The Dressmaker’s Mixup Mystification


Don’t mess with the dressmaker

So, one could describe The Dressmaker as “Chocolat meets The Count of Monte Cristo.” Sounds like the best movie ever, right? Except there’s no blending of these two elements: it is a Frankenfilm. First it’s the one movie, and then it’s the other.

The basic setup: Kate Winslet plays Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, a successful Paris fashion designer, who returns to her dusty, small-minded home town (in rural Australia), because she believes she is cursed. She wants to break the curse by finding out whether or not she committed a murder she was blamed for  when she was just a child. She can’t remember, and the townsfolk, while full to the brim with damning gossip, are closed-mouthed when it comes to facts. She has also come back to see her mother, the local loon, “Mad Molly” (Judy Davis), and quickly falls in with a boy she vaguely knew from childhood, Teddy (Liam Hemsworth), who is, as far as I can tell, part of a family of itinerant workers who have more or less settled there. (Or one might say that they’re gypsies: Hello, Chocolat.)

I wish they would have stuck to making just the one sort of film, because I liked them both: The Chocolat, Cold Comfort Farm, Hope Floats, “glamorous girl comes to rural backwater and shakes things up” plot, and the black-as-velvet comedy/ murder mystery/ revenge plot.

(Speaking of Cold Comfort Farm – there’s an almost identical scene in The Dressmaker, wherein a girl gets a makeover to win a boy above her station. I have to say, although Cold Comfort Farm is the superior film, the makeover in The Dressmaker is much more breathtaking.)

dressmaker1.jpgDavis, un-glamorous and fabulous

Judy Davis and Kate Winslet are fantastic in this movie, especially in their scenes together. Davis particularly shines, as a woman gripped with dementia, slowly regaining her facilities (if not her tact), under the administrations of her long-lost daughter. If you are a fan of great acting for great acting’s sake, then see this movie. Also, if you like stunning 50’s fashion. And/or Liam Hemsworth with his shirt off. There’s plenty of that, and he holds up his end of the exchange quite nicely. Plus, there are some truly funny moments, especially anything involving Hugo Weaving as a local police officer and closet transvestite. But frustration over the thematic incertitude casts a pall over the whole enterprise.

You’re welcome
Finally, a shout out to Those In Charge, who cast Ms. Winslet, who is 41, as someone who is supposed to be the same age as Liam Hemsworth (27) and Sarah Snook (29). They placed them all around 33 years old, which actually works – since Hemsworth has that rugged Australian complexion, and Winslet possesses a dewy beauty barely nicked by time.
Pair With: A hip flask of whiskey – but don’t let Mad Molly pinch it.

It’s a Wonderful Life Trivia Answers

If you missed the quiz, it is HERE. Go take it! But be forewarned –  I’m a tad bit obsessed with the film. So it isn’t particularly easy.


So, then. here are the answers!

  1. When a guy taunts the young man to open the pool beneath the gym floor, he says, “What’s the matter, ___________, jealous? (Fill in the blank. It is a joke, but it also happens to be the character’s last name.)  Othello
  2. The actor who played the young man in the above question was way more famous for another role. What was that role?  Alfalfa (Little Rascals)
  3. When young Mary says “You like all the boys,” how does young Violet respond?  “What’s wrong with that?”
  4. What is Sam Wainwright’s catchphrase? “Hee Haw!”
  5. Young George Bailey’s druggist boss almost poisons some children by accident. What disease do they have? Diphtheria 
  6. Uncle Billy is drunk after the party celebrating Harry Bailey’s marriage. The true story is that after Thomas Mitchell (the actor playing Uncle Billy) exited his scene with Jimmy Stewart, a set hand accidently knocked over a whole props table, making a huge clamor. Mitchell improvised a line from off camera, and the whole thing stayed in the movie. What is that line? “I’m all right! I’m aaalllll right!” (A phrase you can hear in my household anytime someone drops something in the next room.)
  7. Uncle Billy has some unusual pets. Name three of them. Squirrel, owl, monkey, crow, and various other birds. And a dog – but not a 3-legged space dog or anything. Just a dog. 
  8. When Mary Hatch asks George whether or not he likes Harry’s new wife Ruth, a grumpy George replies “Of course I like her, she’s a ________!” Peach!
  9. George steals a football uniform for himself after he falls in the pool. What number is on the jersey? 3
  10. What is Mary Hatch’s brother’s name? Marty
  11. When Mary loses her robe, what kind of bush does she hide in? Hydrangea 
  12. What is Clarence the Angel’s favorite book? Tom Sawyer
  13. What does George’s dad die of? A stroke (Which, according to George, was indirectly brought on by Mr. Potter. Stupid Mr. Potter.)
  14. After his experience with Clarence, what three things indicate that George Bailey is back in the real world? It is snowing, his mouth is bleeding, Zuzu’s petals are in his pocket.
  15. What two Muppets are named after characters from the movie? Ernie and Bert after Ernie the taxi driver and Bert the cop (although some say this is just a coincidence)
  16. Mary makes a picture that says “George Bailey Lassos the Moon.” In the course of the movie, what else does she say he lassos? Stork! 
  17. What is George’s dream job? Architect – city planner – “building things”
  18. After Nick kicks George and Clarence out of his bar, he rings his cash register repeatedly, and says what? (6 words) “Get me, I’m givin’ out wings!”
  19. What award does Harry Bailey receive? Presidential Medal of Honor
  20. What is the name of the Bailey’s housekeeper? Annie
  21. After the run on the banks, how much of George and Mary’s money is left? 2 dollars
  22. Potter offers George Bailey a yearly income so large it makes George drop his cigar. What is the amount? $20,000/year
  23. When George comes home in despair after Uncle Billy loses the $8000, his daughter is playing the same carol over and over again on the piano. What is it? “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”
  24. George and Mary’s son is writing a Christmas pageant. What decidedly non-Christmasy character has a part in his play? Frankenstein (‘s monster)
  25. What is the name of Zuzu’s teacher whom George abuses over the phone? Mrs. Welch
  26. According to one of the head angels, Clarence has the IQ of what? A rabbit
  27. What is the name of the house George and Mary move into? The Old Granville House
  28. (Two parts) Who discovered a mostly-unknown Gloria Grahame, the actress who played Violet Biggs? What major musical role did she go on to play? Jimmy Stewart / Ado Annie in Oklahoma
  29. Frank Capra had to fight the censors, because the ending of the film wasn’t up to code. What didn’t he do to one of his characters that was against the rules? (And which character?) Mr. Potter goes unpunished for stealing the $8,000. According to the Hays Code, all criminals must pay for their crimes. 
  30. Name 2 of the 3 buildings George says “merry Christmas” to at the end of the film. Movie House, Emporium, Building and Loan.                                                                                                                                      So…. How did you do?


Small Screen Gems

Remember the days when movie stars would never soil themselves by downgrading to the little screen? It wasn’t all that long ago. Now they are all clambering to star in their own series. Likewise, for an actor to make a successful leap from the TV to the cinema used to be a singular event. I remember being surprised when Neve Campbell scored the lead in Scream. And when David Caruso so famously left television because he wanted a film career… well, we all know how that turned out.  Now it’s only natural for your favorite actors to flit back and forth between mediums. Look at your Kevin Baconses and your Dennis Quaidses and your Claire Daneses.

I attribute this A) to the desirability of consistent employment that television provides, and B) a noticeable increase in the quality of television over the past decade, decade-and-a-half. “Chickens and eggs,”  you could say. Did TV improve because of the quality of actors they started employing, or vice versa? I say the latter. The Sopranos just may have been the vanguard of the new, improved TV experience, and no one on that show was very famous when they were cast. Now TV shows are pulling in Bill Paxton, Kerry Washington, Alec Baldwin, Steve Buschemi and Sean Bean. Granted, we’re not talking Angelina Jolie or Will Smith here, but these are established movie actors with impressive resumes.


Mmm… Sean Bean…

So, TV has improved, but also, there’s just a lot more of it. So, naturally, some worthy shows get less attention than they should. Here are a few you might want to check out – all of them have crossover stars. I’m skipping Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I already harped on about it in a previous post, and no doubt will go on and on about it in the future.

Veronica Mars

If there’s one show you take away from this list, let it be this one. There are three seasons in total, and season one, I can say without hyperbole, is some of the most engaging TV I’ve ever seen. The second season is not as good as the first, but it’s still pretty great TV. The third season is the weakest of the three, but by that point you’ll be hooked, and you’ll watch it anyway. Veronica Mars lives in the town of Neptune, and she is the daughter of disgraced ex-sheriff Keith Mars (the absolutely wonderful, you’ll-want-him-to-be-your-dad Enrico Colantoni), who is now a private eye. Veronica occasionally does sleuthing work for him, and often investigates mysteries of her own. Don’t be fooled, she is no Harriet the Spy, no Nancy Drew. She is, if anything, the cold hand of justice – ruthless in tearing down those who do her, or the underdog, wrong. She’s so smart and capable, in fact, that she’s almost like a super hero – her cleverness is just a little bit beyond believable – thus, much like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, she’s a joy to watch in action.  Season one’s big mystery is the murder of Veronica’s best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried {Cosette, No!}). Veronica’s also investigating the whereabouts of her deadbeat, alcoholic mother, and her own rape, which happened at a party where she was dosed with Rohypnol. So, yeah. Definitely not Nancy Drew. All of these mysteries are introduced in the first episode. There are also shifting alliances, lots of romance, a nasty sheriff, a software billionaire, a movie star, and a biker gang. Plus, two Buffy alumni, and a cameo by Joss Whedon (a fan) himself.

Crossover Stars: Kristen Bell, Amanda Seyfried

Pair With: A cafe latte with a shot of cinnamon. 




And speaking of Joss Whedon. The cancelation of Firefly still causes the geeks of the world to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, drenched in cold sweat, hearts thumping. Hell, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory brings it up every chance he gets. The thing is this… it’s really, really good. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before – so I’m not going to get into details. In fact, let me try a fresh angle… the cast is crazy attractive. Seriously.

Crossover Stars: Nathan Fillion, Morena Baccarin

Pair With:  A shot of Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey


Hi! We’re in space and we’re good looking!

Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies is charming, storybook, bonbon of a show. About death. Lee Pace (The Hobbit, Lincoln) plays Ned, The Pie Maker, a man who can touch a dead thing and bring it back to life. Touch it again, and that thing dies again, forever. Fail to touch it a second time, and something of equal size (and intelligence, I think, although that’s never exactly clear) dies in its place. Whew! So what does Ned do? He pairs up with a private detective, Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), to bring murder victims back to life, ask them who killed them, and then touch them again, leaving them forever dead. (They never really get a straight answer from the victim, just a clue or two.) But then Ned comes across his childhood sweetheart, the love of his life, dead in a coffin. You can probably extrapolate what happens next. The candy-colored, unreal settings and the storybook narration give Pushing Daisies a fairy tale feel. At times, the relationship between Ned and Charlotte, his sweeetie, can get a bit twee, but that is nicely tempered by the cartoonishly grotesque talking dead people they encounter, the sharp and hilarious Kristin Chenoweth as Olive Snook, a waitress in Ned’s cafe, Swoozie Kurtz and Ellen Greene as Charlotte’s recluse aunts, and especially McBride, who is gut-bustingly funny as the droll Cod. Sketch comedians Key and Peele joke that every black best friend in a show has to utter the line “Oh helllll no!” – and McBride does just that, many times, but I swear he makes an art of it.

Crossover Star: Lee Pace

Pair With: Pie! (Duh) – If you can get your hands on it, the banana cream pie from Norske Nook in Osseo, WI.


Key and Peele

And speaking of Key and Peele… This is a newish, cable sketch comedy show, starring comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. It’s not for everyone – it’s definitely R rated. What I love is the unique point of view that Key and Peele bring to the comedy stage. They are each children of one black and one white parent, and much of their comedy is about what it’s like to belong, and not belong in both worlds. That tack could’ve resulted in a very narrow viewpoint, but instead, their comedy speaks to anyone who has ever put on poses in order to fit in. Which is… pretty much everyone. Oh, and also? They’re just really funny.

Click here for a short, PG13-rated sketch from them.

Okay, no crossover stars… as of yet.

Pair With: Whatever Liam Neesons or Bruce Willeys would drink.



I admit: this is kind of a dorky show. When my friends Julie and Claire were trying to convince a bunch of us to watch it, the conversation went something like this:

J&C: Okay, so, Timothy Hutton plays this guy who used to have a job catching criminals, but then he was screwed over by the insurance company that he worked for, so he changed to the other side of the law.

The Rest of Us: That sounds kinda like The A-Team.

J&C: But wait. So he hires one guy who’s the muscle, one guy who’s a computer hacker, a woman who’s a catburglar (she’s kind of crazy), and a woman who’s a grifter, and they steal stuff and pull off cons…

The Rest of Us: That still sounds kinda like The A-Team.

J&C: But wait. Get this. They only do jobs for altruistic reasons. They take down the man!

The Rest of Us: That definitely sounds like The A-Team.

Well, it turns out, in the DVD extras, the creators and the stars say that everyone tries to compare them to Oceans 11, but what they really are like is… yes, The A-Team. The hacker character, in fact, played by Aldis Hodge (the real standout in the cast), owns a van with which he is obsessed, ala B.A. Baracus. Leverage is as light as air — a nice little floofy bit of fluff-tastickness. In fact, there are only two problems with this show. One: When they try to get too serious, which, fortunately isn’t very often, it doesn’t work. Two: There’s some terrible male hair going on. Terrible. But mostly, it succeeds, because it’s super fun. Watch it as a sorbet for Breaking Bad or Homeland, when you just can’t take the stress anymore.

Crossover Star: Timothy Hutton

Pair With: Irish Whisky, but stop long before Nathan does.

the-a-team Who doesn’t love it when a plan comes together?


For many years, folks have been crowning this show and that show “The Next X-Files.” (Alias, Lost.) In my mind, Fringe is the true heir. It, like many shows before it, took to heart the most important lesson X-Files had to teach us, which was “Don’t let your mythology get out of control.” As groundbreaking as the X-Files was, it got incredible frustrating after a while. Not so Fringe. That is not to say that the show’s mythology is simplistic. It’s very complicated – but it’s also clever and consistent. Season one is eminently watchable, but it’s not until season two that Fringe really finds its footing. I don’t want to give anything away, sufficed to say that it’s great science fiction, and you’ll have a hard time not clicking on that next episode, and the one after that.

Crossover Stars: John Noble and Leonard Nimoy

Pair With:  Johnny Walker Black (Olivia’s drink of choice), with a shot of Cortexiphan.


The Mentalist

I like detective shows that have a sense of humor. I like Castle, The Closer, and before it jumped the shark (which time, amiright?), Bones. I’ll pretty much watch any show of this ilk if it’s at all good – it doesn’t have to be singular or even great. All I ask for is some decent acting, interesting mysteries, a good, quirky main character, and the satisfaction of catching the bad guy at the end of the episode. The Mentalist is all those things in seasons one and two – but in season three, I’m not even sure why, exactly, I got seriously hooked. I think it has something to do with the fact that Simon Baker is so stellar as the enormously clever and severely damaged Patrick Jane – and in season three we started to get more and more flashes of his dark underbelly. I like his back story.  I like that he’s unpredictable. I like that he’s always smiling and it’s almost never genuine. Plus – easy on the eyes. Oh! And Cho. You’ve gotta love Agent Cho. (He’s totally the real-life Cornfed from Duckman.)

Crossover Stars: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney (The Craft!)

Pair With: Lapsang Souchong tea, preferable pilfered from someone else’s cupboard.

Panama Red

Handsome McVesty

Avatar, the Last Airbender/ The Legend of Korra 

The first of the two series, Avatar, the Last Airbender, very, very unfortunately did cross over onto the big screen. It was put in the dubious hands of M. Knight Shamalan (a sort of anti-Midas. Everything he touches turns to ca-ca), a move guaranteed to ensure that anyone who hadn’t yet seen the animated original would never, ever seek it out. Which is too bad, because it’s great fun. Forget the horror show that is the movie. Pretend it never happened, and go stream Avatar, and then Korra after.

In a fantasy world akin to mid-19th century Asia, there are four nations, one for each element. There are special folks called ‘Benders,’ who can manipulate either air, water, earth or fire. Into every generation is born The Avatar, the one person who can control all four elements. The Avatar is entrusted to bring/maintain peace between the nations. Ang is our Avatar, and he is woefully underprepared to take on the despotic Fire Nation. With the help of a couple of Water Nation siblings, Ang travels throughout the land to gain the knowledge and skill he needs to lead. There are many obstacles in his way, of course – and he encounters a great number of enemies and allies. There’s terrific humor, adventure and surprising complexity in the story.

Even better, in my opinion, is The Legend of Korra – the titular Korra is the next Avatar after Ang – and, since it’s 70 years later, now we’re in a world more akin to the roaring 20s. The animation is superior to the original, and the action is nail-biting. Very pretty to look at, very fun to watch. Plus, Pabu, the fire ferret. FIRE FERRET. I want a fire ferret. A second season is in the works.

Crossover Stars: J.K. Simmons, Mako  Iwamatsu.

Pair With: Japanese tofu noodle bowl, and a perfectly brewed cup of genmaicha tea. 


Want. One.