April 2008


I am back from a long weekend in Baltimore. Sorry about the absence. But I did manage to catch a new movie with the wife last night.

Walking out of the new Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie, Baby Mama, I found myself oddly refreshed. Oddly, because Baby Mama is an astoundingly formulaic comedy/romance/buddy pic, with subpar direction and cuts made with rusted scissors. Refreshed, because it was so nice to see a movie that made its comedic choices based not on their cringe factor, but on their service to character development and to the overarching storyline. It certainly did not hurt matters that Baby Mama has  imminently likable leads in Fey and Poehler and a supporting cast that ranges from good to absolutely hilarious.

Baby Mama centers around Tina Fey’s character and her struggles between career success (she is a VP for a Whole Foods-type store) and motherhood, only now that she is ready for motherhood she cannot have a baby. There is a montage of scenes explaining why she cannot get pregnant (her uterus is shaped like a ‘T’) and cannot adopt. Surrogacy is the only option. Enter Amy Poehler’s character. I will save the various (and obvious) plot twists and turns for you to discover on your own.

Many of the laughs in Baby Mama come from the leads, but many more come from the supporting cast with the leads playing the straights. This is not remarkable for comedies, but what Baby Mama does well within this scheme is actually develop those supporting characters, which in turn makes the jokes have more heart. Most comedies today put a bunch of funny people on camera and tell them to riff. Sometimes the result is fall down funny, most of the time the audience waits politely for it to end, and regardless of how funny the scene was, it rarely serves the larger picture (see Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Baby Mama never gets huge laughs, but gets solid laughs consistently, and makes you care about at least a half dozen characters.

The best of the supporting cast are, without question, Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver. I give Weaver’s character the nod for her portrayal of the head of the surrogacy company (and the world’s oldest natural mother). Martin plays the CEO of the organic supermarket chain where Tina Fey’s character works. HIs behavior is absurd and over-the-top and I loved it. I used to work at a Whole Food’s and have actually met the CEO, and finding that man to be…how to put this nicely…insincere, I smiled every time Martin came on the screen. Other supporting actors of note were Dax Shephard as Amy Poehler’s white trash, common law husband, Greg Kinnear as Tina Fey’s love interest (it was nice to see a woman and a man of equal attractiveness paired as love interests; my apologies to every male-centered sitcom and Judd Apatow films), and Romany Malco (I would love to see this guy get a starring vehicle) who ran things around Fey’s apartment building (he also has another purpose in the film that the director completely screwed up at the end). 

Ultimately, I would definitely recommend this film. I wish it had been helmed by someone with better directing instincts (Michael McCullers wrote and directed–he is good at one of these things) because a few changes could have made a world of difference, but the comedic brilliance of the whole acting crew won the day.

The review is over at this point, but I must do an aside/tangent on Tina Fey. I really like Amy Poehler. She is very good in this film. She has been almost the only person worth watching on SNL the last few years, and she is reportedly a brilliant improv actor. But I cannot get enough of Tina Fey. 30 Rock is the funniest and smartest show on the air, bar none. She was great on SNL; she probably kept the show alive. And Mean Girls is one of the best of the recent teen comedies. I went into Baby Mama thinking this was going to be her first failure, but she proved me wrong. She should be placed out front in Hollywood as an exemplar for all men and women getting into the business. Really, it is okay to be smart, funny, good at your craft, and regular people attractive.

My score…67

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There may have been a little drinking this past Friday. Nothing crazy. No lampshades. But enough to make Saturday morning a little slow. And enough to create the greatest opportunity in the takeout/delivery world: Adriatico’s Pizza.

I have lived in many different places. I have travelled to many, many more. Some of these places have their own local ideas of what is a pizza. Some just import a version, usually a terrible version, of Chicago or New York-style. Of all the pizzas in all the places I have eaten in over the years (wait, I am having a Casablanca moment…ok, continue), Adriatico’s is my favorite. When the day comes for the wife and I to leave this town, Adriatico’s will be one of the things I will miss the most.

So what is the pizza like? Well, they have two basic crust types: a deep dish/thick crust and a thin crust/hand-tossed. The deep dish/thick crust is not in the Chicago mold; it is an East coast version. The thin crust/hand-tossed is almost of the New York-style, but is not quite floppy enough. Both are yeast doughs, with an almost unrecognizeably slight bit of sweetness. My guess: baking soda, a pinch of sugar (it aids the yeast), a pinch of garlic and a perfect amount of salt. Adriatico’s crust is a hybrid, but it may be better than the originals.  Some folks swear by the deep dish/thick crust, but we always get the thin crust/hand-tossed.

As for the rest of the pizza: the cheese is perfect; fresh and fatteningly real mozzarella; none of that awful stuff that the likes of Papa Johns uses. Also, I have never had a bad topping (though admittedly, I am a classic cheese pizza person). But what makes Adriatico’s the best is their sauce. It is spicy; an ample amount of garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper, onion and probably some other secret ingredients are mixed into a not too thin, not too thick base. And they are always generous applying the sauce around the pie (but not too generous). If you like that sweet stuff La Rosa’s has or if you like a martini-dry pizza, Adriatico’s sauce may not be for you.

Put it all together and it is great pizza. Order some breadsticks on the side with some cheese sauce (my wife’s fave) and pizza sauce and have a great day.

No rating could do this pizza justice.    

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the latest movie that is in some way associated with Judd Apatow (he produces here). It is written by and stars Jason Segel, one of Apatow’s troupe from the late great Freaks and Geeks (though most people probably know him from the mediocre How I Met Your Mother and will soon know him for his full frontal). In Forgetting Sarah Marshall,  Segel’s character, a slacker “musician”  gets dumped by his TV star girlfriend (Kristen Bell) for a famous “musician”, falls into a state of depression and disrepair, goes on a vacation to Hawaii to try to get over the break up, but ends up vacationing at the same resort as the ex and her new boyfriend and meeting a new girl. Antics ensue.

All Judd Apatow flicks have some things in common: They follow a traditional romantic comedy storyline, there is some kind of gross out or off-colour humor running throughout every scene and they are all at least twenty minutes too long (even the good ones–40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad needed massive editing) because…you know the ending of each of his films at some point in the first half hour of the film. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is no exception. Unfortunately, it is not one of the better versions using Apatow’s template.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s biggest problems stem from the director, Nicholas Stoller (his debut) and who ever did the editing. They expect you to know the romantic comedy formula, so they do not develop the plot beyond a cursory sketch. With those brief moments of film out of the way, one is left to decide if they like the film based on a series of comedy, probably improv’d, scenes; many of which in no way relate to or further the storyline (I do not like when films do this). If you like enough of the scenes (I started keeping a tally somewhere in the middle of the film) and don’t care that you knew the story before you walked into the theater, than you will like this film. I don’t mean this sentiment to be derogatory. I have read other reviews that are quite positive not because the story is so original, they admit that it is not, but because they like the road that was taken to get back home. There are plenty of films I like that fit this same mold (Ex. staying in the rom com field, Notting Hill; or staying with Judd Apatow, Knocked Up). Forgetting Sarah Marshall just did not happen to be funny enough to push me over the edge into liking this film.

Virtually every one of the attempted comedy scenes (i.e. the whole film) involves two characters one of whom is Jason Segel. The biggest laughs come from Russell Brand who play Kristen Bell’s new love interest. He steals every scene he is in. Paul Rudd playing a dimwitted surfer has the second best scenes. Sadly–because I like him a lot–Jonah Hill’s scenes are the worst by far. Kristen Bell is serviceable, but does not quite have the comedic chops to hang with the rest of the crew (the scenes from her fake TV show, which is purposefully ripping on CSI:Miami, are pretty hysterical, though). Other actors are hit or miss.

Ultimately, the best person in this film is Mila Kunis (That 70’s Show). She is the only one who is able to elevate the movie into actually including both Romance and Comedy–even at the same time. It was really nice to see, and I hope she gets more opportunities to show off her skills.

If you are bored you could do worse than going to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall (you could rent Shooter. Man, I hate that movie.), but I would probably wait until it comes out on video.

My rating…55.

 

We were craving us some sushi. And Green Papaya hit the spot.

This craving happens to me roughly every day or so; for the wife, every week or so. We tend to go with the wife’s schedule on this because it is always a bit of a chore to get to a sushi place from where we live. We live somewhere in the middle of the Nati (seriously, I am not from here and all, but why is it that there is only Eastside and Westside Nati? There is a huge portion of the city that is neither east or west.) Thai Cafe, down in the Gaslight, recently added sushi to the menu, but we tried it twice and it was borderline awful. I used to like that restaurant, but I feel it has really gone downhill. If you are really craving sushi in the Gaslight and cannot leave for some reason, just go the IGA; it is better than Thai Cafe.

Anyway, so to get sushi we had to go East. The amount of sushi on the Eastside is astounding. A couple months back, the wife and I dog-sat for some friends who took their wonderful, adorable children on a tour of the greater Midwest. We did the sitting for four days I think, and we ate sushi at approximately 13 different restaurants. At one point, I took the dog out and a section of a tuna roll hit me in the side of the head. Really! And we were in the backyard!

Ok. not really. I am just saying, there is a lot of sushi on the Eastside.

Of all the places we tried, Green Papaya was our favorite (I am not making the claim that it is the best sushi on the Eastside; we have not tried every sushi joint–that would be impossible. Also, Teak is right there with Green Papaya on sushi, and the rest of its menu is much better).  So last weekend we made the trip. And again it was totally worth it.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I have stopped getting their non-sushi offerings. Some items that I have had were fine, others have been marginal. Overall, I find their Thai offerings to be undersauced, underseasoned and not creatively spiced (the hotter you want something–the more red pepper flakes you get; let me get some nuance!). But the sushi, that is another story.  

The wife ordered the Green Papaya roll–their signature sushi–and she is in heaven eating the thing. It is kind of expensive for sushi ($12.95 or $13.95), but it is gigantic. The base of the roll is a few shrimp tempura with mango, cream cheese, tuna (I think) wrapped in a tortilla-esque wrap and covered in shredded crab stick, spicy mayo and bonito flakes. It is, without doubt, her favorite sushi ever.

I ordered a tuna roll, but instead of getting it plain, I asked them to put on their ‘crazy hot’ sauce. The roll was well-formed and the sauce was ‘crazy hot’ but in no way unbearable. I like hot sauces and this hit the spot. I also ordered the Rainbow roll, which is a California roll (rice, seaweed, toasted sesame seeds, cucumber, avocado, crab) with one of three types of fish (tuna, salmon and white fish) and avocado wrapped around it. It was excellent. It was a good mix of creamy and crunchy, the flavors all melt together nicely and the fish was fresh. Sometimes I just pull the fish off of the outside of the roll and eat it alone, and if the fish is of a high quality it is really a wonderful experience. 

As for the restaurant, it is in a sort-of strip mall area, but is very cool and laid back inside. It is always busy (at dinner at least) and is fun and festive, and the folks have always been nice to us.

I would definitely recommend Green Papaya. You can try the Thai, but definitely get some sushi.

My rating…78 

Chapter 3

It was four hours before any rescuers arrived at the crash. The plane went down high and deep in the mountains. There was no way to get vehicles up there. There were helicopters circling almost immediately, but I am sure to them it looked like everything was dead, and that there was no need to rush down, risking their own lives to look for survivors. That was how it looked to me and that is how I would have behaved.. By the time the first rescuers arrived on the mountainside one could barely make out the outline of the plane, and what there was, was twisted black and smoldering. I sat there for those four hours, sitting legs-crossed on the hiking trail and stared into it , watching what there was become less and less. I became tired, and curled up with my head resting on the seat back. I was roused by a very stunned group of Venezuelan paramedics and firefighters. I don’t remember a thought that ran through my head in that four hours.

I have a tendency to have very wide eyes. I am amazed by just about everything, even things I have seen countless times. I also don’t talk much, except when around those that I find comfortable. My behavior at the crash was no different. Perhaps more acute, but no different. The rescuers took this as a clear sign of shock. Logical, I suppose. But I was all there. From when they woke me up I was amazed by all that I saw. If you have never seen a horrific disaster, and you can find a way to orchestrate one where no one gets hurt, I highly recommend checking it out. The shear destruction that a plane causes when hitting anything other than a runway is remarkable. Hundred foot trees, deep and thick underbrush are clear-cut as if with a giant sheath. The slope of that sharp mountain was even leveled a bit. And all the people. In bright florescent uniforms with jobs to do, that although they have trained for them endless hours, seem woefully unprepared. Running in every direction, carrying hose and axe and whatever. It is a riot. But then your eyes adjust, like minutes after walking out into a bright, sunny day, and you see everyone knows their parts. It’s a dance. A play. The smoldering carcass of the plane is washed down, making it safe to enter. Trees dangling dangerously upon cracked trunks are roped and cut down safely . Bodies and body parts are marked at landing and gathered up for a count. Photos are taken. Thousands. This sort of thing must be understood. And I was not in shock, I was just watching what was going on. Those people whose job was me, asked me how I was, ?como esta? Are you okay? “Bien. I am fine,” I said quietly. Their same question continued and my answer always the same. Shock, for sure. Then, as I was being whisked anxiously to a helicopter to get me down for medical care that I did not need, we went by close to the plane, and for the first time I thought and then I said, “My friends are dead. Mis amigos estan muerte.” And they all stopped. You could almost here the music playing. Tears entered their eyes, and you could feel their mix of pain and pity. But my words did not have such meaning behind them. They were just words. To me, my tone was matter-of-fact. Admittedly, it was odd that I just noticed, but I was just pointing something out, making an observation. But I was a hurt animal to them, a lost child, and after that pause we kept moving no one saying anything. They would be happy to hand off their job to the people waiting in the helicopter.

Late last week the wife, a friend and I met up outside the wife’s work and walked the few blocks over to Nada. This Boca group restaurant that replaced Bella is in about the hippest spot in downtown and while the ultra-trendy (by Nati standards) feel is not my thing, I can appreciate that it is very popular and I am for any popular place making it in downtown. The architecture is fun–with an open kitchen, two levels of bar and dining, and an ‘I’m ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille’ staircase. The decor is bright and warm. And the staff, well, everyone we talked to was very nice if not alternately overattentive and vacant. Also, and this really does not matter, but it was a funny anecdote from our lunch…The first word out of each of our mouths–but my wife said it first–as we left Nada was nothing concerning the food or drink or even the architecture. Instead it was this: Boobs! We were sitting at the bar, and all three of us were constantly lifting our heads and then averting our eyes. But no matter; let us talk food.

OK. So everyone I know who has been to Nada likes or loves the place. I don’t know if the like/love is for the food or the feel, but regardless, I have heard nothing not positive. So here is something not positive–my food was terrible. Since it was the first time going to Nada, and their lunch menu is very small, I kept it simple. We shared chips and salsa to start and then I had chicken tacos with a side of rice and beans. The chips were deep-fried tortillas laced with sea salt. The taste was actually decent, but they were uncomfortably greasy. I would eat a chip, wipe my hands on my napkin for a couple of minutes, and then go back for another. The salsa was fine–not real spicy, not real sweet, nothing special.

My tacos were where things really started to go downhill. The tortillas were rubbery (read: stale). The black bean puree was scant. The chicken was decidedly under-seasoned. The pico de gallo was fine. The guac was good, but nothing you couldn’t make at home with a couple of fresh avocados. And then there was the chihuahua cheese that topped the tacos. The first odd thing was that my wife ordered the same thing and her cheese was not melted, while mine was, leading me to believe that something happened in the back of the house. Something like they forgot to make  her tacos and left mine sitting under the lamp for too long. The second odd thing was that they dumped an entire bag of the stuff on my tacos. The final part to this whole cheese debacle is that chihuahua cheese is an especially oily cheese that when melted, separates. The end experience was eating an oily, rubbery tasteless chicken taco. The thing sat in my stomach, without moving, for hours. Oh yeah, the beans and rice were fine.

So everyone else likes Nada. I am willing to accept that my terrible food was a one-time incident. I will try Nada again and hope for the best, but until then…

My rating…36.

As the last scene of Street Kings, a new movie starring Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker and countless other famous actors, cut to black, a kid sitting a few rows behind the wife and I made the simple, yet eloquent statement that summed up the whole of the film: “Man, that was shitty as hell.”

The wife and I immediately started laughing. The kid said it all.

Street Kings is penned by James Ellroy who also wrote the brilliant L.A. Confidential and directed by David Ayer who wrote the good, but not as good as people think it is Training Day  (the acting made that film).  And Street Kings plays like an amalgam of these two pictures, only without any of the subtlety and nuance in story and acting that made those films what they are. Those films, but especially L.A. Confidential, deftly show the allure of power and how easy it is to fall into an existence based on corruption, greed and justification.  Street Kings, on the other hand, tells you–repeatedly and with increasing volume–“This is a film about power and corruption and greed and justification! Can You See The Gray? Look, There Is More Gray! And There! DO YOU SEE? HE IS DRINKING HIS COPING MECHANISM AGAIN!! There are a lot of films where you don’t have to think much to get the point. This film must be what osmosis is like.

A couple of other points…The best dialogue in the film is the very first dialogue of the film. It is quick, clever and biting, and never threatens to show itself again the entire film. Maybe James Ellroy wrote the opening and some other scribe took over from there…The ‘twist ending’ is painfully obvious somewhere around the twenty-twenty-five minute mark, and all side twists are unnecessary, intermittently ridiculous, and do not alter the path of the film one bit…On the acting, the cast of this film includes Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie (House), Chris Evans (Fantastic Fours), Jay Mohr (from countless shitty things, as well as, one of the greatest failed sitcoms ever, Action), Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break), John Corbett (Northern Exposure), Cedric the Entertainer (The Kings of Comedy), Common (he can’t really act, but he is a great musician) and The Game (he also can’t really act, but has been known to blow up the charts), and almost every single one of these guys overacts their terrible dialogue, especially Forest Whitaker. Toward the end of the film he attempt to out Idi Amin himself. The one exception to this overacting–and I may be about to ruin myself as a reviewer–was Keanu Reeves. I am not the Keanu Reeves basher that many are (how can an actor be terrible, yet be in a number of good movies? It can’t always be “in spite of”), but I have no problem pointing out when he is terrible. I have read other reviews of this film since seeing it, and some of them have said the things reviewers always say about him–he is wooden, emotionless, etc–but he is not these things and shame on them for lumping him in with the rest of this mess. His performance is solid and carries far more depth than any of the other characters.

I am left to imagine what reviewers and the kid sitting behind the wife and I might have said if the plot and the dialogue had not been so absurdly awful.

My score…41

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