As start to I write this, I’ve just finished watching the third presidential debate and I’m contemplating the power of the Etch-a-Sketch. Just as Mitt Romney somehow made a significant slice of the electorate forget everything that happened prior to debate #1, now left-leaners like your humble tippler are hoping debates #2 and #3 will make everyone forget that first one.
And what does this have to do with today’s Drink of the Week? Well, let’s just say that after what I’ve been through the last few weeks, it’s time to move on — from the bourbon drinks I’ve been promoting here week after week and lots of other things besides. Also, this week, I’ve personally paid for every single ingredient. For this week, at least, we’re freebie free.
Today’s drink features a base spirit so classic it had all but disappeared until a few years back, and it’s one I’ve been dying to try for ages: Old Tom gin. It’s London dry gin’s much sweeter cousin which apparently includes a bit of simple syrup in the mix. Original Old Tom gins were apparently mostly gins that had sugar added to them to cover up some nasty flavors. Today’s very nice version — which really isn’t bad on its own — is from Hayman’s Distillers.
I was also rather taken with the name of today’s cocktail. I’ve been feeling like it’s time for a long-delayed return trip to my one-time near-second home of Las Vegas. If things go badly at the 21 and craps tables for me, and well they might, this drink could certainly help remove some of the sting.
2 ounces Old Tom gin
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters
1 lemon twist (garnisth)
Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with lots of ice and stir vigorously. (You can shake if you like, and you know I usually like to shake, but here I really don’t find it necessary.) Pour into a chilled cocktail/martini glass, add lemon twist, and drink a toast to the right kind of big changes and better luck.
First of all, since I haven’t seen it in too many other places, I pretty much followed the lead of a 2008 blog post on Old Tom gin by England’s Jay Hepburn, but it should be noted there are other versions of this drink, in fact it can be tinkered with quite a bit.
For example, I know from my own experiments that this drink can also work very nicely with regular gin (I was using Beefeater), though I’m not sure if you still want to use the bitters. On the other hand, there is a super dry version of this drink that uses only dashes of the lemon juice and maraschino but throws in a cherry as the garnish. I’m sure that could work too and I might try it that way sometime.
On the other hand, the first time I made this, I forgot to use bitters with both the Old Tom and my London dry gin version and found it extremely drinkable. The casino seems to be a drink that can take an awful lot of abuse and not really be harmed. More proof that the house always wins.
We continue our look at the film adventures of the world’s most beloved killer spy with the James Bond flick many critics and fans consider the best movie in the series, based on probably the most well regarded of Ian Fleming’s spy novels.
“From Russia with Love” (1963)
After the death of their operative, Dr. No, SPECTRE is one rather peeved diabolical organization bent on world domination. Also, they could use some cash. The villains’ collective therefore devises a plan to steal a hugely prized Lektor decoding device from the Soviets by using the superspy responsible for No’s demise as a pawn. Endgame: Sell the device for a huge sum and kill James Bond. The bait will be the defection, with the Lektor, of a beautiful and unknowing Soviet operative working out of the Russian embassy in Turkey. She is another pawn, a loyal low-level agent who is tricked into cooperating and told to develop a romantic fixation on Bond. The proposal is such an obvious trap, and the Lektor such a desirable prize, that there’s no way the British secret service can possibly resist going to Istanbul for a look. It all wraps up in a sexy and violent trip on the legendary Orient Express and an exciting and dangerous (for stunt men) boat chase.
Following up on the success of “Dr. No,” the EON production team of Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman elected to follow the lead of the series’ most famous fan. President John F. Kennedy had singled out Ian Fleming’s novel, From Russia with Love, as one of his ten favorite books in an issue of Time Magazine. Despite nearly 100 opening pages in which Bond does not appear, the story was more or less tailor made for a movie, and the rest was a matter of bringing back “Dr. No” writers Richard Maibum and Johanna Harwood to make the story more Hollywood friendly.
First of all, the relatively simple Stalin-era plot of the original novel was updated and complicated to avoid controversy. In light of the more morally complex Khrushchev era and the recent Cuban missile crisis, many viewers were likely to disagree with Ian Fleming’s extremely hawkish, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, take on the Cold War. And, so a story about ultra-evil Russians trying to take out the West’s most effective counterspy with maximum collateral PR damage, became a tale involving SPECTRE’s desire to grow its cash and power reserves while manipulating MI6 and the KGB into a costly and unnecessary battle. Seeing as the production code was growing weaker even as the Bond budget was growing larger, the sex and violent action quotients was also bumped up considerably from the novel.
Along with newborn superstar leading man Sean Connery, dashing director Terrence Young returned for his second Bond outing after the success of “Dr. No.” Aside from allowing the talented Young to firmly set the tone for the series, bringing him back proved to be a wise choice. Often described him as something of a real-life James Bond, Young was the kind of steady hand the difficult shoot would require.
The challenges Young would face included several changes in locations, numerous reshoots, plus lots of difficult and dangerous stunt work. A scene involving hundreds of rats proved especially tricky because English law permitted only the use of white rats. When the animal wranglers placed cocoa powder on the rats to give them a less hygienic look, the rats were distracted, licking the tasty cocoa powder off themselves and each other. The scene wound-up being shot in Spain.
Murphy’s law was certainly in force on the second Bond film, but director Young took events in stride. He was reportedly back at work within hours after being involved in an apparently minor helicopter crash, though we’re not sure how a helicopter crash can be anything less than a big deal. More tragically, Young also had to deal with the news that key actor Pedro Armendáriz was terminally ill. (More about that below.)
The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 or, in this case, 4)
Yes, an apparent threesome boosts Mr. Bond usual number of consummated movie affairs. The “From Russia with Love” Bond girls are…
Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) — Bond’s Chemin de Fer opponent from “Dr. No” returns. Trench was supposed to be an ongoing liaison in each of the films, but her lakeside tryst with Bond was to be her final appearance. We’re guessing that even a hint of sexual repetition was seen as too much of a hindrance to 007′s womanizing ways. Ironically, Gayson had originally tried out for the longer-lasting but more chaste role of Moneypenny.
Vida and Zora (Aliza Gur and Martine Beswick) — Bond watches with interest, and some concern, as a pair of extremely jealous Gypsy girls stage a to-the-death fight over a man, but are interrupted by a sudden violent intrusion by a group of Russian-paid Bulgars. After Bond helps save the day for the Romany, it is strongly hinted that the hot blooded trio spend the rest of the evening making love, not war. (In the novel, Bond is more of a passive observer of some kinky bloodshed.)
As for the talented and lovely ladies who played Vida and Zora, Aliza Gur was a former Miss Israel and Miss Universe semi-finalist. She would later appear in such spy-themed TV shows as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Get Smart.” The Anglo-Jamaican Martine Beswick, who may or may not have been one of the dancing silhouettes from the “Dr. No” credits, would return to Bondage as Paula Caplan in “Thunderball” and enjoy a lengthy career as a busy working actress. A supporting role in 1966′s “One Million B.C.” would be followed by such low-budget productions as 1967′s “Prehistoric Women,” 1971′s “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde,” and 1980′s “The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood.” More upscale roles from the eighties and nineties included “Melvin and Howard,” “Miami Blues,” and the 1993 version of “Wide Sargasso Sea.”
Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) — An idealistic operative who thinks she’s working for the Soviets in an operation designed to pass false information to MI6, Tatiana finds it easy to play the role of a love struck defector when she meets the dashing James Bond. Though her loyalties may be divided, her attraction to Bond is undeniable.
Since her character was described as resembling 1930s film star Greta Garbo in the novel, it was a sure bet that former Miss Rome and Miss Universe semi-finalist Bianchi would be lovely and charismatic, if not quite up to the acting standards of the great Garbo. Ms. Bianchi does, however, deliver a credible and very sexy performance, though her Italian accent was removed with a total voice assist from veteran English actress Barbara Jefford. Unfortunately, her best remembered non-”From Russia with Love” outing remains the notorious Eurospy spoof, “Operation Kid Brother,” which starred real-life Sean Connery kid brother, Neil. (Check out this slideshow for more pics of Daniela Bianchi)
Friends and Colleagues
M (Bernard Lee) and Moneypenny (Louise Maxwell) are both back for more banter. By this point, the pattern is being set for the character’s inevitably fun but equally exposition-heavy scenes throughout the series: It’s Moneypenny’s job to provide some flirtatious silliness and M’s job to make sure the frivolity doesn’t eat up too much screen time. The business with Bond throwing his seemingly unworn bowler hat on the hat stand makes a return as well. However, “From Russia with Love” gives us two additions to Bond’s onscreen colleagues, each in their own way legendary.
Ok – the photo above may be a little misleading, but anything is possible if you try – right?
Juggling more than one women can be very satisfying, and it can create a lot of problems if you mess it up. Dan Bacon addresses the topic of dating multiple women and has some very helpful, common sense tips. Here’s one:
If you are in a committed relationship with one woman, you will usually talk with or see her a few times a week. However, if you’re dating multiple women, you want to make sure that several days to a week go by between phone calls and dates. Additionally, after you’ve had sex with a new woman, you should stop calling her, texting her and Facebooking her. Let her be the one who calls, texts and sends Facebook messages. Then, only answer your phone calls from her sometimes and take your time to reply to texts and Facebook messages; sometimes immediately, sometimes an hour or two later and sometimes the next day. If you’re always calling her and texting her, she will assume you want to be her boyfriend, so just let her do all the chasing after sex has happened between you.
This is actually great advice for the time right after you meet a woman. Be careful about smothering her, and set it up so she’s chasing you a bit. We’ll get into cat-string theory another time, but you can guess what we’re talking about. Keeping a woman guessing a bit will always help you out.
I traveled out to wine country near San Francisco courtesy of Nissan to test drive the all-new 2013 Nissan Sentra. I was on hand in Dallas earlier this year when Nissan unveiled the redesigned Sentra and the new design looked impressive, but now I was getting a chance to drive it as well.
The new Sentra features an elegant design that helps it stand out in the compact car category. Some competitors in the segment have gone with edgier designs, so the more refined look of the Sentra offers a nice alternative for consumers. The new Nissan front grille fits nicely on this vehicle and the rest of the design points flow naturally. Details like LED accented headlamps and tail lamps add to the overall look of the car. As you can see from the photos I took, the Sentra looks great from all angles.
The interior of the Sentra features upgraded soft-touch materials that set it apart from other options in the compact segment. The overall feel of the interior is stylish and upscale yet understated, so it fits well the exterior. It’s also very roomy for a smaller car. The overall comfort level in all of the seats was excellent.
Like the new Altima, the 2013 Sentra offers an all-new version of the Nissan Navigation system as an option with all sorts of features. NissanConnect with Navigation includes a Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant that reads incoming text messages and allows drivers to reply without taking their hands off of the steering wheel. In addition, it also offers Pandora, 5.8-inch touch-screen display and Google Send-to-Car functions. Other tech options include RearView Monitor and Nissan Intelligent Key with illuminated push-button ignition switch and the Tire Pressure Monitoring System with Easy Fill Tire Alert feature.
The new Sentra is 150 pounds lighter than the previous model but also has slightly larger overall dimensions and more interior room. With a lighter vehicle Sentra also has an all-new and more fuel-efficient 1.8-liter engine with a generation Xtronic CVT. Fuel economy is rated at 30 miles per gallon city, 39 miles per gallon highway and a class-leading 34 miles per gallon combined.
The Sentra features both Sport and Eco mode options, which makes the driving experience much more enjoyable. In Sport mode the Sentra accelerates nicely and zips around curves no problem. It has solid acceleration and is fun to drive. The Eco mode is a great option for slow or casual city driving. The overall driving experience was impressive for a car of this size.
Overall, the new Sentra remains an excellent option in the compact car segment. It’s very competitive on features and gas mileage, and the look of the car will definitely attract a wide variety of buyers. Pricing for the Sentra starts at $15,990 with the fully equipped SL priced at $19,760.
If you want to sell gadgets to guys, what better way than to enlist super babe Megan Fox. Check out the photos in the slideshow above, as the lovely Megan definitely ads to the cool factor for this brand.
The new Sharper Image holiday marketing campaign recently kicked off with Fox starring in a multimedia campaign titled “Guys Love Gadgets.” You can see sexy Megan relaxing in a Sharper Image bed. Fox says, “I have always been a bit of a gadget geek and into different types of technology.”
The news keeps getting better on the housing front, and that should have a big impact on consumer choices in the short term and in the next couple of years. The economic collapse of 2008 has seen the U.S. economy slowly rebounding to per-recession levels, but the housing market has been stubbornly sluggish. Of course this affects the job market, particularly in construction, and also consumer choices. Many more people are renting these days, even with historically low mortgage rates and depressed home prices.
Home builders received more good news Wednesday morning as sales of new single-family homes in September surged to their highest level in 2 1/2 years, the Census Bureau said.
New home sales grew 5.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 389,000 last month. The growth was a significant rebound after new home sales fell off in August to a revised rate of 368,000. That followed a two-year high of 374,000 in July — more indications that the new home market is recovering in fits and starts.
Sales were up 27.1 percent from September 2011.
The median sales price of a new home sold in September was $242,000, down from $256,900 in August. There were 145,000 new homes for sale at the end of September, up from 141,000 in August.
Many prospective home buyers have stayed away from the market as they didn’t want to buy before it hit bottom. We’ll, the bottom seems to have arrived in many parts of the country, so it may be a great time to go home shopping while interest rates remain this low. As we see more activity and increased home values, we’ll also continue to see more home refinancings as another way to take advantage of the low rates. With that we’ll probably see many home improvements as well, from new kitchens for the wife to new man caves for the guys, along with larger maintenance projects like garage doors, roofs and back patios.
The decision to rent or buy is a difficult one for many people, regardless of whether they’re married or single, and sometimes people get too worried about price. The lifestyle issues frankly are more important. But in terms of timing it’s always best to buy when a market is coming out of a bottom, so it’s a great time to start paying more attention.
SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Wednesday following a new episode of “Sons of Anarchy.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.
After the final scene of last week’s episode revealed what everyone already knew, that the Nomads were behind the home invasions and Clay was the one pulling their strings, the opening of “Toad’s Wild Ride” filled in some new information: the specifics of Clay’s deal with his new lackeys. When Clay tells them to get out of town for a while, Frankie Diamonds (who’s played by Chuck Zito, the former president of the New York chapter of the Hells Angels) responds, “What about our deal? We get you back at the head of the table and we get a piece of your end.”
As Unser put it, “Who has something to gain by making the club weak; turning the town and the sheriffs against them? Suddenly the pretty guy they gave the gavel too, he ain’t looking all that smart.” But we’ve always known it was Clay, and we’ve always known Clay’s only goal since losing the presidency was getting it back. So I suppose that stuff’s not really new either. Here’s what is: Clay’s finally dropped the whole “lion in winter” act.
Clay’s been slowly regaining strength (both literal and figurative) for some time, but he’s continued playing the weak old man. Last week, his doctor told him things were looking up health-wise and he no longer needed the oxygen tank. Nonetheless, Clay put it back on as soon as he left the office and lied to Juice about his uplifting prognosis. Now, he’s ceased putting on airs (pun intended), or at least modified his bullshit. He no longer argues with the people who hate him, he simply agrees that they have every right to. He tells Tara she’s “supposed to hate [him], like [she] does,” and Jax that “I know you think I’m the devil, son, and you’ve got every right to assume that I’d be the one setting fire to your table.” Although he follows up the latter by proclaiming his innocence, hence modified bullshit.
But let’s pump the breaks on Clay for a moment, with six episodes left there will be plenty of time to talk about his misdeeds. Instead, let’s talk about Juice. Last season, Juice was suicidal. Roosevelt blackmailed (hey, another pun) him into snitching and he was forced to kill his “innocent” brother Miles as a result (I put innocent in quotes because let’s face it, these guys are a bunch of gun and drug-running thugs, affable though they may be). Chibs noticed something was up with “Juicey boy” and tipped off Clay, who granted him the “Men of Mayhem” patch partly because of the adept way he’d handled the Russians and Mayans, but also as a way to lift his spirits.
Juice was a broken man. That patch, and the honor and respect it represented, as well as Clay’s words when he gave it to him (“I love you, son”) were exactly what Juice needed at that moment. Clay became the badass, white biker father he’d never had, and ever since, he’s been loyal to Clay to a fault. Now, Clay’s pulled his most devoted apostle into the whirlpool of his deceit, and that loyalty could land Juice on the wrong end of a gun.
Ever since we found out the tragic circumstances of JT’s death, there’s been no question Clay will lie, cheat, steal, and even kill to save his own skin. We saw that this week, when he set up the plan to eliminate two of the Nomads (including GoGo, whose DNA will implicate him in the home invasions). In one fell swoop, he attempted to distance himself from his minions and regain some of Unser’s trust (although I don’t think old Wayne will believe it for a second). Based on the preview for next week’s episode, Juice is in for a double whammy. He’ll come clean to Clay about the blackmail and killing Miles, and Roosevelt is going to reveal to Jax that he ratted in return for Clay, who’s responsible for the death of the sheriff’s wife. It’s obviously well within Clay’s playbook to set up this mess as a distraction from his own misdeeds. The preview ends with a Son on his knees with a gun to his head. Here’s hoping it’s Frankie and not Juice, (WARNING UPCOMING SEMI-SPOILER FOR “THE SHIELD,” ANOTHER FX SHOW KURT SUTTER WORKED ON) who’s always been to SAMCRO as Lem was to the Strike Team (END SPOILERS).
One last thing on the Jax/Clay situation: At least one of the guys involved in the drive-by was black, which complicates things a bit. It could mean Pope is somehow involved in the Clay/Nomad deal. Alternatively, it was mentioned that Warren, the con man played by Joel McHale, runs with a crew. So it could’ve been his guys getting revenge. After all, it seems silly to get a name like McHale to play a one (and one-tenth) and done character. If he’s just going to disappear now, his familiar face did nothing but detract from the suspension of my disbelief, which is a point in favor of this option. But the far more likely scenario is still that Clay hired a random black gang banger so he could make Pope a scapegoat. After all, Clay’s really only ever had one move when he needed to bail himself out of trouble: blame it on the blacks. Think about it, Donna got shot, blame it on the blacks, Opie shot me, blame it on the blacks, and so on and so forth.
Now, on to the episode’s last bit of drama: Gemma falling asleep at the wheel and crashing with the Teller children in tow. Filthy Phil had a concerned look on his face as Gemma buckled the kids in. After all, she’d been smoking pot and maybe drinking just a little bit earlier and had likely been awake for more than 24 hours dealing with her car getting stolen, Unser being attacked, and the rest. The sequence ended with what appeared to be Abel’s blood dripping onto his stuffed toad, hence the title “Toad’s Wild Ride.”
The scene was foreshadowed in Jax and Gemma’s earlier conversation, in which mama bear revealed that her overbearing, possessive love of Jax stems from the early death of his older brother Thomas. Said discussion led to Jax advocating for Gemma to watch the kids for the weekend, despite Tara’s misgivings, which in turn led to the fateful crash. Is the death of Tara’s oldest child (I know, Abel’s not technically her child, but still) the final step of her transformation into Gemma? Well…
Here’s the thing, I’m still not positive Abel’s dead. Jax and Gemma’s discussion could have been a red herring. Maybe it was Gemma’s blood, or some grape juice. Maybe Abel’s alive but seriously injured. Sutter’s been known to pull that kind of thing before. Remember when we were all convinced Juice had hung himself? Because I sure do. Maybe it won’t be Tara turning into Gemma because of the death of her eldest child, but Jax turning into Nero because his son is now handicapped.
The result could be any of these things, or none of them. Here’s what we know for goddamn sure: Tara is going to tear Gemma to shred regardless. Remember when she beat the shit of Carla for almost getting Jax killed? That was one thing, she knows the kind of life her husband lives. But her children? And after she continually reiterated that she was trusting Gemma in spite of her best instincts? Gemma is in for a (overly due) beatdown. Tara’s rage could also land on Jax. After all, it was his idea to trust Gemma with the kids in the first place.
No matter what, this episode moved a whole lot of interesting plot lines forward and set the tables for a few more. I have to admit I was worried about the show falling off after a few of the season’s weaker episodes, but after this week I’m sure we’re in for the same thing Toad was. Get it? A wild ride.
Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.
When I was a kid, it was easy to locate a barbershop thanks to the telltale barber’s pole located on the outside of each establishment. And I always wanted to crack that barber pole open and see what it felt like, it’s texture, assuming that its taste was not that far off from a peppermint.
Most barber poles are gone now, but the sentiment, style and quality of a bygone era is thankfully still maintained by the gents at Proraso.
Proraso is an Italian company that has been specializing in men’s shaving for over 80 years. In many ways, it is a remnant of how seriously men used to take the duty of shaving; it was an experience to be enjoyed, not a task to be hurried through.
The first thing I noticed about the pre-shave cream was the texture. It isn’t a cream in the gloppy, lotion sense. When you stick your finger in, it doesn’t necessarily cover your finger, but rather encompasses it – it has a feeling akin to something lighter than air, really. Loaded with eucalyptus and menthol, you can feel the refreshing sensation that is in store for your skin the minute you remove the lid and catch a whiff, before you even apply it.
Once you do apply it, your skin begins to tingle within a few seconds. Honestly, it felt great to just leave the pre-shave cream on and hang out for a few minutes, letting it settle before I added the shaving cream.
Shaving cream gets a bad rap these days, thanks to the cheap stuff in a can that you can get at almost any store. That stuff is so light and airy, in many cases, it feels as though you’ve barely applied any of it to your face prior to dragging a razor across it, which makes for a substandard shave. But the Proraso shave foam had a different volume, felt heavier yet still light, and had its own texture as well. It is a foam, not a cream.
It’s the kind of shave foam that a barber would lather the back of your neck up with after a haircut and annihilate the hair with a straight razor, before that was outlawed.
I could feel the same refreshing, clean, open skin feeling for a full 20 minutes after the shave. It evoked the kind of feeling that makes you want to rub your hand across your freshly shaved skin because it feels so crisp and alive. And it left a clean surface with no stubble or whisker untamed. Also, my skin didn’t feel dried out or scaly after that feeling abated; instead my skin felt protected and solid.
I really like the old school appearance and feel of Proraso. Don’t let the canister fool you – it isn’t the bland, “Brand X” canister you can get at any store for $5 dollars. This is like your grandfathers shaving cream: bold, full-bodied, and undaunted by the fact that it’s a legit, old school shaving cream in a time of gels and other gimmicks.
Don’t be deceived by the small selection of titles in this week’s column, because there are a lot of great Blu-rays hitting stores that weren’t available for review, including the 30th Anniversary Edition of “Blade Runner,” a special edition of the “Universal Classic Monsters” collection, and Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike.” That doesn’t mean that the following Blu-rays aren’t any good, but the ones that aren’t featured are even better.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”
There have been quite a few movies about the end of the world released over the last two years, which means that either people are more miserable than I realized, or the Mayans were right. Of course, the problem with basing a story around such a bleak topic is that it’s depressing – something that “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” tries to avoid by injecting some humor into the proceedings. But even though it fancies itself a rom-com of sorts (albeit one with a dark and not so chewy center), there’s nothing very funny about the apocalypse, and so “Seeking a Friend” is never able to become the movie it wants to be. Though the idea of pairing Steve Carell with Keira Knightley may sound strange, they work well together. It’s definitely a welcome change of pace for Knightley from the stuffy period pieces we’re used to seeing her in, and she brings some much-needed emotional weight to the film. It’s just too bad that the end product is so unbalanced, because “Seeking a Friend” had more than enough talent (between its two stars and the various cameos) to suggest it would be better than this.
Blu-ray Highlight: It may seem a bit weird to hear people like Patton Oswalt and Adam Brody on an audio commentary for a movie they’re barely in, but the two actors help make the track – which also includes writer/director Lorene Scafaria, her mother Gail, and producer Joy Gorman – more lively and entertaining. Brody, in particular, does a good job of keeping the group on course by asking general questions about filming.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”
You’d expect that a movie called “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” would have a certain amount of humor to it, but save for a couple unintentional laughs, Timur Bekmambetov’s big screen adaption of the Seth-Grahame Smith novel plays things surprisingly straight. That wouldn’t be such a problem if it was meant to help sell the comedy of its ridiculous premise, but the movie is starkly serious and almost completely void of any fun. Granted, watching Lincoln slice and dice vampires with a silver-tipped axe provides some amusement (especially when we finally get to see the older, bearded version in action), but those moments don’t come often enough. Benjamin Walker proves himself an adequate choice for the role of the 16th President, and Dominic Cooper is good as Lincoln’s vampire hunting mentor, but the movie always seems to be just on the precipice of embracing its comic potential, only to resist at the last minute, and in that regard, it fails pretty spectacularly in delivering the kind of B-movie guilty pleasure that its whimsical title would suggest.
Blu-ray Highlight: In addition to a fairly informative audio commentary by writer Seth Grahame-Smith, the disc also includes a collection of production featurettes (ranging from a basic making-of documentary, to more specific departments like make-up effects and fight choreography) that fans of the movie will definitely want to check out.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday”
John Schlesinger’s 1971 British drama “Sunday Bloody Sunday” may have been really well-received when it was originally released in theaters, but it doesn’t quite hold up by today’s standards. Though there’s no question that it was way ahead of its time (and some might even say groundbreaking) in the casual treatment of its gay relationship between Peter Finch’s closeted doctor and Murray Head’s bisexual artist, it’s also incredibly slow and boring at times. I love a good character study just as much as the next person, but none of the characters in “Sunday Bloody Sunday” are fascinating enough to hold your interest, and when a movie relies on its characters as much as this one does, that can prove troublesome. The constantly shifting perspectives makes it very difficult to connect to any of the three leads, and there are a few weird moments scattered throughout (like the pot-smoking kids, the dog’s death and the flashbacks) that feel random and completely pointless. It’s still worth checking out for Finch’s performance, but it’s questionable whether the movie deserved the Criterion treatment.
Blu-ray Highlight: There’s not as much on tap as some Criterion discs, but fans will be happy to discover a nice collection of interviews with John Schlesinger, actor Murray Head, and others that worked on the film, as well as an interesting retrospective on the movie by Schlesinger biographer William J. Mann titled “On Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
Although the History Channel has done an admirable job of trying to bring “Top Gear” to America, there are many viewers who still view the U.S.’s take on the series as a pale imitation of the original UK version…and, yes, if you’re wondering, I am one of those viewers, thank you very much. Not that there’s anything wrong with Adam Ferrera, Tanner Foust, and Rutledge Wood in principle, but to my way of thinking, they can’t hold a candle to Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May. I mean, I’m not even a car person (and, boy, is that an understatement), but I’ve been enthralled by the adventures of Clarkson, Hammond, and May ever since I first discovered the series a few years back.
Indeed, I’ve found their presences so uniformly enjoyable that I’ve even followed them over to their various solo exploits. For instance, if you’ve never seen “James May’s Toy Stories,” head over to Hulu and check it out post haste…but, hang on, before doing that, perhaps you’d better watch “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course,” which actually makes its debut this evening on BBC America. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with Mr. Hammond during this summer TCA press tour, and we chatted about this new series as well as the one which made him a household name amongst automobile enthusiasts, not to mention various and sundry other topics.
Bullz-Eye: You’re all but ubiquitous on UK television nowadays, but how did you find your way onto TV in the first place?
Richard Hammond: I started as a radio host 24 years ago, in 1988. Local radio, a small station in the UK. I stuck with that for the better part of 10 years and eventually started doing TV. Car-related TV, because that was always my passion. And that opened into other types of TV, but I stuck with the cars as well, and then eventually auditioned for and got “Top Gear” when they re-launched it.
BE: Being a re-launch, I guess it was both a proven commodity as well as an unproven one, since it was all new.
RH: Yeah, it’d become quite old-fashioned and, as happened, it was taken off air because viewers had dwindled, but then it came back as an entirely new thing.
BE: Presumably you were pleasantly surprised when it took off as well as it did.
RH: Weren’t we, though? [Laughs.] Yes, but it wasn’t immediate. We were very lucky. We were afforded the opportunity to grow organically over time, because it was only a small show, so we could be allowed to evolve. We never set out to create the monster we created. We set out to make the best car show we could. That, honestly, is all we ever set out to do. And it was what it was, and it grew to what it became, and it found the appeal it found. We were just lucky. It was a perfect storm. The perfect combination of event, context, characters, appetite…it all came together.
BE: It’s very much a car show for people who aren’t even car aficionados.
RH: Well, we kind of do that to save the viewer the bother. We’re car geeks. I mean, I collect cars. I’ve got…oh, God, dozens of them at home, ranging from pre-war to immediate. But it has to have that at heart. We occasionally…not in recent years, but there was a time when we’d be asked quite regularly, “Are you really a car guy, or is it all put on?” You couldn’t pretend! But you don’t have to be a car fan to watch it, because cars, generally speaking, are fascinating to everyone because they affect all of us. Even if all you ever do is get in one to get a ride to school, they’re still part of your life, be it as a symbol, a means of communication, a means of transport, even as self-expression.
BE: What would you say has been the most fascinating aspect of “Top Gear”? You’ve been to so many countries, done so many things…
RH: Well, I’ve grown up there! I was 30 when we started, I’m 40 now. That’s a big period in a chap’s life! [Laughs.] Both my daughters have arrived since then. Lots has happened. It’s been a part of my life for a long, long time. That’s probably the big surprise. No, the bigger surprise is what’s happened to it! It still takes our breath away how big it’s gotten. We can’t believe it.