminating pregnancies as late as six months out. It is these behaviors and abuses that have given rise to the not-insignificant curtailments on Roe over the years. They also gave birth to causes such as the March for Life movement (

An annual event on the March for Life calendar is its Washington protest against Roe v. Wade. Photo from March for Life.

Each year on or around 22 Jan., March for Life descends on the U. S. Supreme Court building to spew invective against Roe v. Wade. This year the march is planned for Friday (25 Jan.), which will culminate a week of activities including a 5K walk/run, summit, youth rally and exhibition.

Those who abuse their rights under Roe are clearly in the minority. Most women who seek abortions are not serial abortionists. They are first-timers who came to a very difficult decision. Anyone who believes otherwise is being disingenuous.

While Roe has been chipped away at, including through significantly limited availability of abortion services, the case is still the law of the line. Most Americans still support it for very common sense reasons that have zero to do with the politics and semantics surrounding it.

Most who are against abortion are well-meaning. However, a new disturbing strain has risen within the anti-abortion movement: those who only give a damn about the lives of these children after they are born to the extent that they become fodder for the various nefarious industrial complexes, particularly the Prison Industrial Complex.

NARAL invites one and all to speak out for choice. Photo from NARAL.

Anecdotal evidence that bodes well for the future of Roe is the findings in a recent poll of high school and college students conducted by American University and GfK Custom Research LLC. Most have a pro-choice stance, though they don’t invoke that keyword in asserting their attitude toward abortion. The Millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 1991) is also raising its voice for choice in the “Choice Out Loud (; see video at top) initiative.

In the final analysis, Roe v. Wade has done far more good than harm. Women and their families have thrived because of it. It is hoped that it will not ever be overturned. A decision about abortion should remain firmly with a female, her health care professional and any others she chooses to include.

Long live Roe v. Wade!

Google “Roe v. Wade celebrations” to learn more about commemorations around the country.

Friday, January 18, 2013

In Cinemas: 'Mama,' 'Broken City,' 'Silver Linings Playbook'

A supernatural thriller, old-fashioned police drama and a quirky love story are among the three films opening in wide release today in the United States and elsewhere.

“Mama” is one scary movie. Executive produced by Guillermo del Toro and based on a short story by director Andy Muscietti – who also adapted the screenplay – “Mama” concerns sisters Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse).

The siblings disappear the day their parents are killed. Some years later they are discovered in a cabin in the woods, and their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in a dual role) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) take charge of their care. (See video above.)

The question that abounds in "Mama" is how did two little girls survive for several years in the woods seemingly on their own. From the start Annabel realizes something is amiss. Not only are the girls strange, they keep strange hours; they speak in a strange way. Why? The answers lie with another the girls called Mama. SCARY, with undertones of “Alien,” “The Exorcist” and “Children of the Danmned.”

Not at all scary and rather less thrilling is “Broken City.” So often the case with films boasting big-name casts is that they fall far short of the mark. “Broken City” does not escape this fate but not because of the work of the actors. It’s the plot, stupid.

In “Broken City,” New York City policeman Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is involved in a questionable shooting and would have been en route to the big house had it not been for the intervention of Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) whose reach does not extend to keeping Billy from being booted from the force.

Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) make a backroom deal in "Broken City." Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Survivor that he is, Billy turns private investigator and is hired by Hizzoner to ascertain whether his wayward wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is still having an affair. In the course of what should be a routine investigation, however, Billy leans - surprise, surprise – that the mayor is even more crooked than he heretofore thought

What a story from Brian Tucker! How ingenuous! And herein is the problem. Is this not the stuff of myriad police dramas set in New York. How many “Law and Orders” and “NYPD Blues” have had such a plot; ditto for any police drama set in any big city. “Broken City” is simply pedestrian, and Allen Hughes’ predictable direction does little to elevate it. Is there any wonder that the script was languishing in development before it was “rescued” and thrust upon an unsuspecting public that will be drawn by its marquee names?

There is little hope of redeeming such material, even if it starred Laurence Olivier, Bette Davis and Lionel Barrymore. A bright light, however, is that the actors – boy, has Marky Mark come a long way since Dorchester! – make hard cider out of this rotten apple.

At the core of “Silver Linings Playbook” is a broken man in need of patching up.

Patrick "Pat Jr." Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has a chance at moving in the direction of wholeness. It comes after his release from a mental institution into the care of his parents following a colossal meltdown triggered by both a colossal betrayal and his bipolar disorder.

“Silver Linings Playbook,” adapted from the novel by Matthew Quick, pretty much center’s on Pat’s chance for happiness – worried by any number of starts and fits – via football and dance. It’s funny, touching, sad and hopeful. In short, a wonderful story about an inspiring journey. It comes without any pretentious to grandeur; it just is. It is wholly unaffected. And perhaps, it is the quiet goodness of “Silver Linings Playbook” that endeared it to critics and various award-bestowing bodies. (See video below.)

The film, which made its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September where it won the Blackberry People’s Choice Award, has garnered myriad nominations, the most prestigious of which is a Best Picture Oscar. Without doubt, to date this is BC's best film role. He has been rewarded for his efforts with a Best Actor Oscar and SAG nominations, among others.

Co-star Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Tiffany, is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and won a Golden Globe in this category. She imparts to the role of Pat Jr.’s recovering sex addict widowed dance partner – a sort of ying to his yang – a smoldering sexuality, authenticity and vulnerability.

It should be noted that BC and JL do not do all of the heavy lifting in “Silver Linings Playbook.” An able support team pulls its weight: Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker, Jacki Weaver and BC’s “Limitless” costar Robert DeNiro as Pat Sr.

Visit the following Web sites to learn more about the aforementioned films:

"Mama" is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements. (
"Broken City" is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence. (
"Silver Linings" Playbook is rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. (

Out of Diaspora: 'The Best of Best of ADIFF 2012'

DESPERATE, Dr. Michael Durant (Isaiah Washington) finds himself on a journey to Africa in search of a potion that will save the life of a fellow doctor (Jimmy Jean-Louis) who saved the life of a young patient of his.

The journey from the New World of New York to the Old World of Nigeria is eye-opening in more ways than one as the good doctor discovers much more than he set out to. And so it is in “Doctor Bello” (

The film from Tony Abulu represents a series of clashes or intersections: Eastern medicine and its younger, more arrogant cousin, Western medicine; life and death; insensitive administrators and dedicated healers; husband and wife; West Africa and North America; the African and the American of African descent.(See video above.)

“Doctor Bello” is one of the 10 films from 12 countries over three days that the New York African Diaspora International Film Festival (NYCADIFF) has programmed tonight through Sunday under the rubric of “The Best of ADIFF 2012.” The films will be shown at locations around Teachers College at Columbia University as part of the ADIFF’s yearlong celebration of its 20th anniversary. Q&As as well as companion films figure in the mix. (

One aspect that sets NYCADIFF apart from other festivals is that it concerns itself with films that tell non-marginalizing stories of the African diaspora wherever it exists, regardless of the ethnic background of the filmmaker. Here, it is the story that is the heart of the matter.

“Doctor Bello” screens tonight after the festival opener, “Garifuna in Peril” (see video above), about the efforts of a Honduran language teacher to preserve the dialect of his people, as well as the land on which they have lived for more than 200 years from the encroachment of deleterious development. (

In La Playa D.C., Afro-Colombian teen, Tomas (Luis Carlos Guevara) leaves his coastal, war-ravaged home for the big city to find his younger brother (Andrés Murillo) and faces racism and other bigotry during his quest. It screens Saturday as does “Here We Drown Algerians." (

The title refers to a message that was scribbled on a Paris bridge. Using footage, photos and firsthand accounts, the documentary looks at a bit of shameful French history that remained largely hidden until the 1990s. Essentially on 17 Oct. 1961, Parisian police attacked a peaceful march of Algerians in support of independence for their country from France.

Letting the imagination go with Shakespeare as a starting point is “Tango MacBeth,” one of several films screening on the last day of the festival. In Nadine Patterson’s feature film directorial debut, an ethnically diverse cast dances about and sometimes loses itself in the subplots of the Bard’s oft-adapted tragedy. (

Visit to learn more about The Best of ADIFF 2012.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Do What You Need to Do Before Flu Gets You

The nasal spray flu vaccine was designed to treat seasonal outbreaks of the virus. Photo by James Gathany/CDC.

WHAT’S to be done about the flu?

Flu season. It’s on and in the United States at near epidemic levels in early 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The agency has created a weekly map called "Flu View" that shows the progression of reported cases of flu, dating from October 2012. Red, rust and orange mean high levels; lime to kelly green signifies minimal levels. Visit the following link to see the weekly flu reports,

The map shows the U.S. flu report for the week ending 5 Jan. 2013. Image from CDC.

Flu aka influenza is the highly contagious virus with myriad symptoms, from fever to fatigue. Yours Truly can attest to this. Flu customarily attacks the respiratory system – lungs, nose, throat, so sufferers can expect breathing difficulties. It’s no surprise that those who have asthma will have a devil of a time with the flu.

The flu can be mild to murderous, and it can be especially merciless to the young, old and infirm. (See CDC video below of families sharing lost of children from the virus.)

What to do, then, about the flu. While there is not yet a cure, there are measures that can offset some of the effects of the flu. Three simple prescriptions from the CDC.

1. Get a flu vaccine, though there is a shortage in some places.
Still give it a try. That goes double for high risk, i.e, aforementioned, plus pregnant women.

2. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.
Three quickies. Try to avoid sick people; cover the nose and mouth with a tissue if the need to cough or sneeze arises; wash hands with soap and water.

Take care to cover both nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing. Photo from CDC.

3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
These drugs can lessen the severity of the virus. Incidentally, they are only legitimately available by prescription, so don’t show up at CVS without one.

Be in good health.

Visit and to learn more about the flu and steps to take to against it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

'Shameless': So It Is for a Lotta (White) Folks

Jimmy aka Steve (Justin Chatwin) and Fiona (Emmy Rossum) have a complicated relationship in "Shameless." Photo courtesy of Showtime.

YOURS Truly was in high heaven one week ago, thinking Sunday would be a banner night. You see, it would bring with it the Season 3 premiere of two of my favorite shows: “Downton Abbey” on PBS’ "Masterpiece Theatre” and “Shameless” on Showtime.

I found out soon enough that I was wrong and contented myself making a few comments about the Crawleys of “Downton Abbey” (Episode 2 airs tonight at 9 and the splendor in which they lived. Both the Crawleys and the Gallaghers of “Shameless” are straight out of Dickens – “A Tale of Two Cities” of sorts.

Where “Downton Abbey” is a sight for sore eyes, “Shameless” is just a sight! The Gallaghers is a poor family that lives in chaos and squalor near an elevated train track line in Chicago. These people will do just about anything for money. They have no shame. None.

The overarching question in “Shameless” is whether Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy in a brilliantly over-the-top role) can straighten up and fly right in an attempt to save his massively at-risk family. Essentially, take some damn responsibility for the first time in his sorry life. The answer is not likely – at least not without rigorous, relentless intervention.

Last anyone heard, Frank was trying to spring his ex-wife Monica (Chloe Webb) out of a psychiatric facility. All of his trouble somehow turns him up in Mexico without I.D. as viewers will see in the season premiere tonight. This seems to be a pattern with Frank. In season 1, he wound up in Toronto similarly paperless.

The Bundys of "Married With Children." Archive photo.

Meanwhile, it continues to be up to Frank’s oldest, Fiona (Emmy Rossum), to hold the family together, including a two-year-old mulatto or black brother, Liam (Brennan Kane Johnson and Blake Alexander Johnson) – the offspring of estranged mother Monica and Frank no less.

“Shameless” has not elevated low-class living to an artform, but it sure makes poverty look almost palatable and kinda cool. Here, it is stylized and romanticized. The Gallagher clan is white trash – ghetto; just as ill-mannered, immoral poor black folk are ghetto or black trash. The same applies to all other ethnic groups when one gets right down to it.

This is a show that puts a spotlight on a segment of America that is barely visible in popular entertainment: poor, white folk – and there are plenty of them. It is rare indeed that white Americans are depicted thusly on American TV aside from those “Judge” shows. And “Shameless” does come with an asterisk. Frankly, it is refreshing.

The Gallagher living room is often in need of a little tidying up. Photo courtesy of Showtime.

Of course, no one is suggesting that all or most poor whites are up to the kind of shenanigans that the Gallaghers are, but this stuff is not all made up, albeit it is satirized. As close as commercial TV could seemingly get was Fox’s “Married With Children” back in the day when that network was truly cutting edge. Interestingly enough, the Bundys lived in suburban Chicago, though clearly not an Evanston or Wilmette.

It should be noted for those not in the know or those who’ve forgotten that “Shameless” is a remake of the British series of the same name. This is the asterisk. The original is set in fictional Chatsworth Estate in suburban Manchester and surrounding areas.

“Shameless” is an import from the UK where poor whites are very visible in popular entertainment. For those who don’t know the lingo, in “English” estate means projects. Many whites in the United States know that they don’t live nearly as large as they are depicted on TV and in films, just as many blacks know they don’t live nearly as low on the hog as depicted in the same mediums.

The Gallagher clan of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Showtime.

In the U.S. version of “Shameless,” the Gallaghers reside in the poor/working class South Side neighborhood of Canaryville near train tracks – get it, tracks? For the U.S. audience, “Shameless” represents a bit of social engineering. It allows nonwhites living in this country – namely those who live in places like New York City who are newer to this country and associate being white with economic prosperity – to see that there are whites who struggle like those of any other U.S. ethnic group, who may have a few too many moral lapses.

It’s also cool that “Shameless” does it with such zest, making “crappily ever after” look downright virtuous.

Visit to learn more about “Shameless.”

Even More Shameless Behavior in ‘House of Lies’

The cast of "House of Lies." Photo courtesy of Showtime.

DIRECTLY following the conclusion of “Shameless,” comes more shameless behavior in “House of Lies.” It is a perfect bookend.

Don Cheadle plays Marty Kaan (surname is pronounced con), head of a management consultant team that uses every con in the grifter guide to make corporate deals and break CEOs. Last season, I was eager to add this new show to my viewing schedule solely because DC is tied to this project. He is also executive producer.

What first struck me is how much it reminded me of the BBC series “Hustle” about a ring of con artists. Then I noticed how far it fell short of “Hustle.” Where the latter is smooth and suave, the former is coarse and vulgar.

This material is so far beneath DC. How disappointing, for DC is such a fine human being and actor. Clearly, not everyone shares my humble and steadfast view. Last year, DC was nominated for both an Emmy and Golden Globe for his performance.

Perhaps a season makes all the difference, and maybe I’ll take a gander or watch it later on Showtime OnDemand. Tonight, MK&Co. do their usual, as suggested by the season premiere guide: “mischief, mayhem, and mergers.” (See video above.)

Visit to learn more about “House of Lies.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2013 and Spinoffs

A morsel of goodness that is usually spawned from the invasion of one culture by another is the food that emerges from the unholy alliance.

Le Colonial brings the faraway world of French-occupied Indochina to New York with black&white photographs, ceiling fans. And, hopefully, good eats such as Com Tay Cam (ginger and soy braised chicken in clay pot with shiitake mushrooms and onion served over Jasmine rice with bok choy and soft-boiled egg 23 (available as vegetarian dish; see Le Colonial video above.)

Le Colonial ( is one of the more than 300 restaurants participating in the much imitated NYC Restaurant Week. The Winter 2013 "week" starts Monday (14 Jan.) and officially shutters on 8 Feb. (There is every expectation that it will be extended.) Reservations are being accepted now.

Restaurant Week is an opportunity for diners to sample the menu of some of New York's finest dining establishments for a fraction of the regular price. At Junoon, that could potentially mean Piri-piri Shrimp (Shrimp in a goan chili sauce with avocado and jicama salad).

At Junoon, shrimp is a big fish. Photo from Junoon.

It could be said that shrimp is a passion or obsession at Junoon (which is what it means in Urdu), for there are several such dishes on the menu. Some of them are listed on the Restaurant Week menu, too. (

For the first time since 2006, the cost of the deal has increased slightly to $25 for a three-course prix-fixe lunch and $38 for three-course prix-fixe dinner (excluding beverages, gratuities and taxes).

Like its younger economy-stimulating cousin, Fashion’s Night Out (, Restaurant Week has inspired countless copies around the world (Hong Kong, Lisbon, London, Mumbai, Paris, Rio de Janeiro) and scores across the United States. And why not? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Plus, in these two cases, it is good business.

Just opened for the special meals today is Sacramento Dine Downtown Restaurant Week. The dinner-only deal at about 30 restaurants through 18 Jan. is three courses for $30. (

In addition to New York, next week also brings Virginia Beach Restaurant Week and San Diego Restaurant Week. At Virginia Beach, the more than 60 restaurants will be serving $10, two-course lunches and $20 and $30 three-course dinners. On the other coast in San Diego County, Amardeen Cafe ( and others will also offer a tiered-deal. Two-course lunches range from $10-$20; three-course dinners $20-$40. (,

Amardeen Cafe sets an enticng table of Lebanese and Mediterranean fare. Photo from Amardeen Cafe.

Some other restaurant weeks commencing in the next week or so:
South Carolina Restaurant Week (Columbia, Charleston, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, Greenville) 10-20 Jan.
Howard County, MD Restaurant Week 14-28 Jan.
Pittsburgh Restaurant Week 14-20 Jan.
San Francisco Dine About Town Restaurant Week 15-31 Jan.
Alexandria Restaurant Week (Virginia) 18-27 Jan.
Charlotte Restaurant Week (North Carolina) 18-27 Jan.

Kansas City Restaurant Week (Missouri) 18-27 Jan.
Ann Arbor Restaurant Week (Michigan) 20-25 Jan.
Madison Restaurant Week (Wisconsin) 20-25 Jan.
Philadelphia Center City Restaurant Week 20-25 Jan. / 27 Jan.-1 Feb.
Columbus Restaurant Week (Ohio) 21-26 Jan.
Los Angeles dine LA Restaurant Week 21 Jan.-1 Feb.
Newark Restaurant Week 21-27 Jan.
Triangle Restaurant Week (North Carolina: Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) 21-27 Jan.

Visit to learn more about NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2013; Google “NAME OF CITY Restaurant Week” to find a Restaurant Week near you. Rx>

Staying on Plan and Taking Off Weight

Walking or any daily physical activity of at least 30 minutes is recommended for both good health and maintaining, as well as losing weight. Archive photo.

SO, you and you and you and you told just about everybody who has ears at the endless round of holiday parties that this would be the year. Those extra 10, 20, 30 or more pounds are coming off. Period. Full stop. Really.

Of course, most folk believe it and mean it when they make such declarations. They do well the first week or so of January – even into the third week. By the last week of the month, however, many fall off the wagon.

The No. 1 thing to remember is to not despair. Get back on the wagon. Don’t just lie there wallowing in self-pity, discouragement and too much sausage and pancakes.

This is essentially the advice of the University of Houston Texas Obesity Research Center in a weight-loss brochure. The center offers 10 tips to help any willing body stay on program.

No.7? Talk yourself into it or out of them pounds. In some other words, “Fake it til you make it.” Say to yourself, “Self you are 10 pounds lighter.” Keep saying it until pants confirm the results.

Get a friend(s) involved (No. 5). You share everything else, why not your fondness for the entire large bag of potato chips instead of 12 to 15. If s/he knows, s/he can run interference. Heck, s/he may even have a potato chip weakness. You can lean on each other; there is power in numbers!

In fact, you and friend can commiserate during that daily 30-minute power walk. Here are two smart people who know that losing weight is a combination of a proper diet and proper exercise (No. 3). Bear in mind that moving for at least 30 a day is strongly recommended.

Meditation can help reduce the stress that can potentially trigger nervous eating. Photo from the Social Leader.

It may prove helpful to pack a little snack for the walk in case hunger sets in. This to avoid making a beeline for the first fast food restaurant in sight. In fact, keep snacks at hand at all times; nibble on them every three hours (No. 4). Nuts (Almonds.Yum!) and low-calorie cheese can do the trick. Ditto for popcorn – traditional unpopped (not microwave, not from a vending machine, not pre-popped and bagged, not obscenely buttered).

Keep a log, too (No 2). Not a yule log, but a record of eats, drinks and physical activities. For instance, if the walk was only 10 minutes and the whole bottle of sparkling wine found its way down the throat, then it’s a good idea to have it documented so as to avoid such lapses going forward.

The log can also serve the purpose of keeping the hands engaged (No.6). More handy work can come in the form of thank-you notes, which can distract the mind and hands away from eating. You know the saying, “Idle hands and minds are the devil food cake’s workshop.”

Should go without saying, but it won’t: “Proper planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance.” (No.8). Pecan pie is your particular peccadillo? What to do when faced with the one on the sideboard in the dining room? If you do not plan for such a contingency and do not believe you can have one slice and be satisfied, walk away. Leave the dining room if necessary.

Indeed, a timeout is in order after quitting the dining room. Relax (No. 9). A relaxed mind will not eat the whole tub of ice cream. During dessert, take yourself away for some quiet time. Pray. Meditate. Reflect. Just take your mind off of that pie!

Eating one slice of pecan pie beats eating the whole thing every time. Photo from tumblr.

Finally, make sure the weight-loss goal is actually attainable (No. 10). Sure, fake it til you make it. But at the same time it stands to reason that there is no dropping those 25 pounds in one week no matter how many times you say with utter conviction, “I will lose 25 pounds in one week.”

In some other words, be realistic.

Visit to learn more about the University of Houston Texas Obesity Research Center weight loss brochure.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Return to House of Lord Crawley in 'Downton Abbey'

IS Lady Mary Crawley journeying to America to ride out a possible scandal? Or will she remain in Great Britain to marry her cousin, Matthew Crawley, the future Earl of Grantham – the notion of damaged goods be damned?

What of John Bates? Is the former valet to be condemned to serve a life sentence or will the truth of his ex-wife’s demise come to light and with it his release from prison? How long will it take Robert Crawley, current Earl of Grantham, to discover that his new and reluctantly engaged valet, Thomas Barrow, is the swine he really once believed him to be and cast him from “Downton Abbey”?

The above questions and others will be answered this season and possibly tonight when the Emmy-winning series makes its long-awaited Season 3 U.S. debut at 9 p.m. EST on PBS.

There are high hopes for Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) at Downton Abbey. Photos from PBS.

First-run episodes of “Downton” ended in February 2012. Fans have had to wait almost a year to learn the fate of their favorite characters in this costume drama – a 21st-century “Upstairs Downstairs,” though the latter series has its own 21-century iteration. Set in the runup to World War II, it also has to strongly recommend it beautiful sets and exquisite period costuming.

Among new developments at “Downton” this season is the arrival of Cora’s mother. She is a breath of fresh air or a foul odor, depending on the narrator. Do note that Downton is making its U.S. debut. It has already debuted in the United Kingdom.

Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) and Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) are two women who are accustomed to getting their way. They will also get in the way of each other.

Hopefully, those who don’t want to know any outcomes before they see tonight’s show have carefully avoided certain Web sites and turned blind eyes and ears to spoiler alerts. Even still, knowing is not the same as seeing. (See video above.)

For the Edwardian-period drama is so exquisitely rendered that half the treat is simply drinking in the sumptuousness with the eye.

Visit to learn more about “Downton Abbey.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Brad Pitt Photo, Placement Is Genius on Part of Chanel

Print ad of Brad Pitt for Chanel No 5 as seen at Chanel booth at Bloomingdale's, New York (59th St.). Photo by Yours Truly.

COMING down the escalator yesterday from the Bloomingdale’s second-floor women’s shoe department where I did not find the all-weather, waterproof boots that I am in search of, Yours Truly is struck by a huge image of a blond white man.

Initially, I believe it to be William H. Macy as he looks in "Shameless" ( Almost instantly, I dismis the notion – the man in the photo is too handsome, too young. Looking again, I wonder. Could it be? ... Brad Pitt staring back from the gigantic photo that is an advertisement for Chanel No 5 Parfum for women, not for men?

Safely off the escalator in the men’s department at the 59th street store in New York, I study the photo (pictured at top). It is an arresting sight. The man in the photo exhibits a combination of earnestness, virility, self-confidence and authenticity. It is an aspirational image, but its subject is approachable. He is quite handsome but not in a threatening way. It is a photo that stops one in one’s tracks as it does me in mine.

It looks like BP at the same time that it looks like a BP lookalike. Intensely curious, I step into the Chanel booth to seek answers to this gnawing question. Just then, a Chanel representative approaches and offers assistance.

I get right to the point of my visit. It is indeed BP in this stunning photograph. Chanel rep D. Harry also gives me to know that BP is the first man to be the face of Chanel No 5. This distinction puts him in league with Audrey Tautou, Nicole Kidman, Ali MacGraw, and Catherine Deneuve. (See video of CD's Chanel No 5 commercial below.)

How is it possible that this escaped my notice? Is not fashion and beauty part of my business? Put it down to busyness, too: I was engrossed in both the 50th New York Film Festival and the 2012 Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival around the time that the buzz started around this event. Alas, one cannot know everything and one clearly does not.

A bit of research last night does confirm the BP-Chanel connection. It also reveals that BP has been widely ridiculed, including in a “Saturday Night Live” parody, because the corresponding Chanel No 5 television commercial is deemed by many the worst sort of drivel. Perhaps because I saw the photo before I even knew of the existence of the commercial directed by Joe Wright (“Anna Karenina”), I do not judge it so harshly. (See bottom video). One would be hard-pressed to make the same claim about the print ads, one in particular when it is increased many fold its size.

Chanel rep DH and I are now on the other side of escalator in front of the Chanel booth peering at a smaller, yet still-large version of the same photo. To our left is another smaller, yet large photo of BP – chin in hand (channeling “The Thinker,” perhaps?) – looking pensive. Both draw in the viewer. The largest photo, however, is the coup de grace.

I share with DH my earlier thoughts about the photo, taken by Sam Taylor-Wood. He concurs. We are now observing the photo together. On closer inspection, it reveals much more than a handsome face. Who knows how much makeup was used because BP is made up to look like he’s wearing very little or nothing at all. The latter may be the case. What is remarkable, though, is that it appears that he did not wish to be doctored too much. The lines under his eyes are clearly visible. And beautiful. He's keeping it real, as if he has lived some life and the lines testify to that.

Like the larger pores on sections of his face, the lines give him character that would have otherwise been lacking. Visible on his neck and chest are small goose bumps. They do not age the 49-year-old nor would anyone think him old, as they may his partner, Angelina Jolie, if she were to be so bold.

BP has a semi-scruffy moustache and goatee. His shoulder-length hair is coiffed, but minimally so – or at least it looks to be. “A lot of people who have seen the photo say he has extensions,” DH says, though it is not obvious to me. In any case, the extensions look good and they look natural. Many a woman can take a page from this book.

“They’ve been up about two months,” DH says of the photos. “A lot of people have noticed it. We did really well in December.” This last bit he says with a gleam in his eyes.

What in the world is Brad Pitt thinking about? Dinner? How he is going to spend some $7 million after taxes? Photos by Sam Taylor-Wood.

For obvious reasons, it is not surprising that Chanel No 5 would have experienced a significant bump in sales in December. The photo, however, is a powerful selling tool, working on numerous subliminal levels, as it does. There is much at work here to unite the fragrance and consumer. Consider the various messages:

1 Buy this perfume and you will attract BP or a BP type;
2. Buy this perfume and you will attract handsome men;
3. Wear this perfume. BP and men like him will like it;
4. Buy this perfume for the special woman in your life and she will see you as BP or a BP type;
5. Buy this perfume for your woman as BP does for his;
6. Buy this perfume and it gets you closer to Angelina Jolie, considered one of the most beautiful women in the world and so on.

At work here is the same sort of subliminal messaging that automakers employ in using attractive women to sell cars, especially red ones.

And is it not as common sensical as it is brilliant to place this advertorial photo for a women’s fragrance in the men’s fragrance department? It makes it easier for men to purchase the perfume for numerous reasons, including avoiding the discomfort and intimidation of venturing into the women’s fragrance department to do so. It’s simply more convenient and no doubt will increase sales to men, as has been the case at Bloomingdale’s, DH confirmed. The placement also suggests to a man, possibly a clueless one, that he is on the right track in buying this fragrance for his woman if BP is endorsing it. After all, BP is the type of guy that men – particularly American men – can trust to tell it like it is, preferably over a beer.

This last brings up another point. The beauty of the photo, notwithstanding, it is more surprising that BP is the face of Chanel No 5, than the fact that the campaign marks the first time that a man has been selected to be the face of the fragrance.

Why Brad and why did Brad do it? As for the actor, it couldn’t be for the money – though reportedly his payday is around $7 million – because his net worth is believed to be nearly $200 million. According to some wags, he’s having a mid-life crisis. If so, better a 91-year-old scent than a 19-year-old girl.

As for Chanel, the label may have chosen BP simply because he is relatable to so many demographics across age, ethnicity, geography and gender. Indeed, as Chanel CEO Maureen Chiquet has said, “No 5 is the most iconic fragrance of our time, and Brad Pitt is the most iconic actor of our time. Women in every culture love No 5. No matter where you are, No 5 is there.”

Translation: Relatable. The same cannot be said of Douglas Booth, for instance. The young British actor (and model), whom I recently saw in an adaptation of Dickens’ “Great Expectations” on “Masterpiece Theater,” is simply too beautiful in an intimidating sort of way. A body like Daniel Craig is too rugged-looking.

Is this the body language of a man having a mid-life crisis?

Though George Clooney is only one year older than BP, he looks about a decade his senior – the younger demographic won’t go for him. Plus, he can look rather severe at times. The mind cannot conjure up a nonwhite actor who would be a potential face except for Will Smith. He looks a little too boyish and comedic. And, of course, there is the added disadvantage that an actor of color might be perceived as not having international appeal. That written, Barack Obama would be an exception, but the president of the United States does not do this sort of thing.

In that case, why not Brad (who doesn’t normally do this sort of thing either), he seems to pass muster.

Forger the TV commercial, cast the eyes on the photo at a Chanel booth near you, possibly in the men's department.

Visit to learn more about Chanel No 5.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

With It, 2013 Will Bring Fresh Challenges and Triumphs

HERE'S to hoping that 2013 will be the best of years. As the saying goes in:

Afgani: Saale Nao Mubbarak
Albanian: Gezuar Vitin e Ri
Alsatian: e glëckliches nëies / güets nëies johr
Armenian: Snorhavor Nor Tari
Arabic: Kul ‘am wa antum bikhair / سنة سعيدة
Assyrian: Sheta Brikhta
Azeri: Yeni Iliniz Mubarek!
Bambara: aw ni san’kura / bonne année
Bengali: Shuvo Nabo Barsho
Berber: asqwas amegas
Beti: mbembe mbu
Breton: Bloavezh Mat
Cambodian: Soursdey Chhnam Tmei
Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin): Sun Leen Fai Lok / 恭喜發財, Xin Nian Kuai Le / 新年快乐 /
Croatian: Sretna Nova godina!
Dari: sale naw tabrik
Dhivehi: Ufaaveri Aa Aharakah Edhen
Eskimo: Kiortame pivdluaritlo
Esperanto: Felican Novan Jaron
Estonians: Head uut aastat!
Ewe: eƒé bé dzogbenyui nami

Farose: gott nýggjár
Farsi: Aide shoma mobarak
Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
Flemish: gelukkig Nieuwjaar
Gaelic: Bliadhna mhath ur
Galician: Bo Nadal e Feliz Aninovo
Gujarati: Nutan Varshbhinandan

The dawn of a new year. Archive photo.

Hawaiian: Hauoli Makahiki Hou
Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah
Hindi: Naye Varsha Ki Shubhkamanyen / नये साल की हार्दिक शुभकामनायें
Indonesian: Selamat Tahun Baru
Iranian: Sal -e- no mobarak
Iraqi: Sanah Jadidah
Irish: Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
Japan: Akemashite Omedetto Gozaimasu / あけましておめでとうございます
Javanese: sugeng warsa enggal
Kabyle: Asegwas Amegaz
Kannada: Hosa Varushadha Shubhashayagalu
Khmer: Sua Sdei tfnam tmei

Latin: Volo omnes felicem novum annum habere
Ligurian: feliçe annu nœvu / feliçe anno nêuvo
Low Saxon: gelükkig nyjaar
Malagasy: arahaba tratry ny taona
Malay: Selamat Tahun Baru
Mizo: Kum Thar Chibai
Ndebele: umyaka omucha omuhle
Occitan: bon annada
Oriya: Nua Barshara Subhechha
Papua New Guinea: Nupela yia i go long yu
Persian: Sal -e- no mobarak
Punjabi: Nave sal di mubarak
Samoa: Manuia le Tausaga Fou
Shimaore: mwaha mwema
Singhalese: Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Siraiki: Nawan Saal Shala Mubarak Theevay
Slovak: Stastny Novy rok
Swahili: Heri Za Mwaka Mpyaº
Swedish: GOTT NYTT ÅR! /Gott nytt år!
Sudanese: Warsa Enggal
Tagolog: manigong bagong taon
Tamazight: assugas amegaz
Tamil: Eniya Puthandu Nalvazhthukkal
Tatar: yaña yıl belän

Telegu: Noothana samvatsara
Tulu: posa varshada shubashaya
Twents: gluk in’n tuk
Udmurt: Vyľ Aren
Urdu: Naya Saal Mubbarak Ho /
نايا سال مبارک
Wolof: dewenati
Yiddish: a gut yohr
Yoruba: Eku Odun

and as English speakers say, “Happy New Year! (See videos of 2013 New Year celebrations Berlin, Dubai, London, Moscow, New York and Taipei).
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