Archive for April, 2010


Blatant Nepotism

I figure that it’s best to just put it right out there…this food recommendation is definitely, absolutely, positively…about my sister’s new restaurant, ANNIE’S BANANNIES. Therefore, I can and should be accused of favoritism and bias. And you’d be right. I couldn’t be more proud of her, starting out in a new business in this rotten economic climate. She’s incredibly brave, more brave than I am in that way, that’s for sure, but she’s got a product that she believes in, a unique dessert, and she’s putting it out there, come heck or high water. And there’s a lot of high water, too, as it’s in Rehoboth, DE, just a block off the beach.

But, my personal bias toward my sister, and her fantabulous frozen banana dessert concoction, doesn’t prevent it from being one of my favorite desserts, so, I feel I am able to justify promoting it, shamelessly, on my blog. Why have a blog if you can’t use it to write about what you want? Right?

Her store is not, however, in DC, which is supposed to be a perimeter demarcation for the blog, but as Rehoboth is a very popular summer destination, locally, and a mere two and a half hour commute… well, for a dessert this good, and good for you, too, it may be well worth a day trip!
Annie’s place is a sure-fire place for anyone down in Rehoboth, to find a delicious frozen fruit treat at a reasonable price. It’s made from a 100% natural source: bananas. No sugar added. I mean it. The banana is frozen solid and put through a professional juicer so that when it comes out it is the consistency of frozen yogurt. It can be eaten just that way. It has a very delicate, sweet flavor that almost everyone likes, even those who are not banana fans.

Before trying this, my banana pie/tart post aside, I wouldn’t have called myself a banana groupie. But I like this. It is the perfect vehicle for any number of delicious toppings from Annie’s fully stocked fixin’s bar. She offers many wittily named combos: Grannie’s Banannies – Banana with graham crackers and whipped cream, Straw Nannie – Banana with Fresh Strawberries and Strawberry Puree, Mocha Nannie – Banana with Chocolate Covered Expresso Beans and Chocolate Syrup (for the adult palate), and so on. Or you can fix your own. All her purees are made from fresh or frozen fruit, only sweetened with agave, and all the rest of the sugared products are labeled clearly, so parents searching for a sugar free treat for the kids can be fully aware of exactly what they are getting. It’s great for lactose free and gluten free diets, too, (barring the graham crackers, of course).

So, everyone can find what they are looking for, and I really hope that you go and try it out. The address is #9, 1st Street (between Wilmington and Rehoboth Avenues) Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971. One block off the beach, one block off the main drag. She can’t be in a better place, and you can’t find a better tasting healthy dessert…even if I do say so myself, she is my little sister after all!

Hours: Starting Memorial Day weekend 11AM-11PM on the weekends, 3PM-11PM during the week.
After Labor Day, reducing hours.
Address: 9 First Street,
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
Phone: 302-260-9875
Annie's Banannies on Urbanspoon

EDITOR’S NOTE
Good news on the banana front…Annie is adding her second store, and it’s much closer to home! Look for a brand spanking new Annie’s Banannies opening for the summer in the Light Street Pavillion in downtown Baltimore, Maryland!

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Reviewing The Joneses

Credit: Free images from acobox.com
[NOTE: Pictures down until I find a new provider.]

Ever get the feeling, say when you see a blouse with a $350 price tag, that either a) the world is completely crazy, or b) that there’s some sort of marketing conspiracy going on to urge all of us lemmings into “good living” bankruptcy? There’s probably a good argument for both, but the second is the foundation of the plot for the new film The Joneses, out in wider release last week.

I’d be hard pressed to categorize this film, smoothly directed by first time helmer Derrick Borte. it certainly isn’t a full-out comedy, but it’s very funny. It’s not suspense film, while it is a bit scary in its judgment on the inability of the public at large to tell the difference between what they want and what they actually need to be happy. I hesitate to call it a social commentary, though, because it may scare viewers off, and just because it has you leaving the theater thinking, after laughing quite a bit, that isn’t really a bad thing, is it?

I went into the theater, thinking that it was about actors making a reality show designed by marketers using a “perfect family” to showcase their products. It’s a natural assumption, product placement in film and television has made worldwide celebrities of people like Paris, Nicole and the Kardashian clan, who have few noticeable talents other than wearing clothes well. But in this film, the ever-so-perfect Jones family moves into a wealthy neighborhood specifically to spread the Gospel of New Toys to a relatively unsuspecting public. They are sent by what seems to be a global marketing conglomerate which has hand picked this “family” from a pool of physically beautiful salespeople to be of maximum impact on this neighborhood.

Husband Steve (David Duchovny) has endless spare time for golf and showing off his new drivers, new watches, new cars. Impossibly toned 40-something trophy wife (Demi Moore, of course) goes to the salon, the spa, the gym, attracting a parade of followers, soon aping her every fashion look. Delightfully charming and pleasant teens, Mick and Jenn (this description alone, should have branded them “fake”, don’t you think?) (Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard) attract all the popular kids around them immediately, and everyone wants what they have. That’s the plan, right? To quote Steve in the film, “The one who dies with the most toys, wins?”

But this family is fake. Their display of perfection is monitored and controlled from their home’s carefully designed décor to the cars they drive and even the clothes they wear each day. Loss of personal spontaneity is a small price to pay for a fun, lucrative job, isn’t it? And no one can look that suave and groomed all the time without help, right? You scratch the couturier’s back, they scratch yours…would the Duke of Windsor have been so famous after abdication without Saville Row? I wonder

But back to this “family”. The most interesting part of the film for me was watching the illusion of perfection fall apart as the real-life consequences of their actions become clear to them. Borte shows us the truth that, ironically, the more a family fights, screws up and repairs itself, the more of a real family they become.

And it’s amazing that a first time director gets so much out of his cast; these are more sensitive performances than I’ve seen from Moore and Duchovny in a long time. Moore is icily perfect as the business woman when her “audience” isn’t around requiring her to be warm, yet subtly showing us her character’s insecurities as the plot unfolds. Duchovny shines as Steve, who is our eyes into this world, taking us along with him from happy-go-lucky ex-golf pro, to focused sales-magician and then gradually showing us his disillusionment as the team’s scheme peaks and falls apart.

Hollingsworth and Heard are strong in their roles as the “kids”, especially in showing their weaknesses. Both characters seem trapped in roles that they feel they have to play even though it’s almost inevitable that they won’t be able to do it for long. Though her part as the corporation rep is a relatively small one, it’s nice to see Lauren Hutton back on the screen, wearing a tough as steel quality with as much style as Bacall, a few decades back.

And I’m always thrilled to see Gary Cole used so effectively. Often used in television, more recently as the reliable go-to guy for strong second leads, he’s never gone as far in films as he should have. I don’t know why. The camera loves him, and he has always given unsuspecting layers of intensity and complexity to any role he’s taken, plus a wickedly dry sense of humor. Who else would have done the swimming pool scene in this film half as bravely, and heck, who could have worn the infamous Mike Brady curly perm with such a straight face? The only problem I have with his casting, personally is believing him to be an under-appreciated husband. Is his wife blind, or what? When is Midnight Caller coming out on DVD???

Wrapping it up, I would hope that The Joneses finds a wider scope than the niche audience it’s art house scheduling suggests they expect. Showing at the Landmark Theatres (E Street and Bethesda Row) and the AMC art venues (Shirlington, Georgetown and Hoffman Center) and Cinema Arts in Fairfax, I want you to track it down and let me know what you think…is there actually an official plot out there manipulating us as the final credits shots suggest (cute bit, Derrick)? If not, should we start one? Sounds profitable…

I can’t belive my bad luck! The first time, at least in my awareness of his work, that Sukhwinder Singh is in town with his own musical tour, and I’m scheduled to work! You may not know it, but this is an actual verifiable tragedy. Sukhwinder Singh is one of the most popular playback singers in current Hindi music, but more importantly, his voice hits me in a very elemental place which can often, though I have no idea what he is actually singing about (love, I’m assuming…given my involuntary heart palpitations) reduce me to an emotional state of romantic sticky-sweetness roughly the consistency of gulab jamun. Every time. Darn him.

You’d never know to look at him. Nice face, pleasant, even, but they don’t pay him to look good…they pay him to SING! And boy, does he deliver. In films, his voice often dubs in the singing voices for the most popular film heroes, sending all of their female fans over the edge of the Prem Kahani Abyss (Love Story Canyon, so to speak). How can a man who seems so wardrobe-challenged (no, I mean it, google his pictures… he’s gone through so many different looks on his search to look current and trendy that he may have lost his way completely…), how can he hold me (a costumer, no less) in complete thrall, just hearing a half dozen notes from his golden voice. Similar in effect to the rough-hewn tones of Nicholas Reyes, of Gipsy Kings fame, but perhaps more modulated, Sukhwinder sings as if he’s channeling the voice of Nature itself. Listen… Don’t ask me what’s going on the video, I have no idea who most of them are.

Sukhwinder has many wonderful songs out there to sample, the two most familiar to US audiences are the final song from Slumdog Millionaire, “Jai Ho”

and earlier, the very famous “Chaiyya Chaiyya” video from Mani Ratnam’s amazing film, Dil Se. Spike Lee liked the song so much he used it to bookend his film Inside Man. The vision dancing on top of the train is Shah Rukh Khan (and Mallaika Arora Khan, too, of course–no relation)

Though Sukhwinder can write and produce his own wonderful works, like Ghar Aja, above, some of my favorites are his collaborations, most notably with A.R. Rahman in Slumdog, Taal, Meenaxi and Lagaan but also with Vishal Bhardwaj whose film Omkara really showcases Sukhwinder’s voice. Here’s the most popular hit from it, the Beedi song. Actors: Bipasha Basu, Saif Ali Khan and Vivek Oberoi.

I’d list more links, but we’ll get Youtubed out. If you’d like more, check out the following links, just add the http://www. thing in front.

Nasha Hi Nasha Hai:
youtube.com/watch?v=I1M8ko3jOMc

Pyar Hota Hai:
youtube.com/watch?v=CeFbCTb5y1Q

Ramta Jogi:
youtube.com/watch?v=hBl7Ito6W7Q

And if you’re interested, go see his show at DAR Constution Hall on Saturday, May 8th…if I can’t be there maybe some of you can go for me. I’ll probably be the gulab jamun hanging out at the stage door with her ear stuck to it (Eh…actually, gulab jamun’s shouldn’t even have ears…What a visual…), if I can swing by after my show gets out. Darn that paycheck…don’t suppose I could call in sick?..No, Susie, I won’t. Tickets at, of course, http://www.JaiHoTickets.com.

UPDATE: I’m devastated…I bit the bullet, I bought a ticket to the event, even though I knew that I could only attend half the event. I went to work, alarmingly overdressed for theater work, yet still primarily in black. I looked great…or as great as they will ever see me at work (it takes a lot out of me, at this age, let me tell you!). I rush over to DAR, find a parking place alongside…now, that begins to worry me. No noise, no parking problems…all is not as it should be. I walk to the front entrance, dark as a tomb. I wandered around to the stage door and ring the buzzer. “That show was canceled this morning, ma’am.” What? When did that happen? I only bought my ticket three days before!

Sigh…so close, and yet, so far from my musical idol… I am needless to say, a bit perturbed. Online it looks as if the concert has been rescheduled, but no news is posted except the date, June 5th. Same venue. We’ll see if it all rings true. Gulab jamun, signing off for now.

ScreenWrithing 101

[NOTE: My photo source fell apart and removed or randomly posted new and not always apropos photos. Looking for a new source. Sorry if it’s confusing.]

No, it’s not a typo. I’m making a point, or rather a stab at trying to define why today’s film comedies in the US constantly leave me disgruntled and dissatisfied when I leave the theater. I want to analyze it, and look back over films that I have enjoyed and find out when and why I stopped enjoying them overall. There have been exceptions, of course, but let me tell you, they are few and far between.

The box office itself is in the midst of an upswing of sorts, so perhaps I am in the minority, or perhaps just too old. The financial pundits keep insisting on telling me that I, of the over thirty set, don’t count where prime box office numbers are concerned. I’d like to think that we just haven’t found enough comedies out there to draw us in. Comedies these days tend to be in an ever-burgeoning genre that I am forced to call Cinema of Bodily Fluids.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=Up+animated+film+pixar&iid=4776202″ src=”c/3/b/c/Cannes_Film_Festival_f16a.jpg?adImageId=12459588&imageId=4776202″ width=”234″ height=”352″ /]If it doesn’t squirt, squish or scream and writhe in either ecstasy or embarrassment, it won’t hit number one, we’re told. The only non-cringe inducing comedies, or what used to be called sweet comedies, that are still allowed to leave Hollywood’s hallowed gates are the animated ones, like Pixar’s UP! We are allowed to respond to them, as they are aimed, ostensibly at our children. Needless to say, they are breaking all previously known records for adult attendance of these “kid-flicks” and even, like UP, get nominated for Oscars.

Don’t get me wrong, I know sex can be humorous as well as exciting. I get the premise that negative behavior can be giggle-producing, but what I’m asking is why it has to be the only type of film comedy that we produce? Subtlety and wit can have their place, too, even though it is increasingly hard to find writers and directors who seem to be able to manipulate it with just the right comedic touch.

Basically, the most satisfying comedies for me, follow a traditional pattern, call it Formula One. The plots introduce you to a character or characters that you hopefully like, or at least understand and relate to, to the extent that you can see their potential. Then they are given a quest or obstacles to overcome. How they do it or fail to do it will show us who they are and who they are going to become. All the humor happens by mistake or misunderstanding, and not through intentional perpetration by the characters on each other. When the plot’s twists unravel neatly and our heroes come through their travails successfully, so do we; and so we leave our seats with that final sigh of satisfaction that lasts.

In Formula Two, the more prevalent these days, the pattern is similar, but is coming from a different place altogether. You still recognize the characters, but all the humor is based on a sense of shared inadequacy, the lowest common denominator. You know they’ll steal it/step on it/swear at it because you would, yourself. How can they/we resist the lure of bad behavior? How can we not laugh at the inevitability of that banana peel? But even though we laugh, we know the joke’s on us, too. Then the humor fades as fast as a smile.

Okay, to test it, let’s take one of the best of Old Hollywood’s comedy pairs, say, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, and try to put them in a contemporary Formula Two-style film like The Hangover or Something About Mary. Can you see it? Neither can I. Could you instead, twist their classic films to make them follow the rules of Formula Two? What do you come up with? Bringing Up Boogers? His Ho Friday? No, even Cary Grant couldn’t make that one play, and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t want him to try.

Kate: “Dexter, this is definitely NOT yar.”
Cary: “Red, I think we need another script.”

Giving it a trial, I went to a few films recently to see how they used these two formulas. I tried to squash my natural aversion to physical comedy, and see what everyone was finding so fascinating. But I thought it was okay to go easy on myself and start with a low-physical level, calmer film, first. Right before the Oscars, I went to see Up in the Air with George Clooney. Now, George is never hard to look at, and he’s adept with comedies. The film was well made, it was subtle, it was, indeed funny…but it’s really a Formula Two, wrapped up in an attractive package. George is a corporate hatchet man who flies almost 365 days a year going from corporation to corporation whittling down the human deadwood in the cleanest way possible. He prides himself by being able to do this professionally and without emotional involvement, with the corresponding low level of angst all around. He is rudely awakened when his boss tells him his chosen way of life is about to be downsized, too, and he will be slotted into a little cubicle with a computer for his “hatchet” and no more free-winging lifestyle for him. I found Clooney’s character’s choices and lifestyle alienating in the extreme. I couldn’t identify with him, and then bad behavior became the basis of all the humor. He tried to change his pattern halfway through, but when he met another like himself he went back to hide in the skies again, safe in his untouchability.

Two weeks back I went to see Hot Tub Time Machine because of favorable reviews and from my fondness for John Cusack. Cusack has always delivered portraits of sweet, interesting oddballs from the days of Say Anything, to Bullets Over Broadway, Grosse Point Blank, and Pushing Tin through to the extreme oddness of Being John Malkovich. He makes you identify with him in his “everyman-ness”. Natural Formula One potential, right? I’m not so sure. The premise of three down on their luck buddies (plus one practically under age nephew, to the left in the picture above) going back to the ‘80s to fix their sorry lives was funny the first time I saw it, back in the ‘80s…Back to the Future did it better and without underage drinking and full frontal nudity. Imagine that.

To give them their due, John and the boys give some sweet performances here and there amidst that alluvial plain of alcohol, excrement and hot tub water they are wading through in HTTM, but as they changed their lives without changing the behavior that caused their problems, there was no character progression, and I didn’t really like them in the end. Formula Two elements killing the Formula One bits. And Thomas Lennon’s uncredited cameo appearance near the beginning of HTTM in the dog grooming shop didn’t help, as it just made me compare this film unfavorably to last year’s much funnier 17 Again, a Formula One disguised by Lennon and Zac Efron’s inspired slapstick camouflage to masquerade as a Two.

Steve Carell and Tina Fey’s first joint venture, Date Night, managed to deliver another very creditable stab at a Formula One. I hadn’t expected it from Mr. 40 Yr. Old Virgin, but I shouldn’t be so pessimistic, it seems. Steve and Tina work brilliantly together combining their shared background in improv comedy to great effect, playing an ordinary middle-class suburban couple just trying to get a fun night away from the kids in the big city. But their quest goes comically awry when just a few random spontaneous choices send them careening into imminent danger and instant hilarity. Yep, Formula One again, excluding one scene of goofy pole dancing, et al that even I laughed at because it was…so wrong. Funny…not Some Like it Hot classic, but definitely a sure fire Date Night, if you’ll pardon my making the obvious pun.

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? Starring Ajay Devgan, Paresh Rawal and Konkona Sen Sharma

The last movie I’d recommend is an Indian offering which is probably out of the local Indian cinemas by now, but as it is a good example of what I’m talking about, it stays in. Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? is a broad comedy starring Ajay Devgan and Konkona Sen Sharma as a happily married couple with an impossibly angelic little boy, who make the mistake of inviting Paresh Rawal, an unexpected guest, to make their home in Mumbai, his own, for an undetermined period. This one-joke premise holds on desperately throughout the first half, and as is typical of a piece this frenetic, I was beginning to lose interest. But in the always romantic style of the true Bollywood screenwriter, the second half softens into a gentle, but hilarious lesson on what the Eternal Guest can teach this middle class couple who have unintentionally lost their roots and sense of family through living in the impersonal big city. That this film succeeds is mostly due to the skill of veteran actor Rawal, who brings us home with smiles and tears as all good Hindi melodramas should. Formula One with subtitles.

So, wrapping up, I do have hope for the future of comedy, but I think we should vote with our feet and hold out for a bit more of a balance between One and Two. We can and should ask for more from our screenwriters. Happy viewing.

This is going to be the first of a proposed series of A.W. recommendations for particular performers that you may or may not have heard of before. People who, for one talent or several, just scream for a wider audience and I’m going to do my small part to make you aware of them, if you’ll allow me.

“Hrithik Who?” I can hear you ask…And as most of India and the greater part of it’s diaspora is already well aware of Hrithik Roshan and his larger than life dance talents, I can speak directly to the unalerted of the American audience. Especially that part of it, like myself, who still yearn fervently and hopelessly for a current day Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire or Tommy Tune. Yes, I know these legends can’t really be touched, but the joy that they brought us should be constantly sought, reached toward, their images held up as an example for our current crop of poppers and lockers.

Indian films are, for me, where our musicals of the fifties and sixties went when they left us; left us, regretting our loss of innocence and the sweetness of young love. Audiences seem to feel ashamed of themselves to admit a craving for just these qualities, and now we have no expression for them here in the US except for in animated films. Well, in Hrithik Roshan (the H isn’t fully pronounced, just lightly brushed by) I have found my song and dance man of those older films, even given the lipsynching by another vocalist, obligatory in popular Indian cinema.

Though, he’s a young man, and it has only been ten years since he stunned the Hindi cinema world in his father’s film Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (Say This is Love), Hrithik has starred in sixteen films with five more in the can or in production. And there doesn’t seem to be any let up in the desire for seeing him on screen or in live stage shows when he does them outside of India.

As far as I know, Hrithik doesn’t choreograph his own work, as Kelly and the others did, but works diligently to achieve an almost effortless fluidity and grace for choreographers like Farah Khan and Prabhu Deva. While Indian choreography may seem a bit unusual to the Hollywood tradition of partner dancing, it is from a rich tradition and can be very satisfying. Cinema dancing in India seems to draw more from a classical Indian dance tradition of soloists in front of back up dancers, emphasizing arm and hip work, rather than a traveling footwork style, as in western ballroom based styles that we are more familiar with.

And Hrithik, though he’s quite an eyeful, is not just a pretty face with gifted feet; in each film he has been seriously working on his acting craft, not always considered a necessary skill in a film industry almost exclusively built on a nepotistic tradition. In each film he takes on he tackles another challenge, whether it’s giving us the first successful Indian Sci Fi film Koi…Mil Gaya or tackling a lush historical romance like Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar (both performances were awarded a Filmfare Award for Best Male Performance).

And throughout all of them, he’s given us the gift of his dancing, and seemingly maintained his own unruffled sweetness and an unexpected attitude of self-deprication. He’s a rare pleasure to watch, and I recommend that you take a gander at some of these video links, and perhaps rent or buy a few of them when you feel the need for that lightness of feet that lightens your heart.

Note: Blockbuster and Netflix both have many of his films available for rent, and to buy, I’d always go via Nehaflix.com (good prices, fast delivery and an fair return policy).

Some of my favorite Hrithik Roshan dances:
“Bole Chudiyaan” from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (with Kareena Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan):

“Jab Dil Miley” from Yaadein (Memories) (also with Kareena):

The circus themed “Baware” from Luck by Chance:

“Dil Laga Na” from Dhoom 2 (with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan):

and my favorite, “Main Aisa Kyun Hoon” from Lakshya, as a young man who feels he never fits in: