Simon Yam was in town yesterday introducing his film Echoes of The Rainbow at the NY Asian Film Festival. The guy is a legend, a true icon of Hong Kong cinema. He’s been in the game for over 30 years and played every kind of character but is probably best known for his badass cop and gangster roles. So this movie was a slight departure for him, playing a poor shoemaker struggling to provide for his wife and two sons in 1960’s Hong Kong. In his intro, Simon told us about his own childhood when his father would sometimes hit him seemingly for no good reason, and he couldn’t understand his father’s love until he was much older. This echoes the part of the movie where his character takes a hand to the younger son, and because of that scene and so many others that were really personal to him, he felt that out of all the movies he’s ever done, this one was the closest to his heart. He said to break out the tissues because we’d need them by the end of the film. And yes, he was right.
But it turns out, as strong as Simon Yam’s performance is, the one who really makes the movie is Buzz Chung, the child actor who plays “Big Ears”, the mischievous younger son who walks around with a fish bowl over his head pretending to be an astronaut when he’s not busy misbehaving. Whether he’s making you laugh, making you well up with tears, or just looking adorable going about his business, he absolutely steals every scene he’s in. I think that every great movie you see, you leave the theater with certain images that linger in your mind. Those are the images that will forever spring to mind whenever you think of the film. And if the movie was really affecting, as this one was, recalling those images will instantly trigger emotions in you. In this film, as gorgeous as the cinematography was, I find that all the images that have stuck with me in that way are vignettes of the expressive little Buzz Chung. Perhaps the most memorable for me was the scene of Big Ears running home after school only to find the family shoe store closed. He may have been too young to really understand why, but he knew instantly that something was very wrong, and his look of abject fear and desperation captured the direness of the situation in a very powerful way.
I admit I may have been particularly moved by this film because I see a bit of myself in the Big Ears character. Though I don’t think I was ever that naughty, my family always called me kwai doy which is Toisanese for mischievous boy, so maybe I was, I dunno. And I definitely saw a little bit of my mom in scenes when Big Ears’ mom would say things like “I just wish he’d behave” with a heavy sigh, but also with a little bit of a smirk. I didn’t really understand or appreciate it as a kid, but growing up in a Chinese family, and maybe especially because it was a Toisanese family, I was being instilled with the idea that having struggles are part of what make life rich. And the smirk comes from knowing that dealing with a son that’s a little bit of a rascal is a relatively good kind of struggle to have. It’s actually one of the themes of the movie- that life is supposed to be half good, half bad. And my own takeaway from it is that if you can embrace the bad, well, then it’s all good. And for me, this movie was definitely all good.
As of January 1st, I no longer get the Food Network or HGTV because Cablevision declined the rate increase being requested by Scripps Networks, the parent company of the two channels. Cablevision claims Scripps was attempting to raise the fee for those channels by 200% and that they could not accept those terms without passing the increases on to their cable subscribers like me. If you ask me, both sides have a greedy wrongheadedness about the value of their offerings. Cablevision charges too much for their services as it is, so they could certainly eat the price increase if they had to. Though I’m not saying they should, because I think Scripps is pretty delusional about the worth of their channels too. But in this day and age, there’s a way disputes like this get resolved- using the arbitration model just like in sports contract disputes. Get an independent arbitrator to listen to both sides and determine what is actually a fair carriage fee for the channels in question. It should be that simple, and at that point, whichever side refuses to go to arbitration is clearly the one in the wrong. Enough said.
As for me personally, I had lost almost all interest in the Food Network long ago. The good shows are either long gone (Taste with David Rosengarten, Molto Mario, the original Iron Chef), or relegated to very obscure hours (Jamie at Home). People that can actually cook, like Mario Batali, have been replaced by cartoonish personalities who annoy us with forced ebullience. So many of the current roster of Food Network celebrities remind me of used car salesmen. But these charlatans aren’t peddling vehicles, they’re selling themselves. They’re trying to convince you that they are fun, cool, and boy wouldn’t you just love to hang out with them. It’s not about food, it’s about them! Nauseating.
Slightly more regrettable is losing HGTV, but only slightly. The only show I watched there was Holmes On Homes, but I won’t miss it too much because it seemed they only had about 15 episodes in rotation and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them all. That’s another thing to gripe about with Scripps- if they are going to charge more for these channels, they should damn well bring the other episodes of Holmes on Homes to the U.S. audience (there are tons of episodes that have only aired on HGTV Canada).
But while the fallout from this battle between Scripps and Cablevision is no big deal to me right now, I do have serious trepidation about the future. You see, Scripps also bought a majority stake in The Travel Channel back in November. Now that is a channel with programming that I do still like a lot. I love No Reservations, Dhani Tackles the Globe, Meet The Natives and sometimes I even find Samantha Brown, Andrew Zimmern and Man v. Food worthwhile. It scares me to think that Scripps and Cablevision could someday upturn this apple cart the same way they took the Food Network and HGTV away from 3.1 million viewers this past weekend. The way I see it, losing the Food Network is just mildly irritating. I’m annoyed only because it has become a part of popular culture and being a typical American with an inflated sense of entitlement, I feel I should have access to it even if I never actually use it. But losing the Travel Channel? Man, I hope it doesn’t ever come to that.
Eric Ripert’s new cooking show Avec Eric on PBS is a nice addition to the otherwise crowded food television landscape. It’s filmed in vivid high definition which really makes a difference, not just in the food porn closeups, but also the places he shoots on location.
Only three episodes have aired so far, but it looks like every one will follow a three part formula. Things open with a segment in the Le Bernadin kitchen where a different station is featured each week. We get to meet the staff member(s) responsible for that station as they explain the products they handle and how they work with them. In HD, the quality of the ingredients is stunningly apparent and you also get a sense of how clean, calm and orderly everything is in Ripert’s kitchen. It’s so cool to get a peek at the inner workings of the restaurant like that.
The second segment of each episode is filmed on location someplace where Ripert either sources his ingredients or is exploring and learning about new things. So far, two of the three episodes have featured places I’m familiar with from my trips to California the last few years, namely David Kinch’s restaurant Manresa and Hog Island Oysters in Tomales Bay. Both were really interesting segments. I didn’t know that Kinch has an exclusive relationship with Love Apple Farm where everything produced there is for use by Manresa. This frees up the farmer, Cynthia, from worrying about selling her product so she can just focus on her passion for growing things. Also interesting is the process of trial and error they use year after year until they manage to grow things that taste the way they want. Oh and there’s one particularly amusing moment where we watch Ripert’s expression as he tastes one of Kinch’s dishes. It’s as if he’s so overwhelmed by how delicious it is he can’t control himself so he punches Kinch in the arm and euphorically says “gimme a break, this is fantastic!”. Great stuff.
Then Ripert closes out each episode from his home kitchen in Manhattan where he shows us how to make a dish. His home kitchen is of course gorgeous, clean and spacious. And as you’d expect, his recipes have a beautiful simplicity and sensibility to them. More than anything else, it’s this opportunity to watch the master performing his craft (in HD!) that makes Avec Eric so enjoyable. From his obvious respect for his raw ingredients to his deft and delicate touch with every action in the kitchen, it just kind of makes you say, man, that’s the way to cook!
Kudos to HGTV for bringing the Holmes on Homes series back to U.S. viewers. Even if they have given it a crappy time slot (8am Saturday mornings), it’s great that we can see the show again. It used to be carried on the Discovery Home Channel, but they dropped it when that channel became Planet Green.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it follows Canadian contractor Mike Holmes and his crew as they step in to fix the problems left behind by other contractors. In some cases the previous contractors were inept at best and in others they were outright criminally unscrupulous. It is one of the most informative shows ever produced when it comes to home repair and construction. Viewers learn best practices and what to watch out for when inspecting a home or dealing with contractors. But the biggest difference between Holmes on Homes and other instructional shows like This Old House is the human element. You get to know the crew. You feel for the homeowners and the injustice of what prior contractors have done to their lives. But you also share in the emotional payoff every time Mike’s crew finishes a job and you see the homeowner’s reaction. Every time Mike turns a house back over to the homeowner, it’s like he’s given them their lives back. That’s the real draw of the show for me.
This morning, August 29th, marked the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and its destruction of the city of New Orleans and so it was fitting that HGTV chose today for the U.S. premier of Holmes in New Orleans. In this two-hour special, Mike Holmes takes his crew to NOLA to try and build a prototype sustainable LEED-certified home in 10 weeks, start to finish. The effort was to support Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation (coincidentally named the same as the motto Mike Holmes has been using for years) which is attempting to rebuild homes in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. The Holmes house would be the very first of the 150 houses planned for the first leg of the Foundation’s efforts.
And what a home it would be. A crazy design with all kinds of funky angles with the main structure raised over 8 feet off the ground so that if another flood ever came through it would just wash under the house. Solar panels, insulation and ventilation designed to reduce electricity consumption by over 70%! Just incredible. Plus you get to see Mike’s workmanship put to the test as the house was just completed as Hurricane Gustav was rolling in.
But as with most Holmes on Homes episodes, it was the human aspect that made this show special and got Holmes in New Orleans nominated for so many awards. Not to give away any spoilers, but from the story of the homeowner Gloria Guy to the trials and tribulations dealt by mother nature, it was quite the emotional roller coaster. For those of you who have watched Holmes on Homes through the years, you’ve come to know the crew like old friends and it is cool to see them here in the States. It’s great to see how much Damon has come into his own, able to keep his cool in a leadership role under intense pressure. Also grown up and contributing in a big way are Mike’s kids, Mike Jr. and Sherry. Mike’s other daughter Amanda also took part, working behind the scenes doing public relations. But it wasn’t all good; it was particularly hard to watch some of the others, especially Pinky, wither under the adverse conditions. As much as I respected them in the past, I think twice as much of them after New Orleans, all of them, but especially the ones that had the fortitude to see this project through to the end. What great people and what compelling television.