The Alleged Farm News – 24 July, 2014

This Week’s Share: Arugula, Thai Basil, Cabbage, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Escarole, Garlic, Onions, Sugar snap peas,
Hot peppers, Squash, Tomatoes


My younger son, Will, convinced us to watch Step Brothers with him a few days ago. I had low expectation, but the movie surprised me. I figured it would be poorly plotted and crude, and involve too much shouting and precious little deep thought. Well, it was all that, and yet somehow worse. It seemed as though they got bored of all the preparatory work and just started shooting before they had even finished the script. Before, in fact, they had even worked out the basic concept. Is it just another comedy about boys in mens’ bodies? About growing up? Or not growing up? Or is it a disturbing and slightly tragic depiction of families dealing poorly with their developmentally disabled adult sons?

I understand I am not the target audience for this movie. In fact, it would probably disturb the producers if I enjoyed it too much. They do like farts, but not old farts. But I still know a shoddily made movie when I see one. And this is about as shoddy as any. I don’t mean the production values. It is a marvel of modern technology. But to no end. Aesthetically, intellectually, morally, even comedically, it makes no discernible effort. There are bad movies that try. And fail, but at least they tried. Step Brothers can’t be bothered.

And why should it? It has Will Ferrell and John Reilly more or less doing their thing (well, less). Give it a good trailer, a big promo budget, and send the stars around the talk shows to goof off and share carefully crafted off-the-cuff remarks, and it will make a hundred million bucks. If the package sells that easily, why bother too much about what is in it? Just fill it up with enough airy substance so it does not clearly look like you are cheating people and get it out there.

In other words, it is kind of a processed food of a movie, a Hot Pocket in cinematic form. The effort that went into making it–and even a film like this requires significant effort–was not put towards creating quality. It was spent on turning out an easily marketable product for a specific audience. Rather than salty, cheesy and convenient, it is star driven, juvenile and comes in loosely connected comic scenes for easy snack viewing.

It seems remarkable that anything this crummy could make it out of production. At so many points along the way someone, anyone, could have pointed out how bad it was and insisted on improvements or shut it down. There’s simply no way that everyone involved who had some say in the matter–writers, director, producer, cinematographer, cast, designers, editors, studio representatives, marketing folks–failed to notice they were turning out something half-baked.

But then taking pride in the quality is not really the point. There is plenty of pride involved. Pride in making a movie at all. Pride in getting something complicated done, maybe even getting it done on schedule and budget. And pride, mostly, in making something that earns a lot of money (at least for some of the people involved), which is, after all, the true measure of value. I suspect, too, there’s also a kind of patronizing, cynical, self-aggrandizing insider pride in pulling one over on people–a we’re Hollywood titans and look what we can get away with suckers kind of pride. Investment banker pride, one might call it. You’ll take my asset backed security, my frozen microwaveable snack pocket, my lousy Will Ferrell comedy, and you’ll like it. Or, well, pay for it anyway. Who really cares if you like it, let alone whether or not it does you any good.

No wonder farmers seem a little out of touch with the modern world. We actually produce real stuff, simple stuff, stuff you can pick up and judge with your eyes and tongue and nose and hands, stuff that can’t easily hide lack of quality behind a marketing blitz. Sure, there is plenty of bad produce in the world, produce designed for shipping and packing, tomatoes that survive a sixteen foot drop unscathed and turn bright red in controlled atmosphere storage. But put one of them next to a real tomato, ripened on the vine, fresh from the field, and even a Will Ferrell character could tell the difference.

Vegetable notes: Slowly, a little grudgingly, the summer crops are starting to bear fruit. Our impressively lush outside tomato plants won’t produce anything for a little while longer, but the ones in the house have deigned to ripen a few tomatoes for you.

We also put a row of cucumbers in the tomato house, which have wound their way up their trellis, spread into the abutting row of tomatoes and started to climb out the side the house, heading for the peas. They have also started to produce some of the best looking cucumbers I have grown in years. Further evidence that I need to put up more field houses.

Then I would have space to grow eggplants indoors. As you can see, they do fine outdoors, but they would thrive in a field house. Unlike me, they dislike cold nights. And then we would have even more eggplants, which strikes me as a good thing. I think one of the reasons they don’t have a better reputation is that too many people have only encountered old, seedy, bitter ones that go unpleasantly mushy. But a fresh eggplant, sliced and grilled, might changed their minds.

Especially if it were topped with some chopped tomato and onion, and a garlicky vinaigrette with Thai basil. Of course, they might prefer to use the basil for other dishes. Added at the last minute to spicy chicken broth. Or on a vegetable (cabbage, cucumber, hot pepper, onion, arugula) slaw with cold grilled beef. Or perfuming a creme brule. Or infused into simple syrup used to sweet limeade or mixed in equal parts with good bourbon and served over lots of ice.