TV Shows »Supersizers Go

On The Cooking Channel

If your passionate about history and food look no further than Supersizers Go for a fun serving of both.

Brits Giles Coren and Sue Perkins, a food writer and comedian take on a different era each episode taking on the customs, dress and most importantly food of the time most often from the richest society.

They recreate actual menus from recipe and historical books.

By the end of the week they compare their overall health.

It’s fascinating to see how people used to eat and this is a great companion to the new York Public Library What’s on the Menu project.

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Posted on February 13, 2012

Movies »The White Ribbon

directed by Michael Haneke (2009)

The White Ribbon very much reminds me of a classic “man’s inhumanity towards man” novel taught in high schools and is far more interesting than all the bratty kids reading it will give it credit for. It questions whether man is inherently evil and if you’ve ever seen a Michael Haneke movie, you’ll not be surprised that his answer is yes.

I can even envision the reading comprehension questions at the back of the non existent text book:

1. Who do you think committed all the crimes? And what was their motive?

2. Is the narrator correct in his accusations?

3. What do you think happened to the midwife and her son? What about the Doctor and his family?

All questions I’ve been pondering and frankly wish I had a classroom of people who’ve seen it to discuss.

Several disturbing acts of violence erupt in a small German village before the break out of World War I. From torture to arson, the crimes are as heinous as they are confounding and Haneke, once again proving he’s one the most compelling and daring film makers working today, isn’t as forthcoming as he seems. These troubling times are told through the eyes of a kind school teacher as he falls in love with a local governess, lending a small glimmer of benevolence among the cruelty.

The film is absolutely beautiful, not only is the cinematography stunning and sweeping, but the details of costume and set are superb. This is a cold, severe, yet elegant take on the themes we love so well in Nick Cave’s “The Curse of Millhaven”, Village of the Damned and Lord of the Flies. The children are impeccably cast.

It is available on netflix instant and I hope that will allow it to find a wider audience despite it’s deliberate pace.

Click here for the rest of The White Ribbon

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Posted on May 8, 2011

TV Shows »The Borgias

on Showtime

While in Colorado I caught up with my premium channels and discovered that I liked some things I expected to like (Game of Thrones – more on that soon), hated other things I expected to like (Mildred Pierce – why are you so painfully, obnoxiously boring and ham-fisted?) but I was most surprised by how much I enjoyed the bloody soap opera that is The Borgias. Although, ever since a short stay in Rome in my college years, I have had an interest for Italian history so I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It’s so juicy and tawdry and fascinating and The Borgias gets all that drama just right.

The cast is perfection. Even though Jeremy Irons bears no physical resemblance to Pope Alexander the Third, his portrayal of the corrupt Patriarch who manages to think himself virtuos and wise by making others do his dirty work is a joy to watch. Without him lending his gravitas and subtle humor, the tone of the show wouldn’t settle right. But he is not even the best character!

I have to admit I have a huge crush on the Cardinal son, Cesare (who my mom pointed out has a passing resemblance to Jim if he were dark) and his right hand assassin, my favorite character is portrayed by Sean Harris – who some of you might recognize as a very, very bad police man in the Red Riding Trilogy. Looking every bit like a nightmare and quite a lot like Vincent Van Gogh, Harris has found the role of a lifetime, custom suited to his creepy gaze.

Lucrezia is played with charm and a mischievous streak by the adorably named Holliday Grainger. It’s nice to see former Mrs Val Kilmer Joanne Whalley who I think I last saw in The Singing Detective as the mother and new comer Lotte Verbeek is appropriately lovely to look at as Giulia “the Beautiful” Farnese. Even less central characters are a thrill to see like Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius), Nicholas Rowe (The Young Sherlock Holmes – which I loooved as a kid), Gina McKee (from Mike Leigh movies and Soames’ suffering wife in Forsyte Saga) and Stephen Berkoff (the bad guy from Beverly Hills Cop and a former Brix Pick hunk). The other son? Eh – I just can’t get over his bad hair I guess.

While the show may not be completely historically accurate, much of the intrigue, scandal, plots, murders, affairs, assassinations, and conspiracies did happen; making the poster’s claim “The Original Crime Family” not only a desperate attempt to grab former viewers of The Sopranos but true as well. And really, there is no need for The Borgias to be desperate, even if it gets a slightly slow start, anyone with a penchant for this kind of thing will become an instant fan. I can’t wait to see what wickedness comes next – and even went ahead and ordered Showtime to find out.

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Posted on April 27, 2011

TV Shows »Downton Abbey

Masterpiece Classic

It’s been a while since PBS had a hit on their hands. Not because of the programs, but the programming. Will they air a new series without any advertisements? Sure! How about playing programs out of order or incomplete? Absolutely! And if you missed a new show (like I did the recent Sherlock Holmes) will they refuse to re-air them, but opt for decades old reruns of Keeping Up Appearances instead? Of course!

Sorry, just had to air my grievences.

While I am sure nothing scares Masterpiece Theater (now called Masterpiece Classics) more than being called old fashioned -they would do better with younger audiences by making their shows easy to find and watch instead of dangling Alan Cumming at us.

Shocked I was, then to find Downton Abbey (which I had failed to DVR the first two) was available on Netflix instant. Bravo Masterpiece! It was a brilliant move for an absolutely brilliant show.

While the Upstairs Downstairs genre is well worn, any fan of Gosford Park ( and I can’t imagine anyone who’s seen it not being a fan) will be utterly enchanted with Downton. It’s no surprise that the charming Julian Fellowes, who wrote Gosford, is behind this one. Sets and costumes are great but there’s much more to this one than that. The characters are interesting, the plot sometimes scandalous and the cast is perfection: From a prim, wealthy Maggie Smith to a spiteful, devilish lady’s maid played by Siobhan Finneran.

Set just before the war when families were still constrained by the rigid rules of society, Downton tells the story of the Crawley family, who when losing an heir on the Titanic, are threatened to lose their whole way of living unless Mary, the eldest daughter finds a suitable husband.

If it sounds boring and familiar, fear not. This is vibrant, funny, smart and truly one of the best of the genre. I was so unhappy to reach the end of the series and thrilled to find that its popularity has prompted shooting for a second series.


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Posted on March 4, 2011

Web Sites »Least Wanted

A Flickr Photostream

Browsing through the impressive collection of mug shots from Least Wanted, aka Mark Michaelson is a fascinating trip. I added a few favorites here, but really, you could spend a big chunk of your day going through his flickr albums (and I recommend you set that time aside).

He published portions of his collection in a hardcover book also called Least Wanted and currently creates eye catching street art based on the images.

Click here for the rest of Least Wanted

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Posted on December 3, 2010

Movies »Black Book

directed by Paul Verhoeven (2006)

Black Book is a sexy, entertaining, tiny little explosion of a movie. Telling a supposedly true story about the Dutch resistance during the final months of World War Two, it follows the indomitable cabaret singer Rachel Stein as she flees Nazi traps, bombs, betrayal and spies only to land a key spot within the Gestapo headquarters in Holland, by way of the captain’s bed.

All the lead players are excellent, especially Carice Van Houten who is sparkling, alive and incredibly riveting to watch. Her ruggedly handsome male counterpoints are equally impressive: Sebastian Koch (who you might recognize from The Lives of Others, but looks strangely similar to Verhoeven veteran Jeroen Krabbe) and Thom Hoffman.

As good as a movie as it is though, it was far more straight forward than I expected from Verhoeven, a man who usually adds some unusual flare to his films. While the signature sex and violence were intact, I suppose I was expecting something a bit more off the rails. Still, I was entertained and satisfied once I settled in.
Click here for the rest of Black Book

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Posted on April 11, 2010

Movies »Bright Star

directed by Jane Campion (2009)

There’s a reason some people find the state of contemporary romance films dull, trite, and unwatchable, and for the most part, I’m one of those people. But in the hands of master filmmaker Jane Campion (whose best work is still the bloody skinemax-tastic In the Cut), the tired and staid genre is given fresh life with Bright Star.

Quiet energy radiates from the impressive cast: the beautifully fey and almost disturbingly rail thin Ben Whishaw as poet John Keats and the refreshingly non rail thin, spirited and (please forgive me Reese) quite pretty Abbie Cornish as the love of his life, Fanny Brawne. Filling out the cast – to my complete surprise – was Paul Schneider as fellow poet Charles Armitage Brown, whom you might recognize as Mark Brendanawicz from Parks and Recreation.

So many historical films feel like little more than tight-lipped actors in big costumes pontificating in period accents on museum sets, but there’s a lived-in, natural feel to the settings and the incredible clothing (multi buckle flats and three tiered ruffle collars, please make a come back!) of Bright Star. But don’t get me wrong, Campion’s vision of the period is characteristically stylized and visually romanticized. Crisp white curtains billow with spring breezes from every window, exquisitely serene and simple bedrooms look like paintings of dignified restraint, every garden is overgrown with the most sumptuous wildflowers.

Her signature touch elevates the sometimes slow (it’s just way too long) but sometimes heart-twitteringly romantic (couldn’t help but get flushed watching the first kiss) tale of love and heartbreak that’s been told in some way or another a million times (guess who’s going to die? The one that went out in the cold and came back with a cough!).

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Posted on February 7, 2010

Style Icons: Male »Shah Jahan

Builder of the Taj Mahal

Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal, said of the magnificent structure this:

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator’s glory.

I hope some day to see the popular site myself, which I suppose is more likely than my other wish: to someday have something equally epic built in my honor.

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Posted on February 7, 2010

Style Icons: Male »Jeremy Bentham

jeremy bentham

jeremy bentham-lost


As a social reformer, Jeremy Bentham was the shit. He was, according to Wikipedia, “in favour of individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the end of slavery, the abolition of physical punishment (including that of children), the right to divorce, free trade, usury, and the decriminalization of homosexual acts. He also made two distinct attempts during his life to critique the death penalty”.

If that weren’t achievement in awesomeness enough, the man donated his body to science then had himself stuffed with hay for display. His own, real head was, for a time, on display below his body (it was unable to be permanently attached to the body) but it was the source of too many college pranks to remain accessible.

While the name Jeremy Bentham is familiar to those familiar with Lost (it’s the name Locke traveled under after leaving the island) I was actually introduced to the man, his philosophies and his unique after death requests through a philosophy lecture that aired on PBS.

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Posted on January 17, 2010

Movies »Excalibur

excalibur movieJohn Boorman's grave take on the Arthurian legend, Excalibur, almost never was. The meticulous sets and sweeping wide shot locations were originally intended for an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, but rights could not be obtained. Fans of sword and sorcery and the epic legends of King Arthur should rejoice, as the movie is often beautiful and one of the best films made of its kind.

It lacks the modern technical flair of say, Peter Jackson's Ring trilogy, but here it is a good thing. After seeing so much of it, and so much of it not used in the great ways Jackson did, CGI has become boring. It 's interesting to see actors actually fighting while encumbered by heavy armor.

The movie is close to three hours long and sometimes suffers from it's deliberate pacing and it can take a short while to become accustomed to the strange tone and casting. While seeing a young Helen Mirren (as a mysterious and erotic Morgana Le Fay), Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson is great, the casting of Nigel Terry, who resembles a village idiot as the young Arthur is perplexing.

Still, for all it's flaws is it a must see for fans of the genre and lovers of lush cinematography. I love that the film takes itself seriously and it was both a critical and popular hit when it was released in 1981. You can watch it on demand with Netflix.

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Posted on September 14, 2009

TV Shows »Henry VIII

henry VIII ray winstoneYou may not think it, from his hoodlum roles past,?but Ray Winstone makes a brilliant Henry VIII in this most entertaining television miniseries from a few years back. It's an oft told and adapted tale, but this production which also features a great performance from Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn is the best I have seen.

Angry reviewers, and there always will be angry reviewers online cry with outrage at the lack of historical correctness, on which I can't comment, but if you are not using this as a history lesson and merely want to be entertained, enjoy.

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Posted on September 14, 2009

Movies »Inglourious Basterds

Truth be told, it's been quite awhile since I've been smitten with Mr. Tarantino. I know people love his recent films, but Jackie Brown was the last one to hit home with me. So, I really had no expectations going into Inglourious Basterds and, to my shock, I absolutely loved it.

It's a ballsy, insane movie with pops of extreme violence, unexpected laughs, and cinematic beauty. Not to mention a cast of extremely handsome, strapping young Jews and allies. There were so many armed and bloody men to swoon over, that it will take some time to include them all in my hunks list.

Clearly taking cues from suicide mission military films like The Dirty Dozen and the original Inglorious Bastards, which shares very little with this film except the title and Nazi bad guys, he is equally inspired and paying homage to classic spaghetti westerns – punctuated with the clever use of music by our favorite Ennio Morricone.

It's an odd bag of tricks and the result is all just a little bit off: Mike Myers is strangely cast in a Peter Sellers role (but is his usual old bullshit self) within a fairly straightforward scene, a tense confrontation between old enemies over dessert is interrupted by extreme close ups of fresh whipped cream, and David Bowie's song from Cat People plays over a putting-make-up-on-to-kill-Nazis montage.

Like his revolutionary hit, Pulp Fiction, the movie has a way of knocking you back after you've seen it. In part because of the graphic gore, but moreover – it's a talky, unique and shocking remixing of popular movie genres turned completely inside out. Unlike the typically somber tone of films like Defiance, Tarantino actually rewrites history so that we all get the bloody revenge we always wanted in an extremely satisfying, cinematic way.

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Posted on August 24, 2009

TV Shows »The Dark Ages

dark agesThe concept of the Dark Ages, a time when mankind actually reverted – forgetting the advances of one of the most advances civilizations in history, has always been fascinating and mystifying to me.

Sadly, most History Channel series that I've tried to watch fail to quench my curiosity regarding historical events, but The Dark Ages was not disappointing. Neither dry nor too jazzed up and hip-ified, their collection of experts and recreations offer an insightful exposition on the time of plagues and superstition.

The series is available on netflix on demand.

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Posted on July 27, 2009

TV Shows »Tipping the Velvet

tipping the velvetIt's been years since I've seen Tipping the Velvet, but this lush and lusty saga is pretty unforgettable. Based on the debut novel by Sarah Waters of the same name, the BBC adaptation is in the capable hands of adaptation king Andrew Davies. Set in Victorian England, the story is a rambling and expansive look at lesbian life during the era.

Nan, a spirited young woman goes from poor oyster house wench to stage performer to kinky rent “boy”, to kept woman and more. She's played by Rachael Stirling, who may be better known to you as the lovely daughter of Diana Rigg.

Lots of great costumes and settings abound and an entire world that rarely makes it to the big or little screen comes alive in this acclaimed series that is available on DVD.

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Posted on June 22, 2009

Movies »Age of Innocence

the age of innocenceIt's very odd that I never saw The Age of Innocence before: it came out when I was sixteen, an age at which I'd watch anything new (particularly something new by Martin Scorsese) and particularly something romantic, but most curiously, I adored Michelle Pfieffer (as you'll read in this week's style icon section), she was a kind of childhood idol of mine, strangely enough.

Still, it was not until this weekend that I actually saw the adaptation of Edith Wharton's classic tortured romance thwarted by social codes. With Saul Bass's excellent budding flowers on lace introduction, it was easy for me to settle into the mood.

Pfieffer, I'm happy to report, has almost never looked as radiant and Daniel Day Lewis is absolutely smoldering. Even Noni is cast well (which is rare) as a bright faced, simple women to whom women's emancipation is unfathomable. The rest of the cast is equally perfect and includes some of my favorite character actors like Jonathan Pryce, Richard E. Grant and Sian Phillips (who you might recognize from a far juicier role in the fantastic I, Claudius).

The gentile New York City of the late nineteenth century is impeccably presented by Scorsese and all of its finery. Shot of exterior sets (the mansion by Central Park is mind blowing), interiors (drool over the rarely used ballroom), and food, food food are an opulent feast for the eyes (see a photo essay of all the food in the movie I put together here).

The stifling social codes may be the things of modern women's nightmare, but there's some appeal to the diamond crusted archery brooches, white gloves worn at dinner, petit fours, and drawing rooms stuffed with brocades, gold and paintings of cheetahs.

Despite the long running time, I still found it to be sweepingly romantic, but be wary of watching it with those who are not fans of historical romance; this was one of the few movies Jim and I have disagreed on.

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Posted on June 1, 2009

Movies »Doubt

doubtDoubt centers around an acting tour de force that never becomes annoying the way a lot of movies that feature acting tour de forces usually do (read: Rachel Getting Married). I really didn't have a lot of interest in seeing this one and think it was too mildly presented to audiences and advertised as something much more boring than it is. True, it's comprised of speeches and monologues (as you probably know, it's adapted by John Patrick Shanley from his own renowned stage play), but I found it completely compelling.

Much of the credit goes to the ever wonderful Meryl Streep – a woman who knows how to act with an accent (in this case Bronx, 1960s) who's so good so often that one takes her for granted and forgets her talents, or at least only recalls recent performances in Mama Mia and Prime over her roles in Kramer vs Kramer and Angels in America. But the credit extends to Philip Seymour Hoffman too (man who, when he's good, he's exceptional), this is one of his best roles in years (I also personally loved him most in Boogie Nights) and the small supporting cast, including Amy Adams doing wide-eyed as only she can and Viola Davis, are great.

Some critics have complained about the film's 'staginess', but it never bothered me. I thought it was a thought provoking still life of a problem that we now know has been far reaching and horrible. It plays with your emotions and prejudices and you find yourself in doubt as the plot progresses. The amiable characters that you like and want to believe may in fact be monsters, and those that are less likable and even frightening could actually be the only voice of reason. This was a real surprise.

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Posted on May 18, 2009

Books »The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

The Suspicions of Mr. WhicherThe Suspicions of Mr Wicher is a true crime tale centered on the real life mysterious murder of a young boy. Like the JonBenet Ramsey case of its time, the crime mesmerized and rocked the nation. It was speculated about in the media and everyone within the home's walls was a suspect.

Mr. Wicher was a fairly renowned detective at a time when detectives were a new concept, seen as part supernatural genius, part shaman or – when the tides of popular sentiment turned against them – as voyeuristic intruders into the highly guarded personal lives of respected society.

The book is most interesting when it handles the crime itself and the suspicions, not only of Mr. Wicher, but the townsfolk and media. It's a bit less engaging in the latter bits that detail what happened to all the players. One son grows up to be a famous botanist, etc… I guess I'm living proof that the salacious intrigue of the evil men do is always most compelling, just as it was when this murder took place.

Unlike the similar crime in Boulder, this one has a conclusion and a confession, which is led up to with some suspense by Summerscale, whose short resume also includes a biography of an eccentric world-class speedboat racer and heiress (The Queen of Whale Cay).

This book is a perfect pair to this week's TV show, A Most Mysterious Murder.

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Posted on May 18, 2009