Saturday, November 17, 2012


Most critics have raved about Lincoln. A few others have called it boring. One reviewer talked about the stellar acting, writing, film production, but cautioned that you shouldn't expect to become "involved" in it. To which I respectfully respond: Are you F-ing kidding me?

My sister read somewhere that Lincoln was the third most written about figure in history, behind Jesus and Shakespeare (Now, there's a weird group).  It's Lincoln, for god's sake: the man, the myth, the audio-animatronic guy at Disneyland.  How can you possibly find him boring? Geez, didn't you cry when you visited the Lincoln Monument?

But beyond even the man himself, it is the sheer enormity of the subject matter that makes it impossible not to become involved in this film.  And without scenes of active battle or of the brutality of slavery, it manages to blow your mind with that enormity. It is emotionally overwhelming. And I have a sogged-out scarf to offer as evidence. (Not to worry---tears only. I was able to do the nose-blowing into a popcorn napkin). 

And to those who want to quibble about historical accuracy: does it really matter here? Greater minds than ours, who have devoted their lives to the study of history, have argued about the facts of the Civil War. Save it for them.  The importance of this film, as with Spielberg's Schindler's List, is in its ability to bring you to a place of mindful, and  profoundly emotional, connection to these extraordinary events in history. 

Everyone who is frustrated with politics and politicians should see this film. Government is not an entity. It is people. And people, unevolved as we are, fight it out, bend the truth, and, at times, compromise our own morality to move forward. This is a film about that compromise. And through the lies, the backroom shenanigans, and the under-the-table handshaking that is politics, there may still be a move toward the greater good. And you either believe that, or you give up. 

Thankfully, the movie's incredible tension (yes, even though we all know the outcome, it is still quite tense) is frequently cut by some great lines that made the audience laugh out loud. Tommy Lee Jones is a real hoot and Sally Field is terrific.  There are, interspersed, great scenes of humor, love, and heartbreak to help bring these historic figures to life. 

And speaking of bringing someone to life, Daniel Day-Lewis, as expected, is ...uh, Lincoln. He just is. The monument cracked open, and Abraham, thanks to the magic of cryogenics, walked down the giant steps and right into your local movie theater. Get there, before he heads back to D.C.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

FINALLY!! Another Book Review: Gone Girl

So, the title says it all.

HAHAHA. Not hardly, honey. But I don't want to say much more, as that would spoil your fun. This book has spent many weeks at the top of best sellers' lists, so you don't really need me to say that it's a good read. But, it's a gooooood read.

Like most truly good books, it sticks with you for awhile. This one makes for clever inside jokes between you and your fellow readers. My sister and I spent a weekend together and made frequent references to our new 'friends' Nick and Amy. It's been weeks since I read it, but I still chuckle to myself on their behalf.

Now, that last statement might be misleading. This is not a comedic book, but it has these moments of very dark humor. It also has elements of relationship drama, mystery, romance, and even a little horror. It's quite a package.

I read one review on Goodreads from a reader who said she had such a hard time getting through the first half of the book. She kept having to put it away and then give it another try. I honestly find that statement confounding. I was interested all the way through. I found the characters to be very easy to relate to. (Uh oh, what does that say about me?). In fact, what I loved most about the writing was that so many of the thoughts of the characters rang true for me. I thought the author really nailed the machinations of the male and female psyche. She did a fabulous job of illustrating how a man and a woman can be experiencing the same events in a relationship, but interpret them completely differently.

Again, I must plead with you not to misunderstand. This is nowhere in the realm of a 'relationship' book. It's far more entertaining. But the relationship drives the story and, for me, this is where the writer showed her skill.

If you decide to give it a try, please share your thoughts. I'm curious to know your opinion.

And for my sister's pleasure:

  I wish my wife would come back home.

Friday, October 19, 2012


With something like a 95% critic's rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Argo is another big win for director Ben Affleck.  Pacing can be everything, and this movie rarely, if ever, lags. It is a true-life thriller and a pretty wild story.

I was a teenager during the Iran hostage crisis, and generally avoided news like the plague---a trait which I still possess to some degree. But for those of you who weren't around during this time period, let me tell you, there was no avoiding this. It was a melancholy fog, an unrelenting presence, a cruelty we kids had never seen before. Eerie but true, you could have shown me photographs of all kinds of historical and political figures, and I wouldn't have been able to name them. But show me, or anyone growing up at that time, that face, and we would all say, "the Ayatollah". You just couldn't escape him. His was something like the Hitler-face of our generation. And although we knew all about the hostages, what we did not know, the huge secret of the time, was that six Americans had somehow eluded capture. Argo tells the story of their harrowing escape. And what a tale it is.

Although the movie takes some liberty with the truth, and adds in a couple of extra-harrowing narrow escapes at the end, from what I've read the basic story is still accurate. It sounds like the CIA had a couple of screws loose with this 'unusual' plan, but it worked, so you can't argue with success. I might have preferred that Affleck left off the sort-of Hollywoody scenes like where the main character defies the CIA, or where the police cars chase the plane. But nonetheless, the film version is a tense, edge-of-your-seat adventure that even manages some laughs. John Goodman and Alan Arkin poke a good amount of fun at the world of film-making. The 'seventies' wardrobe adds another dimension of kooky. The script is fairly terse and straightforward. It all mixes together well.

Some random thoughts for you to relate to after you've seen the movie:
  •  How about Mr. and Mrs. Canadian Ambassador and their house staff? What amazingly brave people.
  •  How come no one threw-up in Volkswagon van scene? I would have, for sure. Just scared sick.
  •  What in the hell was Swiss Air even doing in the Tehran airport? I can't imagine any airline running flights to Tehran at that time.     
  • Aren't you worried that some of those Ayatollah-followers still hold grudges and will be pissed-off all over again seeing this film? I think I will feel weird about this for awhile.

A note about Ben Affleck: I'm glad that he is getting well-earned respect for his directorial hits. I always liked him and thought he was under-appreciated as an actor. Want proof? Rent Hollywoodland. 

And to close, I leave you with a truly shuddering real-life news report from just last month:

Calling Iran “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird, abruptly announced Friday that his government had cut all diplomatic ties with the country. 

Canada no longer has an embassy in Iran.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

MUST-RENT MOVIE REVIEW: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Imagine this:  The perfect WASPie girl, her filthy rich, gorgeous, playboy fiance, and some of  the most lush views of Italy ever put to film. Now imagine all that beauty grotesquely marred by a cloying, grasping, and terrifying (but fascinating) guest. I was shocked when (in 1999) this film was not nominated for Best Picture, not to mention the absent nods for director and lead actor.

I have to say that The Talented Mr. Ripley is a rare example of perfect (yes, I said perfect) casting. Gwenyth Paltrow is flawless as the lovely, upper-class young woman of breeding. She is the ideal actress for this role, and she nails it. Matt Damon is 100% spot-on as the way-out-of-place interloper. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, faultless as another somewhat revolting member of the leisure-class. And the creme-de-la creme: Jude Law as the spoiled and irresistible Dickie Greenleaf. Now, Jude was nominated for supporting actor, thank goodness. I swear, I cannot, offhand, think of a more perfect casting nor a more perfect performance. The role requires someone so beautiful and unattainable that you are entranced by him despite the fact that he is vile. The stench of wealth suffocates him, poor fellow. He's so bored and unhappy, lounging around his Italian villa on his father's dime. He's mind-boggling in the way he embodies this character. You can practically smell his money and feel his perfect, pretty skin.

There is a very Alfred Hitchcock vibe to this film, but despite it's circa-1950's setting, there is much more modern edge to the thrill of this thriller. It is pretty gritty. It's better not to get into too much detail, because it's much more enjoyable to just jump out of your seat and cover your eyes. Don't misunderstand, though, there are no cheap shots. Every shocking event is earned with great storytelling, great direction, and great acting.

I think this movie is so worth seeing that I will attach a very interesting scene to pique your interest:

Now the warning: This movie is not, not, not for the squeamish. Nor for the 'happy ending' crowd. It is also not for the Friday the 13th crowd. You'll need to pay attention, enjoy the cinematography, and appreciate the character studies.

In two words : Absolutely mesmerizing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

NEW TV REVIEW: Hart of Dixie

One of my all-time favorite tv shows was Gilmore Girls. (It's not just me. It is on Time magazine's list of the all-time best in television). It was touching, clever, charming, and witty. Find a GG fan and they will invariably tell you that they sort of fell in love. Hart of Dixie lacks the quick wit, snappy dialogue, and, so far, it kind of lacks the genuine heart of a show like Gilmore Girls. But what Hart of Dixie does have is some of the small town flavor, and a couple of characters that just might make you love them.

Top on the list is Cress Williams, whose character is a former NFL champ turned mayor of Bluebell, Alabama. Where the lead character, played by Rachel Bilson, fails, Cress Williams succeeds. He is the real heart of Dixie. He is the calm, smart, sensible center in a town of characters fraught with small-town frailty. Of course, he has to have some frailty, too. His comes in the form of "Lemon", the quintessential Southern belle: blonde, affected, and engaged to the nicest guy in town. It's one of those three-way relationships where you like them all and don't want to see anyone hurt. Thankfully, Cress can act; you like him and you believe him. Unfortunately, I can't quite say the same for the show's lead.

Bilson, while looking quite lovely, just doesn't pull off her role as Dr.Zoe Hart. Now, those of us who know something of healthcare know that the occasional idiot does manage to make it through medical school. Still, for the show to pull off this character, they need to make her a little smarter. A touch of Lorelai Gilmore's smart-ass wit would go a long way toward improving this protagonist. Instead, although almost likable, Zoe is neither intelligent, funny, nor charming enough to hold anyone's interest. Some of that is, of course, the fault of the writers, but Bilson also has to take some of the blame. I just don't believe her, not as a doctor. Luckily, the show doesn't completely ride on her shoulders. The town, and its residents, have some definite potential.

I really don't know if towns like Bluebell still exist, but I'd like to think they do. I suppose much of it is Southern stereotype, but the reality is that stereotypes exist for a reason. Personally, I'd love to spend a year in Bluebell and take in some of that football-loving, fried-food eatin', cotillion-having fun.

You may want to give Hart of Dixie a try. However, if you really want a great show, get the Gilmore Girls on DVD. Brush up on your auditory processing skills, though. Witty pop-culture references full-speed ahead.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

FOOD POST: Whoa! What a Pleasant Surprise!

I'm a Yelper. I find Yelp to be very helpful. So, tonight I looked on Yelp, saw something about the 'greatest burrito' (which I thought my date would like), and off we went to Niles. So, we parked and started walking to our proposed destination. Well, the Mexican restaurant I thought we were going to turned out to be a taco-truck. I guess I need to read those Yelps a little more closely.

Anyway, I didn't quite feel up to risking a taco-truck stomachache. As we walked past The Vine, I noticed they had a sign out for a surf n' turf special, which I figured my date would like. (I'm so considerate like that.) So, in we went. Cute little place with a cute little patio out back. Menu looked pretty good. Prices looked reasonable. 

First off, we ordered the cheese hush puppies with spicy pepper jam. It was a bit of a wait for them to arrive, and at first I was a little disappointed because I was expecting jelly-jam and it was more like pickled peppers, but nonetheless, delicious! And they did serve marinated olives during the wait.

I had the pork loin chop which came with crisp blue lake green beans. It was accompanied by an apricot chutney, which was less like a chutney and more like a paste, but, again, quite tasty. The topper, though, was the deep-fried mashed potato it was served upon. Yeowza!

My date had the surf n' turf: flat iron steak with pesto sauce (repeatedly remarked about how good it was), grilled shrimp, green beans and (non-fried) mashed potatoes. The tender meat was cooked perfectly. 

And the pièce de résistance? The dessert special!! Maple-bacon bread pudding, very prettily presented on a syrup-drizzled plate, topped with bacon, and flanked by a halved strawberry and a squirt of whipped cream. Super-yeowza! 

All this for fifty bucks. Yes, I did not misspeak!! Geez, we spent forty at frickin' TGIFriday's last week and we didn't get an appetizer or a dessert! This was a great deal. I've paid nearly twice as much for similar meals.

The Vine was sure a lucky find! Quite an upgrade from the taco-truck.

Saturday, July 21, 2012



Let's start with the upside. I often enjoy movies that develop slowly. I definitely enjoy movies taking place in countries other than the U.S. (It's just fun to go someplace else). Freida Pinto is gorgeous. (Although, she's twenty-seven portraying a nineteen year old. She's a very sophisticated beauty, and that doesn't really lend itself well to playing someone younger.) The cinematography is beautiful. There are plenty of beautiful shots of landscape and historic architecture juxtaposed with shots of bustling and colorful inner-city action. (In movie-life you aren't smelling the smells and swatting the flys). The story, based upon Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Ubervilles, is mostly interesting.

But here's where this movie went all wrong for me. The movie clearly portrays the two main characters (Trishna and Jay) very much in love, and having a great time together at one point. He's handsome, charming, and kind to her. Then, as the story unfolds, things take a turn for the worse. He starts treating her poorly, including prodding her to engage in degrading sexual acts. At no point, though, is he physically violent or even threatening. She never says "no", never walks away or runs away...until after she stabs him to death. Yeah, that's right. She gets on top of him with a gigantic butcher knife and plunges it into him a few times with quite a lot of zest.

So, of course, it's shocking! I mean geez--- sure your boyfriend is an a-hole, but don't you think that's a little extreme? He wasn't beating you or attacking you. He was just being an a-hole and a bit of a pervert (by your standards). There really was no observable reason for killing him. Even though you are a timid country girl, you ran away just fine earlier in the movie, and you ran away just fine after you killed the guy. So, it's not like running away wasn't in your repertoire. 

Naturally, having never read the source material, I wanted to better understand what was going on here. So, I investigated. Well, DUHHHHHH>the book makes a great deal more sense. She hated the guy from the beginning. He raped her, following which she had a baby who died shortly after birth. That alone makes stabbing someone to death a lot easier to understand. 

So, I'm not saying it wasn't an interesting trip to the movies. I'm just saying they blew it in the adaptation.

Friday, July 13, 2012

NEW REVIEW: To Rome With Love

Make no mistake about it, I think Woody Allen is a disgusting little man. C'mon, hooking up with your longtime girlfriend's teenage daughter? That is vile. Plus, your teenage lover is also your son's sister! You need to go on Jerry Springer with that nonsense. But even so, Mr. Allen has an unmatched career in film, so I've got to give him that.

I was never a Woody Allen film fan, though. I found his characters unlikable and his dialogue extremely annoying. (And that's why I can never be a serious film critic. Apparently, I have no taste.) Then I saw Vicki Cristina Barcleona and Midnight in Paris. I found those two movies beautiful, charming and thoroughly enjoyable. Of films I've seen in the last several years, I'd put those up near the top of my list. I have seen Vicki Cristina three or four times, and, although I've only seen Midnight in Paris once, I'd be more than happy to see it several more times. So despite some pretty crappy reviews, it was hard for me to imagine that I wouldn't enjoy Woody Does Rome. I mean he was, after all, a barrel of fun in Paris and Barcelona.

Well, it was definitely not a barrel this time around. Maybe like a styrofoam cupful. The film is comprised of three vignettes, none of which fully took flight. Ya know how that little movie-review man from the SF Chronicle kinda sits in his chair with a mild, pursed-lipped grin? It's kinda like that. I rather liked Smart-Alec Baldwin, and Penelope Cruz is always an eyeful, but everything else was just barely amusing. I chuckled a few times. It was certainly a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours, but that's about it. And Woody was actually one of the actors this time around. 

And how is Mr. Woody looking these days? Well, I certainly hope his daughter/wife is enjoying the money, cuz she sure ain't enjoying the sex. (I'm sorry. Did I say that out loud? Beg pardon.)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Jules' Faves: Bay Area Eats

Since I have been such a sluggish reviewer lately, I decided to try to make up for it by doing another post today. Lucky you. And since I haven't done but one food-related post, I decided to go that route.

Here's the thing, though: (As my family and friends will confirm) I have the palate of a five year old. I don't like seafood, I don't like onions, I don't like weird stuff with funny names, I don't like fancy food that I never heard of before. In short, eating with me can be kind of a pain in the ass. (Resounding "YES" will be heard all across the bay from my loved ones).

Case in point: I love McDonald's. Oh, I know, for some of you religiously healthy eaters, Mickey D's is the root of all evil. I read (and actually loved) Fast Food Nation. I know, I know, I know. But I just really, REALLY enjoy those salty, hot fries and that tiny little hot fudge sundae. 

But, bear with me. I know that you are  wondering why you shouldn't shut this page down right now. Why would anyone take food advice from someone who starts off by saying they like "you know what"? But give me a chance. I won't be suggesting foie gras (Gross anyway. Who wants to eat poopy-doop on a cracker?), but I will be suggesting some legitimately tasty dining.

Everett & Jones

I love this. It's very straightforward, plain, delicious food. I love the beef brisket. My favorite side dish is the potato salad. They don't put a lot of extra stuff in there, which works great for me. Some basic recipes taste perfect just the way they are and people should not always feel compelled to doctor things up. Do you need to doll-up your peanut butter and jelly sandwich? No, you don't. Anyway, I like the medium sauce. But, if you are at all wimpy, go with the mild. The medium has a pretty strong kick. 

I've heard some folks think it's overpriced, but I find it worth the 15 bucks or so. There are several local locations, but I've only been to two. The Jack London Square location has a nice, comfortable open feel. The servers are really friendly. The Hayward location has a nice bars-on-door, 'I might get knifed here' feel. The guy there is really nice. I showed up one day at 11:00 am. Gurl, now you know I ain't got no BBQ at no 11 o'clock. He managed to rustle me up something anyway.


Honestly, we had some brussels sprouts and brown-butter sage the other day...lord, help me. I know that sounds a little fancy, but I about died from tastebud ecstasy. They have a menu that is so full of delicious southern (Lousianna) offerings, it's hard to settle on what you're gonna have. Last time we went we didn't even have a meal. We had all sides, and they were so, so, so good.

This is definitely a little higher priced venue. They just expanded, so it's quicker and easier to get a table. It's conveniently located within walking distance from Downtown Berkeley BART.


This chain is located all over the place, but you must try the "you pick two" lunch special, especially if you are watching your calories. I get the broccoli cheese soup and the fuji apple salad with chicken (and no onions, of course). You get your choice of bread, apple or potato chips on the side. Both the salad and the soup are scrumptious! And you don't feel like you got gypped on food. You actually feel like you ate something, even though you stayed in a very low calorie range.

Siam Palace

I love Thai food, but I have been to some places where the food is either just not so good (quality-wise) or very good (quality-wise), but they screw it up trying to be too creative or fancy.

This place, located Foothill/B Street in Hayward, is just right. Not too fancy, good quality, sticks mostly to the traditional, basic recipes. Service and management are good; the facilities are clean. My sis loves the pumpkin curry. I love the yellow curry, and the satay, and the pra ram and the salad kag, and the sticky rice and mango.

See? Now that wasn't so bad, was it? Not even one mention of Taco Bell.

New Review: Magic Mike

I have been a lazy, lazy, blogger of late. Sorry 'bout that. I'm thinking I should expand into the occasional 'different subject matter' to keep myself inspired. But for now? Magic Mike.

Cutting to the chase:

1. Overall film: 2.5 out of 5 stars. 
2. Entertainment value: 3 to 3.5 stars.
3. Rotten Tomatoes website: 80% favorable with critics and with audiences. 

The Good 

1. Matthew McConaughey : Pulls off the sleazy, slightly too-old-to-still-be-stripping manager.
2. Channing Tatum: Not bad acting. Pretty touching in spots. Excellent dance moves. 
3. The Bodies: Yeah. These guys are a gay man's dream come true.
4. Filming: Cool. Especially the drugged-haze scene. Anyone know what that song was?

The Bad 

1. Script: Meh.
2. Plotline: Meh.

The Ugly

1. Kevin Nash of WWE fame. Blech.
2. Beware: this earned its "R" rating. Drugs and sex figure prominently. 

 Magic Mike definitely has its serious side, which I guess is okay, but I just wasn't much interested. I kept wanting to get back to the strip club. I would have enjoyed this more if it stayed on the lighter side. I was having a better time during the more humorous scenes.

So, the main question after a movie like Magic Mike is : Who's the hottest stripper?

Drrrrrum roll, please...

Well, as you can see from the photo I posted, there's no lack of physical perfection in this bunch. BUT, for me, Mr. McConaughey has the best bod. It's quite perfect. Not too big, not too small. Jusssssst right. But, Channing Tatum definitely has the best moves and the most appealing persona. 

And that, as they say, is a wrap! 

Friday, March 16, 2012

NEW REVIEW: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

All year long I was just waiting for a movie to love. I was hankering for that film which was not necessarily the most riveting, the most astute, or the most affecting---just the most lovable.  For me, Midnight in Paris was certainly along those lines. It was lovely and transporting; it put a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Still, it was just a hair short of being "that film".  Remember Little Miss Sunshine? Slumdog Millionaire? Sure, film academics can complain about trite, predictable, happy little movies. F-them. Two hours of  joy, love, and humor to lift us out of our tedious lives is a gift.

Obviously, I loved Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It is absolutely adorable. Yes, the story is simple, predictable---a bit uninspired, I am sure some will say. BUT, it's also positively lovely all the way 'round.

Ewan McGregor is at his most attractive. He's handsome in a regular-guy sort of way and he gives a genuinely terrific performance. His comic delivery is spot-on in all spots. Emily Blunt is delightful. She has some touching scenes which really tugged at my heartstrings.

The rest of the cast is also wonderful. Kristin Scott Thomas is a kick-in-the-pants. Amr Waked, who plays the sheikh, had the older ladies sitting behind us practically swooning! Others in supporting roles were also quite funny.

You know how I enjoy traveling in movies. Well, my sister and I were in full-on vacation-movie mode. We were smiling and laughing and oooohing and ahhhhing. And then, all of sudden, a very intense scene comes along and we are thrust to the edge of our seats. Oh, no! What will become of us? (Because, of course, my sister and I are sitting right there in Yemen with them).  BAM.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the film, the projector bulb dies. There we are---still on the edge of our seats; hung out on a line like refugee's from a broken dryer.

Well, they did give us free passes to come back. But, it's a bit sad because you build up a certain connection with the characters and you definitely need that emotional momentum to experience full movie-satisfaction. However, even with all that, I still give this one two big thumbs up.

(Sorry, Roger Ebert, for borrowing your thumbs)

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Okay!  So, I was skeptical about this "Guy Fieri" restaurant for a few reasons:
  1. Chain. Need I say more? (But, I am no food-elitist. Remember, I love Chevy's).
  2. Guy Fieri. Not a fan. Not an anti-fan; just not a fan. 
  3. Had a less-than-stellar meal at The Lady and Sons (Paula Deen's restaurant). I love Paula Deen, but when we were in Savannah, we had a much better meal at The Old Pink House. So, going into Johnny Garlic's, I was prepared for a potential Paula Deenesque experience. Well, I figured those tv chefs might just all have nothing-special going on in their restaurants.


Sitting at a high-top table at the bar, checking out the diggs, I'd call it mildly upscale-burger-casual. Kitchen looks very clean. Place is crowded. Servers and hostess are very friendly.

Phase One: 

Server brings small basket of focaccia.
Sheeeeeet, that stuff is goooood. Right out of the oven: light, airy, toasted with onions and garlic on top. I don't even like onions. Glad they only gave us four pieces, 'cuz I coulda downed about ten.

Phase Two: 

I order the American Kobe Flank Steak (Half-Grill). 
Server says, "Oh, did they leave the lunch menu in there? We only have half-grill at lunch. But you can get the whole one."  
No. Too big.
"Well, since the lunch menu was left in there, I'm just gonna do that for you."
Ten points for her. She was really nice about it.

Meanwhile, table-neighbor's dinner arrives and it is looking great. As a matter of fact, seated in full-view of the kitchen, everything coming out looks great. They are clearly conscious here about plating; the presentation is quite nice. I don't like seafood, but I saw a lovely seared-ahi, skewered atop a bed of rice, drive by. Mmmm, surprising.

Phase Three 

My dinner arrives: a beautiful, darkly-marinated and grilled piece of meat, laid across a generous helping of Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, surrounded by crisp, whole green beans, served on white rectangular plate drizzled with the Kobe glaze.

Honest to god, I finished my dinner in about ten minutes. I have a terrible "wolfing" problem sometimes. It was really, really delicious. 


Well, that was fun! 

This particular Johnny Garlic's was in Santa Rosa. I noticed that it received a higher Yelp rating than other Johnny Garlics. Who knows, maybe they just got it goin' on in Santa Rosa.

Either way, I'll be giving Johnny Garlic's another try.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Movie Review: The Woman in Black

As you might have guessed, I was very excited about seeing this movie. Did it live up to the hype in my head?

Not quite. But that was mostly my own fault. The movie was actually great looking, very atmospheric and pretty darned spooky. Unfortunately, I had just read the book. And therein, as they say, lies the problem. The writers took quite a few liberties with the plot, and I couldn't help making the obvious comparison.

Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) was a nice casting choice for Arthur Kipps, the young lawyer on a tragically unfortunate mission. He had one particularly strong scene in the police department where some young boys drag their deathly ill sister in for help. There was a true poignancy to the moment when Arthur tries to assist her. It was at this point that I thought that maybe the film would go in the direction of spooky and heart wrenching. There was certainly a great potential for that route given the fate of the town's children. Unfortunately, it did not go that direction, though it might have (and probably would have) provided a greater emotional impact if it had.

The book version of Arthur Kipps was a self-asssured guy with the mild cockiness associated with youth and a budding law career. He knew nothing of fear or tragedy. This experience was to be his lesson...and his undoing. The movie's Arthur was quite the opposite---withdrawn, melancholy, lost in the sadness of his wife's untimely death. I don't think this was necessarily a bad change, but it was ultimately tied up with a less than impressive new conclusion to the story.

Without giving away the whole ball of wax, there are a couple of scenes near the end that are quite cheesy and not very well done. They are part and parcel with this film's attempt at a semi-happy ending, but it really doesn't work very well. And the director's choices in depicting the scenes were hokey-pokey minus the pokey.

Still, I think I would have quite enjoyed the movie had I not just read the book, and had I not been distracted out of the necessary mood by a less than quiet audience.

I guess you'll have to see it for yourself. Enjoy the trip to the English countryside and the eerie marshes. That part was lovely, in a creepy way. And, of course, read the book!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

NEW MOVIE REVIEW: One for the Money

"WHY on earth", you may ask, "did you even go to see this movie?" Well, I just had to see it for myself. That's why. Yes, I can read. I know that the critics hated this, and some think it's first in line for the worst film of the year. Still, I really enjoyed the books and, and ,and, well, I was just hoping maybe it would be a little bit fun.

A few years ago, some of my near and dear family members were reading these Janet Evanovich books---dumb dimestore novels---Suzy Petunia Mystery Stories or some such nonsense. I looked at a few pages, asked my sister why in the hell they were all into this 3rd grade reading level crap (a remark she will not let me forget). So, a few months later, she hands me a big Macy's bag full of these 10 or 12 of them. Stephanie Plum Novels. Fine. I'll give one of them a try, but that's it.

So, 16 books later, I GET IT!! These books are pure entertainment. Stephanie Plum is a novice bounty hunter in New Jersey of all places. You have to laugh out loud sometimes. They employ quite a bit of humor, a smidge of mystery, a dash of action, and a modicum of sassy, sexy romance. It's fun!!  And I discovered that you have a great night's rest if you read this at bedtime. It completely empties your mind and eliminates that annoying ruminating that occurs in bed when you are trying to sleep.

Enter Katherine Heigl. Why is everyone so down on her these days? Meanies. Anyway, everyone on the face of the earth has said something about how terribly miscast she was. I didn't feel she was so terrible, but the direction was just not good. This movie should have been sharp, funny and fast-paced. No such luck. And almost everyone was miscast. Daniel Sunjata was miscast as Ranger, but nonetheless, he kind of grew on you by the end of it. Jason O'Mara, on the other hand, looks okay as Joe Morelli, but uck. His lines were just horrible in spots, and, although he can't help the script, his delivery didn't do anything to improve the situation.

Overall, it was kind of like a mildly amusing tv movie. So, you can thank me for saving you twelve dollars. I took the bullet for you. You're welcome.

Friday, January 20, 2012

MOVIES I LOVE : Go Rent Them

Movies I love...

This list could go on forever, but I'll start here. Please let me know if you take my advice and then hate the movie. That's always an interesting phenomenon. I think that happened recently with a book I recommended to my sister.

Okay, so here we go:

THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR :  This one's from 1947. I really love this movie. It is supremely charming and romantic.  Rex Harrison is a sexy, sea-faring ghost. And Gene Tierney is just breathtakingly beautiful.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: (1962) This, for me, is just the greatest of all movies. More than any other movie, this one (combined with reading the book) was an unforgettable and unmatched experience starting at probably age 9 and continuing through adulthood. It is the only movie during which I could close my eyes and simply listen---the writing and the voices of Gregory Peck and Company are that wonderful.

PAN'S LABYRINTH: (2006) Part fantasy, but mostly a story of war and brutality. Heartbreaking and utterly gorgeous. (Spanish language film, so you will have to do subtitles).

THE ORPHANAGE : (2007) The most poignant ghost story you will ever see. I did not cry the first time I saw it, but I cried every time after that. (Also a Spanish language film).

KLUTE: (1971) Jane Fonda is a call-girl and a stalking-victim. Donald Sutherland is a private detective. This movie has brilliant performances (Jane took home the Oscar for Best Actress), killer direction, and one of the creepiest scores put to film. Honestly, I do not recommend that women watch this while alone in the house at night. It could totally mess with your mind. But I still recommend it, because it is AWESOME.

HOUSEBOAT: (1958) This is a light, romantic comedy brought to you by the 1950s---along the lines of those Tammy movies (which I love) and those Doris Day flicks. But this one has Sophia Loren and Cary Grant. 'Nuf said. Two of the most good-looking people you'll ever see in film.

MEMENTO: (2000) This movie could drive a person crazy. You are somewhat trapped in the mind of a person who has no short-term memory. It requires an almost exhausting concentration effort in order to keep track and not get lost, but it is totally worth it. Who doesn't love a good head trip?

UNFAITHFUL: (2002) Great, great, great performances by Diane Lane and, rather surprisingly, Richard Gere. Do not, no matter how tempting, cheat on your spouse. Nothing good can come of this. Although, honestly, it would be extremely difficult to pass on Olivier Martinez; he's the definition of hot in this movie.

NOTES ON A SCANDAL: (2006) Two riveting performances by two great actresses (Dame Judy Dench and Cate Blanchett). This was a stunner for me. There was more than one point in the film where I was thinking, "Holy Crap". I love that.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS: (1995)  Kevin Spacey is just great here. Plus Pete Postlethwaite---gotta love him. Also, I really enjoy Benizio Del Torro and his weird-ass speech impediment. It's a confusing plotline at times, but the end really pays off bigtime.

Okay, a start. I'm sure there will be more to come...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

NEW MOVIE REVIEW: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Gary Oldman is the BOMB (remember that one---from the nineties!) in this movie. He portrays George Smiley, a shrewd retired agent of the British version of the CIA---an organization fondly referred to as "the Circus". The thing about Oldman here is that he takes stoic to a-whole-notha level. Consequently, the few (like maybe three) times he does show some emotion, it really packs a wallop.


1. When he observes his wife making-out with another man---for 2 seconds he really looks like he's going to have a stroke.
2. When he is "pressing" a wayward colleague for information, he doesn't actually press or act threatening at all. But at one point, he simply leans into the guy's ear and says, "Tell me the address" in a quietly persuasive tone. He has just the smallest smirk about him and it is chilling---like bbbbrrrrrrrr.
3. When he returns to his home after the whole mess is over, his whole body just kind of drops when he sees his wife in the kitchen. We only see her forearm.

The setting is the 1970's. And these ain't your James Bond or Jason Bourne kind of secret agents. Nobody is super-strong or has snazzy equipment. There are no car chases, no roof-jumpings, no explosions. These are more the real deal guys who steal government secrets and occasionally kill people.

The pace is very slow, but engrossing, as Smiley attempts to ferret out who among the top members of the Circus is actually a double-agent working for the Russians. It's a lonely life working in the spy business. You can't trust anyone, it would seem. I liked that this movie was very realistic in that way. The life of a secret agent appears to be kind of a sad one. This job not only didn't seem glamorous, it seemed like knowing you could get killed at anytime was the only real "excitement". People who like that brand of excitement are kinda nutz. Hence, by Jules logic, people who work for the CIA and the like are kinda nutz.

Still, a cool film. 4 stars. Go see it. George Smiley is a strange bird, but you really appreciate him.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Several posts ago, I reviewed The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. In that review I really struggled---and failed--- to articulate a solid reason why I found that book so compelling.  Now, after reading Affinity, I have a better handle on what makes her books successful sellers. 

First off, as with The Little Stranger, Affinity moves along very slowly toward its climax. After an initial event involving a ghost and a death, nothing terribly exciting happens for quite some time. Still, you are pulled into the day-to day workings of a very specific and detailed place in time. The images and voices of the period are so well drawn that you become immersed. It's truly an unfamiliar world for most of us, and Ms. Water's has a way of letting you hear, see, feel and even smell that world miraculously without becoming bogged down in descriptors. She gives just the right amount of information. It's the next best thing to being there.

She also uses first person narration to great advantage in both books. While the gentleman narrator in The Little Stranger seemed a very "normal" sort of person, the two narrators in Affinity are both very troubled women. One is a curiosity, for sure. The other, though, is someone we can easily relate to, understand, and sympathize with. In each case, your interest is piqued and held even as you seem to travel with them through their daily routine comings and goings.

Both books are psychological ghost stories. Is this real? Is it imagined? Is it mental illness or a cruel hoax? They are not, then, overtly scary, but more worrisome, sorrowful and melancholy.

A bit about the subject matter in Affinity. I'm just gonna be blunt here. Most of us are not lesbians--estimates go as high as 8% or so, I think. I'm in California, so I feel like there are more, but the fact is that probably 90% of  women are straight.  So, even the subtlest of Victorian lesbianism is interesting, I think. It's something we don't know much about. Besides not having the life experience, we haven't read a lot on the subject either. I can safely say this is my first Victorian lesbian romance, and I suspect that is the case for most of the readers. But, hey, it won't necessarily be my last. It is not the same thing as hetero romance. There are commonalities, of course, but it's different and, hence, more interesting on some levels. 

I hope that doesn't scare anyone off. It is the subtlest of subtle, truly. Give it a whirl!