Friday, August 29, 2014

Jules' Bad Book Synopses----#thesynopsesarebadnotthebooks

Jules' Bad Book Synopses----#thesynopsesarebadnotthebooks

Surely Drugs Were Involved

The Wizard of Oz

Girl gets hit on head during tornado, has major acid flashback. #Iseelittlepeopleandflyingmonkeys

Alice in Wonderland  and Through the Looking Glass

Girl falls down hole, hits head (c'mon, it probably happened), has acid flashback. Girl tries acid again (I'm assuming) and crashes through the mirror and has even more hallucinations. #Iseerabbitsinwwaistcoats

A Christmas Carol

Grouchy, elderly gentleman has bad indigestion leading to stomach-acid flashbacks AND flashforwards and learns the true meaning of Christmas.

Peter Pan and Wendy

Irresponsible parents go off to party leaving their three kids home alone with the dog. Homeless boy breaks in through bedroom window, gives kids "pixie dust" (LSD?). Kids think they can fly and go out the window and see pirates and mermaids and god-only-knows whatall. #yourdogisnotababysitter                               
                                              Classics and Favorites

Jane Erye

Dumb girl marrries guy who kept first wife locked in the attic. #beinglockedintheatticdoesnotimprovementalhealth

To Kill a Mockingbird

Looney-toon guy next door saves the day.  #Booradleyrocks

A Catcher in the Rye

Weirdo fictional character Holden Caufield ends up being a twisted inspiration for real-life loners and weirdoes.  (Okay, that's not really a synopsis of the book. Just what actually happened in life).  #thanksalotjdsalinger

The Giving Tree

Selfish little pr*ck destroys talking tree.  #EPA911

                                                  Contemporary Hits

Pillars of the Earth

How to build a church under very bad work and life conditions while tons of crap happens that I can't even remember. #veryentertainingbutsomuchhappensiforgotwhathappens

Gone Girl

Crazy b*tch gets even with husband, who also turns out to be crazy. #youpeopleshouldbeinsitutionalized  #mrrochesterhasanatticforyou

Harry Potter

Scar-faced orphan battles Satan with the support of positive gay role model.  #itwillneversell

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Finally! Another Food Post: Let's Talk Burger Joints

Let's talk burger joints. For this 'report', I'll skip the usual fast food drive-thrus.

I tried The Habit for the first time today. Service was good.


1. They have a teriyaki burger with grilled pineapple.
2. They have milkshakes made with real ice cream and topped with whipped cream.
3. They have tempura green beans. Nice plump ones.


1. Bun was too dry, making it taste a tad stale. Five Guys has very delicious, fresh-tasting buns.
2. French fries are meh. French fries are better at Five Guys by a landslide.
3. Burger patty is too small.  The Little Cheeseburger at Five Guys seems more substantial.

So, for burgers and fries in general, Five Guys wins by a mile. My male counterpart agreed. However, if you have a hankering for teriyaki, a good milkshake, or tempura green beans, The Habit may warrant a visit.

I tried Roam Artisan Burgers earlier this year. Checked-out some Yelp reviews which were mostly good. The negative reviewers seemed primarily put-off by the prices, and suggested you were better-off at In 'n Out.  

My thoughts:  Yes--it's a little expensive. It's an upscale burger place in Lafayette. What were you expecting?

1. The Classic Burger: I usually enjoy over-cooked, hockey-puck, fast food burgers. However, this was a juicy, meaty burger and it was delicious.
2. The Ginger-Lime soda was GREAT. Potent flavor, which is what I like.
3. Custom Milkshake:  Salted Caramel and Coffee. WHOA. YUM.
4. Fry-fecta: mix of zucchini-onion shoe-strings, regular fries, and sweet potato fries. Very tasty.
5. Asparagus:  Fresh seasonal veggie-of-the-day. Very good. Made with lemon and some kind of Spanish cheese that I can't recall the name of. 

Bonus Points: Girl who took the order was really sweet. Place looked really clean. I would happily go again.  But I still love Five Guys, too.

I've yet to try The Counter, but that'll happen before the year is out, I suspect. Stay-tuned.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NEW REVIEW: Top of the Lake

Beautifully filmed, highly atmospheric, haunting, disturbing, curious and compelling, Jane Campion's Top of the Lake is perhaps the series Twin Peaks could have been had it not gone too far down the loony-track.

This Sundance mini-series, now available on Netflix, is a tight seven episodes long, and that is actually one of my only criticisms. It felt a tad bit rushed in the last two episodes and I think that it would have been even more impactful if they had allowed things to develop at a bit slower rate. The material was certainly there to do it.

The story centers around a remote New Zealand lake community, a missing pregnant twelve year old, her vicious and violent father, her adult half-siblings, and the police detective who comes home to the lake and takes on the case.

Elisabeth Moss, well-known for Mad Men, does a phenomenal job here as Detective Robin Griffin. Hers is a character of deeply felt emotion and a dark and tragic history of her own which binds her to Tui, the missing child. She has scenes of tremendous pathos, rage and passion and each of these feels full of authenticity and palpable pain. Her performance is complemented by a strong cast and an intense, if not completely original, storyline.

I love haunting and mysterious stories and I am a biased in that respect, but I do think this series is a home-run. It is riveting. I burst out in an unexpected sob at one point, not even aware of how much the event in question would affect me. I could easily re-watch the series, which is always telling.

I am amazed at how much great storytelling and acting there is available on the small screen. Something absolutely better occurs with the ability to watch episodes in succession, as well as with the trend toward a complete story arc rather than the rambling, stretching-out, and tacking-on endless chunks of disjointed plotline that too often occurs in an effort to prolong a series run.

There's a lot to see out there. Let's get crackin'.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Natural Elements (Richard Mason)

I picked this book up at the Dollar Tree. I can't recall ever buying a book there; I somehow suspected they must be pretty awful books if they end up being sold at the Dollar Tree. I'm ready to stand-up and say, "Oops. I might have been wrong." I think this purchase was well worth the dollar I spent.

I found the story very engaging. The main characters are Eloise, a middle-aged hedge fund manager, and her mother, Joan, who at first meeting is in the early stages of dementia. I was very surprised that the book was written by a man. I thought that he did a commendable job of rendering the emotional inner-lives of these women.

The story has two main threads. In one, Eloise makes a terrible business move and is frantically evading the truth of it as long as she can. This thread is fairly suspenseful and also a bit anxiety provoking on Eloise's behalf. In the other thread, Joan is first gradually, and later rapidly, slipping away into a world of memories and hallucinations. The threads are tied together as Eloise is left with the task of seeing that Joan is cared for in her declining years.

Although Richard Eder of the New York Times found the dementia sequences to be heavy-handed, I actually found them to be deeply moving. I wonder how much time Mr. Elder has actually spent with people whose minds are slipping away as they age. It can be a deeply complex process for the whole family. I thought this author's rendering did a wonderful job of giving Joan's character dignity in her clear moments as well as her hallucinatory ones. I found it touching and insightful that the author gave beauty and comfort to her visions.

Watching your parents grow old, trying to help them, but trying to live your own life...these are the themes of middle-age. It can be a very hard time, plagued with the guilt of never doing as much as you've thought you should. This book authentically addresses what it feels like for both mother and daughter as they dance this painful last dance together.

As a bonus, the story at one point takes you on a trip to South Africa and recalls the Boer Wars and the British concentration camps. Having known not a darn thing about this subject, it really was a fascinating passage.

Somehow, I think women may relate more to this book, but perhaps that is simply sexist. It was definitely two-thumbs up for me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS: Two on Netflix--Out of the Furnace and Dear Zachary

Excuse the language, but profanity provides the most apt description for this 2013 Scott Cooper film.  

1. This movie is depressing as sh*t.
2. Woody Harrelson is scary as f*ck.
3. Christian Bale acts his ass off.

The critics were very 50/50 on this one, mostly because they found it to be a tired, poorly written and pointless script about machismo and revenge.  Despite that it could have been a much better film were it more focused, I actually still liked this movie very much.

The cinematography is outstanding, capturing the grimly realistic and painful place where people work crappy, carcinogenic jobs, but couldn't even tell you what 'carcinogenic' means. The characters were all very plausible and authentic. Along with the aforementioned, the cast is comprised of a stellar group of folks who can really act: Forest Whitaker, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, and Willem Dafoe.

I cannot say enough about Christian Bale. Of course, he's a terrific actor, but I appreciated his performance more in this film than in any other of his that I have seen. He has three incredible scenes with Zoe Saldana.

It is no easy feat to establish the depth of a relationship in three scenes, but in this case they do it so successfully that, as a watcher, you believe it and you feel deeply moved by it. The first scene together caught my eye because it felt so authentic and, well, loving. Just a brief scene, but truly you felt this man and this woman were in love...really in love, not the cheesy movie-love. It set up so well their next scene together that I shed a tear and I read that other people who saw the film also cried at this second scene. Who can do that? Establish such a connection in one quick scene that the next time you see this couple together you are moved to tears?

Anyway, I should let you know that the film is pretty violent in spots, bleak and depressing throughout. I did enjoy it, though, and I would watch it again to see Christian Bale's performance. He's that good.

This 2008 documentary by Kurt Kuenne is one part love-letter to his best friend, his best friend's son, and his best friend's parents, and one part Dateline murder expose. 

The direction is sharp and clever and keeps things moving. It also manages to memorialize these events, and Andrew Bagley, in a way that is never maudlin, yet utterly heartbreaking at every turn. 

I remember seeing Andrew's story on Dateline, but having some prior knowledge of it did not lessen the impact of this documentary at all.  The sequence of events following the actual murder are shocking and devastating. It's well done and worth seeing. Have some kleenex handy, though.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


This movie is the Jon Favreau-fest: he not only stars in it, but he also wrote it and directed it. We've all seen him around a lot over the years, but, really, I did not fully grasp how prolific Jon Favreau's career has been. He's done everything from guest appearances on tv's Friends to executive producer of the blockbuster Ironman series. He must have made a lot of friends over the years, and several of them appear in this film : Dustin Hoffman, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara, Bobby Cannavale, Oliver Platt, and Robert Downey, Jr.

It's a very simple story of losing and finding joy in your work and the impact it has on your life. This really hits home for me when I recall the times where I, for practical reasons, stuck with a job I'd grown to hate, only to find that once it was over, the door was open for me to begin to work in a joyful way again. I've got a feeling there are a lot of people who can relate to this experience.

It's also a story about family, fatherhood, friendship and food. My favorite parts, in no particular order: Jon (great job being a 'real' person), Emjay Anthony as his son (cute, smart, believable), John Leguizamo (funny), the fun music, the beautiful food (the sizzle that makes you think you can smell it), and last, but never least, a quick trip to New Orleans.

It is one of those slice-of-life films where nothing overly dramatic happens, but real-life happens and the ups and downs of a genuine life are enough sometimes. Undoubtedly, some critics may find it too simplistic, too predictable, too happy in the ending.  I find it's great, on occasion, to just smile and relax and think, "life is good", and a movie that can do that for you is rarer than you might expect.

It's sweet and straightforward---good qualities in a person and in a movie.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

QUICK REVIEWS: The Fighter, Looper, Adaptation, Lonesome Dove

Lazy holiday weekend. Caught some movies on DVD. I'll be brief...and probably sarcastic.

The Fighter  (2010)  Starring Marky-Mark and Christian Bale

Well, the acting was very good. I'm not quite sure how this story merited making a movie, though. A very obnoxious, dysfunctional family results in one son being a drug-addled boxer and the other son being a non-drug-addled boxer. Did I mention the acting was really good? It wasn't a bad movie; it just wasn't as great as I was expecting it to be.

Looper  (2012)  Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis

Interesting premise. JGL trying to act like Bruce Willis was briefly entertaining. The weird whatever-the-hell thing they did to JGL's face (was that CGI?) to make him more BruceWillisy was also freaky enough to be entertaining. Unfortunately, this was a bad script coupled with some really bad direction. I got so bored that I went to bed, which is actually unusual for me. I don't often bail on a movie.

Adaptation (2002)  Starring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep

I am not a big fan of Cage, but he was pretty impressive in this movie. He plays an oddball screenwriter trying (and failing) to adapt a book about an orchid hunter/thief. He also plays the screenwriter's equally oddball, but less neurotic, brother. Additionally, Chris Cooper won an Academy Award for supporting actor, and he was also great. This is one of those quirky movies that is, at various points, anxiety provoking, funny, not funny, poignant, touching, and disturbing. Unlike Looper, it was not at all boring. It was pretty strange, but really, really well directed and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Lonesome Dove (1989)  Starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones

I like Westerns. That's the caveat. And, really, who better to play a couple of craggy old, leather-skinned, former Texas rangers than Duvall and Jones? No one. 

This is a tv mini-series, so it's several hours long, but quite enjoyable. Life was tough in the Old West. I wouldn't last ten seconds. Sometimes, I don't love the writing for the female characters, but that's okay. There was quite a cast to enjoy---Chris Cooper (twice in one blog!), for example. Ricky Schroder, Steve Buscemi and Danny Glover were young. Diane Lane and Anjelica Houston were young and beautiful.  

Lot's of people die, but it is a western, so that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. You'll just have to watch it to see who survives.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

NEW REVIEW: The Galapagos Affair

(sort of...if you are seeing the film, you probably have some knowledge of the story)

Of the six adults living on the remote island of Floreana in the early 1930s, only three survived and only two remained on the island for the rest of their lives.
Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

I spent the morning with rumblings in my head, trying to resolve for myself what really happened to the peculiar inhabitants of Floreana. 

In 1929, Dr. Friedrich Ritter, a follower of Nietzsche, abandoned his life (and wife) in Germany and traveled with one of his patients, Dora, to the Galapagos, with the intention of leaving civilization behind and living a solitary, self-sufficient existence. (Oddly, it was not clear what their relationship was exactly, only that Dora thought him a genius and was apparently sucked-in to the doctor's belief system.)

Much to the pair's annoyance, two years later, Heinz Wittmer decided to move with his pregnant wife, Margaret, and son to the island. Later still, to the great chagrin of both parties, a third and most unusual trio moved in: The (supposed) Viennese Baroness and her two lovers, Robert Philippson and Rudolph Lorenz.

No one got along well on the island, and the flamboyant and entitled Baroness was apparently particularly disliked, but things seemed to take a turn for the worse when in 1934 a drought left the islanders with limited water and food supplies.

Mysteriously, Baroness and Philippson disappeared, Lorenz desperately caught the next boat off the island and was later found dead on another island, and Dr. Ritter died the same year of supposed food poisoning.

Mick LaSalle of the SF Chronicle loved this documentary. However, Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News wrote:

How anyone could make such an uninvolving movie out of such a fascinating subject remains its own inexplicable mystery.

I do think the documentary came across as surprisingly pedestrian given the bizarre, and even titillating, subject matter. That said, the film was still quite intriguing. I anticipated photos and interviews, but the fact that they actually had small film clips of these people made it fascinating. At one point, the Baroness and a visiting sea captain made a silly little silent film with her starring as the island Piratess. That the film is preserved strikes me as remarkable. 

Although a bit confusing as the documentary wove in interviews and stories of people who grew-up on nearby Santa Cruz, it was genuinely quite interesting to hear about their lives. But the bottom line, of course, is what really happened?

My brain rumblings have led me to the conclusion that Margaret, Heinz, and Lorenz were all involved in the disappearance of the Baroness and Philippson:

1. Margaret's story that the couple took off for Tahiti with friends made no sense whatsoever. The Baroness did not seem the type to leave all her belongings, and no one was aware of any boat coming to the island. Why would Margaret make up a tale like that except to cover her (and her husband's) tracks?
2. I think Lorenz was so anxious to get off the island because he was afraid and distraught.
3. The Wittmers stayed on the island, raised their children and built a hotel. Their daughter still runs the hotel.
     Very strange. They weren't afraid at all. Sounds mighty suspicious.
4. Margaret wrote a book about her experiences during that time, but subsequently refused to speak another word about it though she lived to her nineties. I think they justified their actions to themselves at the time and later just wanted to bury it and forget.

Who knows, maybe the Wittmers even sabotaged the boat that Lorenz was leaving on, thinking that he, who seemed mentally unstable by this time, would spill the beans and send the authorities?

And Dr. Ritter? I'm perplexed. Maybe it was truly accidental food poisoning, but maybe Dora became afraid that they would be next to disappear, argued with Dr Ritter, who wouldn't agree to leave, and decided to ensure that he got sick, perhaps thinking that would change his mind.

One thing I know for sure: Dead men tell no tales.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

TV REVIEW: Breaking Bad

*************  SPOILERS AHEAD****************

As you know, I hate the synopsis as part of the review format.  When I read a review, I want to know if the piece in question was good. I don't need or want you to Cliff Notes the story for me.

In the case of this review, it is more of a sharing of opinion with those who have seen the show. If you haven't seen it, besides suffering spoilers, you will also not understand who or what I am talking about for the most part. Check back in once you've watched the show from start to finish. I recommend you do this in a few consecutive sittings for maximum effect.

Well, here it is: my foray into breaking down Breaking Bad.

Is the show really that great?

For me, and I can only speak for myself, it is.  My reasoning for this is very simple. A great television show is one that is maximally compelling and entertaining. Breaking Bad rates a 10/10 on both fronts. The story reels you in, dangles you around for a while, but never lets you go. There are some plot holes, but the script is remarkable, the characters so well-drawn, the dialogue so honest. And the actors? They are gonna have a hard time topping these performances.

What really drove me, though, was the relationship between Jesse and Walt. They are teacher and student, father and son, criminal and accomplice, master manipulator and prey. Infuriating, tragic, touching, and terrible, this relationship is one you can't easily forget. It is hard to imagine that the Jesse character was actually supposed to be killed off early in the series. I don't think Breaking Bad would have meant much of anything to me without the unsettling symbiosis that was Jesse and Walt. However, there were many memorable characters and performances.

The Characters

Walter White

Bryan Cranston has plenty of awards and an email from Anthony Hopkins calling his performance "the best acting I have seen--ever." So, there you go.

One of the big questions for anyone watching the show is: when did you stop rooting for Walt? He pretty much lost me when he let Jesse's girlfriend drown in her own vomit, but I would continue to occasionally like or appreciate something he did. The 'liking' usually had to do with his somehow protecting Jesse, and the 'appreciation' usually had to do with his smartypants MacGyvering or his killing of characters that I really hated. But even though I might have liked this or appreciated that, I was not rooting for Walt. Thanks, Walt, for getting Jesse to rehab, thanks for killing those assholes you killed, but I still hope you get your ass caught in a big way. That was my feeling toward Walt.

I can sympathize with his being a very smart man and never truly being valued or respected for that. I can also sympathize with Walt for feeling that he'd been dealt a pretty crappy hand in life. But when Heisenberg comes out---he is (as Jesse says) The Devil.  He enjoys the role of kingpin and does not seem to feel any genuine remorse.  His every move is self-serving. He lies and manipulates and betrays the trust of every single person in his life.

I do feel he redeemed himself a tiny bit in the end, again by killing some other monsters (I know bloodlust and redemption don't really go together), also by saving Jesse, by turning down a deal for the money, and by finally speaking the truth to Skyler: he did what he did because he liked it.

Jesse Pinkman

Jesse is that lovable kid who sat behind you in Bio---when he actually showed up to class. You know the one. He was most often out under the bleachers getting high. He was also kind of dumb (or maybe that was just the dope), but he was funny and nice and if someone was picking on one of the disabled kids at school he would speak up and say, "Hey---that's not cool man. Chill out." And you would smile to yourself and think, "He's pretty much a loser, but he's awfully sweet."

While Walt was busy making a career of manipulating Jesse, Jesse seemed to be making a career of letting him. It drove me crazy and I was practically euphoric when he finally exploded and showed that he understood  exactly what Walt had been doing to him.

As Walt's true character leaks and out and shows you that he is evil, Jesse's leaks out and shows you that he is not only smarter than you gave him credit for, he's also remarkably loyal (and not in the self-serving Walt kind of way). But the biggest thing about Jesse? He has his own moral code. He is deeply remorseful when he breaks it, and he has a solid line that he will not cross, even under threat of death. And he proves this more than once. He's more than just "awfully sweet", he is convicted.

I loved Jesse. He was absolutely the heart of the show for me. He was always the one I was rooting for, and he was also the one I cried for. Aaron Paul's emotional breakdown scenes were just heartbreaking.

Hank Schrader

Dean Norris. How did he not get nominated for an Emmy? That's insane. Right from the get-go, I thought his performance was remarkable. He NAILED his character.

Hank is the man. He never wavers. He is the guy who still has passion for his work, loves his wife through her issues, embraces her sister, and her sister's husband, and their children. He is just a good man.

Walt is a monster for contributing to Hank's death, but I do believe he would have done anything to save Hank in the end. How could he not?

And Everyone Else

Gus is a good time. You just can't help but enjoy his calm, cool, collected, demeanor. Part of you wants to believe that he is the guy who is somehow able to run a criminal empire in a professional and ethical manner. But the rest of you knows that is not possible, and that somewhere, sometime, a ruthless killer is going to emerge. And boy, that happens in a big, big way with Victor.

Tuco. What a maniac. Couldn't wait to see him get his due. And the same for his cousins, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Good riddance.

Mike. Well, you gotta love him on some level. He's very good at his job.

Todd is scary. And so is his uncle.

Saul provides comic relief.

Lydia is so annoying that I wanted to poison her myself.

Hector Salamanca is another example of really great acting: ding, ding, ding.

And last, but far from least, Anna Gunn does a great job as Skyler. She's never your favorite, but her character is so well-written and her performance is so nuanced and shows such depth and deftness and range.

The End

Well, it certainly wasn't the outcome I was hoping for (Hank's death was a big blow, and Jesse's captivity was beyond disturbing), but everything did seem fitting and right in the end. In no way did I feel that there was a better ending. I believed that this was the ending. And that means they did a good job.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


In order to explain my review of Gravity, I have to talk a little bit about Avatar. 

Long, long ago, in 2009, James Cameron's Avatar was touted to be 1) the pinnacle of 3D films and  2) an amazing film experience not to be missed. Somehow, I didn't exactly get the point that statement #2 was inextricably linked to statement #1. Inextricably. Well, I saw the non-3D version of Avatar.  I really don't have any particular interest in 3D, so my clearly poor decision made sense to me at the time.

 As it turns out, Avatar suffered from a plot and script which I am pretty sure came from an 8th grader that James Cameron secretly had on staff.  So, for those of us who made the dumb-dumb-dumb decision to see it without the 3D, the experience was less than amazing. A lot less. And that brings me to Gravity.

I was not going to make the same mistake again, particularly when I read a few reviews that also indicated that Gravity lacked a decent script. Some people took issue with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as actors, others more pointedly disliked the characterizations. I got the point this time: see it for the 3D. So, I did.

From that perspective, Gravity is really enjoyable. I can't say it suffers from a bad plot. It's a very simple plot, and that's really all that it needs to be. The film is quite beautiful. I don't know (or care) about 3D technology, but I am going to take a stab here and say that a possible measure of success is when a viewer becomes completely unaware of the 3D, and is, rather, just immersed in the experience. Gravity was very successful for me in this respect. I was, for the most part, blissfully unaware of the 3D. I was, instead, very much 'inside' the space experience. And being in space is both nerve-wracking and cool, so that makes for a fun movie-going adventure.

As for the script, it could have been much better. George Clooney's character was tired and cliche, but possibly befitting a super-cool-astronaut-guy. I was fine with Sandra Bullock. Again, the script didn't do her any favors, but her acting was reasonably good. Her body, on the other hand, was quite impressive.

Overall, it was a good time at the show. The immediate response is pretty "WOW", but it doesn't last. I'll forget about it by next month, but I'm glad I saw it.