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paccookie.JPGLast Sunday, before the Mark Morris Dance Co. performance at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, I cruised around Telegraph and spotted the new Pacific Cookie Company store.

Talk about location! The inviting new home of cookies and ice cream resides at the top of Telegraph Ave, within spitting distance of the Berkeley campus. The place was packed with patrons. Congratulations to Kara Pearson & company!

muns.JPGFrom Muns Vineyard comes a spectacular example of Santa Cruz Mountains terroir.

Muns’ 2009 Estate Pinot Noir is everything you could want in a brilliantly balanced wine. From the nose of white pepper, roses, and licorice, straight into an expanding heart of tangerine, bay leaves and a long, slow finish ot black cherries, this is a gorgeous pinot noir. Its luscious 100% pinot noir grape composition has been coaxed into elegant nuance by aging in Hungarian oak, and at a highly desireable 14.1% alcohol it is light enough to partner almost anything, yet won’t get in the way of simply kicking back and enjoying.

This could be one of the top five pinot noirs I’ve ever tasted, and one that justifies our pride in what the SCMtn appellation can produce. Stop by VinoCruz and buy what remains after my recent purchase (I emptied out my piggy bank). At $40 this memorable Muns creation rivals many Burgundies at triple the price.

th.jpgSorry Liza, you did look like a man in drag.

Okay, now I’ll be nice. The collaborative selfie (thanks to über hunk Bradley Cooper) was a delightful moment amongst rather predictable turns on the stage.

Harrison Ford will probably not be asked back. Nor will poor Kim Novak who should sue her plastic surgeon.

Alfonso Cuaron was an elegant recipient of the Best Director award - but his outstanding film Gravity, which won seven awards, was robbed of its rightful Best Picture Oscar.

Everybody knows that. But still, it was the huge and obvious snub.

Ditto Leonardo DiCaprio’s non-Oscar for Best Actor.

Cate Blanchett’s crass and ungraceful acceptance speech should pretty much confine her to Australia for the rest of her acting career. But it was made up for by the stirring remarks from Jared Leto who managed to be both political and sincere.
Meryl Streep proved once again that she’s not only a great screen presence, but she’s also a real player.

And why on earth so much time was spent on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” instead of a photo-montage tribute to both Shirley Temple and Philip Seymour Hoffman I’ll never know!!

Loved Ellen. The pizza. Fab.

gravity2.jpgGravity is just a theory, one of those soundbytes physicists like to brandish in order to explain the properties of energy and matter.

It’s also the title of a web of visual sorcery woven by director Alfonso Cuarón, whose two-person space odyssey Gravity took me completely by surprise. Prepared to submit to a few hours of special effects tedium, I was instead immediately mesmerized and in the end, deeply moved. And here at last was a film in which the use of 3D photography made gorgeous sense.

Gravity is a loveletter to our sweet, flawed, blue planet, an allegory told—as perhaps it only can be—from a long way away.  As two astronauts spin helplessly in a spacewalk gone wrong, the smooth majesty of earth’s oceans, land masses and great graceful clouds orbits slowly in the background. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life; Children of Men) uses his lens as a portal for spiritual meditation on the entire idea of being lost, far from home, terrified yet determined to make it back.

A radiant, resourceful and believable Sandra Bullock is medical engineer (more…)

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…)

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