Thursday, April 29, 2010

Multiple Sarcasms

Last night in my movie class, we saw a comedy/drama called "Multiple Sarcasms", starring Timothy Hutton, Dana Delaney, Mira Sorvino and Stockard Channing.  


Synopsis

An unhappy architect decides to write a stage play to work out his personal problems -- but when his life rapidly falls apart around him, he develops writer's block and cannot finish the play.


Story


In his late 40's, Gabriel (Hutton) suddenly finds himself miserable.  Bored by his job as an architect, he ducks out of work in the middle of the day to escape in the movies.  He is gradually distancing himself from his wife Annie (Delaney), causing great consternation in their 12 year old daughter, Lizzie.   What's both puzzling and disturbing to him is that he doesn't know why he's unhappy -- there's no one thing in his life to which he could point that would clearly indicate the reason.  As a result, he decides to write a play to serve as both therapy and catharsis so that he can work out his problems.

Gabriel pitches his idea for the play to Pamela (Channing), a friend who works as a literary agent; reluctantly, she agrees to help him try to shop around the play to find someone interested in producing it -- but he must get it completed, first.  Cari (Sorvino), his long - time friend from high school, supports his choice by giving him a gift of a portable voice - activated tape recorder so that he can record his ideas about the play at any time; all the while, Cari herself is trying to find her own bliss in terms of her relationships with men, announcing to Gabriel and Annie that she will soon be moving in with some guy she barely knows.  Annie struggles with supporting his decision, partly because of their already strained relationship, which only worsens when he escapes to the bathroom for prolonged periods of time to work on his play.



Distracted by this new project of his, Gabriel winds up losing his architecture job.  This puts even more tension in his marriage to Annie and they eventually separate.  Living alone, he continues trying to finish his play, but is finding it even more difficult.  Here and there, he manages to write a scene or two, then send it off to Pamela, who reminds him that she cannot successfully market an unfinished play -- nevertheless, she is quite encouraging in her feedback to Gabriel, telling him that what he's submitted so far is quite good.  On a lonely, desperate night, Gabriel shows up at Cari's apartment and professes his love for her, even though she's now living with her latest boyfriend; confessing that she might have been open to Gabriel's interest in a romantic relationship at one point, she becomes hurt and angry because he has mis-timed his admission of his affections.  With the loss of his support system and creative constipation, will Gabriel ever be able to finish the play and repair his relationship with his loved ones?

Review



Just as the character Gabriel's life seems meandering and rudderless, so does this movie suffer from the exact same problem.  Additionally, Gabriel comes off as such a wuss that there's very little reason for the audience to either like him or root for him to succeed; the character even admits he's unhappy for no good reason and he's right -- he's living an affluent lifestyle, he's got a gorgeous wife and he seems to be successful professionally, at least until he decided to simply give up due to what appears to be a mid-life crisis of someone who comes off as a spoiled brat suffering from a bad case of arrested development.

Other problems I had with this movie include the fact that for some reason, it was set in 1979.  Why they chose that particular time period, I have no idea and I didn't think it was made particularly clear in the film.  It could've been set in the present day, for all that it was worth -- there's nothing in the story that suggests anything there would in any way be era-specific.  Another thing is the fact that I found it extremely difficult to suspend disbelief in the fact that Gabriel's wife was completely comfortable with the fact that his "best friend" was an attractive woman with whom he had a brief fling in high school; the character of Cari has completely ingratiated herself in to the life of this couple -- I can't imagine too many wives settling for something like that, either in 1979 or now, for that matter.  This is a small independent movie will may likely wind up on cable rather soon, if it's not already there -- at any rate, do skip it because it's not worth either your time or the rental fee.


The post - screening interview was with India Ennenga, the young actress who played the couple's daughter.  Currently 15 years old, she was only 12 when the movie was made in 2007.  Her mother is an actress/filmmaker who cast her in one of her own projects when India was just three years old.  Since then, she has moved on to do commercials, TV and other movies; she has yet to do any work on the stage, but hopes that will happen in the not too distant future.  She got a manager to handle her at the age of 9 after begging and browbeating her mother into letting her pursue an acting career.  The interview didn't last too long because she had to go home to study for an advanced placement test she was scheduled to take the next morning. 



Multiple Sarcasms


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Whisky & Jazz

On Income Tax Day 2010, a bunch of us celebrated with a Scotch tasting at Union Square Wines & Spirits to commemorate the book Whisky & Jazz by Hans Offringa.  The author attended the tasting and also signed a few copies of his book on this evening. 

On this evening, a dozen different Scotch whiskies were served.  Try as I might to sample all of them, it proved close to impossible, even for someone such as myself, who revels in all types of whisky (or whiskey), but especially Scotch.  

whiskyjazz1

whiskyjazz2 My first choice on this evening was Bruichladdich Single Malt Scotch Whisky Organic 2003 from Islay.  I chose this because I’m partial to Islay – based Scotches (Daddy loves his peat!) and partly because it had a shorter line than the first several selections on the list.  With a new ownership from this company, The Mc Ewan Family, this is its new brand; if you are familiar with Bruichladdich (pronounced “Brook-lahddy”), they have also tried to distinguish themselves by introducing a new label.  It is smooth with surprisingly little nose – but with good reason because for an Islay – based Scotch, it contains very low peat.  The low peat contents has nothing to do with the fact that it is an organic Scotch – they did this intentionally because they are traditionally low peat, but can make it high peat if they choose.  At $80, it’s a good Scotch, but not if you want something that will singe your nostril hairs. 

Second was something called The Resurrection Dram by the same company.  Vintage 2001, its the company’s first release.  At $90, I found it to be unusually light and fruity; it contains a little more peat than the Organic Scotch, but still quite subtle. 

Springbank Single Malt Scotch was recommended next by the distributor.  Aged 10 years, this one was a bit challenging due not so much to its taste but to its texture, which I would almost be tempted to characterize as “oily” – or “high viscosity”, as its representative referred to it, making me wonder if we were talking about Scotch or motor oil.  Maybe “thick” is the best way to describe this one.  Definitely a heavier taste, it had a stronger nose than either of the first two and higher peat content as well.  We’re not quite there, yet, but I do have a feeling that we’re definitely getting close. 

The last one from this particular distributor finally hit the spot.  Bruichladich’s Infinity [3] is very salty, which I’m given to understand is because it is a young whisky, aged only about five years or so.  Of these first four, this was by far my favorite because of the fact that it had the highest peat content.  At $95, it was stored in Bourbon oak casks which had also aged sherry; even though the Infinity is only aged between four to six years, you can taste the wood, bourbon and sherry in each and every sip.   

Switching tables, I ran into an old friend – Bowmore Single Malt.  A $34 Islay Scotch, this one is my go-to when budgetary constraints preclude me from affording any of its pricier cousins.  In case you’ve never tried this one before, don’t let its modest price fool you – it has all of the peaty goodness and heavy nose of the so – called “better” Scotches, but at a considerably wallet-friendly cost.  Definitely worth sampling, in my opinion. 

Next was a 12 year old Islay-based Scotch (have we noticed a pattern here yet?), Bunnahabhain.  If you like a Scotch with a long finish, this is most definitely one to consider; however, if you are a Lagavulin fan, you might find yourself a bit disappointed in this one.  It contains a disappointingly low peat content due to the fact that it has very little peated barley. 

Saving the best of the selections for last, there was the afore-mentioned Lagavulin.  An Islay-based Scotch aged 16 years, this is worth every penny of its $90 price tag.  With an exceedingly long finish and a fiery nose, I almost wished it was a bitterly cold mid-winter night, just so I could’ve enjoyed its warming quality all the more.  Without a doubt the smoothest of the selections, it is right up there with my favorite, Laphroaig, which, sadly, was not served on this night because (so I’m given to understand) it was a tad under-represented in the “Whisky & Jazz” book. 

My picks?  If you can afford the Lagavulin, then most definitely go for it.  Otherwise, if you’re on a tighter budget, then I recommend the Bowmore.  You won’t be disappointed in either one. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"The Good Heart" - Movie Review

Last night in my movie class, we saw a drama from Iceland called "The Good Heart", starring Brian Cox and Paul Dano.  
Synopsis







When a dying old man meets a young homeless man, he takes the drifter under his wing to teach him his business -- but will the old man be able to stick around long enough to impart all his wisdom?
Story







After suffering a heart attack, Jacques (Cox), an aging bartender from New York City, is rushed to a local hospital where he meets Lucas (Dano), a young homeless man who just attempted suicide.  Neither one of them having friends or family in this world, they bond, forming an unlikely friendship because their personalities are polar opposites:  while Lucas is warm, friendly and trusting, Jacques is a misanthropic, distant, angry, bitter misogynist.  Knowing that Lucas has nowhere to go when he's discharged, Jacques convinces him to come live with him, where he will earn his keep working in the old man's bar.  Understanding that he doesn't have too much longer to live, Jacques explains to Lucas that when he goes, he will leave the bar to Lucas so that the young man will then have the skills necessary to run the business by himself.  Realizing that he doesn't have any other options in life, Lucas decides to take up Jacques on his offer.  

Being fed, clothed and boarded by Jacques, Lucas begins training at the bar, a dreary, depressing place, where he begins to learn about all of the sad regular customers who populate the place almost daily.   During the course of this training, Jacques' curmudgeonliness gradually and inevitably makes itself abundantly apparent.  As a result of this, Lucas is not sure that he will be able to tolerate working with the old man; likewise, Jacques isn't certain that Lucas will be up to the rigorous tasks of running what essentially seems to be something of a dive bar.  Eventually, Jacques has yet another heart attack, once again forcing him to be admitted to the exact same hospital.  While there, he meets with the cardiologist in charge, who offers to put him on a waiting list to get a heart transplant; Jacques consents, although he is forced to commit to some serious lifestyle changes and is aware that the possibility exists there may never actually be a replacement heart since someone of his blood type must die in order for it to even be considered.







As the Christmas holidays draw near, Jacques is contacted that a potential donor heart exists and that he must get to the hospital immediately, leaving Lucas to mind the bar all by himself.  By now, however, Lucas has learned enough about the business that Jacques doesn't have too many concerns about leaving the young man alone.  Once admitted, it turns out to be a false alarm -- although the donor heart itself did exist, it was not really healthy enough to be able to transplant into Jacques.  Upon hearing this news, Jacques experiences more heart failure, so instead of discharging him, the physicians must now keep him admitted to the hospital for treatment and observation.  While recuperating in the hospital, will he live long enough to see a donor heart that can be transplanted into his body?  
Review






This movie is about as bleak as you can get -- not terribly surprising when you remember that it was made in Iceland, a nation whose populace is supposed to be known for precisely that type of demeanor.  What was surprising, however, was not only how good the movie was, but also, how much I enjoyed it, despite a strongly bittersweet ending.  Make no mistake, this is a very unusual movie, to say the least, yet I do recommend it -- but not without some caveats.  For one thing, it can be really oddball at times and the characters can sometimes be quite unlikeable, or at the very least, rather peculiar.  Another reason is that I'm given to understand that when it played at certain film festivals, it garnered some rather strong reactions -- not all of which were favorable.  According to our instructor, people either liked it quite a good deal or hated it with a passion -- there was very little room in between the two.  That said, most of the class really did seem to enjoy the movie considerably, myself included.







There are many details about the movie which I omitted in my description of the story, above.  This was partly because of the obvious reason that I didn't want to include spoilers, but also because of space and time considerations -- quite frankly, I found that it was necessary to leave some things out in order to write a reasonably concise story description.  Among the things that did not get included was the rather interesting character arcs for both Jacques and Lucas.  At approximately two - thirds to three - quarters of the way through the film, it appears as though the two effectively switch personalities.  After suffering numerous heart attacks and finally being placed on a waiting list for a new heart, Jacques becomes Mr. Softy; similarly, following some rather painful life lessons being learned, Lucas toughens up considerably.  Another compelling aspect is this extremely weird love story that's thrown in which gives the impression it will be used divisively between Jacques and Lucas.  And then, of course, there's the duck -- but please don't get me started on that one right now.
The post - screening interview was with the film's director, although this wasn't planned to be the case -- he wound up being forced to stay in New York City following his promotional tour for the movie as a result of all of that volcanic ash from Iceland clouding up the airways and preventing flights between Europe and the U.S.  This turned out to be to our advantage, however, because he was able to provide great insight about the movie.  He told us that while the story itself took place in New York City, most of the movie was shot in Reykjavik, Iceland.  In a 42 - day shoot, there were 30 days in Iceland (mostly interiors), 10 days in New York City (mostly exteriors) and two days in the Dominican Republic (which doubled for Martinique).  This was only the director's third film; as an Icelander, only one of his movies (the first) was shot with Icelandic dialog.  The second was in Danish and this one is entirely in English.  





















Sunday, April 18, 2010

"The Losers" - Movie Review


This morning, my movie class had a bonus screening of the action/adventure flick The Losers ,  with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana. 

Synopsis

When a special operations team of the U.S. government is sent to Bolivia on a mission to take out a drug lord, they learn that they have been double - crossed and marked for death -- but when they seek revenge on their betrayer, can they get to him before they themselves are destroyed?

Story

The Losers are a black ops team led by Clay (Morgan), a former colonel in the U.S. military.  This rough and tumble group is frequently assigned to secret missions that are not officially sanctioned by the federal government, but are performed with the full knowledge and consent of the CIA and NSA.  Currently, they find themselves stationed somewhere in Bolivia where their mission is to stake out a notorious drug kingpin known to be trafficking illegal narcotics into the United States.  Just when the military is set to bomb his compound, the team discovers he is hiding children -- apparently to be used as drug mules.  When they can't cancel the mission, the team charges in to save the children and boards them on a helicopter out of the area -- but when the chopper is shot down by an American fighter plane killing all on board, they realize they were the ones who were supposed to be murdered as their team was originally scheduled to be on that very same helicopter.  With this bitter realization before them, and knowing that they've been officially reported as dead, they immediately set out to seek revenge on Max, the government operative who ordered their execution.

As the team tries to eke out a meager living in Bolivia, Clay makes contact with Aisha (Saldana), a beautiful but tough spy who offers to help Clay and his men get revenge on Max for betraying them.  While convincing, Clay realizes that she is very cunning and dangerous and as a result, is quite suspicious of her motives.  All the while, however, they develop a bond, which eventually turns romantic.  Aisha reveals a plan to the team that provides them an opportunity to get Max while he is in Miami; it's risky, though, because Max is always surrounded by security -- in fact, she claims that trying to kidnap the President of The United States would be easier than trying to catch Max.  Despite this, The Losers set out to attempt to capture Max -- unfortunately, their efforts are for naught because it turns out that he is not in the vehicle that they somehow manage to hijack from the Miami streets in broad daylight.  By now, some of the members of the team are distrustful of Aisha, who maintains that she is still on their side because of the fact that they have nevertheless managed to capture an encrypted hard drive that may contain a great many secrets about Max's operation -- including and especially his potential whereabouts. 

Eventually, Aisha's loyalty comes into question by members of the team.  When confronted, it turns out that she is in fact the daughter of the drug kingpin that Clay's team was originally sent to kill in Bolivia.  Therefore, her motivation for helping the team get Max is for her own form of revenge -- to kill the man who would have murdered her father.  Having lost faith in Clay's leadership capabilities, one of the members of the team decides to go rogue and sells himself out to Max's group -- which turns out to be a potentially deadly decision for everyone involved.  Pitting himself in direct confrontation to one of his own former team members, Clay must now not only try to defeat a renegade, but also, still keep his focus on trying to find and destroy Max.  But when Max's team seems to be of insurmountable opposition and resources, can Clay's small group still manage to get the upper hand?

Review

Without a doubt, this was certainly a rare one for my film class because they almost never show an action/adventure movie -- having said that, however, I must say that after all of the obscure titles and somewhat intellectual fare that has thus far been offered this semester, "The Losers" was without a doubt a quite welcomed respite.  Something that you might qualify as a guilty pleasure, it is one of those movies that requires nothing more from the audience than to admire all of the explosion sequences.  Based on a comic book of the same name published by DC, I'm given to understand that the movie rang true to the basic tone of the source material in the sense that it doesn't take itself too seriously.  This might be its saving grace, in fact.  Its consistent sense of humor and high degree of irony is what kept many of us in tune with the movie all throughout -- granted, this group of people is certainly not the demographic that the movie studio is depending on for word-of-mouth success for this movie since it clearly seems to be aimed at the teenage set. 

Although I would recommend this movie, it is with reservations.  Among the reasons for this are the fact that despite the humor (or perhaps because of it?), I found the plot somewhat hard to follow at times.  In theory, a movie like this should be rather simple and straightforward, but I felt that there were some gaps at various points and several plot points -- some of which may have been arguably crucial -- were not very clearly explained, either in the moment or later on.  This may beg the question for such a movie that maybe I'm asking too much.  Perhaps that's true, but the really good action/comic book movies tend to be rather cohesive in their story telling capabilities.  If you have an incredibly good kick-ass home theater system, then perhaps "The Losers" is something you might be able to wait to rent or see on cable; otherwise, I would highly suggest you see it in a theater with a big screen and surround - sound audio because that is most certainly the type of environment that a flick of this type was intended. 

Are you looking for irony?  Are you looking for a movie that is laden with political philosophy?  Are you looking for something that will challenge your personal beliefs to their core?  If so, then you may want to skip "The Losers".  Well, maybe except for the irony part -- much of the humor depends on irony in various portions.  Seeing the bad guy engage in a rather intense card game of Go Fish would probably be a good example of this.  By the way, Jason Patric as the bad guy (Max) is incredibly funny and I would suggest that it is his performance alone that makes this movie worth seeing.  Whether you go to the theater to check this out or wait for a DVD/cable viewing, this movie is just downright fun.  Check your brain at the door, buy the biggest tub of popcorn you can afford and by all means, slather it with butter ... because this is precisely the type of movie such an experience was intended for -- which is a good thing, especially if you're in dire need of some escapist entertainment. 



Saturday, April 17, 2010

"The Buffalo Trace Bash" - A Spirits Tasting



White Lightnin'! -- A Bourbon & Rye Tasting

On Tuesday night, April 6, 2010, my favoritest liquor store in the whole wide world, Union Square Wines & Spirits, hosted a bourbon & rye tasting ... and it was my first opportunity to ever taste moonshine!

The evening featured a variety of bourbons, ryes and numerous other pleasant surprises -- including some southern barbecue.  The barbecue included ribs, pulled pork, baked beans, macaroni & cheese, cole slaw and corn bread.  In other words, I died and went to heaven.  And as if this wasn't enough, one of my favorite mixologists, Philip Pepperdine of 
St Germain, was present to make everyone some amazing bourbon or rye - based cocktails -- some classics and some new inventions of his own.

In total, there were five different types of bourbons, two types of rye, a couple of anise - based liqueurs and some of the cocktails included familiar bitters (Angostura, Peychaud's and Regan's).  While I didn't have the opportunity to taste all of them in the two hour allotment of eating and drinking, I certainly made my best effort to try some of the major brands, as well as sample some of Philip's exquisite original concoctions.

Bourbon vs. Rye

A representative from Buffalo Trace joined the tasting and gave a brief lecture about the American Whiskeys we'd be tasting this evening.  He said that in the United States, bourbon is produced in Virginia, Colorado and Kentucky -- but by far, Kentucky is responsible for the overwhelming majority, at 98%.  Bourbon consists of malt, rye and corn, but generally, corn is usually the greatest ingredient -- typically something along the lines of 51%, he explained, but each manufacturer varies their concentration of each ingredient.  The spirit differs from rye in that rye is the main -- if not only -- ingredient; as a result, he pointed out, bourbon tends to have a sweeter taste due to its high concentration of corn, while rye tends to be spicier.  Depending on your own preferences, renowned cocktails such as The Manhattan or The Old Fashioned can be made with either spirit.

I began my tasting with Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, something with which I'm extremely familiar and compared it against Eagle Rare Single Barrel.  Both are 90 proof Kentucky bourbons aged 10 years and contain about 25% rye.  While the Eagle is slightly more expensive, I couldn't really taste a difference between them.  That said, given a preference, I'd likely pick the Buffalo Trace if forced to choose between the two, if for no other reason than the fact that Buffalo Trace and Makers Mark are my two "go-to" bourbons.

Next was the Sazerac Straight Rye, aged 6 years and also 90 proof.  A classic rye, this is one that you would consider using as a substitute for any recipe that called for a bourbon.  I have tasted a few ryes -- mostly cheaper ones -- that lacked the quality of this, especially in the sense that the taste was less pleasant or even very overpowering.  Sazerac has always maintained a distinctness despite keeping a balance by not overdoing the spicy notes. 

Finally, I swung around to Philip's section, where he served any of nine different cocktails, some of which were original creations and many of which contained St Germain in the recipe -- but he also threw in a couple of standards, as well.  Asking me what I wanted as I perused the selection, I told him, "Make me anything except an Old Fashioned".  He then proceeded to whip me up something called a Salve Germainia, which contained Buffalo Trace, St Germain and Angostura Orange Bitters.  The first surprise about this was the fact that he had Angostura Bitters, which has been difficult to find the past few months; the next part of the surprise was the fact that Angostura made Orange Bitters (Regan's was previously the only Orange Bitters I'd known); lastly, the surprise was that this St Germain recipe was one that I'd never tasted before -- it turned out Philip created it just for that night.  I asked him if Regan's could be substituted for the Angostura Orange Bitters and he replied that he hadn't tried it before, so we then decided to play mad scientist and he made another version of the very same cocktail, except this one contained Regan's.  The main difference between the Angostura Orange and the Regan's bitters was the fact that the Regan's had a fuller, bolder taste to it while the Angostura Orange was subtler, gentler.  Although I preferred the version with the Angostura Orange Bitters, I think either way, you can't miss with this cocktail and I highly recommend you try this one.

The big surprise was kept for later in the evening, when they served what Buffalo Trace liked to call "moonshine" -- the official name being White Dog Mash # 1.  Sold only in the small 375mL bottle, this stuff is very powerful at 125 proof.  I started out with just a tiny sip on my tongue and because of the high alcohol content, it evaporated almost immediately.  The gentleman from Buffalo Trace said that it was about three - quarters distilled corn and was clear in color due to the fact that it was an immature, unaged whiskey.  It was also quite memorable for its rather profound burn and aftertaste, not to mention a strong, but nevertheless alluring aroma.

To end the evening, they served a bourbon and a rye that had a much higher alcohol content than anything we'd tried that evening.  First was the George T. Stagg Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which was 140 proof, followed by Sazerac Thomas H. Handy Barrel Proof Straight Rye Whiskey, which was 129 proof.  Unfortunately, I don't have any information about how long either was aged or what the aging process was like but what I can tell you is that either in spite of or because of their strength, they were by far the smoothest whiskeys of the evening.

My pick for this evening wound up being the White Dog Mash # 1, in part because it was the most unusual and also in part because it was the cheapest.  Although I bought that one, I wish I could've taken home one bottle of the Stagg Bourbon and one of the Handy Rye, as they were by far the best things I had tasted all evening.  Sadly, at almost a hundred dollars a bottle for each one, it would blow out my budget; if you can afford them, then I highly recommend them both.  But if you're feeling adventurous, do make sure to try the White Dog Mash # 1.



BTW ... the tasting menu may be found here ... 



And Philip's recipes may be found here ... 



Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Paper Man" - Movie Review

Last night, my movie class showed a comedy/drama called Paper Man , starring Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone and Lisa Kudrow


Synopsis


When a creatively blocked novelist bonds with a teenage girl, they find each other to be the emotional support system they both need during their troubled times -- but when the writer's wife discovers their friendship, will this endanger their marriage?



Story

New York City residents Richard Dunn (Daniels) and his wife Claire (Kudrow) have just moved in to a quaint little cottage way out in the Montauk section of Long Island in order to help Richard write his second novel. Overcome with Writer's Block, he finds himself unable to even begin the work, despite the fact that he has a publisher's deadline looming. Claire, a Manhattan surgeon, believes that leaving him alone for days without any distractions in this relatively tiny community will help him to focus on his book and get his writing done while she attends to her own work in the city. Soon, Richard finds that being alone with his thoughts throughout the course of an average day is not a particularly healthy thing for him.

While in town one afternoon, he runs into Abby (Stone), a troubled 17 year old girl, and asks her if she'd be available to do some babysitting for him. Upon showing up for the assignment, however, she learns that there's no child to watch -- basically, she's just going to act as housesitter for a few hours while Richard goes off to be by himself. This routine continues for a while and eventually, despite their vast age difference, the two loners manage to somehow carve out a friendship with each other as kindred spirits. She provides him with companionship and confidence in his writing -- neither of which he can get from his wife -- and he provides her with the male friendship that her boyfriend is unwilling and incapable of offering. Over time, he learns that her emotional struggles come from the death of her twin sister, which she may have been able to prevent.

Insinuating himself a bit too much in Abby's life, he offers to allow his house to be used for a party her boyfriend wishes to throw for his friends. During the party, Richard and Abby's boyfriend get into a fight and she sides with Richard, throwing out her boyfriend and all of the guests. Afterwards, Richard and Abby cuddle together on a makeshift couch in the livingroom and fall asleep; the next morning, they are discovered by Claire, who is accompanied by a couple she and Richard know. Shocked at this revelation, she throws out Abby and a huge argument ensues between Claire and Richard in which their mutual dissatisfaction with their marriage is finally put out in the open. But will they be able to find a way to repair their troubled union and stay together?

Review

Despite strong performances by the cast, this is a movie that can't be saved -- and perhaps, it doesn't deserve to be. Having many of the characteristics of a filmmaker's first attempt, it suffers from thinking of itself as being a little too precious, as far as I'm concerned. Also, the fact that it seems to meander about for a good deal of the movie -- in particular, the first act, if not the entire first half -- doesn't help, either. Daniels' character is supposed to be the hero, but quite honestly, I didn't find him to be terribly sympathetic and as a result, found it difficult to root for him. His character behaves in a way that's so immature and neurotic -- if not borderline psychotic -- that you have to wonder how the screenwriters expected an audience to get behind him. Richard spends way too much time feeling sorry for himself for anyone else in the audience to find it easy to join him.

Kudrow plays it pretty straight throughout the movie and perhaps that's where the audience is supposed to be rooting against her and by default, rooting for Daniels' character. It would appear the filmmakers' intention was -- at least at times -- to make Claire come off as some kind of shrill virago, but it doesn't work because of the two, she's the only one who appears to be behaving like a grown - up. In one respect, it's good that their attempt to make her look like The Bad Guy fails because otherwise, they could not hint at the possibility of the two reconciling late in the movie. You look at this couple and wonder what she ever saw in him to marry him in the first place.

Stone, Richard's teenage pal, is believable as the angst - filled adolescent, but there's too much of a creepy feeling between her character of Abby and that of Richard -- there is constantly a sexual or romantic undercurrent ongoing between them throughout much of the movie and I found it to be more than just a little bit distracting because if it did happen, then you'd completely fall out of the movie. But just the fact that possibility existed if only on a subconscious level, that was enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

In a nutshell, I can't particularly recommend this movie -- and judging from the response from the majority of the class, I don't think they liked it too much, either. Even the instructor struggled to find positive things to say about this one -- and he really does try to find favorable comments about almost every movie shown in the class.









Sunday, April 11, 2010

"The Joneses" - Movie Review



This morning, my movie class had a bonus screening of a comedy/drama called The Joneses, starring Demi Moore and David Duchovny.

Synopsis

When a group of people passing themselves off as a family move into an upscale suburban neighborhood to market various products to the residents, will their plan unravel after their neighbors' lives begin to spiral downward?

Story

The Joneses are the perfect family.  Or are they?  Are they perfect?  Are they even a family?  Well, their neighbors certainly seem to think that they are both -- as well as good friends and admirable American consumers with all of the right possessions in life.  Whether it's clothing, appliances, gadgets or furniture, The Joneses seem to have it all ... making their neighbors quite envious and wondering if they can keep up with them.  Steve (Duchovny) plays the role of the patriarch, although he's very vague when telling people exactly what he does for a living.  The real boss of the family is his wife Kate (Moore), who leads both Steve and their two teenage "children" Jenn and Mick in sales growth in the product marketing company for which they all work.  Rapidly on her way to icon status with her superior performance, Kate becomes concerned that Steve's lagging behind will hold her back and hurt her career. 

Once Steve learns that he may lose his job due to his relatively poor numbers, he decides to step up his game to show he's worth keeping.  Enlisting the skills he learned in his previous career as a car salesman and combining them with his charismatic personality, Steve makes many new friends and quickly persuades quite a good deal of people with the gifts of jewelery for his wife, his new sports car and the golf clubs he impresses his fellow players with when he shoots the lowest score in the foursome.  By now, Steve has managed to turn things around to his favor and it is he, not Kate, who is being regarded with icon status by their employer.  Steve, however, has his sights set on another goal -- winning the heart of the cold, aloof but beautiful Kate, who is so career - driven that she has never even considered settling down, much less with any one of the men whom the product marketing company hires to play her husband.

Soon, the influence of this clan's material nature has a very negative impact on the rest of the community.  Between drunk driving accidents, closeted homosexuality, extramarital affairs and going in debt to the point that a bank will foreclose on the home of one family, the life of almost everyone The Joneses have touched has been ruined.  As a result, Steve begins to question whether or not he is really cut out for this kind of business and the fact that he will spend a career basically living a lie around the people whom he befriends.  But will Steve's pangs of guilt cause him to reveal the truth to his neighbors, thus threatening the livelihood of his corporately - engineered "family"?

Review

If you are one of those people who get irritated by product placement in movies, then you will either really love or really hate "The Joneses" because the entire movie is all about product placement.  Initially starting out as a comedy, it eventually takes some rather dark turns.  In the event you are able to see past this movie's flaws -- of which there are many -- you might like "The Joneses".  I would recommend it with reservations -- while certainly not a great movie, it's not too bad, either, depending on whether or not you can buy into the initial premise and see past its imperfections, as I stated.  Also in the cast was one of my favorite actresses, Glenne Headly, who seems to have perfected the ditsy character role; additionally, Lauren Hutton makes a rare screen appearance -- judging from her looks, decades of hard partying seem to have caught up with her as time has not been her friend, by any means.

In the post - screening discussion, the class was very heavily divided on this movie; I was one of those that liked it, but there were some that couldn't get on the ride simply because they could not believe the setup to begin with -- our instructor was one of those who felt this way, stating that while the idea of the movie was interesting to him, it seemed a little too ridiculous to be even remotely believable (he even managed to toss around the $5 words like "jejune" and "reductio ad absurdum" to describe this movie -- I guess he felt he needed to give us an education for the money we're paying to take this course at New York University).  For me, it hit some positive notes about consumerism, especially in the wake of the current economic conditions in which we have found ourselves for far too long.

Summing up, I'd say most of you could probably wait for this movie to hit cable or to be rented/downloaded -- I say this although on balance, I liked the movie despite having some misgivings.  It is, in fact, those misgivings that keep me from giving it a stronger recommendation.  Among the problems I had with the story was the fact that I didn't believe the arc of certain characters and also, I found the ending to be extremely contrived and not keeping in line with some of the characters' nature.  


 






Saturday, April 10, 2010

"La Mission" - Movie Review



On Wednesday night, April 7, 2010, I saw a drama called La Mission in my movie class; it stars Benjamin Bratt of "Law & Order" TV fame and was written and directed by his brother, Peter. 

Synopsis

When an old school Latino ex-convict from the streets of San Francisco's Mission District learns that his teenage son is gay, will he still be able to maintain their relationship?

Story

Che Rivera (Bratt) has had a tough life -- after growing up in the rough streets of the poor Latino neighborhood of San Francisco known as La Mission (The Mission District), he's done time in prison and emerged as a better man ... or has he?  A widower, he's had to raise his son Jesse all by himself for years, somehow managing to eke out a living as a city bus driver.  Every day is a struggle not only financially, but emotionally -- Che is also a recovering alcoholic who's liable to tip over the edge at any moment of stress ... and little does he know that the most stressful event in his life is about to occur.  A top student in high school, Jesse's dilligence has earned him a spot in college -- soon to graduate and study away from home at UCLA, his future looks bright until Che learns that his son has been leading a secret life as a homosexual and has long had a boyfriend ... a wealthy white one, at that!

Confronting his son about his secret life, emotions boil over and things get physical -- Che winds up throwing out Jesse, who winds up living with family friends for a while until Lena, a tenant in the same apartment building as Che, convinces him to take Jesse back.  Eventually, Jesse returns, but Che admits that he still has issues with his son's lifestyle, so they maintain a very fragile truce for a while.  Meanwhile, Che and Lena begin to carve out a very tentative friendship with each other, which ultimately appears as though it may turn romantic.  As Jesse continues to live with his father, it becomes evident that others in this neighborhood similarly feel antagonistic towards the gay community and begin to threaten both Che and his son.  One night, while Jesse and his boyfriend are headed towards a gay - friendly nightclub, they are met by a gang who physically confront the two -- while Jesse wants to back down because he knows how ugly things can get, his friend instead chooses to stand up to the young punks ... which results in Jesse getting shot.

Rushed to a hospital, Jesse's life initially hangs in the balance.  Trying his best to play the role of the supportive dad, Che visits him regularly -- but when he discovers that Jesse's lover is there, too, he confronts the young man and threatens him, ordering him to stay away from his son.  Coincidentally, this happens to be witnessed by Lena, who decides then and there that Che is not capable of changing who he is and decides not to pursue any further relationship with him.  After a while, Jesse recovers and is allowed to return home.  Although Che is glad to have his son return healthy, their relations take a turn for the worse when Jesse learns of Che's confrontation with his lover.  At this point, Jesse leaves his father, choosing to live with his friend and turn his back on his father forever -- but will Che be able to sufficiently redeem himself in the eyes of his son and repair their relationship?

Review

While the majority of the class seemed to really appreciate this movie, I really couldn't get on the ride at all and I'm not exactly sure why.  If I had to pinpoint it, I'd have to say that the screenplay was the major obstacle, at least for me.  First and foremost, there was the dialog -- some of it was downright cliche as far as I'm concerned and I found way too much of it to be very derivative (the writer/director, Bratt's brother, was clearly a big fan of "Animal House").  Second, I would have to say the resolution was very unsatisfying, at least for me, anyway.  Ultimately, the "hero" needs to be able to confront the "villain" and either beat him or not.  I definitely did not get the sense that this happened in the end of this movie -- the protagonist (Che) was way too passive and things just seemed to happen to him.

Benjamin Bratt's recognition value is certainly enough to get this movie some degree of distribution and notoriety.  Having said that, however, it really does seem to me to be nothing more than a vanity piece, especially when you consider the fact that his collaborator on this film was his own brother, Peter.  As Bratt ages, he appears to be trying to leverage his good looks and fame (both from "Law & Order" and his long ago relationship with ex - flame Julia Roberts) into career gold.  He may find it, possibly even with this movie.  But based on what I saw Wednesday night, I can't recommend it, despite the fact that the rest of the class seemed rather enthusiastic.

The post - screening interview was with The Bratt Brothers, Benjamin and Peter.  Clearly, they both have rather charming personalities and Benjamin's good looks certainly won over a significant majority of the female members of the audience.  They spoke about the shoestring budget of the movie (only $2.5 million) and the rather aggressive shooting schedule that resulted (less than 30 days).  While they championed the film as something to show support of both Hispanic and gay rights, I can't really see anyone getting on board with this movie, which opens in select regions this weekend and with a wider release scheduled for next weekend.