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December 2010
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M's farewell tour is in danger of lasting as long as Cher's. This week's edition involves a trip to the Meadowood Resort in the Napa Valley. It is rather more pricey and high end than we would normally get involved with. But The Restaurant At Meadwood (pretentious name, eh?) recently won its third Michelin star. Since M and I are foodies (and she is going to be eating mostly millet and sorgham for the next two years in Mali) we wanted to sample it before she left. We could have stayed anywhere in the Napa Valley, but we bit the bullet and paid for one night at the resort itself. I shan't be so crass as to mention the room rate, but the adjective "eye watering" barely does it justice. The rooms are spectacular and well appointed, with fireplaces in each and a well-stocked woodpile indoors. The three-hour meal at the restaurant, which involved the seven-course tasting menu (separate vegetarian fare for my wife V), was mind-blowingly varied and good. The service was meticulous and attentive (V called it "fussy") and the restaurant was physically beautiful. M also had the matched wines for each course. The wines do, in fact, complement the food. As one would expect for the Napa Valley, the wine list was extensive and interesting. Prices, while (once again) eye watering, were, in fact, in line with other restaurants that have had a third Michelin star bestowed upon them. This experience truly reminded me of eating in the three-star restaurants of France. We stayed for spa treatments and a dip in the hot tub afterwards, then had lunch in the grill, with its view of the golf course and (yes) the croquet lawn. We'd have played croquet, but you are required to have croquet whites and flat soled shoes. By this time next week, Marlow will be winging her way to Mali, so this indulgence seemed appropriate.

Green Hornet (The)

3.5 stars out of 5

(The extra length of this review comes about because it is shared with the excellent USC site, the Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture. I am the author of its movie review page.)

It used to be said that the mark of a true intellectual was the ability to listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger; similarly, you were pretty cultures it you could hear Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee and not think of the Ranger's sibling program, The Green Hornet. It has been so long since either was on radio or television that the test is no longer valid. In fact, most people under 40 haven't heard either selection.

Anyway, people of a certain vintage will remember the Green Hornet radio program from NBC and the Mutual Radio Network; people of my vintage will remember the television show from the 60s. But no one remembers a Green Hornet like this. Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg adapted the Green Hornet, officially created by lawyer George W. Trendle (who bought out co-creators writer Fran Striker and director James Jewell). Those with long memories will recall that Britt Reid (a nephew of Dan Reid, the Lone Ranger) was a newspaper publisher by day, crime-fighter by night, assisted by his faithful driver Kato. Rogen plays with the myth, making Reid the wastrel son of a newspaper publisher, and Kato the brains of the outfit--a lovely old show-business trope, used to great effect in such films as Gene Wilder's 1975 comedy The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother. Although the New Yorker, among other outlets, savagely trashed the film, I found it amusing and clever. Rogen slimmed down quite a bit for the role, and while he plays a fool, he isn't an utter fool. Cameron Diaz is eye candy in a few scenes, most likely to reduce the risk of the bromance being considered insufficiently manly. Alas, Rogen can't quite bring himself to stop playing immature men.

This is what I call a journalism movie! Lots of scenes in the newspaper office, including the editorial offices and the press room. There are front page meetings, and discussions of journalistic ethics. Reid's job as the publisher, successor to his father, is not incidental to the proceedings, it is critical. Alas, there hasn't been a newspaper in a building this big or offices this nice in some time (outside of the New York Times, the price of whose new building is one of the factors strangling it). But someday, when all the newspaper are gone, some of the scenes in this film will serve to remind us of bygone glory. There are one or two throwaway lines about "these difficult times for newspapers," but if you go with the visuals, rather than the dialog, you'd think print publications were still minting money. My daughter remarked, at the end of the film, "Wait, you mean they want us to think his family got rich owning a newspaper? How?"

Neal Vitale's Oscar Picks

Update January 8, 2006: Well, at least I know how I did. Out of 48 picks, 37 correct. A little over 77%.

The Oscar nominations are announced on Tuesday morning - these are my picks for who will be getting the nods in the major categories:


Black Swan, Toy Story 3, True Grit, The King's Speech, The Social Network, The Kids Are All Right, Inception, The Fighter, The Town, 127 Hours


Colin Firth (The King's Speech), Paul Giamatti (Barney's Version), James Franco (127 Hours), Robert Duvall (Get Low), Javier Bardem (Biutiful)


Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)


Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech), Jeremy Renner (The Town),Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), Christian Bale (The Fighter), Andrew Garfield (The Social Network


Amy Adams (The Fighter), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom), Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right)


Inception, The Fighter, The King's Speech, The Kids Are All Right, Black Swan


The Social Network, True Grit, The Town, 127 Hours, Rabbit Hole


Darren Aronfsky (Black Swan), David Fincher (The Social Network), Christopher Nolan (Inception), Danny Boyle (127 Hours), Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit)


Toy Story 3, How To Train Your Dragon, Tangled

Letters: Peterman with a Canadian View

Ran out of time this week; sorry for the lack of political briefs or a Dan Grobstein File. However, Kent Peterman offers a Canadian view of recent events:
“We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station,” he said.
“As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not. These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions, but also with our irresponsible words. We’re better than this. We must do better.”
-Astronaut Scott Kelly (brother-in-law of Gabrielle Giffords) from space.

Children Going Away

My mother used to say that your children don't go away once, they go away several times. Certainly true in my case. I left for college in the fall of 1970, then spent two summers working at home and lived with my parents for three months when I moved back to Portland in January 1978, until I could find an apartment. Our older daughter, M, has lived all over the world, and will be spending a few days living with us before she takes off for 27 months in the Peace Corps in Mali on Jan. 30. We will keep you aprised of her adventures there.

In the meantime, everyone needed a chance to say goodbye (and also happy 30th Birthday) which they got Sunday at the Little Baobob restaurant in the San Francisco Mission District, where we served up Senegalese food, and drink, and good cheer. There were 35 of us, old friends and new, high school friends and the people Vicki and I have known from baby class since M was a fetus. M supplied the Malian music that was the soundtrack for the rollicking time had by all. Her local cousins showed up (she said goodbye to her Seattle cousin, S, last week in Portland). No point in buying her much in the way of presents--you don't take very much with you when you go into the Peace Corps. So M moves away again, and the adventure begins again. We hope to see her in Mali over next Christmas vacation (not a vacation in Muslim Mali, but one in my school district).

Political Briefs

Blue Valentine

3.5 stars out of 5
Maybe, instead of talking about the "feel good movie year," we need a new category, the "feel bad movie of the year." True Grit, the other movie V and I saw this weekend, kind of calls into that category (and I mostly agree with Neal's review, except I would have given it 4 stars instead of 3.5). Blue Valentine is definitely a "feel bad" movie. It is the surgical autopsy of a relationship, told with intercutting scenes of is dissolution in the present and its birth six years earlier. Controversial because of two soft-core sex scenes (intercourse and oral sex) that won it an NC-17 rating, dropped to an R after appeal, this clever and artistic film does indeed make the case that the rating system is broken. It also makes the case that everyone involved is either a brilliant actor or a brilliant film maker. It is not much fun to watch, except on the intellectual level. I'll repeat a warning you may already have heard; don't see it with your significant other if you are at the start or end of a relationship--too scary or too painful. A side note: my wife the therapist says that despite the apparently bleak condition of the marriage at the end of the film, "I've seen worse situations in which they stayed together. This marriage may not be over yet."

One other thing I like about this film; it subverts an ancient and immutable Hollywood trope. Whenever the female lead of a film has a choice between two men, the movies have always taught us that the poor but plucky one is the catch, not the wealthy one. In this case, the lead chooses the son of a janitor over the college student. Now the college student is a right twit, but really, could he possibly have worked out any worse? The way I see it, this movie is the antidote to that trope: you find out what happens if the girl actually DOES marry the inappropriate boy. And it isn't pretty.

Peterman and oldtimers disease, Mark Astolfi, Dern finds two-space rant, Dalton on Guns, Dan Grobstein File

Time for a small case of old-timers disease. Kent Peterman sent me a picture of IBM's first 5-ton 5-mbyte disk drive.Which reminded me, my first 10 mb hard drive was the size of two old-school vhs players, weighed 50 pounds cost $1,000. The first hard drive I worked with (1968) was a 1024-byte rotating drum memory (500ms access time--wow, is that slow) Monrobot Mark XI. Times change.

If you REALLY care about rock and roll (and nostalgia), try the blog written by Mark Astolfi, a college classmate of mine.

Daniel Dern checks in with: "Why 2 spaces after a period is wrong, wrong, wrong..."

From Richard Dalton:

..."Guns don't kill people, people kill people."  There's undeniable logic in that familiar statement, but I want to respond, "Do you think that the wingnut in Tucson would have killed six people and injured another twelve with a knife?" Derrick Z. Jackson, one of my favorite Boston Globe columnists, adds some meaningful data to the ongoing right-wing blather about Second Amendment "rights." Jackson cites a recent study published in the journal Trauma that that compared firearm death rates in 23 "high-income" countries.  The study, performed by UCLA and Harvard School of Public Health, showed  that our firearms death rate is almost 20 times higher than the other countries.  We account for nearly 80% of all firearm deaths in this group.  The disturbing findings continue.  I suggest you give this a look. Meanwhile, the State of New Hampshire just repealed a law banning the carrying of weapons in the state house by both legislators and visitors.  This country gets harder and harder to live in.

Dan Grobstein File