Friday, August 31, 2012

On the way to Hong Kong

We were 35 minutes late out of DIA. Should still make our connection okay. Nice thing is that our flight to Chicago is on a three cabin 777. Next leg is on a 747. Lie flat business seats all the way to Hong Kong. We are in the upper deck on the 747. My favorite cabin.

The upper deck is like having your own private plane. The service is very attentive and it is quiet. Plus the little side bins are very handy. The upper deck is the only place they exist.

In the old United configuration (before lie flat seats) row 15 was the best. There was about a mile and a half of leg room. Now it doesn't matter.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book of Mormon

The Tony award winning Broadway musical, Book of Mormon has opened its national tour in Denver. Winner of 9 Tony awards last year, the musical has been a smash hit in New York and is proving to be the same in Denver. It is sold out for its entire run (8/14-9/2) at the Ellie Caulkins Opera house.

Certainly national tour sales are driven in part by the buzz that a Broadway/Tony Awards hit can engender. But combine that with the fact that it was written by Colorado’s own ‘South Park’ guys – and the buzz that South Park engenders – the topic, ongoing focus on Mormonism because of the Presidential race.

I saw it and I understand why it is a hit. And I don’t think anyone in any of the sold-out nights will go away disappointed – well maybe, but very few. Only those, I think who came expecting an anti-Mormon, biting, scathing satirical rant. The Book of Mormon is not any of that. It is an old-fashioned feel-good musical – even one that deals with Aids and other tragedies

Rather it pokes gentle fun and it is fun to watch and laugh out loud funny.

It is a likable musical (musicals are after all entertainment) with likable characters. Particularly Elder Cunningham as played by Jared Gertner. His hysteria-prone goofiness is endearing and Gertner plays it for all it is worth.

Also terrific is Samantha Marie Ware as Nabulungi – and thank you Ms Ware for noting in your program biography that you are a proud member of Actor’s Equity.

The songs are hummable and the vocals good – some voices are truly outstanding, which brings me to one of my pet peeves: the use of wireless microphones to amplify actors’ voices. In a theatre like the Ellie – designed as an opera house with the specific purpose of projecting singing voices – there is no reason for this.

However this is not uncommon anymore. The use of the wireless microphone has become ubiquitous, even in a small house of five hundred seats. Nonetheless I don’t like it. Part of the training of singers and actors is the ability to project the voice without seeming to do so.

Okay, enough of that rant.

Let me also say, the small pit-orchestra (band really) worked very well with the cast. The point of live performance is the spontaneity and interaction of cast and audience – which cannot be fully realized with a live cast and recorded music.

If you don’t have tickets, it is too bad. This is a terrific show and I am sorry you will miss it. From here it travels to Los Angeles and the Pantages Theatre. There are still tickets there, so maybe you could grab a flight….

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Buckskin Joe - Movies no More

So Buckskin Joe is gone, both the original town in Park County, Colorado, and the created one in Fremont County. What had been a movie set and tourist attraction near the Royal Gorge has been sold to a Koch brother (a brother to but not one of the two right-wing political ones) and has been moved lock stock and barrel to his private ranch in Gunnison County, Colorado.

This has to be a blow to the Canon City area, which in addition to being Colorado’s Prison Central is a tourist town. The Royal Gorge is a huge attraction and so has Buckskin Joe been over the years.

The original Buckskin Joe was in Park County near Fairplay but vanished as a real town over a century ago. The recreated Buckskin Joe cobbled together old buildings from 19th century mining towns, including one from the original Buckskin Joe – the general store which had been built and operated by H.A.W Tabor of the Tabor Opera House and Matchless Mine in Leadville, Colorado.

The re-creation had originally been put together as a western-town movie set by MGM in 1957. Westerns were a Hollywood staple in the 50s. The town was then acquired by Karol Smith of Canon City who had been a location scout and manager and eventually lobbied the state legislature to create a film commission – the first in the nation – with himself as the first commissioner.

The list of classic westerns filmed at Buckskin Joe is long, including Cat Ballou. The great shot of Lee Marvin and his horse ‘leaning’ against the side of a building was shot at Buckskin Joe. When Marvin accepted his Academy Award for Cat Ballou he stated that half the award belonged to a horse in Colorado.

The town was opened to tourism featuring a Melodrama and street shows. Cowboys would have gunfights in the streets 10 times a day.

"Lets give em a big hand and bring em back to life and we will shoot them again in an hour."

For a couple of years in the mid-60s I was part of that. Doing the Melodrama at night and playing cowboy during day. By that time the town had been acquired by the Camerlo family from Cotopaxi, Colorado.

One of those years had Bill Oakley, who later went on to run the Heritage Square Opera House, running the Melodrama. He always told me he loved my Ghost Gunfighter routine.

Buckskin Joe was also the site of my first motion picture. I was an extra in Barquero with Forrest Tucker. It was shot at Buckskin Joe and at nearby Brush Hollow reservoir. I always thought there was some symmetry to the fact that my first picture was with Tucker and I was in Tucker’s very last picture – Timestalkers with William Devane, Lauren Hutton and Klaus Kinski. I have great Kinski stories which I will save for another day.

Adios, Buckskin Joe.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Blockbuster Release - The trend continues in a big way

A curious thing happened in the nation’s movie theatres this weekend. In blockbuster season, two new films: Premium Rush, a thriller and Hit and Run, a comedy opened this weekend and neither was able to top the gross box office chart. Worse, they were not even in the top 5 and a documentary, in limited release, topped both narrative films.
Obama’s America 2016 playing in half the screens of either of the other two out-grossed those films by 30% and 50% respectively.

I have written of the trend in blockbuster releases recently. That once it was that as a new blockbuster opened it would open at number one only to be supplanted in the number one slot the next week with the release of another blockbuster. Now it seems that fewer films are staying longer in the number one slot. The Dark Knight Rises stayed in the number one slot for three weeks in a row and as a matter of fact has remained in the top five for over a month. This week’s number one, The Expendables 2 was number one last week as well.

So the fact that two new films would neither make it to number one on opening weekend, is indicative of the trend. But for two ‘entertainment’ films to be topped by a political documentary is stunning. Studio types must be scratching their heads.

I have not seen Obama’s America 2016 and don’t plan to. It is based on a book by Dinesh D’Souza which is an anti-Obama polemic and I don’t need to see a polemic. I don’t do polemic, even if I might agree with the point of view.

Monday, August 27, 2012

50 Years for James Bond on Film

It’s the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films. The first, Dr No, opened at the London Pavilion on October 5, 1962 (it wouldn’t open in the United States until 1963) with the wonderful Sean Connery as 007. I was a fan of the novels, having started reading them in High School (I have read them all) and looked forward to the movie versions.

Six actors have portrayed Bond in the series: Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. I don’t count David Niven in his version of Casino Royale since it is not really part of the series. Connery and Moore have each played Bond 7 times.

So the inevitable question always comes up: who is the best Bond?

For me Connery is the gold standard, though I know there are those who prefer Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan. But Connery really set the tone (Ian Fleming hated him) and I think by and large those early Bond films with him were better than much of what came later. The series has become so much more dominated by pyrotechnics and gadgetry – admittedly the gadgets were always a part of the novels and the films – but it seems more so now.

Another Bond film, Skyfall, is set to be released on October, 26, 2012 in the UK, and November 9, 2012 in the US. It is another turn for Daniel Craig as Bond.

So, who really is the best Bond?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Grilled Tuna and Potato Salad for Guests

Fixing guests dinner tonight and this is on the menu. Thought I would share, if you are interested.

The method of serving uses a common plate in the center of the table and everyone serving to their own plates from it. I love this way of dining and use it often with a variety of foods - Paella, for instance.

Note, you do not see salt used anywhere in this recipe. I have stopped cooking with additional salt for many reasons. This is a personal choice in our house, but I am not Billy Sunday about it, please feel free to add salt if you like - most people do.
And it is on our table for those guests who want it.

The Dressing:

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup Dijon Mustard
1/4 cup White Balsamic Vinegar

Whisk together the mustard oil and vinegar until emulsified.

For the salad

14-16 small red new potatoes or yukon gold
If using larger potatoes cut them into smaller pieces so
that they are uniform in size.
16 oz of french cut green beans, frozen or fresh
1/4 cup chopped fresh Dill
4 oz drained capers.

In a large pot bring enough water to cover the potatoes to a boil.
Put the potatoes in and cook until just barely fork tender. About 20 minutes.
Do not over cook the potatoes. Take them out of the water immediately and let stand until cool enough to handle. Dice into 1/2 inch cubes.

While dicing the potatoes, place the beans in a steamer basket above the potato water and steam for about 2-3 minutes if frozen beans, 3-5 minutes if using fresh green beans.

Fold the dressing into the potatoes, beans, capers and dill. Let cool.

Grill 4 to 6 tuna steaks over medium-high heat. 2 - 3 minutes per side for medium rare.

To serve, place the room temperature potato salad in the center of a large platter. Ring it with nicoise ingredients of your choosing: hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, etc. The tomatoes I used were heirlooms from my garden.

Place the tuna steaks on top of the potato salad and serve.

For the wine? A Chardonnay or Pinot Noir would be good depending on whether you prefer red or white.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My Favorite Wife, Randolph Scott, Marilyn Monroe, The Green Jacket and discrimination

My Favorite Wife is on TCM this afternoon. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Irene Dunne has been lost at sea and after 7 years her lawyer husband (Cary Grant) has her declared dead and marries another woman. Of course, Dunne is rescued and returns in time to find her husband on his honeymoon with his new wife.

This picture was remade in 1963 with James Garner and Doris Day. The picture was to be remade with Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin in 1962 under the working title of Somethings Gotta Give. Monroe's problems forced the production to shut down and was eventually scrapped. Shortly afterward Monroe died. It was then remade and released with James Garner and Doris Day under the title of Move Over Darling.

Randolph Scott plays the 'other man' in My Favorite Wife. Dunne and he have been stranded on a deserted island and of course Grant is suspicious of what went on. Scott eventually tells Grant that he wants to marry Dunne. There are all sorts fo screwball comedy complications, but of course it works out in the end.

Scott is most usually associated with westerns. In the over one hundred films that he did, sixty were westerns (including the great Ride The High Country). He was tall and handsome and the very image of the strong, stoic silent type.

Scott is notable for something else. For many years he was the only actor allowed to join the Los Angeles Country Club. Recently, it has been reported that for the first time in its history, the Augusta National Country Club is finally going to admit two women – a big deal has been made of the fact that Condi Rice will get a green jacket.

It has to be remembered that for many years country clubs routinely discriminated against all sorts of people. In Los Angeles, regardless of the economic value that motion pictures brought to the LA area, actors were not deemed socially acceptable. Moreover, Jews were even less acceptable. Despite the fact that the major movie studios were owned by Jews: the Warner Brothers, Sam Goldwyn, Harry Cohn, Leo B Mayer, they were not acceptable at the 'elite' country clubws.

That is why the Hillcrest Country Club in LA was created. For years it was known as the Jewish Country Club. Its members were the Hollywood moguls noted above and the likes of the Marx Brothers, George Burns, Jack Benny and others.

Given a choice that is the club I want to be a member of.

This has all changed now, of course, but watching Randolph Scott I was reminded of that time, not so long ago.

Oh, the reason Scott was allowed in to the Los Angeles Country Club? He was perceived of and indeed was a 'southern gentleman' from Virginia - not like the other Hollywood rif raff.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sano Ichiro

September 18th will see the release of the 16th Sano Ichiro series mystery, The Incense Game. The series by Laura Joh Rowland is set in feudal Japan and features Sano Ichiro, a Samurai who over the course of the series goes from being a Yoriki – an administrative police official – to being second in command and criminal investigator to the Shogun.

In the Incense Game it is now 1703 Japan and a massive earthquake devastates the country. Even the shogun’s carefully regulated court is teetering on the brink of chaos. It would seem that this is not a time for a murder investigation but a nobleman’s daughters are found dead from incense poisoning. The father threatens to topple the regime unless Sano Ichiro tracks down the killer.

I enjoy crime and detective fiction and certainly read much of that set in modern times. However I also enjoy those that are set in other times and places (lately I have been reading novels set in England just after World War I). So I was attracted to this series set in feudal Japan when I stumbled on it and am being rewarded with enjoyable reading.

Try the series (you don’t have to wait for the Incense Game) you might like it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Boettcher, Better Denver Bond, Cultural Facilities, The National WesternStock Show

In 2007, Denver voters approved a massive bond issuance, the Better Denver bond Program, $550 Million worth of projects. The Program was presented and sold as a complete package – The Better Denver Bond Program - but voters actually needed to vote on each part of the package individually. They were listed on the ballot as 1B, 1C, 1D, etc. Of particular importance to the arts community were 1G and 1H which dealt with cultural facilities.

The entire package passed.

1G and 1H provide $60 Million for deferred maintenance and or new construction for cultural facilities that included but were not limited to Boettcher Concert Hall and the Museum of Nature and Science.

1H contemplated a public/private component – private funds were to be raised and then matched by bond funds for each particular project. In the case of Boettcher, there was to be $25 Million in private funds raised.

That did not happen and so the planned demolishment and reconstruction of the Concert Hall also did not happen.

Of the $60 Million in authorized bond funds, $57 Million remains. The bonds have not been issued but the authorization is there and the bonds could be issued at any time for use on a project that would fit under the terms of the original bond authorization.

So what is happening now?

The city proposes to use that bonding capacity for the improvement of city cultural facilities. Proposals have been solicited from cultural facilities for maintenance or construction projects. A review committee will evaluate those proposals and forward recommendations to the Mayor.

Among the entities invited to submit a proposal is the National Western Stock Show.
That should get some eyebrows raised.

It is clear that the National Western Complex has some serious maintenance and capitol construction needs, but given the course of events over the last 18 months regarding the National Western and its relationship with Denver, before any (more) bond money should be sunk into that complex, the future of the Stock Show, its relationship with Denver, the ownership of the facilities has to be dealt with. That is probably not going to be resolved anytime in the foreseeable future.

Given the serious needs of other cultural facilities in Denver, it seems to me that other ‘city’ facilities should be a much higher priority.

The Review Committee will meet on August 24 to do an initial evaluation of the proposals that come in.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dick Van Dyke to be Honored With 2012 SAG Award

Dick Van Dyke, actor, singer, dancer, writer and comedian, will receive SAG-AFTRA’s highest honor – the SAG Life Achievement Award at the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, live on TNT and TBS on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, at 6 p.m Mountain Time.

Van Dyke holds five Emmys, a Tony Award and a Grammy. He is 86 and still is out there performing. It started a half-century ago with the Broadway and film versions of Bye Bye Birdie, then the great Dick Van Dyke show, with Mary Tyler Moore (written and produced by Carl Reiner) and of course the film classic Mary Poppins, with Julie Andrews.

This is a great choice by SAG-AFTRA

Phyllis Diller Documentary.

As I noted in my post regarding Mayan Renaissance, I am a fan of documentaries and part of what I value about the Denver Film Center and the Starz Denver Film Festival. In reflecting on the death of Phyllis Diller I remembered a documentary about her that screened at the Film Festival in 2005. It was terrific and an Official Selection of the 28th Starz Denver International Film Festival. It chronicles Diller's final comedy stand up performance.

We follow her as she is preparing for the show, we see the wigs and the clothes. There are interviews with a host of other comedians. Funny and touching and insightful.

I'm thinking I need to see it again.

Mayan Renaissance

One of the joys of the Starz Denver Film Festival is the opportunity to see documentaries. It is also one of the joys of having the Denver Film Center on Colfax, is the opportunity to see documentaries is year-round in Denver.

One of those opportunities is Tuesday, August 21. As part of the Women + Film series the Center will screen a brand new feature-length documentary, Mayan Renaissance. Post production on the film was just completed in May of this year by Colorado filmmaker and Peace Jam founder Dawn Gifford Engle. Ms Engle will be at the 7:00 P.M. screening.

The documentary traces the history and celebrates the culture of the Mayan people of Central America. If you have ever been to the Yucatan and visited the historic sites of Chichen Itza, Tikal or Uxmal you can appreciate the Mayan art, architecture, mathematics and astronomy.

Mayan Renaissance has only had one screening in Colorado and that was in June at the Film Festival of Colorado in Olde Towne Arvada. The screening the Denver Film Center should afford and opportunity for a wider audience.

I encourage you to attend the screening. Documentaries in general do not get the attention they deserve and so it is important to support the form however and whenever possible. They are powerful tools for storytelling. Interestingly, Colorado and Denver in particular is home to two Oscar winning documentarians: Daniel Junge for Saving Face and Donna Dewey for Saving Face.

Women + Film is a year-round program showcasing films by, for, and about women.

Check out the Women + Film and the screening of the Mayan Renaissance

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fine Wine and Food from England and Global Warming

Fine English Wine.

Sounds like a joke, right? Much like great English cooking.

For years the British have been much maligned for their food, and the idea of fine English wine was non-existent.

No longer true. As I noted in a post about the quality of the varied restaurants in Shepherd’s Market, wonderful dining can be had in Great Britain. And frankly, while much ‘English’ food tended toward the bland, there was still much to enjoy: rare roast beef, Stilton and Cheddar cheeses and of course, Bangers and Mash.

I remember fondly a trip we took to London in November a few years ago. We arrived on Thanksgiving Day and ended up at the Fuller’s Pub next to the Tate Modern. I had Bangers and Mash with Mushy Peas for my Thanksgiving meal and thoroughly enjoyed it. I accompanied it with a pint of London Pride. But I could have had wine. English wine.

The quality and availability of wine produced in southern England has vastly improved. English wines are winning awards and finding believers – sparkling wines from England are even beating French Champagnes in international competitions.

Wine grapes can successfully be grown in the northern Hemisphere between 30 and 50 degrees north latitude. Anything below that is too hot and above is too cold. But that band of latitude is actually moving north. The southern-most regions are becoming too hot and areas just north of the band are becoming hospitable to wine grapes.

Why? Global Warming.

Historically, England’s climate was too cold and rainy for wine grapes to ripen successfully but the climate change that is result of global warming has changed that and will change it even more in the future.

Between 1961 and 2006, average temperatures in southern England increased by 3 degrees Fahrenheit. (In in the wine growing regions of California and Washington State average temperatures have risen 4.5 degrees in the last 50 years)
So while overall global warming is a serious problem it is ironically creating winners in some places and industries.

There are now, roughly 400 wineries in Great Britain. The largest, Denbies Wine Estate, has now even planted Sauvignon Blanc vines, a grape associated with Bordeaux.

So, the bad news is that global warming is real and dangerous. The good news is that when you are in London, you can have a glass of locally produced fine wine, with your even better British food.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Random thoughts: Sports, Centerfolds, Phyllis Diller and the F-Bomb

Happy Birthday, Frank Gifford. The former football player and broadcaster is 82. It is appropriate, then, that we also celebrate the anniversary of Sports Illustrated. The magazine began publishing on this day in 1955. In 1964, of course it began publishing its swim suit issue.

Field and Stream magazine topped that, as far as I am concerned with the June 1973 issue it published its first and only centerfold. I had a subscription to Field and Stream at that time, and eagerly awaited the June issue, as it had been touted that there would be a centerfold. I was curious to see exactly what it was.

What it was, was (to paraphrase Andy Griffith) Phyllis Diller. She was lounging on her side, propped up on one elbow wearing a rhinestone choker, black chest waders and gold lame boots. She was holding a cigarette holder. She was also 56 years old.
I howled. I still have my copy of that magazine. Of course it buried in a box somewhere.

So F-bomb is now officially part of our language. This week Merriam-Webster announced that the word is now in their Collegiate Dictionary.

I have never used the word and don’t know that I will, but it’s nice to know that if I do it will be officially okay.

I think I will save for another day my thoughts on the use of language or the misuse.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed is a sweet, endearing and funny film. It is the kind of film that keeps me coming back to low-budget indie films. I am often disappointed but then when I see a film like this, the reward makes any other disappointments fade.

I saw it last night at the Denver Film Center and I am so glad I did. Unfortunately it closes tonight (Thursday), so you may not get a chance to see it this go round.

A reporter and two interns from an alternative Seattle magazine, Jake M. Johnson, Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni, set off in search of a person, Mark Duplass, who placed an ad looking for a partner to share a time-travel machine. There’s got to be a story in that, right?

What evolves is a love story, but also a story of people in search of something lost in their past or perhaps has not yet occurred. Time-travel allows you to go forward as well as back although Johnson and Duplass are looking to recapture love from their past.

The movie was shot with a Sony F3 digital camcorder, but you would not know it by looking at it. It looks as if it was shot on 35mm film. Low-budget movies often use digital camcorders to save money – shooting on film is much more expensive – but the result is often less than satisfactory from a ‘look’ standpoint. Not so here.
Safety Not Guaranteed started with a real ad that screenwriter Derek Connolly saw asking for a companion to go back in time. From that ad he fashioned a terrific screenplay that is funny and touching and under first-time director Colin Trevorrow appropriately paced at 86 minutes.

The performances also are terrific, particularly Aubrey Plaza as a cynical intern who falls for Duplass and blossoms.

So, does anyone go back in time?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Julia Child, the original celebrity chef and what she hath wrought

Julia Child, the original television celebrity chef, would be 100 hundred years old today. Her show on public television, The French Chef, broke ground for everything that has followed.

Of course it is remarkable that her show even happened. And if it had been a commercial station or network, rather than what was called at the time educational television, it probably wouldn’t. She was most likely not what CBS, NBC or ABC had in mind as a female television host – even one doing a cooking show. She didn’t look or sound like Bess Myerson or Harriet Nelson. She was tall, had that voice and cooked with abandon.

But the show was a success, first on WGBH Boston, and later on what became PBS.
Her success spawned other cooking shows, initially on public television stations but later as cable TV developed on commercial cable channels as well.
The French Chef and the subsequent shows she hosted, as well as the other cooking/food shows that came were essentially cooking demonstration programs. Here is the recipe, here is how you do it.

That has all changed. There are still the recipe demonstration shows, but in addition we now also have the challenges: groups of cooks vying to for this championship or that. It started with the Iron Chef franchise. There is an American version, but the Japanese original was quirkier and funnier, partly because it was dubbed – the dubbing itself was humorous.

We also have the restaurant makeover shows, Robert Irvine and Gordon Ramsay, etc. Bobby Flay even has one about helping people – who have no idea what they are doing – open a restaurant in 3 days.

Now the cooking challenge programs have gotten even more strange and extreme. There is the not so exotic, Grill Masters Challenge on the Food Network, that takes place on a dusty street in a western movie set town. But you have others that put people in extremely difficult cooking situations the middle of a jungle, in the water, hiking into the back country to cook.

I keep waiting for what it next. I imagine programmers sitting around a cable channel office trying to think up even stranger formats that involve food (I haven’t even mentioned Anthony Bourdain). Perhaps “Desperate Housewives in the Kitchen – I leave that to your imagination.

As I have said, I am a foody and I love watching cooking shows. I even watch some of the ‘challenge’ ones. But there is a limit for me and I do draw the line.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Two Buck Chuck, Kirkland Champagne, Wine in a Box.

With Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) set to open a store in Boulder and later Denver, many of us have been anticipating the arrival, as well of Two Buck Chuck, though only one of those stores may actually sell the wine. Colorado’s liquor laws generally prohibit grocery stores from selling wine and spirits. The exception is that one store in a chain may sell those items, so it is possible that one or the other of the TJ’s will sell wine and spirits, including presumably Two Buck Chuck.
Two Buck Chuck is actually Charles Shaw wine and it sells for $1.99 a 750ml bottle. You can get either red or white. It is one of the items that TJ’s has become famous for.

It is also representative of a development in the wine business.
Years ago wine consumption in the United States (and perhaps everywhere except France, Germany, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula) was not widespread. People generally did not think of having a glass of wine regularly with dinner or at more than a special occasion – New Years and champagne, perhaps. And at that time selection in most domestic wine shops or liquor stores was fairly limited. There was cheap plonk, cheap fortified wines and more expensive dry wines, usually from Europe.

Wine was being produced in California but its general distribution was pretty much limited to ‘jug wines’ from Gallo, Italian Swiss Colony, Almaden Cellars and the like. Paul Masson vineyards did start marketing its table wines in what is now the equivalent of the 750ml bottle on television with an ad campaign featuring Orson Welles: “We will sell no wine before its time.”

Now, people around the world consume wine regularly and a visit to your local wine shop provides you with a wide and varied selection of wine: cheap to expensive and from almost anywhere. California and the rest of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, wine has become global. And good quality wine has become less expensive and ‘cheap’ wine has become much better.

Two Buck Chuck and the like provide an extremely good value at the price.
TJ’s is owned by Aldi Nord part of a German Discount supermarket chain. One of the hallmarks of the German chain is the ability to discount by selling house brands. Cutting bulk buy discounts with suppliers and selling under the Aldi name. TJ’s does the same thing with the Charles Shaw –Two Buck Chuck – house brand.

But TJ’s is not the only retailer doing this and not only with low-end discount wine.

Last year in Hawaii, we were making our regular stop at Costco on the way to the Condo on Kauai. Costco, in Hawaii, can sell wine and spirits on site (not as a separate operation as is the case in Colorado). I was in the wine department and picked up a bottle Veuve Clicquot champagne. It was $40 a bottle. But then I discovered the Kirkland Brand Champagne at $20 a bottle. It was the same champagne: Veuve Clicquot champagne bottled under the Kirkland name. This is happening everywhere. Good quality wine being sold under a house brand name at a lesser price. This not only provides great value for the consumer, but it puts downward price pressure on similar quality wines not being sold under a house brand.

And finally there is the matter of the box wine. It too has come a long way. It is now possible to buy box wine that is drinkable. And it is going to get better. As the stigma of wine in a box fades, wineries will be more willing to put a better quality wine in a box. This is wine not meant to be laid down and cellared but wine meant to be consumed right away; wine for use at a tailgate event, or such. Because it comes in a box doesn’t mean it has to be junk.

The way wine is marketed, sold and packaged is changing. Traditionalists will resist (sometimes, I do too) but change in the industry is a fact of life, so I go with it - I really have no choice.

I love fine wine in a glass bottle with a real cork, but in some circumstances a glass of Chardonnay from a box will do just fine. And then later, I will have some Kirkland Champagne from a glass bottle with a real cork.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Michael Cimino and Heaven's Gate are back?

Michael Cimino will receive the Persol award at the Venice film festival at the end of the month. The award will precede a screening of a restored print of Heavens' Gate.

Okay, maybe I need to see it again. Maybe it's better than I remember. Maybe the 219 minute version is better than the 149 minute version that I and most people saw when it was released in 1980.

Do you think?

The film was a disaster. It sank its studio, United Artists and destroyed the career and reputation of Cimino who had so wowed us with the brilliant Deer Hunter.

Heaven's Gate was beautiful to look at and the music was wonderful to listen to. Individual scenes could have great texture and feel but taken as a whole it didn't work; there was no cohesiveness nor was there any momentum. What pace there was was languid at best so that at either 219 minutes or 149 minutes it was interminable.

The 219 minute version, that's nearly 3 hours and forty minutes, was the premiere version which only played for one week in New York City. It was shorter than the 'Director's Cut' that Cimino had proposed which was over five hours long. The studio pulled the premiere version and replaced it with the 149 minute version - a speedy 2 hours and 29 minutes. That is the version I saw in LA when it opened there. The 219 minute version is what is available on DVD.

The Deer Hunter was so powerful and evocative. Great story-telling, well and appropriately paced, with the kind of texture that that made you feel you were in the jungles of Vietnam or a Pennsylvania steel town. That is what contributed to the great disappointment I felt when I saw Heaven's Gate. My expectations were so high. Nonetheless even without those expectations the film was disappointing.

There have been innumerable theories as to why the picture went so wrong. I don't know, it undoubtedly was many things including a director to whom no one would say no. Not only was the film's running time too long it was it was way over schedule and way over budget. It cost $44 Million and only recouped $3 Million in its initial release.

Perhaps I should see it again.....I don't know.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Yul Brynner, Movies, Gypsies and Gypsy music

Yul Brynner in Anastasia. I watched it again this morning on Fox Movie Channel. A Russian playing a Russian – what a novelty. Brynner played Russsians in a couple of other movies, but he also played a lot of other nationalities: the french pirate Jean Lafitte in the Bucaneer, a thai king in the King and I, a Mexican revolutionary in Villa Rides and a cruel American southerner in The Sound and the Fury.

Brynner was a native Russian and played one in the film The Brothers Karamazov and in one of my favorite films The Journey with Deborah Kerr.

He plays a Russian Major during the time of the Hungarian Revolution who has detained a busload of refugees, including Deborah Kerr, trying to escape into Austria. I saw this film as a young teen and was quite taken with it (and with Deborah Kerr). I remember a scene in which Brynner is drinking shots of vodka and throwing the empty glasses into a fireplace. He has become smitten with Kerr and is unnerved. After a few shots and the resulting thrown glasses, he actually eats the shot-glass. I remember seeing the glass shatter in his teeth and the blood from his lips run down his chin. That scene made a hell of an impact on me.

In Anastasia, there is a scene in a Russian expat cafe in Paris in which Brynner plays guitar with a Gypsy dance and musical group. I was reminded of an album I purchased in 1968 of Brynner playing Gypsy songs. It is titled The Gypsy and I: Yul Brynner sings Gypsy songs. I still have it – I never get rid of my vinyl.

He played the Russian 7-string guitar and was part Romani (Gypsy) himself. The Romani – Roma people - don't particularly like being called Gypsy, because of the negative connotation the word and name imply but it is impossible to avoid. I saw a terrific documentary at last years Starz Denver Film Festival titled A People Uncounted which delves into the story of the Roma people, historically and presently.

So now, I have to dig out my album and play some Yul Brynner Gypsy music. Maybe my favorite song on the album: Two Guitars.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Celebrity Chefs

In Sunday's New York Times Business section was a piece on Marcus Samuelsson. He is the chef/owner and driving force behind the restaurant Red Rooster Harlem. The piece examined him as a chef, a food/cooking entrepreneur and a brand. In addition to Red Rooster he has five other restaurants and has a line of cookware coming soon from Macy's (Macy's has ended its association with Martha Stewart).

I'm a food television junkie (well I may be a food junkie too, but not junk food so I guess that just makes me a foody): The Food Network, Cooking Channel, BBQ University and other random cooking shows. As a result I am very familiar with today's crop of celebrity chefs. They populate these programs and Samuelsson has been one of them. He had been a rising star in Manhattan's restaurant scene but his appearances on these 'cooking' shows has elevated his profile.

We have had a lot of celebrity chefs over the years: Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Paul Prudhomme, James Beard, etc. But the phenomenon has now gone beyond chefs as only restaurant owners or cookbook authors. They are now branding themselves and expanding their food empires to include restaurants, cookware, cookbooks, even prepared foods. They are building multi-million dollar businesses.

I lived in Los Angeles when Wolfgang Puck opened his first Spago, the one on Sunset Blvd, in 1982. He has parlayed that into a brand and a very lucrative business. There are Spago's everywhere. He even has one in terminal 7 at LAX. He was the model for the modern group of celebrity chefs but many of them are taking it farther, faster. Samuelsson is a good example.

As I said, I am a food television show junkie. And it is the proliferation of these shows on cable (and to a certain degree public television) that has given these chefs the kind of exposure they might not otherwise be able to attain and that has allowed them to grow their brand so much more quickly. In the past (when Puck was growing) you had to gain notoriety by writing successful cookbooks and operating successful restaurants in places like L.A. or New York, and overtime the reputation would build and could be leveraged for more success.

Mr. Samuelsson is still young but he has come a long way. He was born in Ethiopia but was raised by foster parents in Sweden (thus the surname). He has cooked his way to great success so far, but that has also been accompanied by some excellent business acumen and winning personalities. That is also true of his celebrity chef peers.

I think it is time for me to cook.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Rambling thoughts - Crist, Hamlisch, DiCaprio, 3D and the Oscars

Marvin Hamlisch and Judith Crist have passed away. Judith Crist at 90 lived a long and productive life. Hamlisch was only 68. He wrote wonderful melodies. One of the great musicals, A Chorus Line and one of my favorite films, The Way We Were, had wonderful musical accompaniment because of the wonderful melodies he wrote.

Judith Crist was one of perhaps two or three film critics to have a significant and long-lasting impact on film (Pauline Kael, another). I never met her, but she was a close friend of a friend of mine, Shirley Sealy. Shirley, early in her career wrote for the Denver Post (her father, Ira, was the head color photographer for the Post, as well). She moved to New York years ago where she still lives and writes. She has had an interesting life in her own right. I should write about her soon.

It would be interesting to think how Crist might have reacted to a 3D film version of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Obviously I have not seen this film (It has now been delayed for release from Christmas of this year until the summer of 2013) but I am having great difficulty imagining it. This great American novel has had numerous film and television treatments – some good, some less so but to think that somehow it can be improved with 3D glasses leaves me mystified. Do I really need to see Leonardo DiCaprio in 3D as Jay Gatsby?

Targeting an audience that 3D normally targets may be problematic if you can’t find a way to put more car chases, gun fights or other pyrotechnics in it.

Finally, the odyssey of the Oscar host continues. The Oscars, suffering from severe boredom syndrome, can’t seem to find the magic. Last year’s host shuffle continues. The Academy had floated the idea of Jimmy Fallon hosting the Oscars next year, but he has declined – flat out.

I guess we will all still watch the Oscars, but sometimes I wonder why.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lost luggage

Good news on the baggage front. In 2011, according to SITA (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques) which looks into such things, 99.1% of airline-checked luggage was delivered to the right place at the right time. That is a 20% improvement over 2010 and means a savings of $650 Million to airlines – good news for airlines. And for those that check bags, that in the past may have been lost or delayed, it is also good news. However, the bad news is that most of the people checking bags on domestic airlines are paying a fee to have that bag transported. What does that mean to airlines? $3.36 BILLION. That is what those fees generated for airlines in 2011. So that is a net gain to airlines of $4 Billion in 2011.

Because of the bag fees fewer bags are being checked and more are being carried on, creating another se set of problems. Now the fight is for bin space, particularly in the back of the plane. Because of service reductions, more people with more carryon bags are being crammed onto fewer flights.

The improvement in baggage handling is due in large measure to greater and better use of technology – the scanning of baggage tags at every point in the process. Delta, in particular has been a leader in this.

The big problem continues to be the transfer of bags from one flight to another – that’s place where something can still go wrong. This is exacerbated by the fact that because many flights are cancelled, over booked or delayed, the chances of misconnects are increased. But even if the passenger is able to make the connection, the luggage may not.

I try at all costs to avoid checking a bag but sometimes it is not.

I only had one really serious lost luggage incident. About fifteen years ago I travelled to Mexico City for a week’s vacation. My checked suitcase did not get to Mexico City with me. I called the airline, but they could not seem to figure out where my suitcase was. I was told to call back. That became a regular routine for me: call the airline, no result. Finally, I was told that my suitcase was in San Diego and would be on the next flight to Mexico City.

It wasn’t. Nor was it on any subsequent flight that I was always assured that it would be.

Finally on the day I was returning to the States, my suitcase arrived.

I still have a very nice – and pricey - shirt that I bought in the hotel gift shop.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dark knight Rises 3 weeks number one. A trend?

This weekend marked the 3rd weekend in a row that the Dark Knight Rises was number one at the box office. This is that this seems to be part of a trend with summer Blockbuster films.

The summer is one of the seasons that the studios see as an opportunity to generate significant revenue for a blockbuster film. Key to that is the performance on opening weekend, which is why studios spend so much on advertising and print costs to ensure that the film is in as many theatres as possible and that there are as many ‘butts in seats’ as possible in those theatres on opening weekend.

Historically this summer season would see a particular film open as number one and then on a subsequent weekend would be replaced as number one by another blockbuster.

However over the last few of years that pattern seems to be changing. Some films are now staying atop the box office chart for two or three weekends and there are more of those in a season – meaning that fewer new releases are ever number one.

Comparing the same spring/summer period (last weekend in April to first weekend in August) in different years we have seen that fewer films are dominating more weekends.

For instance, in 2007 between the weekends of April 27 to the weekend of August 3, thirteen films topped the weekend box office chart. Of those, two, Spiderman 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End each were number one two weekends in a row everyone else was number one only on its opening weekend. That was a typical pattern.

For the same period between 2010 and to date in 2012 31 films opened over 46 weekends. Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Thor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Think like a Man and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, each was number one for two weekends in a row.

Shrek Forever After, Inception, Marvels the Avengers and now Dark Knight Rises have each been number one for three weekends in a row.

Studios have for some time been using what they call the ‘tent pole’ strategy: Putting all their eggs in one or two baskets, for instance, in hopes of getting a mega-hit for one or both. Now it appears the strategy is not just to dominate opening weekend but maintain that domination even longer. That may also mean concentrating on one film and devoting all necessary resources to it. It is expensive to put a film in three or four thousand theatres on opening weekend. The advertising juggernaut necessary is expensive and so is the cost of producing three or four thousand prints of the film. The studio not only needs to recoup the original cost of production but all these collateral costs. Staying number one longer can help that even though, studios only see about half of gross ticket sales.

Dark Knight Rises saw its box office drop by 61% its second weekend and 41% this past weekend, but it is still number one and still generating more revenue than other films currently in distribution.

Topics for another day: Is the ‘tent pole’ strategy truly viable? Are movies generally really profitable? Is there a better business model for motion picture production?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Who should Hollywood be making movies for?

I just read an interview with Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. They both have small roles in the new Batman movie and are 79 and 75 respectively. Their age was a partial subject of the interview during which they 'pitched' the idea of them doing a 'buddy' movie together about a couple of retired police detectives coming out of retirement to solve a crime.

Would that movie get made? Could that movie get made? If it did I would certainly go see it.

In the past Hollywood has always bet almost exclusively on films aimed at a very young demographic. In fact they have bet on an even narrower slice of that demographic: young males.

Today, that is a mistake. That is not to say that demographic is not important, it is to say that there is a wider and growing audience out there that is ignored at the industry's financial peril.

Frequent moviegoers drive the industry. Frequent moviegoers are those that go to a movie at least once a month. This group makes up only 10% of the population but buy half of all movie tickets sold. This is a key group for the industry.

In 2011 for the U.S./Canadian market 18-24 year olds made up 19% of frequent moviegoers that was down from 2010 when they made up 21% of frequent moviegoers. But the 25-39 demographic went from 22% in 2010 to 28% in 2011.

More importantly to this discussion is the fact that in 2011 the 60+ demographic makes up 12% of the frequent moviegoer population and the 50-59 demographic makes up 9%. That is a combined 21% of frequent moviegoers.

Something else to remember. This older demographic is part of the Baby Boom generation.

When the recording industry in the 1960s and 70s was focusing a young demographic, it was the Baby Boom generation. When the motion picture industry in the 1960s and 70s was focusing on a young demographic, it was the Baby Boom generation.

As that generation moved through older demographics, the industries didn't follow. The industries continued, for instance to focus on 18-24 but over time, that large body of the population (78 Million) was no longer 18-24. Because of the size of the generation it took a while for the generation to no longer be represented in that younger demographic and so the industries could continue, with some success to target the demographic. That is now changing, in fact has changed.

Boomers were raised on movies. It is in our DNA. We will still go to movies and go frequently if there is something we want to see in a theatre in which we are comfortable.

The last couple of years is proving that out. Films like the King's Speech and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are drawing older audiences in good numbers. And while the 21% of frequent moviegoers in 2011 that this older demographic represents, their sheer numbers is even more important. If the primary audience of a film is a 50+ audience, that population is huge compared to the past.

So, Hollywood, give us, in this older demographic, a clean and comfortable theatre, with nice amenities (having the opportunity to have a glass of wine) and a feature film that is well written, well-acted, witty or serious or both, and is reliant more on story and character than pyrotechnics and we will come.

Oh, and if it is a buddy movie about a couple of retired detectives starring Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, that will be even better.

P.S. In reflecting on my blog post yesterday about the Sight and Sound list of top 10 films, it is interesting to note that none of the films on the list was made after 1963.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Vertigo up - Kane Down

Citizen Kane has lost another election. Rosebud is thrown in the fire again. Vertigo doesn’t fall down, it rises up. The Sight and Sound poll is out and after fifty years as the number one film on the poll, Citizen Kane has been topped by Vertigo.

Sight and Sound is a monthly magazine published by the British Film Institute. Each month it reviews EVERY film released that month and each decade it surveys an international group of film professionals (critics, academics, directors, etc.). They are asked to list their top 10 films. This year there were 886 individuals surveyed. From those surveys is compiled the top 50 greatest films of all time. The Sight and Sound poll is considered by many to be the most important poll of its kind.

Vertigo over Citizen Kane? I’m not certain I would rank them that way. Certainly Vertigo is an excellent film. I have had occasion to see it a lot lately (seems to be running almost constantly on HBO) and while each viewing has increased my admiration for the film, I wouldn’t rank it above Citizen Kane. The richness and texture of Kane is so strong and the performances uniformly great. I like Kim Novak, but I’ve often wondered what Grace Kelly would have been like in that role.
The top 10 of the 50 also includes The Searchers – John Ford’s greatest western and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001 is not only a great film but one that had real impact on filmmaking. I remember seeing it at the Warner 70 theatre on Hollywood Blvd in June of 1968. I was knocked out.

This year’s poll is the magazines 70th, it began publishing in 1932.
I am listing the top 10 from Sight and Sound. Can you agree with the list? Is your favorite there or is it missing?

1. Vertigo – Alfred Hitchcock, 1958
2. Citizen Kane – Orson Welles, 1941
3. Tokyo Story – Ozu Yasujiro, 1953
4. La Regle Du jeu (The Rules of the Game) – Jean Renoir, 1939
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – FW Mumau, 1927
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Stanley Kubrick, 1968
7. The Searchers – John Ford, 1956
8. Man with a Movie Camera – Dziga Vertov, 1929
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc – Carl Dreyer, 1927
10. 8 ½ - Federico Fellini, 1963

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Over the River – delay and disappointment

Christo has announced that the Over the River installation on the Arkansas river in Southern Colorado will be delayed another year. While I understand the necessity of this, I am nonetheless disappointed. I have been looking forward to this for some time.

I have seen two other Christo and Jeanne-Claude installations, Fences in Northern California and the Valley Curtain in Rifle Gap, Colorado. I was fortunate enough to get to Rifle Gap the day the Curtain went up. The next day strong winds forced the removal.

The reason for the delay is ongoing litigation by those that would stop the project. Because the project will take two years to complete, materials would have to be ordered soon in order for it to be completed in 2014. Christo does not want to order those materials until all legal impediments have been swept away.

So now it will be 2015.

It is truly unfortunate that the artistic value of this installation, not to mention the economic value, is being delayed. Many of us are working hard to make Denver and Colorado an arts tourism destination, this project will go a long way to helping that.

Christo has one other project in the works, The Mastaba in Abu Dhabi. The Mastaba, a pyramid like sculpture made from 410,000 multi-colored oil barrels. If realized it would be taller than the Great Pyramid at Giza and the largest sculpture in the world. It would also be the only permanent installation Christo has ever done.

The Mastaba was conceived in 1977, yet is progressing very slowly. Christo is 77 and with word today of the death of Gore Vidal, we are reminded that our time here is finite. Whether Mastaba can be realized remains to be seen, but we are so close with Over the River any more delay to that installation would be terrible.

Christo is used to delays and is very sanguine about it all. I am more impatient, but am trying to be sanguine about it as well.