Sunday, July 29, 2012


Starring: Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, John Travolta, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek
Oliver Stone
Running Time:
2 hours, 11 minute

I was sold on “Savages” from the trailer alone.  Shots of beautiful people in gorgeous Southern California, while Eminem (featuring Nate Dogg)’s catchy “Till I Collapse” plays in the background sets you up for an intense film, to say the least. The unexpected chaos resonates from start to finish. Veteran actors and fresh, young starlets create memorable characters – Benicio del Toro wins most memorable by far – and the story is a definite warning to stay out of the drug-dealing world. Exquisite cinematography and Oliver Stone’s reputation for violence and shock value was totally met. And though it’s not quite in the same league, "Savages" tries awfully hard to be this generation's "Pulp Fiction."

Set in exquisite Laguna Beach, Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are the masterminds behind growing and distributing the best marijuana in the world. Ben is the hippie botanist, while Chon is the short-tempered ex-soldier, who makes sure no one causes them any problems. They seem to have the life many dream of: twenty-somethings with plenty of money, a beach-front mansion, and a girl – whom they share. Blake Lively plays O, short for Ophelia, and though we see her with both of them in the first ten minutes, she seems to truly love them both (though her chemistry with Aaron Johnson is much stronger on-screen.)

Photo courtesy Zap2It
Ben and Chon decide it’s time to get out of the weed biz, and refuse an offer to partner with a Mexican cartel. (Each time the cartel contacted them, the notably likeable theme song from the Mexican TV show “El Chavo del Ocho” played – I’m trying to make it my ringtone.) Benicio del Toro is unrecognizable as Lado, the thug who handles the cartel’s dirty work. This is del Toro at his best since “21 Grams.” His creepy slicing of a steak with a pocketknife was enough to give me goose bumps.

Photo courtesy ScreenRant

The cartel decides to hold O hostage, to give Ben and Chon a chance to reconsider their offer. For being their prisoner, O is given a bed, toothbrush and a hairbrush. Not TOO shabby. I suppose Blake Lively was actually the best choice for this role, though I got tired of looking at her dirty hair. And she really ought to try a different character than Gossip Girl’s Serena van der Woodsen. The most spine-tingling scene is when they almost cut off her fingers with shears. In real life, I’m sure this would have happened. 

Salma Hayek is by default, the head of the cartel. Though she hasn’t aged a bit, she wasn’t as fierce as I was hoping. I’m not sure she was the right choice. John Travolta was eating in every scene, and provided the subtle, sporadic humor. Emile Hirsch makes an always welcomed addition to the film. The ending surprises you, and leaves you thinking long after you depart the theatre. “Pulp Fiction” will always be in my all-time top 5, but “Savages” could easily become a cult classic as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen
Director: Marc Webb
Running Time: 2 hours, 13 minutes
Rating: PG-13

I was 14 when I saw Tobey Maguire portray Spider-Man. The movie didn’t have a large impact on me. (The Tobey Maguire movie that hit me like a ton of bricks was “Brothers” – seriously, if you haven’t seen it, get ready to be shaken to your core.) I admit I was skeptical about this Spider-Man remake – does this story really need to be retold every 10 years? And Andrew Garfield of all people, to star as this iconic character? Ten minutes into the film, I was totally blown away by the spot-on casting, modern storyline and special effects. It most definitely exceeded my expectations.

We’re introduced to Peter Parker as a child, whose parents leave him to be raised by his aunt and uncle (veteran favorites Sally Field and Martin Sheen.) As a teen, Peter is a brainy outcast, though not a total social reject. His flirtation with Gwen Stacy (the lovely Emma Stone) consumes him, though it’s one fateful afternoon in a science lab that brings about the real plot of the film.

Rhys Ifans is wonderful and sensitive as Dr. Curt Connors (a far cry from his memorable comedic role in “Notting Hill”), yet we sense that something about him is just a little bit off. His disgust and obsession with his crippled arm, and his interest in science becomes a dangerous combination. Meanwhile, Peter masters his spider-like qualities and woos Gwen, who happens to be the daughter of the police chief (Denis Leary.) When Dr. Connors’ alter-ego, The Lizard, makes his appearance to the world, Spider-Man and the police chief must join forces to save humanity. The graphics in the last twenty minutes are outrageous.

Andrew Garfield portrays both the superhero and normal teenager effortlessly. Seriously, where did this kid come from? Though he was a standout in “The Social Network,” I’ll admit that I doubted him for this role, but he kind of had that Leo in “Titanic” thing - it’s hard not to fall in love with him. The chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone is obvious; the two are in fact a real-life item! (I happened to be in the audience of the Late Show with David Letterman when Emma was a guest last month, and she is very quick-witted. And thin.)

The romance and real-life teenage scenarios definitely make this movie worthwhile for girls, and the sick graphics should definitely suffice for guys. Hollywood, if you can continue to raise the bar like this, keep remaking whatever you want.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Magic Mike

Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Olivia Munn
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Rating: R (and rightfully so)

I’ll tell you the first thing I did when I got home from seeing “Magic Mike.” …Write my notes for this blog post, of course! I will shamelessly admit that I loved this movie. For those of you who aren't familiar (or rather, for those of you living under a rock), a film loosely based on Channing Tatum’s stripper past is sweeping the nation, and women off their seats. I heard more screaming, cheering and “God Almighty”-like phrases in the first five minutes of the film than I’ve heard in a long time. (Not to mention Channing Tatum’s bare booty.) For those of you thinking this movie is just an excuse for women to yell at sweaty, half-naked, gyrating men for 2 hours, you’re kind of right. But this was directed by Soderbergh (of “Traffic” fame) and truly shows a depth in Tatum’s acting skills that I hadn’t seen until now. Mike is so endearing, that he makes the hour where dancing isn’t involved actually worth it.

Photo Courtesy Claudette Barius/Warner Brothers Entertainment
Watching “Magic Mike” was like reading an issue of Cosmopolitan. It was like going to a bachelorette party. These men tap into every traditional female fantasy – policemen, construction workers, doctors, firemen. Granted it was odd seeing this movie alone, I felt myself blush a few times. In daylight hours, we get to know Mike: an “entrepreneur” with a big heart, and possibly too-big goals. He befriends lost Alex, and becomes a big brother figure to him. After showcasing him at the male revue “Xquisite” where Mike rules the stage, Alex becomes known as “The Kid,” and the fantasy of every girl in Tampa.

Photo Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly
Alex Pettyfer embodies Adam perfectly. He is adorable, but could obviously care less about his future. Pettyfer proves he has the acting chops, and I think he might soon garner the rep that Andrew Garfield has. (Unfortunately, his public life is a field day for tabloids – he’s one of those guys I love on-screen, but seems to be an arse in real life, ie. Christian Bale and Alec Baldwin). Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) is his caretaker until Mike comes into the picture. Brooke and Mike have an “attraction” that I just didn’t get. She was too serious, and her jawline was stronger than Tatum’s. Olivia Munn makes an appreciated appearance as Joanna, Mike’s booty call, for whom his strong feelings are not reciprocated. Moments like these make us empathize with him.

I think I’m the only woman in the world who is unaffected by Matthew McConaughey’s Southern drawl and ripped bod. He obviously had fun in this role, but was a bit too over-the-top for me. However, the scene where he teaches Adam how to make love to the crowd will stick with me. McConaughey knows how to work the camera.

Alex’s dalliance in the after-hours club scene sends him on a path of self-destruction, and the ending leaves us wanting more closure and follow-up with him. We also hope that in the end, Mike will ultimately find his true happiness and fulfillment. Though the storyline wasn’t all that necessary (I could have just watched Channing dance all night – maybe I will pop “Step Up” into my DVD player…) it was nice to see Mike as a person. Tatum’s range is incredible here.

To the one man sitting in the audience: I hope the reaction from the females in the room didn’t terrify you; it was kind of nice to let our hair down. I don’t know if I’ll ever step foot inside a dance club like Xquisite, but I know one thing: I’ll never listen to “Pony” by Genuine the same way again.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Imperial Koi

Strip mall sushi restaurants are hit or miss. Sometimes, you’re better off just hitting up the fro-yo place next door, but other times, like my recent visit to Imperial Koi in Greensboro, you’re in for a grand surprise. Located in a nearly vacant complex above Pieworks (a childhood favorite), Imperial Koi’s inconspicuous home doesn’t quite lure you in. The front door is on the second floor and behind the building, but once you arrive at (find) the entrance, the water fountain and garden provide a relaxing, Zen atmosphere. Inside, neon lighting welcomes you to a vivid world of sushi and other Asian flavors.

Kirin Ichiban and Ravenswood Zinfandel were tasty sips while my dining partner and I perused the menu. Much reading is always required at a sushi restaurant; this was no exception. Ample descriptions of elegant yet funky rolls – one I spotted included fried banana! – filled the pages. My dining partner opted for a special roll – always a wise choice, as chefs put a lot of time and preparation into making them extra “special.” Spicy crab, shrimp tempura and cucumber fill a rice roll, topped with eel and avocado, among drizzles of eel sauce. A beautiful purple flower adorned the plate, and I was tempted to put it in my hair, but decided I’d save my guest the embarrassment. (Looking at this photo now, the eel sauce creepily makes this look too much like a spider. I don’t like spiders.)

Though sushi is truly hard to beat, I opted for the Day Boat Seared Scallops. Plump, grilled scallops lay atop a luscious spinach and mushroom risotto, surrounded by what the menu described as “vanilla butternut silk,” - a perfect description. The subtle vanilla flavor enhanced the slight char of the scallops, and the nuttiness took the vegetable risotto to another level. And the silky description is on point. This is a really unique dish; I’ve never experienced anything like it.

At the end of your meal, hot, damp towels are brought to the table. Classy. I could have easily fallen asleep at the table with that draped over my face. You’re also given plastic chopsticks, so you don’t embarrass yourself if you don’t know how to break them properly. Little touches like this up the “swank factor” in a restaurant. Thai dishes, as well as a large selection of Sashimi are offered – I really don’t think you could go wrong with anything you ordered. Greensboro is definitely hiding a gem in Imperial Koi, and it’s definitely worth the confusing parking lot.