Five to be thankful for

It’s the time of year when we are supposed to look over our lives and realize and appreciate those things that we are thankful for. From a culture standpoint, I suppose I should say that I am happy that Danish Modern is back. I’m pretty happy that designers are showing chunky rain/fishing boots this season. Like I said last week, I’m pretty happy for that “Precious” trailer with Mo’Nique running and screaming. Of course, I’m pretty damn thankful for Little Bread Co. and Hammontree’s.

Speaking of last week, I spent the column complaining about the lack of quality movies in the area at this time. My main point is that we in Northwest Arkansas have to wait till January/February to see the same great movies that larger markets are enjoying now. But being as it is the time to be thankful, I thought I would take a few lines to celebrate five pieces of entertainment (not film, yet…DAMNIT) that we should be thankful for.

Modern Family” (TV)

I’m not sure how I found “Modern Family” on ABC. I think I saw a preview and thought…funny gays…gotta watch. The truth is, this little show which follows the lives of three smaller families (members of a larger one) through their home lives is flat-out brilliant. It has the winning sarcasm and quality writing of “Arrested Development,” but with heart and warmth. Unlike “Development,” “Modern Family” is doing surprisingly well in the ratings. In fact, it is the season’s top-rated new comedy, as well as a critic’s gem.

ABC’s “Modern Family”

Essentially the show follows the lives of an older man who marries a hot young South-American girl. Of course, it greatly helps that the older man in question is played by Ed O’Neil of “Married with Children” fame. He has both robbed the cradle with his Charro wife and taken on new responsibilities with her interesting son.

The show also weaves in the lives of O’Neils two adult children. The first is the brilliant Julie Bowen of “Ed” and “Boston Legal” fame. She is raising a handful of kids (including bratty teens) with the assistance of her somewhat tool-ish husband who just happens to have a huge crush on his new, hot, South-American “mother-in-law.” This guy tries so hard to connect with his teenagers that it can become almost difficult to watch, and therefore hilarious.

The second child is the gay son Mitchell. Mitchell and his partner Cameron have recently adopted a young Asian baby. The comedy follows their lives in raising the child in a straight world. I will go on record as saying that although comedic, this is the best portrayal that I have seen of modern gay adults in quite some time.

The best part of the comedy that YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING are the scenes which bring the entire family together. Take a few moments and watch “Modern Family” when it appears on ABC or simply stream past episodes on Kudos to “Modern Family” on their special guest stars including Ed Norton, Benjamin Bratt, and a BRILLIANT TURN by Shelly Long.

Glee” (TV)

Gosh I hate to do this to you and your busy life. However, the other thing that you should be glued too is also on Wednesday night…and during “Modern Family.” However, with the magic of streaming and/or DVR, we can enjoy both…and all power to us.

FOX’s “Glee”

So Daniel (my other half) about wet himself back in May when the previews for “Glee” started coming out. However, when I saw the previews, all I could think about was “Viva Loughlin” and “Cop Rock,” two huge public disasters that were classified as television musicals. Therefore, I was skeptical when I heard about a show that follows around a bunch of high school kids as they form and compete in a high school show choir.

Flash forward to seven weeks in and I can say without a doubt that “Glee” is the most entertaining hour of television. Period. Although it has its critics, don’t try to put too much into it. Simply enjoy the program for what it is.

The cast is headed by the ubber-hot Matthew Morrison of Broadway fame (“South Pacific,” “Hairspray,” “The Light in the Piazza”) who plays the upstart choirs new musical director. Now here is where the suspension of disbelief comes in because no high school teacher that I ever knew resembled anything close to Morrison. However, he brings a great amount of charm to the show and his relationship with his love interest and his psycho wife (yes, different people) adds some spice to the show between musical numbers.

However, the show is about the musical numbers. The extremely talented cast blends modern arrangements of popular current songs into each episode. For instance when the star-crossed teen lovers coo over each other in the hallway, they start singing the Jordin Sparks/Ike, I mean Chris Brown duet “No Air…air air air.” Brilliant! If you still need convincing, just spend a few minutes watching scenes involving “For your Consideration” and “Best in Show” alum Jane Lynch to truly appreciate this unique show.

Valentino: The Last Emperor (DVD)

Documentaries don’t typically play in Northwest Arkansas. I do recall that I saw “Fahrenheit 9-11” at the old Mall Twin, but since then, documentaries have been few and far between. However, with Netflix and major retailers (TARGET) selling them now, we can appreciate some of the fine work that doesn’t always make it in main stream.

Valentino: The Last Emperor

No better example of this exists than “Valentino: The Last Emperor” now available on DVD. The film follows famed couture designer Valentino in his quest to stage his final show before retiring. It would be wonderful enough to watch the fashion, but the film is surprisingly touching when you least expect it.

Yes there is glamour and flash, but there is also the very rare portrait of a man losing grip on his company. Through the filmmaker’s eyes, we get to see a man watch his company be taken over by greed and economy.

It can be tough to watch at times. You begin to get the feeling that Valentino is truly one of the last people who not only does what he does, but can do what he does. You begin to see that the type of work that Valentino and his team does can not simply sustain in today’s cheaper, faster, better market.

However, the most touching parts are those that involve Mr. Valentino looking back on his life with his lover. There is a gorgeous retrospective at the end where Valentino and Karl Largerfield (The other last emperor) of Chanel walk through a museum and you begin to wonder how many more moments like this could be? Perhaps the beauty of couture will pass with these emperors…and that’s a shame.

Judith Jones: The Pleasures of Cooking for One (BOOKS)

A great amount of attention was paid to Julia Child over the summer because of the film “Julie and Julia” which followed the somewhat parallel lives of blogger Julie Powell and her muse Julia Child. However, a small fraction of the film was also dedicated to the relationship between Judith Jones and Julia Child.

The Pleasures of Cooking for One

Judith Jones is quite simply the queen of food writing. As a publisher, she supported works by Julia Child and James Beard and redefined what it meant to be a home cook. The eloquent Jones, now a James Beard Lifetime Achievement award winner, simply reshaped people’s perceptions of cooking and brought great talents forward into American culture.

My favorite book of 2008 was Jones’ memoir “The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food” where she detailed some wonderful moments in her life and the role that food somewhat played in them. As lovely as the book was, it was also a tear jerker at times while Jones’ quietly recounted the void she felt after her husband (and fellow foodie’s) passing.

Jones’ newest book picks up where a popular section of her last book left off. Where in “The Tenth Muse” Jones offered a few recipes from her experience, “The Pleasures of Cooking for One” offers an assortment of recipes that Jones’ perfected in order to continue cooking after her husbands death. It can be very difficult to cook for one and Jones’ became aware of the frustration.

However, this is more than a simple cookbook. This is a portrait of a giant in the food and publishing world. Through her recipes and stories, you get a great appreciation for the woman and her mission.

Andre Agassi: Open (BOOKS)

Well my final bit of media that you should be thankful for has got a ton of press lately. Ever since it was reported that Andre Agassi was a meth user in the mid nineties, the media has gone crazy. Personally, I wondered which years Mr. Agassi spent in Springdale, but I digress.

Open by Andre Agassi

Yes, Mr. Agassi used crystal meth in the mid nineties when he was ranked in the mid 100’s and was in a major slump after winning the US Open but before winning his return at the French in 1999. However, the book is not simply about this year or two of his life.

Most sports or public figure biographies can be extremely dry and guarded. Take for instance my favorite “I’m going to shove this racket down your throat” Serena Williams. Now I am obsessed with Venus and Serena and think they are amazing. That being said, Serena’s recent auto-biography was as dry as my grand-mothers Thanksgiving turkey. Other than some touching stories about the death of her sister, Serena never really dug into the mind of an athlete or the personal struggles that she faced in Compton.

Agassi is overwhelmingly candid and yet elegant in his writing style. He describes the pain of his breakup with former wife Brooke Shields. He describes how as a child he hated tennis. He describes a point by point of some of his biggest matches. He lets you understand the private world of an extremely public athlete. It’s a fascinating read and will defiantly be on many editors top 100 list of 2009.

So there you have it…five little bits of media that might make that wait for some of those great films, a bit easier. In the case of the two books, perhaps they will supply some reading material for the Thanksgiving break. Either way, I hope you give some of these a chance because they are defiantly things that we should be thankful for.

Wayne Bell is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Masters Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.