On DVD: Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia was marketed as a "feel-good" movie - an automatic turn-off for me. I don't go to movies in order to feel good about myself or others; I go because I'm interested in the different, diverse ways that filmmakers see the world. One might not think of Nora Ephron as a writer/director famed for probing insight into the human condition; but in Julie & Julia, she has captured the parallel stories of two women from different eras and backgrounds who sought to define themselves - and succeeded. The movie is, as the opening credits state, "based on two true stories," and the film's factual basis makes the achievements of the protagonists even more effective. More than anything else, though, the film is a testament to the allure of fine food - and it made me want to cook.

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On DVD: Maria Bamford: Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome

Among the noteworthy cadre of Los Angeles-based stand-ups who have emerged over the last decade or so, Maria Bamford is a unique comedian. She presents audiences with a individual point of view, drawing inspiration from her own brain troubles (depression and OCD, or as she has put it, being "paralyzed by hope") and the bizarre but common personality types she has encountered. She compresses the mundane craze of them all into perfectly-crafted characters on the edge of sanity that she effortlessly inhabits, sometimes for mere moments at a time. Her comedy is less about blasting the audience with her own thoughts and opinions, than it is about capturing a set of specific personae in our society and lampooning them in their own words and behaviors. The personalities she satirizes comprise an askance view of dominant American cultural attitudes and predictable, middle-of-the-road values.

Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome is Maria Bamford's third solo comedy album, recorded live in August 2008 at L.A.'s Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater. It's presented as a two-disc CD & DVD set. The CD features her act at its most personal, refined, and hilarious. Incorporating some material that had its test-run on her web series The Maria Bamford Show (the entirety of which is included on the DVD), her routines include many references to family, friends, and acquaintances from her hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. Voicemail from the baby Jesus, an impersonation of God as an incoherent Quasimodo type, along with references to art therapy, the Velveteen Rabbit, and the power of vision boards form the basis of some of the best bits.
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On DVD: Mondovino: The Complete Series

Mondovino: The Series is a ten-part expansion of the 2004 feature by Jonathan Nossiter. This documentary on globalization in the wine business and its effect on viticulture won multiple prizes and was one of only four documentaries to have ever been nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This four-disc set comprises a massively-detailed broadening of the feature that provides a more inclusive, richly-illustrated status report on the global wine trade.

Across ten hour-long episodes that utilize a free-flowing thematically-oriented editorial style jumping from the Napa Valley to Bordeaux to Paris to New York City, Mondovino looks at wine from several angles. We see winemakers big and small from the United States, France, and Italy. We meet wine merchants and wine critics. We learn about how wine is made and how it is sold. Whereas the feature version of Mondovino focuses on the rivalry between the United States and France (not necessarily in terms of the wines themselves, but in terms of the way business is conducted), the series opens up and really takes a "Europe versus United States" view, while maintaining an investigative eye on the influence of big "corporate" wineries on smaller family-owned operations.

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