Friday, December 23, 2011

Bubbles On A Budget



Celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends at a party this year? Great! Can’t afford to buy Champagne? Not great! But not a tragedy, either. Recently, I attended a tasting of sparkling wines – consisting of both authentic Champagnes and not. I am glad to report that there are many affordable options out there that you can serve to your guests – and they’ll think it’s the real stuff! Well, so long as you don’t show them the bottle’s label, anyway …



Your mission, should you choose to accept it: purchase a bottle of sparkling wine for only ten dollars. No problem! Jaume Serra Cristalino NV Brut Cava is a sparkling wine from Spain that carries the same alcohol punch as the expensive stuff but costs ever so much less. It’s a blend of three Spanish grapes – Macabeo (50%), Parellada (35%) and Xarelo (15%). Why is it so inexpensive? According to the representative from the distributor, this is due to the fact that the manufacturer purchases the grapes from a co-op, making Cristalino more cost effective to produce. If your guests ask questions, tell them you’re serving Cristal … the Spanish version …

Another Cava that’s a bit more expensive but still reasonably priced is Naveran 2008 Dama Cava. This one also uses the Parellada grape (40%) but uses Chardonnay for the remainder. Naverana is a 2008 vintage; this is one of the smaller growers and the manufacturer makes fewer bottles.





Prosecco is Italy’s gift to the sparkling wine market. Althea NV Brut Prosecco Superiore is one such that’s made in a rather interesting method called Charmat. Typically, the bubbles in sparkling wine come from a second fermentation that occurs in the bottle. However, the Charmat method is a little different – here, the wine is placed in stainless steel pressurized vats where CO2 is injected. Effectively, they’re carbonating the wine much in the same way that soda is carbonated. The distributor highly recommended using this Prosecco in a cocktail – such as Mimosas and Kir Royales.

A Crémant is a French sparkling wine that’s made with the same strict rules as actual Champagne – but since it’s not actually made in that region, it can’t technically be called Champagne. I tried André & Mirelle Tissot NV Crémant, which comes from Jura, France. If you’re looking for a sparkling wine that you can use for more than merely toasting to the new year, this may very well be the one for you. The representative from its distributor suggested that this could be used either as an aperitif or with a meal.

Feeling patriotic? Have the urge to buy American in this weak economy? Then have I got a sparkling wine for you! Gruet NV Sparkling Wine comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico. With 12% alcohol, this one is a non-vintage, so don’t even bother trying to look for an age on the label. Consisting of half Chardonnay grapes and half Pinot Noir, you are duty-bound to save American jobs – as well as save a few dollars in the process.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

“War Horse” – Movie Review

This weekend in my movie class, we saw the final bonus screening of the Fall Semester --  Steven Spielberg's “War Horse”, featuring a bunch of actors probably unfamiliar to most of us, except for Emily Watson.

When a young man’s pet colt is forced into war, will the early bond formed between the two remain intact or will life’s vicissitudes create an implacable division?

In the years before The Great War, Ted, a farmer from an agrarian community in England, proudly purchases a horse at an auction and brings him home to his wife Rose (Watson) and teenage son Albert.  Although Albert bonds with the horse, whom he names Joey, it soon becomes evident that it will not suit the family’s needs as the horse is too small to plow on a farm and the family will no longer be able to keep its land.  When war is imminent, Ted finds it in the best interests of his family to sell Joey to the British Army’s cavalry. 
Separated by war due to the economy of the time, Albert vows to someday find Joey; understanding the union between the two, the captain in the British Army to whom Joey is ultimately sold vows to Albert that if possible, he will return Joey to him upon the war’s end.  Sadly, this never occurs because the captain is killed in battle with the German army.  At its end, the Germans take Joey for their own use; two young soldiers see the horse as a thoroughbred and eventually escape with him in France – but when they are caught and executed for desertion during wartime, Joey becomes the possession of a French farmer and his granddaughter.  Later, the Germans recapture Joey and work him hard to move heavy artillery. 
Escaping from the German army, Joey winds up in a precarious situation when he finds himself stuck in some barbed wire during a particularly dangerous combat between the Germans and the Brits.  After some negotiation between the two sides, he is freed and winds up in the hands of the British army.  Wounded and seemingly left for dead, the army physician chooses to put Joey out of his misery – but by this time, Albert has grown up enough to join the army and discovers Joey is alive despite the perils through which he has been put.  But will Albert and Joey be reunited – and if so, can they both survive the war and return home?

“War Horse” will doubtless go down as one of Spielberg’s best, quite possibly a classic.  Currently, “War Horse” is appearing as a stage play on Broadway here in New York City.  However, according to our instructor, this movie is based on the novel on which the play is based, rather than the film being based on the stage play itself.  This is of some significance because the book – again, given what I’ve been told by our instructor because I haven’t read the source material – has a different structure and ending from the film.  Nevertheless, “War Horse” is scheduled to open on Christmas Day and I highly recommend you see this film, especially if you plan on spending time with family this holiday. 
Having said all of that, I would further suggest that if you do intend on taking children, maybe they should not be too young.  While on the surface this does seem to be a story of “a boy and his horse”, there is sufficiently realistic and graphic coverage of the violence and carnage of World War I. So depending on the sensibilities of your child – and the degree of violence you wish to allow him or her to experience vicariously – this may or may not be an appropriate movie to see when it opens on Christmas.  Ultimately, that’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself – nevertheless, it is certainly a must-see film and one which will definitely generate a great deal of deep and interesting conversation afterwards. 
Without question, this movie will be of great interest to not only animal lovers and history buffs, but also to a wider audience of families as well – the last of which, I would expect, is its target audience, especially given when it is scheduled to open.  Make no mistake, this film is accompanied by the usual psychological toying that you might expect from a Spielberg movie, but due in large part to his craftsmanship as a filmmaker, it is nevertheless likely that you will fall under its spell and ignore much of the expected manipulation that one might anticipate in “War Horse”.  Regardless, both Spielberg’s direction and John Williams’ score will captivate viewers from the very first shot. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

“Thin Ice” – Movie Review



This week was the final movie class of the Fall Semester and we saw the drama “Thin Ice” (AKA “The Convincer”) starring Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson and Bob Balaban.


When an insurance salesman tries to scam an old man, he inadvertently gets involved in a murder – but will he be able to get away with both crimes?


Mickey Prohaska (Kinnear) is one of the sleaziest and most dishonest insurance salesmen you have ever had the displeasure to meet; either despite or as a direct result of his duplicitous behavior, his Wisconsin-based insurance business is suffering – and the fact that he’s incurring additional expenses due to the recent separation from his wife Jo Ann (Thompson) doesn’t help financial matters either. So, when an opportunity arises to write an unnecessarily expensive insurance policy for Gorvy (Arkin), an eccentric elderly man who lives with his beloved dog, Mickey grabs it tightly with both hands refusing to let go.

In the course of working on the policy, Mickey learns that Gorvy owns an expensive antique violin, valued at around $25,000 by a professional appraiser (Balaban). Recognizing that the doddering old man is barely aware he even owns the musical instrument, Mickey sees this as a chance to cash in by selling the violin himself and pocketing the money. Devising a plan to replace the actual violin with a fake, Mickey tries to gain entry to Gorvy’s place but can’t due to a recently-installed security system for which he doesn’t know the code. Randy (Crudup), the belligerent locksmith who originally installed the system, is convinced by Mickey to grant him access to the house. Once there, Randy discovers Mickey’s true intent and immediately wants in on the scheme in exchange for not reporting Mickey to the police. Reluctantly, Mickey agrees – but when Randy kills a nosy neighbor snooping around Gorvy’s house at the time, the crime now escalates to something beyond what either of them had originally anticipated.

Quickly disposing of the body, the two men now turn their attention to rapidly selling the instrument so that they can acquire the money and finally be done with each other once and for all. Complications develop, however, when the police begin to investigate Gorvy’s missing neighbor. Getting increasingly nervous, Randy threatens to provide evidence to the police of Mickey’s plot about the insurance scam and complicity in the murder when he finds out that Mickey is somewhat cooperating with their investigation. But when the pair ultimately determine that they have found a buyer for the antique, can they get their payday before the cops get wise?


Given all of the plot contrivances piling up one after another throughout this movie, I have to admit that I really had quite a good deal of trouble with this script and as a result, can’t recommend “Thin Ice” very strongly when it opens next month -- if indeed it does (more about that later). Despite the fact that it has an excellent cast and the movie played at the Sundance Film Festival, this story has so many problems with it that at some point, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief due to the number of dramatic conceits that occurred. One bright spot about this movie was Billy Crudup’s performance as the security system installer – he was simultaneously funny and frightening.

Another problem with the movie is that the story can tend to be a little confusing, what with all of the twists and double-crosses. One thing our instructor mentioned – and I have to admit that I must agree with him on this point -- was that “Thin Ice” was particularly confusing when the filmmakers try to explain how the story is resolved at the end of the movie; too much information is crammed down the viewer’s throat too quickly and the net result is that very little (if any of it) can be processed.

You may find it something of a challenge in the event you want to see this movie. For one thing, the title may change. We saw this movie under the title of “Thin Ice”, but our instructor told us that up until about three weeks ago, it was known as “The Convincer”. If you do a little research on this movie, you may find information about it under either title. Another reason you may find “Thin Ice”/”The Convincer” challenging is because it has a history of being wrapped up in so many lawsuits, there’s a strong possibility that it may never even get released at the end of January as is currently scheduled. Good luck!

Prior to the screening, actress Jill Hennessy was interviewed. You might know Hennessy from such television series as “Law & Order” and “Crossing Jordan”. While she didn’t have any association to the film we saw this night, she was there to discuss her experience on the film “Roadie” (which we saw in our movie class a couple of weeks ago) and also to promote the fact that she is performing as a singer/guitarist at various clubs here in New York City. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Hennessy’s family eventually moved to Toronto, where she took up with street performers as a singer during her teenage years. As a result of hanging out with the musicians, she was eventually able to teach herself how to play the guitar. At the end of the interview, she performed one of her own compositions, which appeared in the film “Roadie”.



Sunday, December 11, 2011

“Albert Nobbs” – Movie Review



This weekend in my movie class, we had a bonus screening of the drama “Albert Nobbs”, starring Glenn Close (in the title role), Janet McTeer and Brenda Fricker.



When a woman is forced to pose as a man in order to earn a living, she constantly lives in danger of being discovered – but after she realizes she’s miserable because she’s alone, will she ever be able to find someone with whom she can share her life? 


In 19th Century Dublin, Ireland, jobs are few and far between, especially if you’re not well educated – and it’s even tougher if you’re not a man.  That’s why Albert Nobbs (Close) works hard, doesn’t complain and tries to stay out of the poorhouse.  But Albert is suffering in silence with a secret – Albert is really a woman.  As a result of her secret, Albert must live a guarded lonely life, allowing no close friends for fear that she will lose her job in the event she is ever found out. 

Working as a waiter in the restaurant of a hotel, Albert lives a modest life, making many sacrifices as she saves just about every tip she’s ever earned over the years, spending very little of it on herself or anyone else.  With the money hidden under the floorboard of her small but tidy room, Albert keeps strict records so she’ll know when she has enough to fulfill her dream of buying a store where she can make a living as a tobacconist.  One day, Polly (Fricker), the owner of the hotel/restaurant where Albert works, decides to bring in a house painter named Hubert (McTeer) to brighten up one of the rooms at the hotel.  Due to the shortage of rooms for the hired help, Polly decides that Albert must share not only a room but also a bed with Hubert. 

On the very night that they share the room together, Hubert accidentally stumbles upon Albert’s dreaded secret – but shortly thereafter, Albert learns that Hubert is living with a similar secret:  Hubert is also a woman passing herself off as a man in order to earn a living.  The only difference is that Albert sees that Hubert has adapted to it much better, being more self-accepting and even finding a romantic partner in life.  This inspires Albert to set out to find someone who will serve as a similar life partner and decides to court a young waitress who works at the same restaurant.  But when the waitress also dates a charming handyman employed by the hotel, can Albert somehow manage to win over the affections of the waitress?


Once this movie finished, the woman behind me turned to her friend and said, “I couldn’t wait for that to be over!”.  This pretty much expresses my sentiments about “Albert Nobbs” exactly.  Having said that, however, I will also be quick to tell you that this woman and I apparently were outnumbered because the majority of the class – including and especially our instructor – really liked the film quite a good deal.  The people who appreciated this movie overwhelmingly noted Glenn Close’s performance as one of the main reasons why they enjoyed “Albert Nobbs”. 

“Albert Nobbs” was based on an off-Broadway play, which in turn was based on a short story.  Glenn Close starred in the play almost 30 years ago; it gained critical acclaim and she wound up winning an award for her acting performance.  Although she very much wanted to make a film version, she had a tough time getting financial backing.  In this movie, she is not only credited as star, but as a co-producer and co-writer of the screenplay as well.  For me, it seems that the play was not adapted terribly well for the screen; it would appear that in the stage version, there may have been a good number of monologues where the character of Albert address the audience.  The film version may have retained those monologues, although in those scenes, it looks like Albert is losing his mind because the character is talking to himself so much. 

Another way the film failed for me was again related to the way the story was told – once more, blame can be attributed to the screenplay here.  The way in which the audience learns of Albert’s secret and background is seriously muddled and delayed until far too long into the movie.  What seems to have been lacking here was an introduction to the audience of Albert’s secret earlier in the movie, then adding a flashback scene later on so we can see Albert’s beginnings and childhood, rather than merely hearing Albert’s brief narrative.  Add to this a long, drawn out ending after the audience already feels the movie has concluded and you have a film that is ultimately betrayed by the structure of its script. 


Saturday, December 10, 2011

“The Glenlivet Guardians”



Recently, I joined an organization called The Glenlivet Guardians. As a devout scotch lover, how could I not? After all, the club is not only free but they periodically hold meetings where you can meet others who appreciate this renowned spirit from Scotland, in addition to being e – mailed a monthly newsletter. One of the events they conduct is something referred to as The Nights Of Passage – a tasting which I was fortunate enough to attend right here in my hometown of New York City.

According to their Web site, The Glenlivet Nights Of Passage is an event for passionate scotch lovers to share their experiences with being introduced to a quality single malt which changed their life forever – and for the better. Brand Ambassadors from the company would attend the event to educate everyone on the balance of aroma and flavor of this scotch.

During the tasting, we learned that any scotch generally tends to have a subtle aroma of one or more of the following four characteristics: Fruity, Spicy, Floral or Smoky. Some may even have combinations. Because Glenlivet is made in a region of Scotland known as The Highlands, we would be tasting scotches that represented only three of those four aromas – the one not tried was the smoky one. The reason for this is that smoky scotches tend to be made in a region like Islay, which has a high concentration of peat; since Glenlivet is made in The Highlands – an area that doesn’t have much in the way of peat – they don’t make a smoky scotch. Glenlivet scotches are un-peated, which is the majority of scotch on the market (only 10% of scotches fall into the category of “peaty”).

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Glenlivet provided a 12 year old, 15 year old and 18 year old in its tasting on this evening. The 12 year old represented a fruitiness, the 15 year old was spicy and the 18 year old was more floral.

Immediately noticeable on the nose of the 12 year old was its fruitiness; adding a few drops of water actually enhanced its flavor and bouquet because some of the alcohol evaporated. This addition gave it a more profound nose and taste, making it more complex.

Speaking of complexity, the 15 year old was even more complex than the 12 year old due to the fact that it was aged in French Oak barrels. Although it contains some floral notes, spiciness is its main distinguishing quality – you tend to get this more on its taste than on its nose, where it leaves something of a warm cinnamon and pepper flavor on the palate.

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Finally, we tried the 18 year old – the characteristics of which were more profound on the aroma than on its flavor. Mainly a floral scotch, it nevertheless had hints of both spicy and fruity characteristics. The reason for the difference in this scotch is not only the length it is aged, but also how it is aged -- in oak barrels that were previously used to hold Spanish sherry. This infusion dominates the spirit both in its nose and in its taste.

If you live in or near cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas or Boston, then I strongly encourage you to join The Glenlivet Guardians because those cities seem to have a number of events held. Do you live elsewhere? Join The Guardians anyway – as I said, it’s free and you get a monthly newsletter to update you on the various goings-on. Additionally, their Web site contains a treasure trove of information that will help you to better your education about Scotch whisky.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

“New Year’s Eve” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the new Garry Marshall romantic comedy, “New Year’s Eve”, apparently starring just about everyone in Hollywood.



The lives of several individuals all simultaneously come to something of a rousing crescendo at midnight on New Year’s Eve of 2011 in the Times Square section of New York City. 



Millions of people gather in New York City’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve to ring in 2012 and millions more around the nation and around the world watch the spectacle on television.  The annual event is the jewel in the crown of The Big Apple – and that’s why its organizer (Hilary Swank) is the embodiment of a control freak knowing that her job is on the line if all does not go well.  Scheduled to perform is famed rock star Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) who is momentarily reunited with his grudge-carrying former fiancée (Katherine Heigl), whom he left stranded prior to their scheduled wedding when he got cold feet at the last minute. 

That afternoon, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), a dowdy secretary, finally stands up for herself and quits her job – and with gobs of free time suddenly on her hands, she decides to fulfill her bucket list dreams before midnight with the help of a young bike messenger (Zac Efron).  At the same time, a sardonic young hipster (Ashton Kutcher) winds up getting stuck in the elevator of his apartment building with a new neighbor (Lea Michele), an aspiring singer scheduled to perform with Jensen this very night.  On what might be his last night on earth, a dying man (Robert De Niro) lies in his hospital bed hoping he’ll be able to celebrate one final New Year’s Eve before he goes. 

Also in the same hospital on that very night are a couple (Jessica Biel & Seth Meyers) for a very different reason – they are expecting their first baby!  But when they learn that the city is giving away a substantial monetary prize for the first baby born in the new year, will they be able to do whatever’s necessary to win?  And when a romantic single man (Josh Duhamel) rushes to the city from a Connecticut wedding, can he make it there in time for a reunion with the mysterious woman he met in the very same location a year ago last New Year’s Eve who promised she’d be there for him? 



One of the reasons why I take this class is to see movies before they are released so that I can make up my own mind about a picture rather than be influenced by professional film critics.  Sometimes, I hear a negative buzz about a movie, then see it in my class and scratch my head wondering why the critics disliked the flick as much as they did.  In the case of “New Year’s Eve”, I’d been hearing some particularly dreadful things from critics.  You know what?  This time, they were absolutely right!  If there’s one major motion picture that you should put on your “Must Avoid” list for 2011, “New Year’s Eve” has to be at or near the top. 

This movie tries very hard – way, way too hard, in fact – to be a charming little fluffy feel-good piece for the holiday season.  Instead, it falls so flat that it might as well be the ball that drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, such a loud thud will be heard upon its landing.  The filmmakers crammed way too many stars with far too many stories to follow or care about.  In addition to that, many of the attempted jokes are not even remotely funny.  Our instructor suggested that holiday movies are made so that when families gather during the season, they can all go out to see the films so that they don’t actually have to interact with each other.  To that, I would add that such a circumstance is literally the only excuse you should ever have to even consider seeing “New Year’s Eve”.  Either pick another movie or find something else to do – otherwise, this is guaranteed to cause a fight over spending the money for a ticket to see this annoying time waster. 

After the screening, our instructor interviewed the film’s director & producer, Garry Marshall.  Marshall, a naturally funny man and captivating raconteur, was – sad to say – considerably more entertaining than his movie.  He spoke at great length about his experience making this film, saying that while “New Year’s Eve” was already packed with stars, the studio kept pressuring him to add even more.  With an extensive and impressive filmography, Marshall was asked if he could pick one of his movies that was under-appreciated, which would it be?  Almost without hesitation, he picked “Nothing In Common”, starring Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason; I couldn’t believe it when he mentioned this movie  because it’s one of my favorites.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you rent it because it’s quite good.  Certainly considerably better than “New Year’s Eve”, that’s for sure. 


Sunday, December 04, 2011

“Angels Crest” – Movie Review



This weekend in my movie class, we saw yet another bonus screening – this time, it was the drama “Angels Crest”, with a cast that includes Elizabeth McGovern, Jeremy Piven and Mira Sorvino. 



When a young single father is beset by tragedy, the small town in which he lives is torn apart between his supporters and detractors – but when he faces criminal charges, will he be exonerated?



In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains lies the tiny working class town Angels Crest.  Among its residents is Ethan (Thomas Dekker), an automobile mechanic who lives modestly while raising his 3 year old son Nate by himself because his alcoholic ex-wife Cindy (Lynn Collins) is incapable of caring for the boy.  One morning, after a heavy snowfall, Ethan brings Nate into the woods to play in the snow.  Upon finding his son asleep by the time they reach their destination, Ethan decides to go for a short walk in the woods after securing Nate in his car seat and locking the door to his truck – but when he returns, Ethan finds Nate missing. 

The town’s entire police force is called in to search for the boy, including a number of volunteers from this tightly-knit community.  Present for support during the quest are Angie (Sorvino), proprietor of the town’s diner and Jane (McGovern), a long-time friend of Ethan’s.  By sundown, Nate hasn’t been found, so the police give up for the time being; Ethan, however, remains resolute in the search for his son and continues looking all night long.  The next morning, Ethan makes a gruesome discovery when he finds Nate’s body, having frozen to death in the woods. 

While the entire town is in mourning over the boy’s death, the state decides to have their District Attorney (Piven) prosecute Ethan for negligence in Nate’s death.  Dissention reigns over Angels Crest as townspeople are split down the middle as to whether or not Ethan is at fault for his son’s death.  Ethan himself begins to question his own actions and sets out on a mission to prove his lack of culpability.  But as the DA appears to be building an open-and-shut case against Ethan, can he find a way to somehow regain his neighbors’ trust and convince everyone that he is not responsible for the death of his son?      



Simply put, this is a movie that is guaranteed to break your heart.  It’s not exactly the type of “feel-good” movie you’d want to see around the holiday season – instead, it’s difficult to watch and ultimately rather depressing.  If you’re in the mood for a gloomy downer this time of year, then “Angels Crest” is definitely the movie for you.  None of this is intended to dissuade you from seeing this film, however – it’s simply intended as a caveat in case you have not yet read the book by the same name on which it is based.  While it is certainly far from light and fluffy entertainment, neither should it be completely dismissed. 

There were, however, some misgivings I had about “Angels Crest”.  For one thing, we saw the state’s District Attorney (Piven’s character) investigating the case, but he mostly just met with people who were more or less supportive of Ethan, despite the fact that we knew there were residents of the town who would be able to provide him with a better case.  Also, we never actually saw Ethan working with his own lawyer – matter of fact, most of the investigative work seemed to be done by Ethan himself.  This also begs the question as to why Piven’s character didn’t research this as well.  Can anyone explain to me why, when Piven’s District Attorney finally takes the case to court that he doesn’t even bother to shave? 

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed the film’s director Gaby Dellal and actress Lynn Collins, who played Ethan’s ex-wife, Cindy.  Dellal spoke about how she got to work on this film:  she was sent a manuscript, which was basically the novel on which this film was based.  While on vacation in France with her boyfriend, rains were so torrential that she never left her hotel room, so she spent most of her time reading the book – she was so touched that, as a mother, she felt she must make the movie.  Collins discussed her background and working on the movie with Gaby.  A Juilliard graduate, her husband – also an actor – was originally auditioning for the part of Ethan; in his scene, he brought his wife Lynn into the audition to act with him.  Although he never got the part, she won the role of Cindy because of her convincing performance during the audition. 


“Hugo” – Movie Review



This weekend in my movie class, we had a bonus screening of the new Martin Scorsese film, “Hugo”, starring Ben Kingsley, Jude Law and Sacha Baron Cohen. 



When an orphaned boy tries to make his way in the world, he discovers a mysterious man who runs a toy shop – but after learning his true identity, will the man reveal a secret about the boy’s late father?



In the Paris of the 1930’s, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) finds himself alone in the world after his alcoholic uncle takes him in following the death of the boy’s beloved father (Jude Law) in a fire.  Forced to both live and work in a clock tower in the city’s train station, the cruel uncle refuses to allow Hugo to continue going to school.  As a result, Hugo soon finds himself constantly getting into scrapes where he has to escape from the train station’s Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen).  But in his spare moments, Hugo obsesses over one thing:  restoring an automaton – a metal robot his late father constructed of spare parts from the clocks he used to manufacture.

Constantly on the prowl throughout the train station for parts he can use to make the automaton work, Hugo discovers a toy store run by an old man named Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley).  When Georges catches Hugo trying to steal from him, Georges threatens to turn in Hugo to the Station Inspector – but instead, he takes from Hugo a notebook filled with mechanical sketches for the automaton and tells Hugo he will burn it out of revenge for the things Hugo has stolen from him in the past.  In the course of trying to recover the notebook from Georges before it can be burned, Hugo meets Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who agrees to help. 

Eventually, Isabelle learns that she is on a much bigger adventure with Hugo, whose goal is to make the automaton work.  Along the way, Isabelle and Hugo both learn that Georges has a secret that he’s kept from everyone for many years – a secret about his past that turns out to have a direct impact on Hugo’s quest to revive the automaton.  But when they find Georges is unwilling to provide the necessary information that will be the key to this entire mystery, will Hugo ever manage to get the automaton to function again? 



As a long-time fan of director Martin Scorsese, how do I review one of his films when it has the entire look and feel of a Steven Spielberg movie?  Well, I’m not quite sure, but I’ll go about it nevertheless.  Although there are a few scenes that display the daring camera movement indicative of many of Scorsese’s films, there is precious little about “Hugo” that would make it obvious as one of this great director’s most important films – and yet it is precisely that.  It would be extremely easy to write this off as Scorsese’s attempt to make a “kid flick”, yet it is so much more than that.  In fact, late in his life and career, it is Scorsese’s way of paying homage to the history of filmmaking – a way of saying thank you to both the medium and its predecessors whose innovations inspired him to take movies to the next level. 

“Hugo” is based on a book by Brian Selznick, titled, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, which itself has roots in factual historic events in film.  In the dozen years or so that I’ve been taking my movie class, I’ve never heard a more eloquent, thoughtful and informative lecture from our instructor that gave the class the perfect preface to the movie we were to see that day.  During his elaborate discourse, our instructor provided us with a thoroughly detailed history of movies that presented us with an amazing context in which to view “Hugo”.  That said, you are sure to enjoy the movie even without that information because the skill with which Scorsese is able to tell this tale will reveal everything you need to know in order to appreciate the story. 

One last thought:  this movie is in theaters both in standard format and 3D.  Of course, theaters will want you to see “Hugo” in 3D because they are able to charge a premium admission for these screenings.  If you feel that you absolutely must see “Hugo” in 3D, then by all means, please do so.  However, it is incumbent upon me to inform you that while I saw this movie in standard format and not 3D (and as such cannot make a comparison), I really can’t see how 3D would enhance the story very much.  In fact, it may very well be a gimmick that in reality detracts from the story itself.  Should you see the movie in standard format and not 3D, you will probably have a better experience as the 3D may be more of a distraction. 


Friday, December 02, 2011

Roadie - Movie Review

This week in my movie class, we saw the drama, "Roadie", which features a number of actors whose faces you may recognize, even if their names might be unfamiliar; among some of the more familiar names would be Jill Hennessy and Bobby Cannavale. 


After spending nearly a quarter of a century touring with a rock music band, an over-aged roadie unexpectedly finds himself out of work -- but when he's forced to move in with his mother, will he be able to get beyond his past and come to grips with his new life?


Jimmy Testagross (Ron Eldard) has spent his entire adult life working at one job:  as a roadie for the rock band Blue Oyster Cult.  After over 20 years of lugging around and setting up their equipment, the band’s management suddenly fires Jimmy so that they can hire younger and cheaper roadies in favor of someone more experienced.  Finding himself unexpectedly out of work for the first time in his life and lacking a permanent address, he is forced to return to his childhood home in Queens, NY and move in with his long-widowed mother. 

Re-orienting himself to this life is not easy for either Jimmy or his mother, especially when he sees how age has debilitated her.  While running an errand in town, Jimmy decides to make a detour into a neighborhood watering hole to quench his thirst.  Once there,he runs into Randy (Bobby Cannavale), an old acquaintance from high school.  After reminiscing for a while, Jimmy learns that Randy has been married to Nikki (Jill Hennessy), Jimmy’s old flame,for a number of years.  Late in life, it turns out that Nikki has begun a career as a musician and is now performing her songs at that very same bar every week. 

Following her sound check at the bar, Nikki and Randy invite Jimmy to see her show that night.  Once Nikki and Jimmy are left alone to spend the afternoon together, he brings her to his mother’s house where they listen to old music in his bedroom.  It is during this time that Jimmy discovers that he still has feelings for Nikki.  Later, Jimmy is invited to join Nikki and Randy in a nearby motel where they party prior to her performance.  With everyone drunk and drugged up, revelations are made about each person’s true feelings and intentions.  Coming to the bitter realization that his homecoming has been less than triumphant, can Jimmy somehow figure out a way to turn the page on his past and find a new life for himself? 


This episodic,self-indulgent movie is difficult to watch because it’s way too hard to root for a main character who’s so much of a jerk. After suffering throughout much of the film, we are supposed to believe by the end that he is now on the road to redemption and is ready to change his ways.  This may very well be and I’m not saying it isn’t believable, but by this time, we’re left to ask the question, “Who cares?”.  This guy is the embodiment of arrested adolescence and not only has he suffered for it, but he has clearly made his loved ones suffer for it as well – but he’s so selfish that he either can’t or won’t see how his actions have impacted others. 

The seemingly aimless nature of this movie apparently tries to come together towards the end, but can you really hang in there until then?  “Roadie”seems to be populated with immature adults lacking in self-awareness to the point that they are incapable of monitoring their behavior, much less growing up.  After a while (and maybe a very short while), you lose your patience with them and completely fall out of the story (such as it is).  As a result, I can’t really recommend this film, either in its likely limited theatrical release or as a rental/download.  

There were several interviews in this class, before and after the screening.   Prior to the screening, director Michael Cuesta was interviewed by our instructor; he talked about collaborating on the script with his brother Gerald and shooting on Super 16 (his preference over video).  Post-screening, cast members Lois Smith and David Margulies took the stage. Margulies plays one of the neighbors; while his name may not sound familiar to most people, his face most definitely would be – with a long list of credits, you would most likely recognize him as The Mayor in the film “Ghostbusters”.  One of his most memorable lines from the night was when he spoke of being in a play with Katherine Hepburn; they stood in the wings waiting to go on stage when she would bow her head and utter, “This is such an embarrassing profession!”. Lois Smith also has an impressive list of credits, despite the fact that you may not recognize her name; she’s been in such films as “East of Eden” and “Five Easy Pieces”.  Smith spoke of getting the acting bug as a kid when performing in church plays staged by her father; her regret, though, was the fact that he died after her freshman year of college,so he never lived to see her fulfill her life’s dream of becoming a professional actress.