Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review—The Exception

The Exception
The Exception.jpg

by Peter J. O'Connell

The Exception. Released: June 2017. Runtime: 107 mins. MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, graphic nudity, language, and brief violence.

It's the spring of 1940, and Hitler's blitzkrieg is rolling across Europe. Holland has fallen and with it the estate where Kaiser Wilhelm II has been living in exile since being deposed 22 years earlier at the end of World War I. The elderly, sometimes splenetic, former emperor of Germany (Christopher Plummer) dresses formally in cutaway coat and wing-collar shirt—and sometimes in something from his extensive collection of military uniforms—but spends much of his time relaxing by splitting wood, feeding ducks, and flirting mildly with Mieke (Lily James), a pretty young Dutch maid.

A loyal aide (Ben Daniels) briefs the Kaiser daily on military developments, and the empress (Janet McTeer) runs the household with Teutonic rigor, while dreaming of a return of her husband to power—not likely as Nazis and royalists don't think much of each other. In fact, the Nazis send Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) and some troops to the estate in order to both guard and spy on the Kaiser. You see, resistance partisans and British agents are operating in the area. They may abduct the Kaiser—or, possibly, he may flee to Britain voluntarily in hopes of a restoration after the war. Such are the setting and situation addressed by screenwriter Simon Burke and director David Leveaux in The Exception, their version of Alan Judd's novel The Kaiser's Last Kiss

Stefan Brandt is a conflicted protagonist. He is not a Nazi but a German patriot who wants to serve honorably in a war of army against army, but the atrocities that he witnessed earlier in Poland give him bad dreams. He despises the Gestapo and SS functionaries with whom he has to deal in his guard/spy assignment but tells Mieke that they are exceptions to German honor. She tells him: “They are the rule. You are the exception.” 

Mieke becomes the center of the film's intrigues, both personal and political. Stefan at first takes a commanding role in a sexual relationship with her, but she soon becomes a commanding figure herself. Their relationship then becomes a truly romantic one rather than just an erotic one. Mieke, however, has her own agenda and hopes that Stefan will join her in it. Whether he will—and whether someone else also will—provides considerable suspense. 

The movie challenges us to locate its characters on a scale from absolute evil through gradations of badness and goodness to positions worthy of admiration. There is no question as to who is at the bottom of this scale. It is SS head Heinrich Himmler, chillingly portrayed by Eddie Marsan, who pays a visit to the Kaiser. Himmler's idea of polite dinner table conversation is discussing various techniques for the mass killing of children. 

The Kaiser, wonderfully played by Christopher Plummer, a cultural treasure of stage and screen (both big and small) for 65 years, is more complex, both charming for some personality traits and contemptible for some views. Courtney and James, playing characters near the top of the moral scale, give solid performances. David Leveaux's direction is efficient in handling The Exception's plot points and effective in making its moral and psychological points.      

Clams with Pancetta, Onion and Basil

Bangor Daily News

Several years ago, tired of the worn and battered look of my once-nice kitchen table, I carefully sanded it, stained it and re-polyurethaned it. The process took me a few days, and I was so happy when it looked clean, crisp and fresh again.
Or, it did at first. As it turned out the table wasn’t previously stained. It was painted and the polyurethane layer soon began to peel off like a spent face mask.
It wasn’t pretty.
Soon after — before I could fix my mistake — I moved to Maine with that table, to a place without ample space for resanding and painting. We’ve lived with it in its sad worn state ever since.
And while I appreciate having it — it accommodates a crowd and all the dishes I make for our family dinners — I grit my teeth when I see it. Fortunately, vases of flowers can often distract me. And a well-chosen tablecloth can almost make me forget.
Sometimes though, when the condition of the table really gets to me, I think about disassembling it, rolling the top outside and carrying the base to the curb with a giant FREE sign.
Someone else would surely enjoy it, right?
Of course, that would pose a problem. Where would we gather around for dinners served family style? Where would my kids spill the details of their days over heaping mounts of salad and plates piled with clams? There’s no backup table hidden in our basement, so for now we’ll continue tolerating it.
And we’ll keep digging into flavorful dishes like this one: Clams with Pancetta, Onion, Garlic and Basil.
Peppery pancetta browns, releasing fat for sweet red onions to cook in. Then the clams and a little white wine are added. Once the clams are all cooked and transferred to a serving dish, it’s all finished off with fresh, bright basil. It’s no mistake that there’s no salt or pepper mentioned in the recipe — it doesn’t need it. The natural flavors together are all you need.
This recipe is great with many any clams (you can make it with mussels too). Our favorite is the littleneck variety, but when we found soft-shell clams at Dorr’s Lobster on Broadway in Bangor recently we used them instead. Delightful. You might know this clam variety by its varied other names — like longnecks and steamers.
Whatever type of clam you use, this recipe relies on a building of flavor. And the result is lovely.
Serve this with some crusty bread for dipping in the broth and a tossed salad too — veggies are an important element in every meal. Click here for recipe.
Then gather around the table and enjoy.

The 5 Types of Items Worth Holding Onto


Determining which collectibles have the potential to increase in value has changed drastically over the past 20 years. With the introduction of e-commerce, items once believed to be rare were made available en masse. And with previous generations of collectors in a position to divest their prized possessions, the forces of supply and demand may have never had a more profound impact on collecting.
For centuries, there were cyclical styles of items that could be acquired when they were out of favor with the knowledge that eventually they’d come back in vogue. It’s why you hear some furniture styles described with the term “revival” after their name (there was the original period and then the period where they were revived).
So, what makes something popular and worth holding onto? Well, as the founder and Chief Learning Officer of the estate sale company and auction platform, Everything But The House (EBTH), I’d say it’s the herd mentality. When I started collecting in the 1990s, the predominant design themes in the average American home included Southwestern patterns in pastel tones (mauve, teal, peach) and traditional furnishings with Grecian patterned upholstery in burgundy, gold, and hunter green. At the time, Midcentury Modern furnishings were only starting to regain a following. I recall pulling a pair of DUX Midcentury Modern chairs out of the garbage and proudly sold the pair at a show the following weekend for $150. If I had known then what I know now, I might have held out for more.
My point is that by the time you know something is in demand, it’s often too late. Therefore, in order to know what might be worth holding onto, you have to be able to do something most of us can’t: see into the future. Still, there are five keys to knowing which possessions offer promise:
1. Items that are either one-of-a-kind, handmade by a skilled artist or craftsperson or made in limited quantities will always be in demand. For instance, curating an art collection of living artists can be a good investment strategy. But not always. So pair this rule with the following three points: 1) Buy the art to enjoy it. 2.) Don’t invest more than you’re comfortable losing. 3.) Diversify.
2. Items made of high-quality materials by notable firms will always have an audience. Names like Hermès, Chanel, Tiffany and Cartier get collectors to pay closer attention. They’re like buying blue-chip stocks. These firms have stood the test of time and shown they have what it takes to maintain consumer interest, even if that means reinventing themselves. The items won’t necessarily appreciate in value, but they are much less likely to depreciate if kept in good condition.
3. Other collectibles to consider are ones that remind us of our youth. Once a generation reaches middle age with disposable income (usually older than 35), they tend to collect objects that remind them of their yesteryears. This transcends categories and applies to toys, books and even vehicles. For instance, in recent years, He-Man action figures from the 1980s have appreciated to values exceeding even earlier generations of toys such as G.I. Joe figures from the 1960s.
But the timing on the sale of these types of objects is critical. A rule of thumb: consider selling nostalgia items 25 to 35 years after they originally became popular. It’s important to note that the earliest editions —produced in limited quantities before the category became popular enough to justify increased production — command the highest prices.
4. Consider holding onto items connected to unique events or people in history but that were intended to be discarded. These are often referred to as ephemera. The key here is that the item must be one-of-a-kind or hard to come by.
For example, many people held onto newspapers reporting the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the moon landing, so they’re not rare and therefore not valuable. But if you held onto an early promotional poster for The Rolling Stones from the same timeframe, you would have more than enough to pay for a nice vacation after selling it. click here to continue reading.

Movie Review—The Beguiled

The Beguiled
The Beguiled (2017 film).png
Theatrical release poster

by Peter J. O'Connell                                                                                                                                                    

The Beguiled. Released: June 2017. Runtime: 93 mins. MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality.

Thomas Cullinan's novel A Painted Devil has made it to the screen twice, both times under the title The Beguiled. The first time was in 1971, and Clint Eastwood starred during the transition period from his iconic Man With No Name character in Westerns to his iconic Dirty Harry character in crime dramas. The 1971 version of the story, with Eastwood as a wounded Union soldier in Mississippi in 1863, is actually about the war between the sexes rather than the War Between the States. Done in Southern Gothic mode, director Don Siegel described the film as about the “basic desire of women to castrate men.” Such was one Hollywood response to the emergence of militant feminism.

Now 46 years later, director Sofia Coppola has brought forth her version of The Beguiled, this time set in Virginia in 1864. Coppola's version is not without violence, but it is not the violence of the Civil War, which she simply indicates by the occasional sound of cannon fire in the distance. And Coppola's violence is proceeded by what we might think of as, so to speak, the personal and emotional correlatives of political and diplomatic maneuvering before the outbreak of actual violent conflict. 

Whereas Siegel was interested in the threat that angry women posed to a male protagonist, Coppola is interested in the changes that take place in a world of women when a man enters into it. The world she depicts is that of Miss Farnsworth's Seminary for Young Ladies, a boarding school located in a plantation house. But all the slaves and most of the students have left the isolated and now overgrown place. Only five students, of various ages and personalities, remain to be taught by the starchy Miss Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) and her assistant, Miss Morrow (Kirsten Dunst), who has vague yearnings for a different life.

This world starts to change when young Amy (Oona Laurence), collecting mushrooms, discovers that a  badly injured Union soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell), in effect a deserter, has made his way onto the plantation grounds. Miss Farnsworth says that Christian charity commands that they care for the handsome John before deciding what to do with him.

While John is recovering, the women and girls start to compete with each other for his attention and affection—providing him lingering sponge baths, giving presents, dressing up, wearing jewelry, having “meaningful” conversations, preparing a luxurious dinner. The sultry, restless Alicia (Elle Fanning) offers kisses. 

As John regains his strength, he sets about manipulating the women and girls by making each one think that he has a special bond with her. To avoid returning to the war, he seeks to have Miss Farnsworth keep him on as gardener, and he tells Ms. Morrow that he has fallen in love with her.

But John's shape-shifting maneuvers in that genteel world—dimly lit inside, hazy and misty outside-- of women in white eventually lead to actual violence once Miss Farnsworth commands: “Bring me the anatomy book.” And John, though ostensibly a soldier, is not the victor in that violence. 

So, which version of The Beguiled should be more beguiling to film fans, 1971's with its emphasis on male anxieties or 2017's with its focus on a female world? Gothic or genteel? It's obviously a matter of individual taste. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses.

Colin Farrell, though not charismatic like Clint Eastwood, is quite convincing as John. Nicole Kidman is effective but a bit “underdone” in the headmistress role (certainly so as compared with Geraldine  Page in the 1971 version). Elle Fanning as Alicia is rather over the top (or “overheated”), but Kirsten Dunst seems exactly right as Morrow, as do the actresses portraying the other students. And the sensitive cinematography of Philippe Le Sourd is also exactly right for the mood that Coppola wishes to create. 

All in all, if love is a battlefield, Sofia Coppola proves herself with The Beguiled, as she has with other films, a competent cinematic commander.   

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Camp Jabberwocky on Martha's Vineyard

Editor's note: Camp Jabberwocky offers children and adults with a wide range of disabilities the chance to enjoy the summer in a small family-like community – living together and enjoying jam-packed days filled with adventurous activities and experiences that are safe, empowering, exciting and fun. Campers stay between one and four weeks during which they enjoy activities and classes on campus and out and about in the community of Martha’s Vineyard.

Beginning in the last weeks of June, a joyful noise can be heard emanating from Camp Jabberwocky’s wooded Tisbury campus. According to session director JoJo Romero De Slavy, every day is a raucous celebration but there are three Ps that every Jabberwocky camper lives for: the parade, the prom and the play.
This summer, the parade float was Broadway themed. The prom was Greek-Isles themed. And over the weekend, the play brought it all together with Mamma Mia!, a show that takes place on a Greek island far from our own.
Camp Jabberwocky was started in 1953 by Helen Lamb as what’s considered North America’s first sleepaway camp for people with disabilities. Campers come with a vast array of disabilities ­­— some physical, some intellectual, some psychological— but everyone is embraced for their boundless creative potential, not their limitations. Besides the three Ps, campers also go horseback riding, take art classes, sail on the Mad Max, kayak and dance to Rick Bausman’s drumming on the beach.  click here to continue reading.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Movie Review—Baby Driver

Baby Driver
Baby Driver poster.jpg

by Peter J. O’Connell   

Baby Driver. Released: June 2017. Runtime: 113 mins. MPAA Rating: R for violence and language throughout.

With Baby Driver writer/director Edgar Wright delivers an instant cult classic. The movie has all the right attributes: cast a mix of seasoned thesps and young up-and-comers; Tarantinoesque ultraviolence and snarky dialogue; obsessed Lynchian characters; car chases and crashes a la the Fast and Furious franchise, except even more spectacular and rather more realistic; a deep structure whose ancestry is rooted in film noir of the 1940s and ‘50s. And, notably, the film has a brilliantly unique use of music, simultaneously diegetic and non-diegetic—a character (Baby) continually listens to diverse music from the 1960s to the present, music that constitutes the soundtrack of the movie and in various ways reflects or comments upon the action. Sometimes everything happening on the screen, in effect, moves in rhythm with the music that both Baby—and the audience—hears. (The music includes the eponymous Simon and Garfunkel tune “Baby Driver.”)

Baby-faced Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young man in Atlanta working as a getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a criminal mastermind who specializes in meticulously planned heists. Baby is working for Doc only until he can pay off a debt. Because Baby seldom speaks but listens to music on iPods all the time, one of Doc’s crew asks: “Is he slow?” Doc explains: “He had an accident when he was a kid. Still has a hum in the drum. Plays music to drown it out. And that’s what makes him the best.”

There’s more to it than tinnitus, though. Baby started listening to music as a young child in order to drown out his father’s abuse of his mother, a singer. Following his mother’s death in an auto accident—caused by abuse and with Baby in the car--the youngster began to function as if he had PTSD or, perhaps, the combination of social awkwardness with great facility in a specific field—in his case driving—seen in autistic savants. Baby does, however, have a warm relationship with his elderly foster father (C.J. Jones), a deaf mute whom he takes care of tenderly and who gives him good advice. Baby also encounters a super-sweet waitress, Debora (Lily James), in a diner, with whom he falls in love and she with him.

But Baby has difficult relationships with Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Bats (Jamie Fox), two key members of Doc’s crew. Their violent propensities create a tense atmosphere even when the gang is not carrying out its heists and deals.

Baby and Debora hope to hit the road to the West, but there’s that “one more job” for Doc. Moviegoers know how that kind of job usually turns out. Baby Driver handles the job with tricky twists and turns, in and out of cars—though, perhaps, a few too many climaxes. In any case, it’s a cool thrill to ride along--even in a theatre seat--with Elgort as Baby and the rest of a topnotch cast on a summer’s day or evening.

“Footnote” to the film: Another fairly recent movie featuring a possibly autistic getaway driver is Drive (2011), starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.      


6 Tips for a Successful Estate Sale

Image result for estate sale

Next Avenue’s Richard Eisenberg recently wrote a post called “Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff.” He’s right, generally speaking, but it also kind of depends on what stuff your parents had. If there’s value — or at least value in the eyes of others — an estate sale could be worth trying.

Simply put, an estate sale is a sale of virtually everything in the house. An estate sale is probably way more stuff than you’d be able to haul outside for a yard sale. If you hire a professional estate sale company, which is a smart idea, the business will take a commission of typically 35 percent to 50 percent of the sale’s gross proceeds.

2 Types of Estate Sale Buyers

An estate sale needn’t have high-dollar items in order to be successful, though.
As William Oliva of Babe & Snooks Estate Sales  in Chicago says: “There are two types of buyers: Dealers or re-sellers and regular folks. Of course, having high-end items draws more people — the curious and those hoping to negotiate for a lower price.”

6 Tips for a Successful Estate Sale

If you’re thinking about selling your parents’ possessions through an estate sale, follow Oliva’s six tips below:

First, you’ll want to see if the stuff even warrants an estate sale. So, find a reputable estate sale professional to do a walk-through and to give you an assessment. “There should be no fee for the initial consultation, ever,” said Oliva.
To choose a good estate sale company near you, start by asking friends and family members for references. Alternatively, look for companies online. Sites like and Estatesales.orglet you locate firms locally or will contact them for you. You’ll want to be sure any company you hire is bonded and carries liability insurance.

Interview multiple estate sale firms and check them out on the Better Business Bureau site to eliminate ones with legitimately negative reviews. Ask for references you can check before committing to an estate sale company.

Second, do not throw away anything. Sometimes, what may look like junk to you may be a treasure to someone else. Estate sale staffers are trained to know what is desirable and can help you determine what to junk or give away. After a loved one passes away, family members usually want mementos in remembrance of the deceased. It’s important not to allow the family to take only the valuable stuff and leave rubbish.

Third, allow a window of about a month in advance of the sale to properly set up the home. An experienced estate sale team should take about five days to get things ready. Thursdays through Sundays are prime days for estate sales; the only days that sales don’t happen are Christmas and Thanksgiving. click here to continue reading.