“The Judge”: In Defense of Sentiment
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
I like a little schmaltz in my movies every so often. So regardless of whether director David Dobkin’s “The Judge” is a courtroom drama posing as a family melodrama or vice versa, I forgive its sentimentality in the name of emotionally satisfying entertainment. Even those hard-noses in disagreement with my dispensation must concur that the fine synergy between lead actors Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr. nearly compensates for the liberal doses of treacle.
I’m also a sucker for this kind of plot, an American standby celebrating our mobility and the possibility of attaining great personal success. In this case it’s Mr. Downey as Hank Palmer, the boy from provincial Carlinville, Indiana, who becomes a rich defense lawyer in Chicago. He has the perfect manse, a darling daughter, a beautiful wife and not just a Ferrari in his driveway, but a classic Ferrari. Unfortunately, as the film opens he has to drive it to the airport so that he may fly to Carlinville and attend his mom’s funeral. He hasn’t been back in years. He has his reasons.
For starters, he and dad, the locally esteemed Justice Joseph Palmer, played by Mr. Duvall, don’t get along…not one lick. Other baggage includes a dark secret concerning brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), who could have been a great baseball player, and some unfinished business with Vera Farmiga as Samantha, the small-town girl he left behind. Oh, but don’t worry about Sam. She has the big shot pretty well sized up, screaming in a telling moment of their reunion: “You’re just a boy from Indiana who’s going to do whatever he has to do to forget that.”
Hence, the stage is rather conventionally set for the prodigal son’s grand attempt at redemption. Shortly after Hank’s arrival, the challenge is tragically put in motion when the good judge is accused of first degree murder…running down Mark Blackwell (Mark Kiely), the despicable town ne’er-do-well who over the years has given him plenty of motive. Naturally, Dad doesn’t want sonny boy to defend him. But when you get a load of the local talent (Dax Shepard) he goes with first, we understand why he finally acquiesces. He also has his wise, hidden rationale.
Now, if you think this plot takes its cue from the horse that knows its way back to the barn, well, you’re initially right. There is a homey comfort in its sensibilities and maxims. However, director Dobkin, who co-wrote the story with Nick Schenk, is unwavering in his desire to present the tale’s traditional values, unaltered by a cleverness or cynicism that might have gained the work a more original feel and better reviews. That isn’t to say it isn’t realistic. To the contrary, the surprises he applies to his familiar perspective all work in the cause of honest storytelling.
Most poignant among “The Judge’s” intelligently derived disclosures, the contrast in lawyering embraced by father and son offers pungent appraisals about the wiles, vagaries and ideals of American jurisprudence. There’s plenty to munch on as both the defense and its client must deal with the personal nooks and crannies relative to the case. Upping the legal ante, the state has imported Billy Bob Thornton’s Dwight Dickham, a prosecutorial shark from Gary, to win a conviction. A lean, cold-blooded Billy Bob suggests we don’t want to have coffee with this guy.
Mr. Downey is terrific freed of his “Ironman” encasement, etching a full-bodied, dual-natured characterization that goes a long way to making him real. Outside the courtroom Hank Palmer is a glib, charmingly sarcastic and wittily intelligent presence. But at the bench, his protective senses are heightened, unleashing the furies of righteous indignation, certainty and the power of persuasion. He is the Babe Ruth, the Cadillac and the Patek Philippe of barristerial elegance.
In stellar contrast, Mr. Duvall draws on his charismatic subtlety to fashion the juror under fire. Watching him seamlessly layer his venerated Judge Joseph Palmer, it occurs that this journeyman actor has jaded us. Considering the high bar of thespic accomplishment he has set for himself, it’s possible we just might take this superb performance for granted. Hopefully, those folks who dole out the acting awards will not.
OK, so it’s all a bit soap opera-ish. But then what would families be without a crazy uncle, a weird cousin no one talks to and at least one sibling whose exact parentage is under question? It’s no fair limiting domestic eccentricity to The Royals. All of which is why this film will split viewers down the middle: those who refuse to suffer any excess gushiness at all, and those, like yours truly, who welcome it if it works to enhance the drama. Thus, in the specific case of “The Judge,” I must plead guilty to gullibility in the first degree.
“The Judge,” rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by David Dobkin and stars Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall and Vera Farmiga. Running time: 141 minutes
By Ginger Isham
Adding pumpkin to Sloppy Joes is not a new idea, as this recipe comes from a 2001 cookbook, “The Best of Country Cooking.”
Pumpkin Sloppy Joes
2 pounds of ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup tomato juice
1 teaspoon chili powder
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon EACH cloves, nutmeg, pepper
2 cups canned pumpkin
Cook beef and onion in skillet. Add ketchup, tomato juice, chili powder, salt and spices. Mix well and bring to a boil. Stir in pumpkin. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Serve over warmed or toasted hamburger buns with slices of dill pickles.
Frosted Pumpkin Muffins
This recipe comes from a muffin cookbook I received from a group of special friends a few years ago.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon EACH cinnamon, nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/4 cup butter (may use oil)
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup raisins (I prefer the light raisins)
Combine dry ingredients and cut in butter till looks like cornmeal. Combine rest of ingredients and add to dry ingredients and mix just until all are moistened. Spoon into greased muffin pan, about 2/3 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes. Makes a dozen muffins. Frost with your favorite cream cheese icing or add whole walnuts or pecans and/or chocolate chips to tops of muffins for a face before baking.
Ginger Isham lives with her husband on a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road.
By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m interested in getting a walk-in bathtub for my wife that’s easy for her to get into and out of, but could use some assistance. Can you offer any consumer tips?
A walk-in bathtub is a great option for seniors with mobility problems who have trouble getting in and out of a traditional tub. But with so many options available today, choosing one can be challenging. Here are a few tips that can help.
Walk-in bathtubs are specialty products that have a watertight, hinged door built into the side of the tub that provides a much lower threshold to step over (usually 3 to 7 inches) versus a standard tub that’s around 15 inches.
In addition to the low threshold, most walk-in tubs also have a built-in seat, grab bars, anti-slip floors and a handheld showerhead. And many higher-end models offer therapeutic spa-like features that are great for seniors with arthritis and other ailments.
The kind of walk-in tub you choose will depend on the size and layout of your bathroom, your wife’s needs and preferences, and your budget. Prices for a good walk-in tub typically run between $3,000 and $10,000 installed. Here are some other things you should know.
The best walk-in bathtubs on the market today are made in the USA. Also, make sure the company you choose has a lifetime “leak-proof” door seal warranty and lengthy warranties on both the tub and the operating system.
While walk-in bathtubs vary in shape and size, most models have high-walls (three feet or higher), are 26 to 32 inches wide, and will fit into the same 60-inch long space as your standard tub without having to reconfigure the room. If the walk-in tub doesn’t quite fit your old bathtub space, extension kits are available to ensure a good fit.
Most walk-in tubs have an inward opening door, but if your wife uses a wheelchair or is a large person, an outward opening door may be a better option because they’re easier to enter and exit. But, be aware that because these doors swing out, they require more bathroom space.
One other style to consider is the “rising-wall” bathtub made by Kohler, which sits about two feet off the ground and has a side panel that slides up and down. These tubs can be entered from a seated position, which makes it a nice option for wheelchair users.
Most companies offer several different types of walk-in tubs. The most basic type is a soaker tub, or you can get a therapeutic tub that offers either whirlpool water jets or bubble massage air jets, or a combination of the two.
Fast fill and drain
One drawback to using a walk-in bathtub is that the bather must sit in the tub as it fills and drains, which can make for a chilly experience. To help with this, choose a tub that has fast-filling faucets and pump-assisted drainage systems, which significantly speeds up the process.
Where to shop
While there are many companies that make, sell and install walk-in bathtubs, some of the best in the industry are Safe Step (safesteptub.com, 800-346-6616), Premier (premiercarebathing.com, 800-934-7614), American Standard (americanstandard.com, 866-423-0800) and Jacuzzi (jacuzzi.com, 800-288-4002). Many big box retailers like Lowes, Home Depot and Sears sell walk-in bathtubs, too.
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover walk-in bathtubs, but many companies offer financing with monthly payment plans.
To get started, contact a few companies who will send a local dealer to your home to assess your bathroom, and give you product options and estimates for free.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
RITA C. GOODRICH
Rita C. Goodrich, 87, of Williston passed away late Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. Born Feb. 2, 1927 in Canada, she later married Herbert C. Goodrich and they remained together for 60 years. Rita has a life-long commitment to serving her local community and church. Funeral services were held on Oct. 18, 2014, and Rita was laid to rest in East Cemetery. Rita is survived by her husband Herbert, her daughters Karol, Joyce and Linda, as well as her seven grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. The family would like to send a special note of thanks to Father Lance Harlow, the Williston Fire Department and members of the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish for their generosity during this time.
MARY ELIZABETH HOGAN
Mary Hogan of Williston passed away unexpectedly at Fletcher Allen Health care on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. She was predeceased by her husband, Charles E. Hogan; and two sons, Timothy and Patrick Hogan. Mary is survived by her daughter, Karen Hogan of Richmond, Calif.; daughter-in-law, Cindy Hogan; grandchildren, Eli and Anna Hogan of Richmond, Vt.; as well as many friends and family. A Mass of Christian Burial was held in celebration of her life at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Williston on Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donation in memory of Mary may be made to SASH of CSC, 412 Farrell St., South Burlington, VT 05403. “When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”
MICHAEL GUY ‘MIKE’ WALKER
Michael Guy “Mike” Walker, 69, died on Oct. 16, 2014, as a result of an automobile accident in Williston. Prior to living in Williston for the past one and one-half years, he resided in Fairfield for many years with his former wife, Mary.
Mike was born June 6, 1945, in Lorain, Ohio, to Gene and Esther Walker. He grew up in Vermilion, Ohio, where he still has many friends. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1968 with a degree in education, he moved to San Francisco where he became interested in social work. Michael moved to Vermont in 1974 and began his 25-year career in the field of social service for the state. He worked as a State guardian on behalf of people with developmental disabilities—one of the great joys of his life. Mike was a pioneer in Vermont’s efforts to transition many lives from institutional to community-based care. He is remembered as a steadfast advocate and a reliable mentor to all. Mike’s friendship and poetry will be missed.
We are grateful for the efforts of the SASH program (Support and Services at Home) and to his medical practitioners. Mike bravely lived with the effects of Huntington’s disease for many years. Michael was predeceased by both parents; and older brother, Richard. He is survived by his sister, Avis Williams and husband, Hugh, of Sullivan, Maine; former wife of 38 years, Mary Walker of Fairfield, where Mike loved walking the woods and working outdoors; and will be fondly remembered by his friends in the Vermont developmental disabilities community. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Please sign the guest register at www.minorfh.com, if you would like to be notified. Donations may be made in his memory to the Huntington’s Disease Association of America, www.hdsa.org.
By Stephanie Choate
To Vermonters gearing up for the big fat bills that come with heating their homes in the winter, it comes as no surprise that heating accounts for 50 percent of a Vermont home’s energy use.
Wood-powered heat can help defray heating costs, add coziness to the long winters and keep heating dollars in state.
“Everyone’s heard of the eat local movement,” said Adam Sherman, manager at the Biomass Energy Resource Center at Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. “We’re starting the heat local movement.”
With wood heat options, you get a local fuel. Along with Vermont grown, harvested and sold cordwood, the state has one wood pellet mill, Vermont Wood Pellet Company in North Clarendon.
Vermont Wood Pellet Company has “Heat Local” printed on every one of its bags, said President and CEO Chris Brooks.
The company employs 24 Vermonters at its mill. It works with more than 50 local loggers and truckers, and gets all its wood from a 30-mile radius. Altogether, that 30-mile radius generates about $3.5 million a year, and that money stays in the state, Brooks said.
“Those are funds that go to the local community, they’re not going out of the community,” Brooks said. “It’s a really cool local model that works.”
More than that, heat is critical during Vermont’s bitter winters.
“We’re in this to keep people warm. That’s important and it’s a visceral thing…if you don’t have heat you don’t survive here,” said Brooks, adding that when many Vermonters experienced a shortfall of pellets last year, the employees in his mill put in extra hours to churn out more pellets.
“It’s local taking care of local.”
Not so with oil.
“Every dollar you spend on oil, you’re sending 80 cents out of the state economy,” Sherman said.
In addition to being local, wood heat is cost-effective.
“It’s about half the expense of oil or gas prices,” said Center Merrill, president of The Stove Depot, a stove dealer with four locations in Vermont.
When comparing fuel prices, the unit of measurement is the cost per million BTU of combustion.
Since prices—especially that of oil—is constantly in flux, it can be difficult to determine heating costs. But working from an estimate of $4 per gallon for fuel oil and $2.75 per gallon for propane, the fuel costs an average of $40 per million BTU of delivered heat.
A woodstove or pellet stove provides heat at $20-$22 per million BTU.
Steve Hedges, manager at Stove & Flag Works in Williston, has a simple reason to invest in a stove.
“If you want to be warmer,” he said. “A lot of people on propane are always turning the thermostat down, and they’re always cold. It’s really tough for some people.”
“You get a warmth you don’t with gas and oil,” Merrill said. “It’s instant spot heat right there.”
Woodstoves are by far the most common option in Vermont.
“Woodstoves will always be the king in Vermont, I believe,” Hedges said.
Combustion conditions are variable in a woodstove—it depends on how much wood you stuff into it and how dry that wood is—but the woodstove industry has seen vast improvements in the past 20 or 30 years, Sherman said.
Vermonters can make their woodstoves more efficient by keeping them burning hot enough to completely burn the wood and combustion gases.
Efficiency Vermont recommends consulting your stove manufacturer for the recommended temperature. You can purchase a woodstove temperature gauge that shows when your stove has reached that recommended temperature.
Hedges said the woodstoves his store carries cost between $1,000 and $3,000. Depending on what equipment you already have in your home, installation costs could climb to $600 or more.
Firewood costs can vary widely, depending on the supply available and type of wood. Last year’s long, frigid winter means that wood is more scarce this year—and inevitably costlier. High demand has driven prices north of $300 a cord, and many purveyors can’t keep up with requests. Hedges said he’s seeing wood prices climb each year, reaching about $350.
Green wood is the cheapest at $250-$300 a cord, but requires some planning ahead, since it should be stored in a dry place for two years before it is burned. Seasoned wood will run $275-$375 per cord, while premium kiln-dried wood will set you back $375 to $410 a cord.
Even with the price of wood climbing, a woodstove will offset the cost of propane or oil heat, as well as provide an electricity-free source of heat if a storm knocks out power in the winter, Hedges said.
As a rough estimate, a woodstove could save the average Vermont homeowner $1,500 or more a winter, Sherman said.
“That’s a two-year simple payback,” Sherman said, assuming a woodstove cost $3,000 to install.
Not to mention the payback on the cozy nights spent around a cheerily burning woodstove.
Pellets stoves are taking great leaps in popularity, and proponents point to efficiency, savings and ease of use.
“It has been and continues to be the lowest cost method of heating,” Brooks said of wood pellets. “It’s the same price right now as pipeline natural gas, but we always supply the last mile.”
A pellet stove stores 40 to 50 pounds of wood pellets in a hopper below the stove, which an augur brings up into a combustion chamber. Fans blow air into the chamber, then blow the hot air into the room. Gases are vented outside through a direct vent, no chimney is required.
While the stoves can be lit manually, they often only require the push of a button to start up, or can be fully automated and controlled by thermostat.
“(Pellet stoves) have just increased in popularity so much over the last especially five years,” Hedges said. “You don’t have to build a chimney, there’s automatic ignition, you’re still burning a wood product instead of petroleum products… the appliance may cost you more, but the benefits are quite rewarding.”
Both Sherman and Hedges have pellet stoves in their homes. Hedges said the pellet stove is easier to use than a woodstove—he used to cut, haul and split his own wood—and he has seen his heating bills plummet.
Sherman installed his when he bought a home in Richmond nine years ago.
“With one little stove we heat our entire house,” he said, adding that the family only uses its propane central boiler for domestic hot water.
“Many people say stoves are just for supplemental heating, but it depends on the house. We like the fact that it’s a little warmer in the living room and a little colder upstairs where we sleep,” he said.
A typical pellet stove costs between $1,500 and $4,000 to purchase and install, depending on the model.
“With my home, with a $2,500 investment and the fuel savings, the payback was less than three years,” Sherman said.
While slightly more expensive to install, pellet stoves are more efficient than woodstoves.
“Pellet systems are quite efficient,” Sherman said. “It’s a controlled fuel, regulated, all sensor-based and automatic.”
The quality of wood pellets is variable, but Brooks said a ton of his pellets packs the same heating punch as 125 gallons of fuel oil or 1.5 cords of wood. The average household would need between three and four tons of pellets to heat its home for the winter. At $270-$290 a ton, that’s $810 to $1,160 for the year.
As of late October, Energy Co-op of Vermont was charging between $249 and $274 per ton for pickup, and $289-$314 for delivery.
Pellets are also sustainable, using wood chips, sawdust or pulp-grade wood that might otherwise go to waste.
Many Vermonters seem to be catching on to the benefits of pellets—Vermont Pellet Company’s 2014 supply is sold out, and they’ve sold out each year for the past four years.
“The challenge is in matching the demand for the product, which from my perspective is a bad thing,” he said. “I would love to see other mills open up.”
The company’s permit is to produce 18,000 tons a year—about what its wood recharge area can sustain.
“At this point, if we are to provide more pellets, our job is to build another mill, which we are looking at,” he said.
Hedges said he tells his customers to get in the habit of buying pellets in the spring or summer to make sure they have a supply.
“There have been a lot of really exciting advancements in centralized wood heating for homes, and more and more people are using high efficiency, clean-burning boilers,” Sherman said.
Like an oil-powered boiler, a cordwood or pellet boiler heats a water tank that stores thermal energy, distributing it to the home via baseboard heating or radiators.
A pellet boiler works exactly like an oil-powered boiler—you can get a bulk delivery in a tanker truck, filling a container attached to the system that automatically fills the boiler.
“Pellets have become exactly like heating oil or propane,” Sherman said. “A truck drives around and makes deliveries and the homeowner never touches the fuel.”
Like a propane or oil-powered boiler system, the temperature is controlled through a thermostat.
“The entire system is completely automated,” Sherman said. “It works exactly the same, it just uses a different fuel source.”
A wood-powered system also provides a homeowner’s hot water.
“I would love to no longer be burning fuel to do showers,” Sherman said. “If back then I had the option, I would have put in a pellet boiler system. It can cover the heating and hot water.”
A pellet boiler system will set you back between $10,000 and $25,000.
“It’s very expensive, but they’re extremely efficient and clean burning,” Sherman said.
The more expensive models also come with an extra water storage tank, providing more thermal storage and an even more efficient process, since the system has to start up and burn pellets less frequently.
A cordwood boiler works similarly, but must be manually operated.
They are also less expensive to install, costing between $5,000 and $12,000.
Cordwood boilers should have a thermal buffer tank, which stores thermal energy—meaning you don’t need to keep a fire going at an inefficient and less clean constant smolder. Instead, you burn a fire hot and fast every couple days, and store that heat.
“It’s less labor intensive and dramatically more efficient and cleaner burning,” Sherman said.
Of course, saving money on heat won’t do too much good unless you make sure the hot air isn’t leaking out of your home. Efficiency Vermont recommends completing a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR project.
A 9-3-1 regular season record was good enough for the Champlain Valley Union High’s field hockey team to pick off second seed in the Division 1 postseason playoffs, which began this week.
Coach Kate McDonald’s Redhawks will swing into action Friday.
Due to wet field conditions at CVU, the Redhawks will move their home quarterfinal playoff game to Middlebury College Friday with a 5 p.m. start time. Middlebury has a turf playing surface.
The team will meet seventh-seeded Mount Mansfield Union (5-6-2) after Mount Mansfield defeated Colchester High 1-0 in a Tuesday playoff. Mount Mansfield is seventh seed with 6-6-1 record.
During the season, CVU divided two contests with Mount Mansfield.
The Redhawks’ final game of the regular season last Thursday at Middlebury Union was canceled due to weather.
—Mal Boright, Observer correspondent
The Champlain Valley Union High girls cross country team will be out to defend its Vermont state crown Saturday and the boys will be out to move into contention during the ups and downs of the familiar five-kilometer course at Thetford.
Last Saturday, in the northern districts at Missisquoi Valley Union High in Swanton, CVU runners earned victories in both the girls and boys divisions. The girls team took a solid triumph, and the boys grabbed third behind winner South Burlington High and runner-up Essex High.
The girls finished with 31 points, compared to 61 for second place Essex. The third place boys came in with 52 points with South Burlington taking first with 29 to Essex’s 43.
Sophia Gorman won the girls’ event in 18 minutes and 47.7 seconds over second place Caroline O’Shea of St. Johnsbury Academy. Her time was 19:07.8.
The Redhawks’ Tyler Marshall’s winning time of 16:20.1 was four seconds better than that of runner-up Sean MacDonald of South Burlington.
CVU’s runners in the top 10 behind Gorman included Carly Neeld (third), Meara Heininger (seventh) and Emma Putre (ninth).
Calvin McClellan took seventh behind Marshall in the boys’ race.
—Mal Boright, Observer correspondent
To gain another shot at the Division 1 Championship game, the 10-3-1 Champlain Valley Union High boys soccer team will have to come roaring out of the fifth seed in the Vermont Principals’ Association playoff rankings.
The Redhawks opened the title quest Wednesday (Observer press time) on the home pitch against visiting 12th-seeded Burlington High. The Redhawks nipped the Seahorses at home early in the campaign and then played to a scoreless deadlock on the BHS turf later.
A victory over Burlington would send CVU against either fourth-seeded Burr and Burton Academy (11-3-0) or 13th-seeded Hartford High (4-9-1) Saturday. The game would be at 2 p.m. in Manchester if Burr and Burton was the winner.
Top seed went to 12-0-1 South Burlington High. Mount Anthony Union High of Bennington (11-2-1) grabbed second seed and Essex High (11-2-1) was third.
Following a 1-0 defeat at Essex High a week ago last Saturday, CVU coach Katie Mack vowed to make some moves to generate additional scoring power for the Redhawks.
Whatever the changes were, the Hawks found their boom.
The goals came in bunches with a 6-0 home triumph over visiting Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans last Wednesday and a 4-1 victory at Mount Mansfield Union Saturday.
In the BFA game, senior forward Richard Baccei went all offensive zone dynamo, scoring three times and assisting on two others. Speedy Max Brown knocked in a pair of tallies and chalked up an assist, while Zach Akey also pounded home a pointer.
At Mount Mansfield, the Redhawks trailed 1-0 at the half, but unleashed their rocket launcher, senior Patrick McCue, with a direct kick to tie the contest early in the second 40 minutes.
Baccei then got loose for two goals and Cooper O’Connell got the final net finder as the Hawks rolled away with the thumbs-upper with an 11-4 edge in shots on goal.
—Mal Boright, Observer correspondent