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)

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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)

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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.