Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blind Side - Sandra Bullock (2009)

Blind Side tells the true story of how one woman and her family pick up a homeless young black man off the streets of Memphis and turn his life around.

Sandra Bulluck plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, the affluent wife of former MBA basketball player Sean Tuohy, played by Tim McGraw.

The Tuohys spot "Big Mike" walking down the road after they've all left the Christian private school that the Tuohy's children and Mike attend. Leigh Anne decides to take this 300-pound 17-year old black kid into their home for the night.

Mike was brought into the school as a charity case. A nearly grown foster kid that has bounced from house to house, his mother is a crack addict and his father is unknown. He thinks he has somewhere between 10-12 brothers and sisters but he is unsure where they all are.

So by the time Leigh Anne meets him, he can barely read and he is so shut down that he won't hardly talk.

Bit by bit, Leigh Anne works with Michael to show him that there is hope, there is love and there is family.

Beth: You're changing that boy's life.
Leigh Anne Touhy: No, he's changing mine.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dead and Gone (2009) by Charlaine Harris - from the series that spawned "True Blood"

The only reason I don't despise this book is because I only paid $1 for it at a garage sale.

One of the books that spawned HBO's "True Blood" series, Sookie Stackhouse lives and works in a small town outside of Lafayette, Louisiana.

At the risk of sounding like one of her more uptight and judgmental enemies, she consorts with vampires, werewolves and fairies--clearly another class of people.

One of the most basic flaws that rubbed me through the whole book was her spelling of the name "Tray". It is bad enough when it is spelled "Trey" but to purposefully misspell it "Tray" is unforgivable in my mind.

Then all the vampire mythology is twisted and bended to the author's needs--a similar issue that I had with the Twilight series.

How can authors transgress 100s of years of established vampire and werewolf mythology to write this junk? All of a sudden a werewolf transforms not into a wolf but a border collie because it would be easier for humans to accept? Come on!

And these books are really grizzly. Very grizzly. Crucifixions, torture, sex. Which is okay, but the cover is very misleading and makes it appear to be a young adult book. I wouldn't let my young adult read them!

As I said, I am really glad I only paid a $1.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Steampunk Jewelry - Beautiful, Handmade Goth Jewelry

Looking for something really interesting and gorgeous for your teen-ager? A ring, perhaps, maybe a bracelet?

Well, check out Steampunk Jewelry--a British artisan who has handcrafted some of the most interesting jewelry that I have seen in a long time.

In fact, I am lusting over a certain amethyst bracelet myself. And seeing as I have already bought everyone their presents, all the rest of my Christmas shopping is for me, Me, ME!!!

Sorry. Got a little carried away there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Precious (2009)

Precious was probably one of the most surprising and most disturbing movies that I have seen this year.

Starring Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe as Precious, this movie descends into a world that few of us have ever seen.

Precious lives in the Ghetto of New York, the illegitimate first daughter of a mother who has enslaved her and her offspring in return for welfare checks.

Precious is beaten and abused by her mother Mary--portrayed by Mo'Nique--who then allows her boyfriend to repeatedly rape Precious. By the age of 16, Precious is pregnant again with her second child.

The movie is horrific. The scenes between Precious and Mary are so full of tension, I was literally bracing myself for the next blow. I understood why people kill one another. The rage hung in the air like huge sides of beef waiting to be slaughtered.

But intermixed with these terrible, sad scenes were scenes full of joy and laughter: girls giggling over boys, a baby's new eyes, a young girl's dreams of love and fame.

There were some stand-out performances in this movie, especially among the Precious' classmates. Mo'Nique, as Mary, was hands down brilliant: I hated her, was repulsed by her and lost all sense of compassion for her. Gabby Sidiby, in her very first film ever, was astonishing in playing the role with such mulish, hulking determination. Mariah Carey, as Precious' social worker, gave a steady performance but sometimes looked a bit bemused to be on film.

The direction was extremely well done; the tone was never so unbearable that I could not take watching it. The movie covers a terrible subject but Lee Daniels did a good job of maintaining an even stream of emotions, handling the movie's emotions like a sailboat across a stormy sea.

I walked away from this movie thankful that I had seen a part of America I would never have witnessed before but should have known a long time ago.

For all those young, hopeless women out there: May you find love.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Love You, Man - Paul Rudd (2009)

In an effort to ride of wave of Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell's low-brow bromances, here comes "I Love You, Man" starring Paul Rudd.

Although I do like Paul Rudd, I think he sold his soul to the devil to make this movie.

Yeah, there were some funny spots that did have me laughing out loud. Really. When Rudd is posing in his tux, I was cracking up. The whole story about his boy/friend Sydney's dog, Anwar Sadat was funny.

But in all fairness to the fairer sex and to any form of intelligent life that still remains out there in moviewatcher-land, this is not one of the movies that you want to go see.

Perhaps, as a chick, I am a little biased. Perhaps, as an older, more literary woman, this movie is beyond me.

But I don't think so. I like "The Big Lebowski". I thought "Hungover" was actually really funny. I count "Wayne's World" as one of my favorite movies. But this movie just got silly towards the end and the last 5 minutes were painful.

Go, if you must, but you have been forewarned.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Up - Ed Asner

What a perfectly splendid fairy tale of a film!

Pixar's animated film, Up!, is so joyous, so pure in its engenuity that it is able to take the time-old tale of spiritual renewal and make it new.

Taking nimble and heartaching quicksteps between joy and sadness, the tale begins with a shy, young boy named Carl who dreams of high adventure. Meeting his match in the quick witted Ellie, the two become a team, dreaming big dreams but never quite making it. Instead they live their lives together until Ellie's life ends after a long and happy marriage together.

And that is just the first 10 minutes of the movie.

What a delight to watch. Between the 10-year old Russell who's sole desire is to get his last badge conferred upon him for assisting the elderly, Dug the dog who seeks only to have a kind master and Charles Muntz who wants only to repair his reputation, we see a fable as good as any of Aesop's play out.

Written by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, the story is nothing short of brilliant. And, of course, Pixar's animation is fantastic.

A pleasure to watch, make sure and catch the two additional shorts that are available in the Special Features of the DVD.

2012 - John Cusack

Heart Rate: YY

My sister and her bf and I always go to the movies on Friday. This time, said bf picked 2012.

He's so funny. He says he hates all movies and that actors should retire after acting over a certain number of years. Then you start to give him the benefit of the doubt and start thinking he is making some sense then you ask him what his favorite movie: Rambo. And he loses all credibility.

But I would have to agree with him in this case.

This movie was terrible.

I was really hoping to hear some ancient symbolism revealed or some great science. But instead all I got was an escalated Poseidon adventure.

Plus John Cusack.

That was the only redeeming quality of the whole movie.

Otherwise, it was a wash; a real disaster movie.

Puns intentional.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Girl Who Played with Fire - Steig Larsson

I just finished the second book in "The Girl" series by Steig Larsson, "The Girl Who Played with Fire."

Resurrecting the two main characters from the previous book, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, this suspense novel centers around the death of an investigative journalist and his partner.

He was writing about exposing high-ranking officials who were participating in white slavery while his partner was writing her Ph.D. dissertation on the same topic. Blomkvist's magazine, The Millenium, agrees to publish the book and has retained the journalist on staff.

Interestingly, and a sadly prophetic turn of events, Blomkvist comes to a point in the novel where he must decide whether he will continue to publish the novel despite the deaths of the researcher and author.

In the mean time, Lisbeth is making a new life for herself after Blomkvist broke her hard little heart. Turning 25 and wealthy after hacking into a corrupt corporate mogul's overseas bank accounts, she has stifled her sadistic court-appointed guaridan and has taken to traveling the world over the next year.

But when she returns to Sweden she finds that the court-appointed guardian seems to now be seeking revenge.

I found this book to be far superior to the first one.

First, the translation was better and not so stilted as the first one, making for a more fluid novel. Also, Lisbeth is far more sympathetic in this novel. In the previous novel, she comes off as a bit of an android. Which, is typical if you have Asperger's Syndrome, as she does. In this one, her character starts to losen up and Larsson seems to have found his inner female voice.

In this novel Larsson starts to dissect her personality and delve into her character, all which become pivotal to the mystery.

Brilliantly plotted, I did not have an inkling to the solution until about 3/4's of the way through and then I still was not quite sure how it was all going to end.

This is the second novel in a 6-series set. However, Larrson passed away after finishing the 3rd novel so that all that we have of the remaining 3 are plot outlines.

The remains of his estate and the profits from the novels do not got to his partner of over 10 years since they were not married and he did not leave a will. All of the proceeds from the award-winning novels and the ensuing movies are going to his father and brother, who have felt no compunction to give her anything.

Larrson was a political activist in Sweden, fighting the right-wing extremism and Nazi organizations. An expert in his field, he often lectured around Europe, including Scotland Yard. And avid writer, these books were his first foray into fiction.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Management (2008) - Jennifer Anniston, Steve Zahn

Another one of Jennifer Anniston's bittersweet single woman out-on-her-own romances, Anniston, as Sue, continues to explore the span between a young working woman's defeated ambitions and almost shameful yearnings for protection and love.

In this movie Steve Zahn plays Mike, a hapless manager at his parent's roadside motel. Only one step shy of creepy Bateman-type stalkerness, Zahn gets one good roll in the hay with Anniston and he is head over heels.

Traipsing from Arizona to Maryland to Washington, Zahn pursues Anniston's character with a boyish sweetness. Oddly, the movie follows more of his character arc than Anniston's.

With some truly funny scenes between James Hiroyuki Liao and Zahn, reminding me a bit of Harold & Kumar Go To Whitecastle, the movie also stars Fred Ward and Woody Harrelson.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Movie Roster - October 31, 2009

I want to resume an old practice that I have let go some time ago. My movie roster. So here it goes:

TItleMain ActorReleasedMy Rating (1-5)
This Is It
Michael Jackson
EasyMarguerite Moreau, Naveen Andrews2004
Brendan Fraser20082.5
Jennifer Anniston, Steve Zahn2009

This Is It - Michael Jackson

Simply amazing.

Mind you, I have never been a big fan of Michael Jackson. But after watching this 2-hour movie of what might have been, I was fervently wishing it could have been.

Jackson's creative vision, musical talent and genius choreography spilled out over the screen, making me yearn to see the final masterpiece.

It will never be seen.

The movie begins with the montage of the opening, demonstrating in drawings how a robot would drop down like a Deaux Ex Machina. Projected on all sides of the robot would be slices of video, creating a collage of images across its body. When the machine touched down, it would open up to reveal Michael.

And the show would begin.

This theme of showing Michael's multi-faceted talent, vision and persona played through out the film. Editing between 2-3 days of Michael's performances to show one complete song, you saw how Michael was the ultimate showman even in rehearsals.

I always sort of understood he was talented but it wasn't until I saw this movie that I saw how brilliant he was. A truly gifted man, this 50 year old man could dance and keep up with his 20 year dancers. It was hard to remember that he was 50 years old when he died.

He was so light on his feet, so effortless. In many ways, he reminded me of Sammy Davis, Jr. Remember that Sammy was a dancer, too? That same effortlessness was so apparent. Just like the brilliant Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.

And his voice, too, is amazing. To be able to retain that beautifully high tenor at his age--it made me wonder how he did retain that voice.

But singing and dancing aside, what shone through was his deep kindness and goodness. A perfectionist in all things, he spent days trying to convey the vision in his head to the people around him. That can be a very hard thing to do. But he never once raised his voice, lost his temper or showed any anger.

Over and over again, he spoke of love, of God and with kindness.

Sure, it could have been edited out but after discussing this it was agreed that it was too entrenched in his personality. He was just a very, very kind man.

The production was brilliant. Full of completely executed videos in 3-D, merged montages with classically famous video footage, the breadth and depth of the artistry and talent in him and around him to execute this film is breath-taking.

One of the most brilliant moments in the film for me was when Michael demonstrates a dance ONE TIME to a circle of 12 people. Immediately, the choreographer and a few of the dancers dance it right back to him--EXACTLY mimicking his moves. Then IMMEDIATELY, the entire circle of 12 repeat the dance back again. Now that is master craftsmanship--genius.

But perhaps the most poignant piece of the film is the opening credits when we hear and watch dancers from around the world flock to the opening auditions for his show.

This is it: when we truly see the Man in the Mirror reflected upon those around him.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Inglourious Basterds - Brad Pitt (2009)

I don't know, I must be getting old.

And Brad Pitt is getting old.

But I just didn't think this movie was that good.

Don't get me wrong; I loved Pulp Fiction. But Quentin Tarantino's latest effort--Inglourious Basterds-- is more of the same, tired, overly violent crap.

The blood baths, so outrageous in Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are no longer shocking. It is just gross.

And it just wasn't that funny.

I thought Pitt did an excellent job--I loved his bravado and his accent. A cross between John Wayne and Clark Gable, he was the funniest thing going. The plot was just silly, tho--a movie about wishful thinking and alternative histories.

The people who were laughing are predisposed to Tarantino. No matter what he says or does, to these folks, he's golden.

I was waiting for a spectacular soundtrack and was, again, disappointed.

Tarantino had his time in the sun. Now the sun has set and it is nightfall. He needs to stop while he's ahead.

I won't see another Tarantino. Not unless he really changes his ways.

Chéri - Michelle Pfeiffer (2009)

This gorgeously filmed movie, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, is an adaptation of two novels by famed French novelist, Collette.

Collette, a writer of the late 1800s and early 1900s, wrote the novel Gigi, upon which the same-titled film is based.

The novels, Chéri and La Fin de Chéri, are about a aging courtesan and her relationship with the son of a fellow courtesan.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays the 1890s version of a cougar with elegance and verve. Still startlingly beautiful, it is no surprise that Chéri, played by the equally beautiful Rupert Friend, is enraptured.

Opened with a fairy tale-like narration by the film's director,Stephen Frears, the stage is set for a magical, farcical tale with outrageously beautiful sets, costumes and staging.

Lovely to behold, it was a movie about beauty and its power to enrapture us and entice us to hold it at any price.

Pfeiffer did a wonderful job of capturing the certainty and knowledge of an aging beauty who knows her limits yet yearns to hold on to youth.

A truly French film, Chéri captured the ironic humor and angst typical of their films.

The movie also starred Kathie Bates, who made absolutely no attempt to use either a French or British accent. I was a little disappointed by this but she performed passably well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Julie & Julia - Amy Adams, Meryl Streep (2009)

I thought I was going to have to sit through GI Joe since my friend had brought her husband along with us to the movies.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had bought tickets for Julie & Julia.

Oh, what a wonderful movie. And Meryl Streep--what an astounding actress. She surprises me over and over again.

The story of a 29 year old's quest to "make something of herself" before she hits 30, Julie test her limits by cooking all of the famed American cook Julia Child's 536 recipes in 365 days.

Telling the tale of two stories--Julia's and Julie's--the film flips between the young New York Julie chronicling her year-long adventure on her now famous blog, The Julie/Julia Project, and Julia Child's 10-year development of her now classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

A movie as much about writing as it is about cooking, the parallelism was undeniable; the manner in which each accomplished their missions were indicative of the times.

Both women were blessed with a gifts of cooking, writing and loving husbands.

Amy Adams held her own against the strength of Meryl Streep's performance. I have heard some critics call her performance as "whiny" but, too me, she acted as most 29 year old women act.

And, I must add, Stanley Tucci, as Julia's husband, gave an excellent performance.

But the movie is not only for foodies or females. It is an amazing character study of a 2 women determined to mark their place in this world; be they 50 or 30. Both women, Julie and Julia, a little lost and brimming with intelligence, take a natural gift and human desire and turn it into a career. Julie's melodramatic melancholy is a smart counterpoint to Julia's bubbling good humour and earthiness, and embodies the their respective decades--the 50s and the 00s.

So go. Go hungry. Imbibe and enjoy.

Bon Appetite!

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Guilty Pleasure

Kind of like People magazine -- I swear I only read it at the manicurist's -- I have become a new subscriber to Blah

I love it! My favorite part is the Friday video called "Stewart's Hot Minute"; a take on Perez Hilton, opening with the line, "Hey, b*tches, Hey, floozies." He takes on every spotlight-seeking starlet and skewers them.

Produced by TwitterMan, Ashton Kutcher, it looks like Demi's husband once again scores with a social media win.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One) - based upon a Harlan Coben Novel (2006)

Heart Rate: YYYYY

I love Harlan Coben's mysteries--I think he is a terrific writer. In fact, this book, Tell No One, was the first of his that I had read. Impressed by the innovative plot line, quick style of writing and the profound way in which he wrote about love, I was hooked on his books.

When I stumbled across a film adaptation of the book, Tell No One, on Netflix, I had to watch it.

A French film, the director Guillaume Canet did a superb job of translating this book to film.

Alexander and Ann are married to one another after spending their childhood together. After a long week-end, they return to their cabin by the lake. They take a late-night swim and are lying on a raft, when they argue. Ann swims to the shore, walking into the darkness. Suddenly, Alexander hears a scream. He leaps into the water and climbs onto the dock only to be attacked and knocked unconscious.

The film picks up eight years later, to the day. Alex is alone and Ann is dead, murdered by a serial killer. That day, Alex is checking his e-mail when he receives a message. When he opens it, a video begins to run. There is Ann, alive and well.

The chase begins.

A very tricky plot that spans a life time, the screenplay, written by Coben and two French writers, Guillaume Canet and Philippe Lefebvre, masterfully interweave three different time periods: childhood, the time of the murder and eight years later.

The movie stars François Cluzet, who plays Alex. Kristin Scott Thomas, from the movie the English Patient, plays Alex's sister's lover. The cast is very good with all of the actors working together effortlessly. Paris is lovely, as usual, and the cinematogrophy only enhances its looks.

There is strong language, violence and brief nudity. French subtitles.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Greenfingers - Clive Owen, Helen Mirren (2005)

Heart Rate: YYYY

Clive Owen stars in this charming story about British prisoners who landscape their way to redemption.

Incarcerated in a high-security prison, after 15 years, Colin Briggs, played by Owen, is transferred to a low-security prison to learn a trade. Hardened by guilt, he refuses to participate until his elderly roommate gives him a packet of violets as a Christmas present.

Colin carelessly plants this seeds in the middle of winter and forgets about them until some other prisoners nearly trample the violets during a soccer game.

He fights to defend his flowers and, in the midst of this battle, he suddenly realizes he wants to garden. One day, out of the blue, his little prison garden is championed by renowned gardener Georgina Woodhouse, played by Helen Mirren.

A charming tale based upon the true story of Her Majesty's Prison Leyhill in the Cotswolds, the real prison actually has won two which won several prizes for their garden prions.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Never Talk to Strangers - Rebecca De Mornay, Antonio Banderas (1995)

Heart Rate: YYYY

Rebecca De Mornay stars as psychologist Sarah Taylor interviewing a serial killer who takes up wtih a passionate and mysterious lover, played by Antonio Banderas.

Her father, obviously unwelcome, begins to visit her after being absent from her life for some time. And her creepy neighbor Cliff, played by Dennis Miller, keeps sniffing around, as well.

Soon Dr. Taylor begins to be stalked, receiving mysterious packages with horrible messages.

The story soons takes some suspenseful turns and I did jump a few times, making me wonder why I insist on watching these types of movies alone.

I kind of figured out the mystery towards the end but it was still a good ending.

There is graphic nudity and violence.

SPOILER ALERT: It reminded me of Halle Berry/Bruce Willis movie Perfect Stranger. Never Talk to Strangers was better executed, I think.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Widow's Peak - Natasha Richardson, Mia Farrow (1994)

Heart Rate: YYYY

A quirky little film starring Mia Farrow, Joan Plowright and Natasha Richardson, the plot centers around a 1930s Irish town called "Widow's Peak".

So named for its predominantly widowed population, Mrs. Doyle-Counihan, played by Joan Plowright, governs the town with an iron fist.

With hilarious character actors Jim Broadbent as a smitten dentist and Anne Kent as Mrs. Doyle-Counihan's agressive female driver, there are plenty of laughs.

The shabby widow Miss O'Hare (Judith Plowright) and the newly arrived and seductive Edwina Broome (Natasha Richardson) take an instant dislike to one another. Broome is convinced that O'Hare hates her and is plotting to destroy her. O'Hare is convinced that Broome is trying to kill her.

Who is right? Who is harming whom? What evil is at the secretive root of it all?

I had semi-guessed it but was still a bit surprised by the ending. It was an enjoyable way to spend the evening.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Dragon Bowl Asian Bistro--Where Have You Been All My Life?

Heart Rate: YYYYY

Category: Restaurants
Cuisine: Asian
Location: 1221 W 11th St, Houston, TX‎ - (713) 426-2750

This is a great concept--Asian Fusion, fast and furious.

In my mind, they have two great things going for it: the BYOB--"build your own bowl"--and their newest addition, the sushi bar. The BYOB is such a simple concept that I wonder why it hasn't been copied. You can select your choice of:

  • Pastas: white rice, brown rice, Singapore noodles, Thai noodles, Vermicelli noodles or Udon noodles
  • Stir-fried vegetables: broccoli, baby bok choi, garlic bell pepper medley, carrots, snow peas, red and white onions, bamboo shoots, baby corn, ginger, shitake mushrooms, and bean sprouts
  • Protein: beef, chicken, shrimp or tufo
  • Sauces: ginger garlic, Szechwan, spicy Thai basil, Mongolian, lemon grass, teriyaki, Asian citrus, spicy black bean, or red chili garlic
Create an endless combination of bowls. And the bowl is HUGE--enough for left overs.

But the latest addition--and a desperately needed in the Heights--a great little sushi bar. The sushi chef, Kevin, is awesome: talented, fast and friendly.

Don't ask me about their other dishes, I have never tried them. But if the ingredients from the BYOB and the sushi bar are any indication, their ingredients are quality-fresh.

Plus they offer an excellent selection of Asian beers.

But, man, if its Friday, get there early. They seriously need to get another cash register to handle the to-go and bar orders. The line gets seriously backed up.

The owner also owns Pink's Pizza, another Heights treat and equally delicious in its own right.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Namesake - an Eastern Indian Movie with Kal Penn (2006)

Heart Rate: YYY

Kal Penn, of Harold & Kumar fame, stars in The Namesake, a movie about a young man's struggle to live with his Eastern Indian heritage in an American world.

Named after his father's favorite author, Gogol, he is taunted for his odd name. Gogol is never understands why his Indian parents named him for a Russian author until it is almost too late.

The film relies heavily on Nickolai Gogol's short story, "The Over Coat;" in fact, Gogol's father quotes Dostoevsky's line, "We all come out from Gogol's 'Overcoat'."

A study of names and their meaning, the film examines the influence heritage and environmental forces have on our character.

The Indian actress Tabu plays Gogol's mother and is absolutely gorgeous at all stages of the film; her acting is quiet, understated but deeply moving. Irrfan Kahn as Gogol's father is wonderful, too, as the academic, yet quietly funny, father. Zuleikha Robinson gave a noteable performance as Gogol's wife--she reminded me a bit of Minnie Driver, in appearance.

Kal Penn's performance is a little uneven and relies a bit heavily on his pouty good looks. But I will be a little lenient as he was still developing his acting chops at this stage in his career.

The cinematography is a tad irregular but there are some very beautiful shots of India and New England. The segment on the Taj Mahal is exceptional.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Cinderella Story - Hilary Duff (2004)

Heart Rate: YYY

After watching Hilary Duff in War, Inc. (reviewed earlier) and her next big gig as Bonnie Parker in The Story of Bonnie and Clyde, I was curious about her previous acting career . So I watched The Cinderella Story.

Light fare with a "GrlPower" message, the script is riddled with lines like "We have faith in you. You gotta have faith in yourself."
Definitely movie with Duff's target audience in mind, it follows the Cinderella Story but has given it a decidedly pro-female twist.

Austin Ames' (Chad Michael Murray) character is pretty shallow; but having a 17-year old nephew, I don't think Chad Michael Murray missed the mark and did a passable job.

Jennifer Coolidge, as the evil stepmother Fiona, always delivers a robust, over-the-top performance that have all we come to expect and love.

Hilary Duff, too, gave a solid performance, hitting her cues and delivering believable emotions. I am curious to see if she can move past her Shirley Temple phase and make the huge leap from teen star to adult actor. Its a scary jump and the chasm is littered with others who have failed.

The film is sweet, not too thought-provoking and has a nice message film for your teen-age girls. There's no harm in this movie and its mildly entertaining.

I just kind of wished that the boy had more backbone. But then, girls mature faster, don't they?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Orphanage / El Orfanato (2007) - Spanish

Heart Rate: YYYY

With 31 wins and 30 nominations, this Spanish gothic thriller is excellent.

A woman returns with her husband and her adopted, ailing son, Simón, to her childhood orphanage. Odd sounds begin to emanate from the house and the little boy, Simón, has two imaginary friends.

You guessed it--he sees dead people.

But his parents just think he is playing. So they ignore Simón and continue with their plans to open up a home for children with special needs.

In the meantime, an old woman comes to visit, hinting at a knowledge of the orphanage's past and a penchant for Simón.

The day of the opening, she gets into a fight with her little boy and orders him to stay in his room. Later, when she comes back to bring him down to the party, she looks for him. Suddenly, she is attacked by a child wearing a scarecrow mask and locked into the bathroom.

When she is finally released from the bathroom, Simón has disappeared. For six months they search, but to no avail. What happens next is astounding . . .

NOTE: the trailer makes it look more gorey than it actually is--it is more suspenseful and mysterious than "BOO! scary". There are maybe two gross scenes but you have plenty of warning and can hide your eyes.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Somersault - starring Abbie Cornish, written, directed by Cate Shortland (2004)

Heart Rate: YYYY

An emerging young actor, Abbie Cornish, stars in the small Australian film, Somersault. It is about a young girl who runs away from home after her mother catches her kissing her mother's boyfriend.

No more than 16 or 17, Heidi (Abbie) makes her way to an Australian ski town where she finds herself work and a place to live.

This is the story about a girl trapped in the land between childhood and adulthood. She is an interloper in a tourist town: not a tourist, not a local, she does not fall easily into any category.

The scenery is lovely: flat, snowy and blue with rounded mountains littered with splices of trees. Abbie is gorgeous, with a face bordering between angelic and virginal.

There is explicit sexuality and coarse language.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Entourage - Season 1

Heart Rate: YYY

The HBO series, Entourage, is like a dream come true for high school kids that don't want to grow up.

Three kids from Queens make to LA on one of their buddy's back. Blessed with "face, talent, and a big head", Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier) is one of the new stars on the Hollywood scene.

The series opens as Vince previews his third movie. His buddies, Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and his brother Johnnie Drama Chase (Kevin Dillon) live with him, travel with him and do everything him: choose his films, run his errands, cook his meals, keep him company. They are--as indicated by the series title--his entourage.

Jeremy Piven plays his sex-crazed agent who is always looking to score new talent. Constantly scamming, he is sleaze in a suit.

I don't know.

I laughed a couple of times but, really, its a little too masturbatory for me. Girls mean nothing. They live for nothing. They do nothing.

It just seems kind of empty and immature.

I'm sure the Hollywood folks love it because its about the biz and behind the scenes and they get to watch for little cameos of one another.

Its all seems pretty narcissistic. Maybe that's the joke--they all know its narcissistic and the show's making fun of it. But I just think of all the people that are watching and how they get so hung up on the "truth" of it all.

I'm sure people do act this way.

But do you really want them to?

War, Inc.

Heart Rate: YYYY

Well, you all know that I love John Cusack.

So I had to see this, seeing as he starred in it, co-wrote it and produced it.

He's just so damned cute. and it was pretty funny, too.

War, Inc. is a political satire, Brand Hauser (Cusack)--don't you love his name?--walks onto the scene to the tune of a whistlin' Western song, strolls through town and makes his way to the local Greenland saloon.

He sits at the bar, orders a shot glass, fills it with triple-A grade hot sauce, slams it down, then shoots a bullet hole into the side of a German's head, taking down a row of Germans like a bunch of dominoes.

So the movie opens and we see Cusack reprising his role of a disenfranchised assassin.
The opening credits warn us of what is coming, the rebuilding of a mythical country, Turaquistan, destroyed by a war funded by a corporation, now to be rebuilt by that same corporation.

Hauser is hired to kill the soon-to-be president of the newly rebuilt company. His cover? Oversee the company's opening ceremony to introduce their new brand of freedom.
But plans quickly fall awry when Brand, while being chaperoned by his colleague in crime Marsha Dillon (played by the ubiquitous and always funny Joan Cusack), spots the lovely reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (played by Marisa Tomei) and Yonica Babyyeah (played by Hilary Duff) spots him.

Funny, clever and ridiculous, some of my favorite bits were the relationship forged between Hauser and is OnStar guide (played by Montel Williams), Hauser's explanation for why he drinks tobasco sauce and Hauser's final conversation with Turaquistan's would-be president Omar Sharif.

Marisa Tomei is always delightful. Hilary Duff does a passible and even entertaining take on a Middle Eastern version of Britney Spears -- her performance of "Blow Me Up" is nothing short of explosive. Ben Kingsley and Dan Aykroyd have small, entertaining but important roles.

A little emerald in the sea of movies.

Best quote:
Did you know that the word "person" comes from the Latin word "persona", which means mask? So maybe being human means we invite spectators to ponder what lies behind. Each of us will be composed of a variety of masks, and if we can see behind the mask, we would get a burst of clarity. And if that flame was bright enough, that's when we fall in love. What's your opinion on these divine matters?

Feast - Traditional English Cuisine in Houston, Texas

Heart Rate: YYYYY

UPDATE: Took my mother to FEAST after Good Friday Mass. Learned that FEAST is a 2009 semi-finalist for James Beard's Best New Restaurants. They were also covered by the NY Times.

My friend and co-worker had a traditional work anniversary lunch at Feast.

Self-described as "Rustic European Fare", I think most would us would recognize it as British food.

Now, I know most of you have heard that British food is sub-standard. To this I say, "not true!"

In fact, I think I would go as far to say that this was possibly one of the best meals that I have eaten in Houston.

However, a word of caution: a lesser foodie may be daunted by the menu. Purviewing it is not for the faint of heart. There are some rather extraordinary dishes ranging from oxtail to kidney pie, cheek and haggis.

But, before fear set in, logic prevailed: no man in their right mind would sell such awful sounding dishes unless they actually tasted good.

I am so glad that I pushed on.

What a gastronomic delight! It was lovely.

While I ordered a paper-wrapped fish (the name escapes me at the moment) with couscous and stewed tomatoes along with a side of bubble and squeak. The rest of the party ordered braised pork and fish and scallop pie.

May I say that I never thought stewed tomatoes could be so good? And the fish was amazing--very flavorful and rich with pungent, lemony tastes. I was excited about the bubble and squeak: I was not disappointed with its lovely combination of smooth mashed potatoes and crunchy bits.

The pork dish was at that top of every one's hit list--even though we all commented upon how thick and chewy the crust was, it stopped none of us from savoring it. The fish pie was equally as delicious, coming to the table bubbling over the top of its own ramekan.

For a bit of dessert, I ordered the whiskey prunes. Gaah! It was a tad strong and being a non-alcohol kind of gal, I would have liked a bit more of it burned off. That said, my friend's sticky toffee pudding looked divine--let's just say I have plans to return after Lent.

Overall the dining experience was fun and full of adventure. We got to meet two of the three owners: the husband and wife team of James and Meagan Silk. Such personalized service made me feel quite at home.

The ambience is perfect: set in lower Montrose near Mark's and Michaelangelo's it is in a sturdy, New Orleans-style house. Filled with planked floors, a traditional British hearth and dark moldings, you could very well be in London Town.

I would highly recommend that you make a visit and bring an open mind.

Prices range from medium to high.

219 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77006 713-529-7788

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Milk - Sean Penn (2008)


I think Mickey Rourke should have won Best Actor.

There. I said it.

I just got back from seeing Milk and I have to say that Sean Penn is a great actor but I didn't think that this character was one of his best performances.

And Mickey Rourke was incredible in The Wrestler.

Yes, Milk is an important film about a pivotal time in our country's history. Yes, I am glad that I saw it. Yes, I am glad that it was made. And, yes, Harvey Milk was a very courageous and charismatic man.

But I just didn't think it was that good of a movie. There was no fire, no passion. I didn't empathize with these characters. I wanted to. I wanted to care about what was happening to them because any denial of human rights is atrocious.

But this film stirred no empathy in my heart. I felt no outrage for their plight. I think that the film did little to set the stage for their anger; I think the director assumed I would walk into the movie understanding the violations that the gay community has suffered. But I didn't--I grew up pretty well insulated during these times.

The movie didn't show their suffering; how much it hurt to not to be able to "be" even in their own homes. Milk talked about suicides, about being in the closet about young boys suffering, but the movie didn't really show that, they just talked about it. The film assumed that I would understand the plight of a gay man or woman in the 60s and 70s.

The little bit of discrimination that I have heard or known about was learned by talking to gay friends. I wanted the film to expose more of that. That explanation, through characterization, would have made this film an even more important film.

Instead, I think that the director would just assume we would understand that mistreatment.

SPOILER: Some may say that Milk's second lover's suicide showed this element. I would argue that it did not--it just further demonstrated how truly neurotic his second lover was.

Now the interplay between Sean Penn and James Franco was quite moving but, honestly, it was James Franco's performance that stirred me more. James' sad, troubled eyes, watching the love of his life giving himself away over and over again, was so touching. There, then, did I see and feel real emotions.

But the rest? It felt as the movie was just skimming the surface over some very real and raw incidents. Maybe these were left on the editing floor.

The movie just left me wanting.

This was a highly stylized film with an interesting cinematography that captured the look of the old, grainy and yellowish photos of the time.

One of the more beautifully filmed scenes was the last interaction between Harvey Milk and his lover, Scott, as they spoke on the phone and watched the sun rise together.

Along with Sean Penn, the film included Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna and James Franco.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

City Hall - Al Pacino, John Cusack (1996)


Perusing the list of John Cusack's films today, I spotted one that I had not seen: City Hall.

Made 12 years ago, Cusack looks so young. But, hey, didn't we all?

He plays a deputy mayor to Mayor of New York, played with resounding aplomb by none other than Al Pacino.

Geemenee Christmas, that Al Pacino can ACT! But I'll get to that in a minute . . .

A man walks his 6-year old son to school. As they cross the street a snitch hooks up a detective with a low-life drug pusher. Guns start firing, the pusher and the detective go down and in the midst of the exchange, the little boy is killed.

City Hall is notified and Kevin Calhoun (Cusack), who manages Mayor John Pappas, steps in to clean things up for the mayor and begins to uncover a complicated series of graft.

But back to Al. He decides, against advisement, to speak at the young boy's funeral. Facing an angry crowd of constituents who want to know why he's not cleaning up the city, Pacino literally turns the crowd around with a mesmerizing performance of a speech.

A good movie, I have to confess that Cusack's attempts at a Louisiana accent fails dismally. But he's still adorable and still convincing in the role.

The movie also stars Bridget Fonda, Danny Aiello, Martin Landau.