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mv5bmtu2mjk2ndkyml5bml5banbnxkftztgwntk0nzcymde_v1_sx214_.jpgHaving finished my popcorn, I had no more excuse for staying in my seat. So I walked out after about 50 minutes of this exercise in conceptual vacuity. “Unwatchable” comes to mind as I ponder what aberration of judgment caused the Motion Picture Academy to nominate Nebraska for: Best Cinematography (visual tedium in black and white); Best Picture (they obviously needed one more title to round out the required ten nominees); Best Actor, Bruce Dern (for once, too smart for the part); Best Supporting Actress, June Squibb (reminiscent of those elder alarm commercials, i.e. “I’ve fallen down and I can’t get up); Best Directing, Alexander Payne (clearly a political payoff).

What were they thinking?

Bruce Dern is the centerpiece of this fuzzy road saga, playing an aging blue collar alkie headed to Nebraska to collect a sweepstakes prize. The acting is wretched, littered with cardboard comments and responses which are worsened by the lack of a believable script. Yes perhaps there are lots of losers in the vast stretches of American high plains country. But watching the squirm-making (more…)

sones.JPGYou’re about to launch into a plate of luscious pasta, with Italian sausage and marinara. So you crave the exact right red wine, and you crave it now!

Winemaker Michael Sones has made the wine you need. Sones Zinfandel Central Coast 2010 is everything a zin should be. Extravagantly full-bodied, spicy, packed with attitude yet discreetly so. An assertive black cherry nose, with a hint of autumn forest mahogany and birch fills each sip—the balance is spot-in, so much so that essentially the hand of the winemaker remains transparent. The wine itself speaks most clearly.

This is a wine that rewards the full attention of the mouth. A very likeable, and big-shouldered (15% alc) red that partners robust foods brilliantly ($24 at all the usual suspects).

wolf.jpgIt’s lewd, it’s crude, and it alternately glamorizes and villifies one of the dirtiest demimondes of capitalism. It’s also outrageously entertaining, vibrantly directed, and loaded with memorable performanes.

The Wolf of Wall Street will literally split the viewing public in half: those repulsed, and those fascinated. It also — finally — brought me around to what a huge talent is Leonardo diCaprio. (If Jonah Hill doesn’t take the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor then the Academy is truly deaf, dumb, and blind.)
Did I mention that it was lewd and crude? No, really. Very.

amerhust1.jpgA couple of Hollywood makeup artists and costume designers sat around late one night, drinking and smoking and suddenly the idea hits them. The late 70s! Disco, John Travolta, wide lapels, polyester, and big hair. Let’s pile all those things into a movie. And throw in a few Oscar winners just to insure big box office.

And so it came to pass that American Hustle — oh so aptly named, my fellow filmgoing suckers —was born. In which we salaciously observe that even with fake curls and bell bottoms, Bradley Cooper is sexier than Daniel Craig and Elvis put together. We learn that the ghost of Robert DiNiro (both living and legendary) is alive and well. We are force fed the attempts of costumers and media hypsters to coax charisma into the stubbornly bland Amy Adams. We learn all over again that Jennifer Lawrence OWNS the screen, that cameras lick her face and salivate at her every gleam, sparkle and bounce. And we acknowledge something we have always known: Welshman Christian Bale is arguably the finest male actor working today (with profuse apologies to Benedict Cumberbatch).

But is all of this trivia really enough to hang a film on?

Fans of director David - Silver Lining Playbook - Russell may think so. (more…)

amerhust2.jpgEven if you loved Silver Linings Playbook, you’ll find yourself squirming with a mix of boredom and irritation over the mashup of ad-libbed dialogue, recycled urban tropes, and manic plot “development” that inhabit the loosely-organized center of American Hustle.

Instead of a vibrant, sexy, tightly-orchestrated vehicle for some of the screen’s top talent, David O. Russell’s new period piece/home movie is poor man’s Scorsese.

Christina Bale is mesmerizing, as always, in the unlikely role of a small-time con man who hooks up with even more unlikely ex-stripper Amy Adams (”sexiness”  manufactured by way of gowns cut lower than the Marianas Trench) to pull some minor scams.

Bradley Cooper looks fantastic as a luckless FBI agent—Afro by way of pink curlers, tight polyester bell bottoms, and the sort of swagger that only a desperate loser can adopt. But his acting method is simply to scream louder and talk faster than he did in his previous Russell film.

Jennifer Lawrence is incandescent, as loved by the camera as was Marilyn Monroe. She’s the sole center of crazed, inspired comic brilliance in the film. Lawrence’s skin should be insured by Lloyds of London. Once this gal grows cheekbones she will own the world.

American Hustle is not the new 2st century screwball comedy. It’s a hustle. Caveat emptor.

philo.jpgWhy is it that films based upon “true stories” seem to stir up to much public approval? Do the actual events that form the scenario make the resulting film any more affecting or fulfilling?

Whatever the case, Philomena seems to have captured everyone’s hearts. And while I agree that Stephen Frears is a consummate director, and that his cast is outstanding, this small tale of an Irish woman searching for the lost son she gave away as a baby, simply did not transport me to new levels of sentimental pain.

At the risk of infuriating everybody, let me observe:

Dame Judy Dench—a gifted artisan—does most of her acting with her wrinkles. (more…)

maharaja.jpgOpen daily from 11:30 — generous and spice-laden lunch buffet @ $11.95. Terrific curries! The perfect antidote for turkey and mashed potatoes.

munspn.jpgA vibrant creation from Muns Vineyard is this full-throated Pinot Noir 2011, loaded with black cherries and spice notes, strung along a 14.1% alc base like lights on a Christmas tree. Once open, this textbook Santa Cruz Mountains appellation pinot suggests loam and bay leaves, with salt and licorice on its long finish. A lovely wine—destined to seduce holiday entrees from roast pork to baked ham, and yes of course coho salmon and crab cakes—it is all about balance—tannins and plummy complexity held in delicious equipoise.

Native yeast fermentation—c.$40. Available just about everywhere. Salut!

trinity.jpgJon Morgan and the Bargetto boys have done it again. This time the must-have wine from Soquel Vineyards is a charismatic blend called Trinity Bianco. First off know that the wine is one of the many many bargains available right this minute at Shoppers Corner. In fact the 2012 Trinity Bianco is priced to move from here to kingdom come at a low, low $11.99.  (I really missed my calling.)

But here’s the most important intel about this really lovely and highly versatile white.

It weighs in at a very accessible 13.8 % alcohol. Just about perfect in my book. The charm comes from an inspired blend of 76% chardonnay, 20% sauvignon blanc and 4% Gewurztraminer, for those floral topnotes. What it offers is a lovely tart nose that begins with a soft focus of violets and grapefruit and then unfolds into lime peel, geranium, and minerals followed by a soft wave of unctuous depths. Long legs and a light golden hue, this is a beauty just waiting to go with Dungeness crab, paella, ham, even alio e olio pastas.

We like it with kalamata olives and a few marcona almonds. Get a case while it lasts!

hook.jpgLisa Jensen’s new book, Alias Hook, currently available online in its English edition—and soon to be available (May 14) through St. Martin’s Press—is a delicious reimagining of the world of Peter Pan. (I’m telling you this so that you can order the book in time for Christmas giving.)

Many of us know the delightful fairytale world of Peter Pan, thanks to the James Barrie classic about a band of enchanted lost boys led by the eternal boy, Peter. We fondly recall lovely Wendy who became their surrogate mother, their fantasy Neverland home, Peter’s sprightly sidekick Tinker Bell, and of course the archetypal pirate Captain Hook who lost his pocketwatch — and his hand — to a hungry crocodile.

Jensen has reimagined the children’s tale as a more (much more) adult saga, in which Captain James Hook is a cultured, introspective 18th century protagonist trapped in the magical and malevolent world of a vengeful Pan. Turning the tables on the childhood classic, Jensen tells her story from Hook’s point of view.

“Children find the Neverland in their dreams, their longing bores through the barrier between their world and this one, and in they tumble. My men too, return this way. For ages I deluded myself it must be possible to dream a way out.” Under the influence of Pan’s enchantment, Hook can neither die nor leave Neverland.

Mere dreaming has left Hook a prisoner of Neverland for centuries—when suddenly the plot thickens and a grown woman named Stella Parrish, manages to dream her way onto the Island (more…)

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