...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Shana Tova, y'all!

Yesterday (actually Wednesday night) marked Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  I spent a good chunk of yesterday at services with my mom in Isla Vista, CA.  It was thus necessary to shirk blog duties.  Wikipedia has a very impressive Rosh Hashanah page, but I'll give you a brief recap right here:

Rosh Hashanah the start of a ten-day period wherein one takes stock of the previous year, or more specifically where one screwed up and hurt other people.  Rosh Hashanah is day one, the Day of Judgement.  Yom Kippur is day ten, the Day of Atonement.

In the literalist view of these ten days of Teshuvah, G-d determines what the next year holds in store for each individual.  On Rosh Hashanah the big Book of Life opens.  On Yom Kippur the determination is made and The Book is closed.

On a more personal level, it sets aside time for introspection.  The religious practices enable that.  One takes off time from one's usual daily schedule, gets dressed up, and goes to seriously loooooong services.  Lots of prayers.  Standing and sitting.  Sitting and standing.  Standing and sitting.  Repetition Repetition.  At some point, the mind slips away from the words and actions.  It goes to a quiet place and floats over the year left behind and all that's to come.  Sort of a Kosher meditation.  And because it's Kosher, there's a whole lot of "Man, I f----d that up" observations going on.

It's also a time for apologies.  And a time to consider what a real apology is.  It's not "I'm sorry if what I said offended you."  Rather it's "I hurt you. I was wrong. I'm sorry."  Culturally, we hear so much of the former and so little of the latter, that we need to make sure that when we say we're sorry we're truly apologizing and not transferring the burden to the other person.  And once we apologize, we neither expect nor demand forgiveness.

This is also the holiday wherein we hear the blowing of the shofar, formed from a ram's horn.  From a distance it looks odd and out of place.  But once sounded, it conjures feelings and images, primal and ancient.  I still enjoy it after thirty-three years.
I LOVE this picture for so many reasons. (Source)
We also eat sweet stuff to symbolize a sweet new year.  Apples and honey always head the list and I recommend that they be pared with white wine, brandy, cognac, or a Speyside single malt (of course).

It's also a great time to put together some realistic New Year's resolutions; resolutions that can be achieved through basic actions and adjustments.  For instance, for my new internet year, I'm removing all the hate-spewing blogs from my daily reading cycle.  Besides saving 30-45 minutes, it also removes considerable negativity from my day.  That poisonous energy is easy to come by, it's harder to part with.  I'm also removing as many distractions as possible from my iPod Touch.  At some point I started playing more App games than actually using my favorite toy for music.  These seem like simple little fixes when in fact they'll save me a lot of time and help clear my head for more productive writing sessions.

And on that note, I leave you with this mariachi band serenading a beluga whale:

Shana Tova!  A good year to all!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Single Malt Report (x2) - The Glenrothes 1994 AND 1991

Happy Whisky Wednesday everyone!

Last night I enjoyed the Raise the Macallan event in downtown LA.  Later in the evening, at another location, I made the rookie mistake of drinking bourbon, well bourbon.  Don't know if I should blame the waitress or the bartender for interpreting "whisky" as "bourbon".  But I give myself a sincere FAIL for drinking all of it.

I'm also awaiting an exciting delivery from Master of Malt who have been great with previous orders and customer service.

So much great whisky to write about!  Without further ado, the conclusion of my Glenrothes reports: The 1994 and 1991 vintages.

The 1994

Distillery: The Glenrothes
Age: 11 years (bottled in 2006)
Finish: mixed casks
Region: Highlands - Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

thekrav's notes:

Let's begin with the name.  Why "The Glenrothes"?

Within Scotland, whisky production is divided up into six geographical regions: The Lowlands, The Highlands, Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, and the Islands.  Speyside is actually within The Highlands region, but (due to the powerful River Spey) almost two-thirds of all of Scotland's malts are produced there so it gets its own regional status.

Within Scotland, within The Highlands, within the Speyside region, lies the town of Rothes.  Rothes sits on the west side of the River Spey in a glen surrounded by the rocky hills.  The "The" designation is something that it shares with other whisky brands like The Macallan, The Glenlivet, The Balvenie, and The Krav (one of these is not like the other...).  Though it seems showy and highbrow, it designates that the whisky within this labelled bottle contains product distilled and distributed by the whisky's producer -- and not distributed through an independent bottler like Signatory or Cadenhead's.  I also think Glenrothes includes "The" in its name because it shares the one-street town of Rothes with four other distilleries.  Thus it tries to establish itself as The whisky from the Rothes glen.
The previous two Glenrothes bottlings that I'd reviewed (Select Reserve and 1998 vintage) were included in a three-100mL-bottle-set that I bought at Royal Mile Whiskies in London.  This one was not.  I enjoyed this vintage at a free Scotch tasting at The Daily Pint on June 16th.

I'm grading this similarly to the 10-year 1998 vintage.  The honey note is still present in this one, but vanilla stands out the most, especially in the nose.  It's more dry than sweet.  Like its Glenrothes brethren, this whisky's finish is very short.

Also similar to the previously reviewed vintages, its texture is very light, though each one seems to be getting richer as I progress into the older bottlings.  Of course that could be psychosomatic; knowing a whisky is older and more expensive may subconsciously alter one's perception.

So that's something that I really caution other rookie whisky tasters: Forget about whisky age and price when tasting.  Miracles of chemistry form the flavor.  Sometimes hotter, livelier, youthful batches will be more to one's liking.  Sometimes a 12yr from one distillery will be smoother than an 18yr from another.

Keeping all of that in mind, I think that these Glenrothes prices remain too high.  For something of this age, quality, and high supply it costs too much.  I shouldn't be able to buy three bottles of Glenfiddich 12 for the price of one of these.

Pricing - Overpriced! at $70-80
Rating - 74

The 1991

Distillery: The Glenrothes
Age: 13 years (bottled in 2005)
Finish: mixed casks
Region: Highlands - Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

thekrav's notes:

During that enjoyable (all free scotch tastings are enjoyable) Scotch dramming at The Daily Pint, the exceedingly enthusiastic Glenrothes representative kept pressing on us how rare the 1991 vintage is and how lucky we are to be sipping it.

Well, if it's so darn rare, why do I have some here right now at my desk?
It's not rare, but I was quite lucky to get a free sample.  AND I also have this 100mL from that three-pack of The Glenrothes purchased at Royal Mile.  So I've been able to sample it a few times, both neat and with water.  And it is my favorite of the four Glenrothes that I've tried.

The nose is sweet and sugary.  Definitely a dessert whisky.  Add in a tiny measure of water and the sweetness mellows, bringing forward the vanilla note from the 1994 vintage.

The palate, the best part.  Marshmallows and shortbread cookies.  The texture is very smooth, enhancing the dessert-y nature.  Adding water brings oaky notes to the forefront.  Thus I prefer it neat.

It almost evaporates on the tongue......and so does the finish (alas, sadly) like the other three Glenrothes bottlings.

The price range isn't great.  $90?  No way. $75?  Getting closer but still steep.  Again, between the four The Glenrotheses sampled (Select Reserve, 1998, 1994, and 1991), this one suits me best.  I've even saved a dram for another try with dessert some time very soon.

Pricing - Overpriced at $75-90
Rating - 83

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The George Herman Hitchcock project: Table of Contents

Get it? It's a table...of....um...contents.
Last week's project introduction can be found here.

In surveying these two considerable careers, I've now seen the sizable task in front of me.  So what I've done is divide up their professional time into chapters, which will in turn allow me to compare and contrast with a little bit of control over the scope.

Behold, the table of contents:

Chapter 1 shows these two stalwarts in training -- Ruth in the minors and Hitchcock as a screenwriter and art director -- then continues on to their rookie efforts.

Chapters 2 through 5 highlight their less remembered early successes; I match Thirty-Nine Steps with Ruth's 1918 and his 1919 with The Lady Vanishes.

Chapter 6 documents both men changing teams (UK to US, Boston to New York) and the sensations they created on their arrivals.

Chapters 7 through 12 track their early prime.  I've matched up Ruth's 1923 with Hitch's Rope, 1924 with Strangers on a Train, and 1926 with Rear Window.

Chapter 13 rhymes Vertigo with Murderer's Row.

Chapters 14 through 19 detail their late prime and gradual descent.  And chapter 20 will close their careers.  These men didn't end on their biggest successes, so I'll provide a concluding post to brighten the subject up a little bit.

Giving the table a cursory look, yes, it's a little top-heavy (in honor of the subjects themselves?), but I've gotten a small headstart on the early Hitchcock films.  If I find a gem that's enjoyable to discuss, a chapter may be extended to a second post.  Also, once these gentlemen have entered their prime, I'd like to focus a little closer on some of Sir Alfred's individual productions.

So tune in next Tuesday for Chapter 1: When Boys Leave Home.

Look! Another table of......yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm going.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Mikhail Romanovich Kravitznikov lay in a sickened daze, the fetid wind dragging musty odors from Lebezyatnikov’s rendering plant into this dank chilled hollow-walled gray undersized apartment.  Kravitznikov had stopped eating the day before; the bland tea Sonya had brought to his bedside this morning had long since gone cold.  Mikhail Romanovich turned slowly in his sweat-dinged sheets, the bedframe shrieking for relief. Kravitznikov stared down at the floor where amongst the dark scurrying bodies of starving rats lay a figure he had thrice slain.  Thrice!  First in the burning sunshine of adolescence, then again, hand forced by the pressures of the state.  Finally, a third time, because only a truly great man murders the same form thrice.  Thrice!

Mikhail Romanovich Kravitznikov said to himself, “What foolish cretin of a so-called author writes pages of unending paragraphs of characters talking out loud to themselves (with parentheticals, no less!)?  Is it Dostoyevsky?  Or Dostoevsky?  Fyodor or Feodor?  Curse history, multiple translations, and the Anglicizing of the Russian alphabet!  And what warped individual convinces himself that reading the same novel thrice (Thrice!) proves the brilliant mind of a truly gifted man?  It is I, Kravitznikov, also occasionally written as Mikhail Romanovich in adjacent sentences.  Mikhail Romanovich, I, purchased this particular battered dog-eared besmirched volume once my sweet ailing mother, Pulkheria Alexandrovna, declared great love for her own brittle copy of the tome.  And I, Kravitznikov, thus read this novel, he he he he, having unconsciously disregarded my past experiences with it.  The trudge, the strange suffering in the darkness, was slow and blurred, but yes it was I, a truly profound man like Napoleon, who thus finished it in the late empty hours.  He he he he he.  Then my mind dropped into the abyss of Nyx and opened the ancient wooden doors of dream; not of tortured horses or crumbling societies but of sewage laden Siberian fortresses.  It was a good dream.”

The white sun barely burned through the rotting yellow clouds and pulled angular shadows across the room. Mikhail Romanovich closed his eyes hoping that sleep would once again relieve him of the guilt of admitting that he found pleasure in the resolution of this overwritten book about crime and punishment.

Kravitznikov said to himself, “Mikhail Romanovich, you should recommend this but to only the most masochistic of wounded souls.  But beg of them to never complete it thrice. (Thrice!)”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Friday! Jedi Kittens.

If watching these two videos doesn't warm the cockles of your heart, then you, sir, have no cockles.

A Hard Day's Night review

It bursts onto the screen with the thumping, jangling title song and the great visual homage to the insatiable female pursuit of Keaton’s Seven Chances.  It ends with another Keaton homage, this time as a big British kiss to Cops.  Everything in between zips along like a Marx Brothers movie wherein everyone is Groucho.  It’s one perpetual chase.
The image jiggles and wiggles via handheld cameras and setups inside cars and trains.  And if the shot slows for even a moment, the editing keeps pushing momentum forward.  If the viewer mutes the A Hard Day’s Night and just watches it play out in silence, he or she may start to feel a bit of Tony-Scott-style vertigo, as everyone involved in this production seems to be on an espresso-and-amphetamine enema.  But in a good way.  This is all joy.  The worst that will happen is that one may get a headache from the onslaught of happiness.
There was precedence for pop music stars in narrative film before 1964.  Al Jolson helped break the cinematic sound barrier.  He was followed by Eddie Cantor and Bing Crosby.  Then Sinatra came along and bared his acting chops in dramatic roles.  Elvis then sent the progress back thirty-one steps as he played roles that were not “Elvis” in name, but were clearly an non-actor stumbling through scripted lines.

But here in Richard Lester's A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles are playing The Beatles – sexual angst, live-ish musical interludes, wacked-out fans, and all – as an alternate universe version of themselves: The Four Groucho Marxes.

Four Grouchos means four times the non-sequiters, four times the god-awful puns.  The issue with this is the terrible hit-to-miss ratio.  If there’s a "joke" every 10 seconds (I really attempted to measure this), then that means there’s about 880 jokes in the film.  That’s impressive, in its own way.  But once one subtracts the stuff that charming due to its unceasing spill, there’s only about a dozen jokes that are actually funny.  That’s about a 1.4% success rate.  Yes, some of the quips are dated (I wish I spoke ‘60s British), but otherwise the film becomes a very unique experience in absorbing an ocean of words.  Thus the humor is bold in its own way.  Plus if you listen carefully, there are quips about orgies, drugs, producers, PR, trend setters, and television.

My own favorite bits were the visual ones: a silent vaudevillian losing his dove act, shaving on the bathroom mirror, Lennon playing with toys then disappearing into his bubble bath, the end credit sequence, and the aforementioned chases.

Unlike Elvis, the Fab Four fare very well with their line reading.  That’s no mean feat with the bounty of dialogue.  Ringo comes out the best since he’s given the most to do with his character.  Oddly, it’s the professional actors that come off incredibly hammy and awkward.  Wilfrid Brambell, who plays Grandfather, is unwatchable which is unfortunate since he’s in every other scene.  I’m not sure if I should applaud a punk-style actor’s direction, but it takes great efforts by the Four to keep all of his scenes from sinking the momentum.
Different movie, but Brambell's general acting style in A Hard Day's Night (Source)
That’s a mild complaint, though.  The visual energy, constant invention, and The Beatles win out in every scene.
Pardon this abrupt change in tone, but I want to close with an observation about the ending, which itself is a shift in palettes.
As The Beatles perform in a small auditorium, hundreds of girls shriek out of control, weeping, screaming incoherently, bodies contorting and spasming.  At first it’s irritating, then funny, then frightening.  It’s filmed so intensely that it’s not a visual accident.  I understand that the specific context is dated, but it’s very unsettling.  There’s probably a sociological explanation for it, but what is it?  Hundreds of years of sexual repression?  (Also see: Justin Bieber, Twilight.)  It reminds me of Alan Parker’s and Roger Waters’ vision of a rock band as a fascistic power, working up the mostly male youth to the brink of insanity then setting them loose to destroy in The Wall.
Here at the end of A Hard Day’s Night, the young hunting horde has cornered their pop star prey.  But rather than ravishing them like the Maenads of myth, the girls stand in place screaming in a frenzied mass, perhaps hypnotized and unaware of their own sexual power, or just seduced by four boys in bad haircuts.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Single Malt Report - The Glenrothes 1998

Distillery: The Glenrothes
Age: 10 years (bottled in early 2009)
Finish: mixed casks
Region: Highlands - Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

From Royal Mile Whiskies:
The official bottlings are bottled by the wine merchants, Berry Bros. & Rudd who offer them as vintages, which is not surprising given their status as respected wine merchants. Their distinctive dumpy bottles are massively popular and have been highly praised. The casks they select, carefully chosen from 2% of the distilleries annual output, are mostly matured in sherry casks with 25% being fresh, and a few bourbon casks occasionally used to provide balance and extra depth. There is absolutely no colouring in any official Glenrothes whisky. It is all natural colour from the casks.

thekrav's notes:

The second 100mL bottle from a three-pack of Glenrothes that I purchased at Royal Mile Whiskies in London.  My post about the first bottle, the Select Reserve, is here.  I also sampled this at the splendid free Scotch Tasting at The Daily Pint back on June 16th.  (The 1998 is very difficult to find in the US, UK, and online.  Per notes I've seen online, I think the '98 was primarily released in Asia.)

I mostly just wanted to post the above pic of the quaint label and the tiny bulb-like dumpy bottle.  Though the "handwriting" is likely digitally printed, it's a nice touch.  I really like the birth and bottling date listings which many of the independent distributors choose to include on their labels as well.

While I understand that providing tasting notes somewhere on the packaging makes for an acceptable tasting guide, listing the "character" so prominently (the top of the front label) strikes me as a bit heavy-handed.  Taste and smell are linked to an individual's sense memory and chemoreception system.  Whisky is a work of art, so the author's intent doesn't matter; everyone takes something different from the experience.  Six professional tasters will generate six different sets of notes on the same bottling.

For instance, the folks who compile the Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch reference lots of orange, toffee, and vanilla in this specific single malt.  Serge Valentin tastes honey, marmelade, apples, and toasted bread.  Those are the pros.

This amateur's notes were:  "HONEY. Honey prominent in the palate and finish. There's even honey in the nose. Looks like honey too. A tiny bit of vanilla. And it shares that butterscotch moment the Select Reserve had. But mostly honey. The jury's out if this is a good thing."  Additionally, the texture is thin and the finish is very clipped.  And yet again, this whisky was not memorable.  I'm thankful for my notes.

It's a half step up from the Select Reserve overall.  Though I wouldn't call that a ringing endorsement.

Pricing - Overpriced! at $55-65
Rating - 73

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The George Herman Hitchcock project

(Getty Images)
I've been an avid baseball fan since I was five.  I've been a cinema student for half of my life.  But those two subjects never intermingle.  (Note:  Field of Dreams and Bull Durham are great movies because they are great movies, not because they're about baseball.)

I genuinely enjoyed collecting my 20,000+ baseball cards.  But it was obsession that drove me to buy almost 100 baseball statistic books before I turned 13.  Numbers Numbers Numbers.  My two most prized tomes were the 1988 edition of the Baseball Encyclopedia (Macmillan Publishing, 2875pp) and Total Baseball (1991, Warner Books, 2629pp).  Every day, I'd pour over the thousands of pages, always finding players, seasons, teams, and league leaders that I'd never seen before.

One thing that I would never acknowledge was that George Herman (Babe) Ruth was the greatest player of all time.  Every book said he was.  New metrics kept being introduced into the baseball stat lexicon and each one of them showed that Ruth was the best - SLG, OBP, OPS, OPS+, ISO, Batting Runs, Batting Wins, WAR - individual seasons, prime, and career.  But I stubbornly dug in, looking to prove them all wrong.

Then at some point in high school, I yielded.  I objectively looked at the numbers and comparables.  There's no dispute, there never was.  Ruth is the best, in his time and for all time.

* * * * *

(from allposters.com)
I enjoy and respect Alfred Hitchcock's work.  Rear Window has always been one of my favorites.  Vertigo expands and mutates, changing colors every time I see it.  I appreciate Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, and Psycho, though considerably less than others do.

La Nouvelle Vague worshipped him, as his films helped define the auteur theory.  Major film journals still list him amongst the greatest or most influential filmmakers of all time.  He is credited for sculpting and perfecting cinematic suspense and The Thriller, which is my personal bread-and-butter genre as a screenwriter.

Yet I was never swept up by Hitchcock as so many others were.  Fellini, Murnau, Keaton, Welles, Kurosawa, Polanski, Kieslowski -- these were the directors whose art consistently captured me, intellectually and emotionally.

But as I continue along my screenwriting career, I've found myself being drawn back to Hitchcock's oeuvre......though not to those titles for which he's most famous.  Rather to the films earlier and in between.

Lifeboat was much better than I'd expected.  The Lady Vanishes, great; The Trouble with Harry; warped.  But it was when I was blindsided by the excellent Foreign Correspondent, that I began to reconsider my view of Hitch.  Throwing in The Birds, Rope, To Catch a Thief, and Notorious, that's already thirteen films of considerable quality.  Not only were these movies built around brilliant basic premises, but the execution in each production was consistently spot on.  I began to wonder...

How were all of his other films?  What was his early work like as he began to hone his craft?  When and what was his peak?  Should I go the Full Truffaut and watch all of his available feature films?

Because I'm a man of modest means, I purchased one of those ultracheap 20-film Hitchcock DVD packs that are abhorred by films purists (among whom I'm usually counted).  20 films squeezed onto 4 DVDs means that the video quality is nigh abysmal.  But it's $5, man.  And it contains almost all of his British Films.

Sure he'll fumble a bit as he finds his style.  Heck, at the start of his own career, Babe Ruth was a pitcher.  Though a damn good one (curse you, Ruth!).

So, I would like to invite you to join me as I explore Hitchcock's career.  Every Tuesday I will post my discoveries.  I'll watch the crummy films so you don't have to.  I'll recommend the best of the lesser known flicks.  And maybe I can even work in some references to Ruth, comparing their progressing careers.  I don't really know how or if this is going to work, but I'm going to find out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Single Malt Report - The Glenrothes Select Reserve

Distillery: The Glenrothes
Age: no vintage
Finish: mixed casks
Region: Highlands - Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

From Royal Mile Whiskies:
The official bottlings are bottled by the wine merchants, Berry Bros. & Rudd who offer them as vintages, which is not surprising given their status as respected wine merchants. Their distinctive dumpy bottles are massively popular and have been highly praised. The casks they select, carefully chosen from 2% of the distilleries annual output, are mostly matured in sherry casks with 25% being fresh, and a few bourbon casks occasionally used to provide balance and extra depth. There is absolutely no colouring in any official Glenrothes whisky. It is all natural colour from the casks.

One tweet:

@kravitz_hubris Glenrothes Select Reserve, 100mL bottle from UK - olive oil color, dried cherries and butterscotch palate, spicy finish. #SingleMaltReport6/5/11

thekrav's notes:

Part of a 3-pack of 100mL Glenrothes bottles that I purchased at Royal Mile Whiskies in London.  The other two bottles from this set will be reviewed very soon.

So let's start with the positives!  The design is fantastic.  As per the pictures, the bottles (big or small) are of a squat "dumpy" shape, unique amongst whiskies.  The label looks as if it's been partially handwritten with signatures, tasting notes, and dates of birth & bottling. [I'll have a better pic of it in the next review.]  The Select Reserve has received some good reviews at the '06 World Spirits Competition and also from BevMo's cellar master, Wilfred Wong.  Finally, there's no artificial coloring, which is nice to see since so many of the major bottlers use carmel coloring to manipulate their whiskies' tint.

Despite all of that, I wasn't too crazy about it.  In fact if I hadn't written down some notes, I would have forgotten its flavor entirely.  What I do remember is that its natural color is that of extra virgin olive oil.  The texture is light and smooth.  The nose is sugary but mild.  The palate begins as dried cherries and ends with butterscotch, all followed by a spicy finish.

If those notes don't sound very negative it's because they were written after drinking more than three normal tastings' worth.  One final note reads: "Yeah, I don't need to drink this again."

Compare all of that with this review from Dave of the LA Whiskey Society:
"I was given this bottle as a gift. The gift-giver is no longer my friend.... Some of the worst swill I have ever had the unfortunate experience to try.... My dog has produced better smelling liquids."
There's no actual vintage for this bottling nor description of its makeup.  Glenrothes has been mum on the recipe.  It is the lowest priced of their bottlings and the easiest to find online or in liquor stores.  But the fact that one can purchase a bottle of Macallan 12 for less than this whisky makes little sense to me.

Pricing - Overpriced! at $45-50
Rating - 69

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Movie Miscellaneousness

Happy Monday!  Here's a rundown of some movie-related subjects that have surfaced over the past couple of days:

1. i can has blooray?
  I birthday-gifted myself the LG-BD670 Blu-Ray player.  I tested its visuals with Baraka and its sound with Fight Club (you don't need a link to this).  I approve, thus far.  But I'm not buying the new Star Wars set (not linking to that, either, but for other reasons).

2. Breaking Bad on Netflix (streaming)
Previously only available on disc, Netflix gained streaming rights to Breaking Bad's last three seasons!  Finally, I can start catching up on that show.

3. The Wire, Season 1 Disc 1 arrived on Saturday.  My wife doesn't know this, but I was about to drop $124 on the entire series.  I've been that desperate to watch this show since its first season.  I'm a total Wire virgin.  But not for much longer.

4. Netflix/Qwikster - In some wider-reaching news, last night Netflix officially announced that it is splitting its DVD service off into its own separate company, Qwikster.  Some background:

Two months ago, Netflix released a press statement that it was dividing/expanding the fees for its disc rental and streaming services.  The statement provided very little explanation.  Their customers who weren't informed until a couple days afterwards, suddenly found their total monthly fees jumping 20-50%.  Online outrage was extreme, as it always is, and the company had to hire extra customer service reps to handle the complaints.  But most effectively, customers actually left.  Then one of Netflix's largest streaming providers, Starz, did not renew their streaming deal.  In its following quarterly statement, Netflix fell short in its revenue and customer estimates.  The stock price followed, losing 24% last week alone, on its way to being the biggest S&P loser of the week.  Then today's announcement was made.

I can't decide if that image is vaginal or ocular. It's a weird design choice, Qwikster.

Before this kerfuffle started two months ago, Wired Magazine was a huge supporter of Netflix's business model.  Not so much since these events.  Here are a few short articles with their takes on the developing issues:
http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/09/netflix-quickster-separate/ (from this morning)

I have enjoyed Netflix's DVD service for years.  Their catalog is amazing.  My queue is perpetually 300+ deep because I keep finding films I've always wanted to see.  And for the sake of the art form, Netflix has brought independent, cult, foreign, classic, and avant garde films to the widest audience yet.

Their streaming library is about 1/4th the size of the disc selection.  That's largely due to the continuing difficulty for any streaming service to get rights to studio owned films.  But the available selection has been growing, especially with full seasons of TV series.  It's great to have so much available on demand on multiple platforms.

But my fee has gone up almost 50% over the last three years without a single alteration to my account status.  I'm not a fan of that.  I'm also not a fan of this most recent price hike and the poor way it was handled.  For now, I remain with Netflix and Qwikster (ugh, crap name).  But the moment I find a better streaming deal with Hulu, Apple, or Amazon, I'll be the next customer to leave.

5. Not Movies - The Glenrothes - And finally, in not-movie news, I'll be reviewing four bottlings from The Glenrothes over the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Single Malt Report: Tomintoul 33 year old

Distillery: Tomintoul
Age: 33 years old
Region: Highlands - Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

From Royal Mile Whiskies:
Tomintoul - pronounced 'Tomintowel' - is Scotland's highest village and has become infamous for regularly being cut off due to heavy snow.

From The Guide:
The distillery was built in the 1960s and is modern in appearance, with large warehouses and no pagoda roofline.  The wildness of the surroundings contrasts with the delicacy of the district's malts.  Tomintoul has traditionally seemed the lightest among them in flavor, although it has a little more body than its neighbor Tamnavulin.

thekrav's notes:

Part of a 3-pack of 50mL Tomintoul bottles that I purchased at Fortnum and Mason in London.  I reported on the first bottle, the 10-year, here, and then the very good 16-year.  At 33 years this is the oldest bottling that Tomintoul has ever put out, replacing their popular 27-year.

You read that right, this is the 33-year-old.  The whisky and the blogger both.  I actually saved this specifically for my 33rd birthday in August.  Three months of antagonizing anticipation for this, the oldest drink I've ever had.

I won't bury the lead here.  I like the 16 year-old better.

That's not to say that this dram isn't lovely.  It's smooth as water.  Light and airy like a whisper.  The downside: it's neither particularly interesting or unique.  This is a $200 whiskey (for the 700mL bottle), so it should be a little memorable.  OR perhaps, this was the moment that I began to tire of ultra-gentle Speysides.

So what I'm saying is that it's me.  Not the Tomintoul 33.

The color isn't that dark from all of those years in the barrel, maybe even a tad lighter in shade than the 16.  It has a light nose, a touch of sherry and sweets with a bit of ethanol.  As I mentioned, it's incredibly smooth to the feel and palate.  Like sherry and cream and clouds.  But mostly clouds.  It finished warmly and evenly.

Even though it was the oldest whisky I've yet tried, it wouldn't make it into my Top 10.  In fact, I kind of forgot about it by the end of the night, but that's probably because I later sampled two other (much younger and cheaper) whiskies that are currently Top 5ers.  But more on those another time.

Tomintoul 33 was quite good, but at this age and this price range (and within Tomintoul's whisky range alone) one can do better.  But the 33-year was the smoothest of the three Toms that I had sampled.  So if gentleness is one's desire, and if one has the financial means, then this is a good match.

Pricing - Overpriced! at $200
Rating - 82

Friday, September 16, 2011

Spin class

A couple months ago, as a little bit of a change of pace, I decided to try out the beginners' spin class at my gym.  I'd heard tales of vomiting and blackouts during folks' first spin session.  I thought, "Really? How hard could this be?"

Here is a lightly fictionalized account of my first spin class, interpreted in the style of Twitter:

@kravitz_hubris Minute 1. This song the instructor’s playing is great!

@kravitz_hubris Minute 3. This is kinda hard.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 5. My legs have stiffened completely but the 2 pedals create a perpetual motion machine so I can’t stop!

@kravitz_hubris Minute 7. I have sweat through my towel.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 10. I have sweat through my second towel.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 15. Is my heart supposed to hurt?

@kravitz_hubris Minute 20. Guh. Calf muscles. Trying to pull away from body.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 25. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 26. I’m supposed to be OFF my seat?

@kravitz_hubris Minute 32. Someone here has sh*t their pants but has continued pedaling.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 33. That person is me.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 37. Instructor has put on a song that never ever ever f*cking ends.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 42. The song is still going. Does sweat hide tears?

@kravitz_hubris Minute 47. It’s still going. I look up at the instructor for a sign. She’s the demon from Jacob’s Ladder.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 51. The world. So dark.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 52. So this is how I’m going to die. Not during the best shtup of my life...

@kravitz_hubris Minute 53. ...nor while trying to finish a 20x20 @ In 'n Out nor taking a bullet for the Dalai Lama…

@kravitz_hubris Minute 54. …no, I had to die during beginners spin class @7:30am on a Tuesday morning. Congratulations, a**hole.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 60. Two nice grandmas help me off my bike. Then they scurry away cuz I smell like a fertilizer truck collided w/ the rotten meat van.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 62. Cold floor nice on cheek. mmmmmm

@kravitz_hubris Minute 77. Fitness club had to call wife to pick me up. Wife pretended to not know me.

@kravitz_hubris Minute 83. I sleep now. Back to the elliptical machine tomorrow. :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hall Pass review

Kristen and I watched Hall Pass last night.  I was looking forward to it since the subject matter seemed ripe, especially in the Farrelly Brothers' hands:

Rick and Fred have been given "hall passes" from their wives so that they all may have one full week away from marriage to do whatever they want, free from consequences.  With Jason Sudeikis, Owen Wilson, Christina Applegate, and Jenna Fischer as leads it sounds like it can't miss, right?

It does.  Significantly.  To start with, most of the good stuff from the 105-minute movie is right here in this 2 minute 45 second Red Band trailer:

Warning:  Video not safe for work

Yep, that's about half the laughs.  The other half consist of an extended (take that as you will) penis joke and the postscript in the end credits.

I am very aware of the many hands involved in script development.  Many conflicting voices and notes are heaped upon the writers and directors before production can begin.  But whatever the collaboration of dissimilar voices may have been on this project, it does produce a singular writer's voice.  The film seems like it was written by a bunch of 19 year-olds who mined sitcoms and bad stand-up routines for their research into marriage.  So any honest, unique, or creative jabs at this institution are missing.  We're left with bland overused tropes and clumsy jokes about fake sex.

Also missing is the sense of danger that lingers in the best of the Farrelly Brothers' work.  There's Something About Mary had the zipper sequence, the violent retarded brother, gay sex rest stops, voyeuristic leering, and the low grade menacing insanity of all of the male characters.  And then there's the majority of the wrongheaded and refreshingly tasteless Me Myself and Irene and Kingpin.  But in Hall Pass even the profane pick-up lines, drug references, and graphic poop jokes are so harmless that they're kind of cute.

Finally, a note on product placement.  I understand the need for it in order to obtain funding to get some films off the ground.  But putting product placement in a film's dialogue is more awkward than a fart at a funeral.  Lines like, "I'm hungry, let's get some Mickey Dees" or "Chili's" or "Applebees" or "TGI Fridays" or "Subway" are distracting and stop a film in its tracks.  By Hall Pass's eighth dialogue product placement, I realized I was watching a glamorized commercial.  And it had lost me.  It clearly wasn't parodying product placement.  Because if it was, then the old Farrelly Brothers would have had that brave actress shart all over the walls at "Mickey Dees".

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Grilling pizza

It gives me great pleasure to be the pizza maker in this marriage.  I make the dough from scratch, then divide it up and freeze the extra dough in individual balls.  Then I roll it out, put it on a pre-heated cornmeal-sprinkled pizza stone, bake it, top it, bake it, slice it, serve it, eat it.

I created my own recipe for a honey whole wheat dough via trial and error in 2003-2004.  I made it for myself until Kristen moved in.  Once she expressed enthusiastic approval, the recipe went into our regular cycle of bi-monthly dinners.  Very little change in the recipe, but lots of changes in the toppings.  And that's the way it went for about seven years.

Then during one fortuitous week, a couple months ago, we visited with two sets of friends with whom we made pizza.

The first one, Kristen's friend Jessica, GRILLED her pizza dough.  The idea startled me.  For the first few weeks of owning my grill, almost everything that I put on it had fused to the grates.  Now she was putting floppy pizza dough on her grill.  And, to my amazement, it worked!  And it was delicious.

Then we visited our (newly-married) pals, James and Jess, who had made a scratch dough recipe for the first time.  It was a very simple recipe, but I loved the texture of the dough.  As I watched it bake in the oven, I thought, "If it tastes good, this is the recipe that I would try to grill."  It tasted good.  Very very good.

Who dat?! What a shlub.

A couple of weeks later we tried the recipe.  Somehow we had run low on white all-purpose flour, so I had to throw in a bunch of whole wheat flour.  Nonetheless the texture was great.  Then came time for the grilling.  I'll admit, I held my breath as I eased the dough onto the grates.  But sure enough, it never stuck.  And the result was fantastic, like a Mediterranean flatbread pizza.

(At a later date, I'll post my Honey Whole Wheat dough recipe, which is for baking rather than grilling and results in a thinner crispy crust.)


So let's get it to it.  Here's the recipe from the great chef Mark Bittman -- it can also be found in his book How to Cook Everything and also in this exact format on his blog --
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed

2 teaspoons instant yeast

2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. Turn the machine on and add 1 cup water and the oil through the feed tube.

2. Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is still dry, add another tablespoon or two of water and process for another 10 seconds. (In the unlikely event that the mixture is too sticky, add flour a tablespoon at a time.)

3. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for a few seconds to form a smooth, round dough ball. Put the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let rise until the dough doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours. (You can cut this rising time short if you’re in a hurry, or you can let the dough rise more slowly, in the refrigerator, for up to 6 or 8 hours.) Proceed to Step 4 or wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap or a zipper bag and freeze for up to a month. (Defrost in the bag or a covered bowl in the refrigerator or at room temperature; bring to room temperature before shaping.)

4. When the dough is ready, form it into a ball and divide it into 2 or more pieces if you like; roll each piece into a round ball. Put each ball on a lightly floured surface, sprinkle with flour, and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let rest until they puff slightly, about 20 minutes.
Now, this procedure specifies using a food processor, which I really recommend.  I've been mixing my own honey whole wheat dough recipe by hand for years, but the next time I'll use the processor for it. For Bittman's recipe you can use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, then a dough hook when it gets tough.

My notes:  You can use one packet of Active Dry Yeast instead of two teaspoons of instant yeast.  I use two cups of white flour to one cup of whole wheat flour, then white is used for all additional flour; resulting somewhere between a 2:1 to 3:1 ratio.  The more whole wheat flour, the more water will be required.  Add the water slowly or else you'll end up with a dough puddle.  Once pulled out of the processor, it needs very little kneading.  If you tend to make pizza for two folks, then this recipe is good for three separate six-slice pizzas.  You can freeze the extra dough for three to four weeks.  When you defrost it later, make sure you leave it out until it has that nice extra-soft texture.



Before attempting this, you should google "grilling pizza" and take a look at how other folks do it.  I've combined a bunch of different people's procedures into this one.

(Please note: I do this on a gas grill.  You may need to do some additional googling if you're using charcoal.)

-- Preheat the grill at a medium-low flame.

-- Don't roll your dough out too thinly.  You will need to pick it up without it falling apart.  So leave it with a little bit of sponginess.  In fact, I don't roll it out much, flattening it mostly with my hands.

-- Important:  Make sure that the top and bottom are floured.

-- Place the round-ish result on a pizza peel or big cutting board and bring it out to the grill.

-- Bring your toppings out where they can be easily accessed.

-- Place the dough on the grill.  Easier said than done, right?  The thicker the dough the easier it is to do.  I lift the dough with both hands, fingers spread wide, then ease it down that way.  If you're hip enough to have a pizza peel, then slide that dough onto the grill grates.

-- There's no exact minute-count here.  But at a medium-low heat give it two minutes, then take a peek at the underside.  After that, I like to rotate the dough every 15 seconds for another minute or two, just to make sure everything is cooked evenly.

-- When you like the look of the underside -- lightly-browned, brown, or charred -- flip it over.  It should flip very evenly.

-- Now throw your toppings on!  Quickly!  Okay, not so quickly that you're losing stuff into the flame.  A lower-stress approach would be to turn the heat down low.

-- When you're done with the toppings, rotate the pizza around halfway then bring the grill cover down.  If your heat is still medium-low then this might take only a minute.  If the heat is low, then a little more than a minute.  Again, I like to keep rotating the pizza a little bit every 15-30 seconds to make sure that it's evenly grilled.  (I have a cheap grill.)

-- When it's ready, scoop it back up onto your peel or cutting board.  Slice.  Eat.

Your pizza will look exactly like this.  (Source)

If you do give this a try, I hope you enjoy the process and the results.  Let me know if you have any questions, notes, or alternatives.  Thanks!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quick(ish) takes - Four films

In reverse alphabetical order:


I always enjoy a good British espionage tale, so I was very excited to hear about the release of this year's cinematic take on John le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  I hadn't read the book yet and didn't think that I could finish it in time for the film's release.

So I decided to do the next best thing: rent the 6-hour BBC TV series starring this man:

Sir Alec Guinness plays the lead, George Smiley.  Though the series consists almost entirely of people sitting and talking over tea, Guinness's caramel-and-cognac voice makes it the experience painless.  The structure itself is pretty solid, so, if you can keep up with all of the names, the quiet drama is enjoyable too.  But the biggest pleasure is watching Guinness spin 47 different tones of quiet as Smiley finds the mole in The Circus.


Hello. I am a sheep. Are you a sheep too? (Source)
Visual anthropologists Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor shot, edited, and produced this true document -- no interviews, no narration, no exposition -- of the final cowboy-led herding of three thousand sheep across southern Montana.  Incredibly beautiful, but not romanticized, this film gets its cameras down to sheep eye level to follow each struggle and way up to the top of lush mountains to view the fuzzy white dots under sweeping cloud shadows.

I had thought that this was going to be a quiet meditative film, so I queued it up late at night.  But what I didn't account for was what 110 minutes of sheep bleating would actually sound like.  I had to close our windows so the neighbors wouldn't wonder what the hell was going on in our apartment.  Right before I lowered the film's volume to a whisper, one of the two cowboys flat-out loses his patience with the herd and cusses them out so spectacularly that I had to rewind it for a second time to take notes.  The cowboy then calls his mother and whines to her in more detail any neurotic Woody Allen character.

So nothing here is glorified.  Sheep are graphically born and graphically perish.  The cowboys work very hard and clearly struggle with their labor and never address their unseen future.  I can recommend this, but only to those with the fortitude to listen to crying sheep all night.


On the opposite end of the tonal and kinetic spectrum, an old favorite of mine: Run Lola Run!

Lola, you're going the wrong way! (Source)
Run Lola Run was such an enjoyable breath of fresh air when I first saw it thirteen years ago.  I'd just started film school.  Was working hard to hone story structure in my first few scripts.  But then I watched this by myself in a mostly empty theatre somewhere on The Westside.  It seared something in my neural impulses.  It was lightning fast, fun, and brilliant.  It simultaneously smashed and followed screenplay structure edicts.  It also got me hooked on trance music.

It has aged pretty well.  One can feel its pulse and fearless cinematic bliss throughout so much of our current visual entertainment.  With all of Tom Tykwer's great visuals flying around, Franka Portente holds the center.  She's more than just the physical embodiment of Red, Blue, and Green light.  She's a fantastic protagonist that will run through time and space to save the life of her doofus boyfriend.

If you've never seen it, rent it, turn off the lights, and crank up your speakers.


I really liked this film.  Saw it twice in three days because I wanted to share it with Kristen.  Ostensibly, the film is about white collar employees who are laid off when a transportation company starts trying to appeal to its stock holders in the midst of the recession.  While that subject matter is bold -- no one else in the major American cinema is even attempting to address the effect of the recession -- what connected with me was its portrayal of the male ego in flux.

How do we define ourselves as men?  What happens when we fail at the one thing we're good at?  What happens when it has been taken from us?  It's not just a question for the upper middle class, nor is it just for blue collar workers.  It also affects artists, writers, and musicians.  When your art, your work, your bliss vanishes, what's left?  It's not just bourgeois, it's not just theory.  It's chemical.  It tints our reality.

One possible answer is to look beyond oneself, to see your family, friends, and peers.  We don't suffer alone, though we choose to.  I think many previous generations equated their jobs with their living being.  To me, this film begins to show where that falls apart and what happens to the male ego as a result.

It's not a perfect film.  The writing and directing can be a bit on-the-nose.  But its flaws are forgivable.

Tommy Lee Jones is a treasure.  His face, alone, makes every film better.  It must be a pleasure for gaffers and DPs to light that glorious mug.  Heck, here's another pic:

The other actors shine as well.  Ben Affleck has begun to master the ability to play a conceited A-hole for whom we still have sympathy; we want him to be broken down and built back up humbly.  Kevin Costner, yes that Kevin Costner, is enjoyable in a solid supporting part.  And I can't keep my eyes off of Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Ben Affleck's wife.  Maybe she reminds me of this one real life wife I know.

Finally, I recommend this film because it was nice to see two folks from the Hollywood Left (Affleck and director John Wells) and two folks from the Hollywood Right (Jones and Craig T. Nelson) work together to make a film about matters far beyond politics.