Monday, May 27, 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Rating: R

"The Place Beyond The Pines" marks the second collaboration between Ryan Gosling and director Derek Cianfrance. Their first was 2010’s “Blue Valentine,” and this a rather remarkable follow-up. Both films are dark and somber, with lengthy, loaded pauses and disorienting handheld camera shots. Cianfrance’s screenplay is much like “Crash,” in that three seemingly separate stories (the first and third being the most interesting to me) come together for a rather ambiguous ending. The shifts between plots and time periods are rather abrupt, but the storyline stays with you long after you leave the theatre.

We first meet Luke, a blue-collar, dirty-handed stunt motorcycle driver, at a county fair. We see him do something I’ve never seen before: he mounted his bike and entered a large, circular metal cage with two other riders, to ride in loops around each other. Terrifying. Ryan Gosling is pretty believable as this character, easy to both hate and sympathize with. Unbeknownst to him, a one-night stand with Romina (Eva Mendes) leaves him with a child. Mendes is gorgeous even when she is made up to look rough. The desire to provide for his “family” leads Luke to rob banks with pal and comedic relief Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). We’re not sure how far this destructive path can go until we, or rather he, meets Avery, a cop. As baby-faced Avery, Bradley Cooper’s clean-shaven face is a nice change, but I’m still Team Gosling.

We shift here, to Avery’s storyline, as he deals with the twisted hierarchy and inner workings of the Schenectady Police Department.  As the typical “crooked gangster” character, Ray Liotta gives Avery a peek into a rather complicated gang world. When Avery chooses to rat them out, he is quickly recognized as the town hero, though he struggles with whether or not he did the right thing. This dragged on a bit too long.

Fast-forwarding 15 years, we meet Luke and Avery’s teenage sons, Jason and AJ. Hats off to Dane DeHaan (a UNCSA alum) and Emory Cohen, who is unrecognizable from his character on “Smash.” The boys meet in school, and the tension between them is frightening. Things bubble over, as AJ bullies and blackmails Jason, until they discover their, or rather their fathers' connection.

Without giving away too much, the ending is rather disturbing. It leaves you with a lot of questions and a sour taste in your mouth. But it is an insightful look into the father and son bond, and how far you'll go for your family.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fire in the Triad: Battle Ostrich

My eyes were popping out of my head when I learned that the secret ingredient for battle Spring House vs. Noble’s Grille was ostrich. My hopeful speculation that strawberries would be the featured component of the evening could not have been more wrong. I wasn’t really thrilled until the third course, but now I’ve had ostrich prepared more ways than I could have imagined, including alongside a Devil’s Food Cupcake.

Attending Competition Dining's Fire in the Triad is a hugely fun way to spend your evening. Jimmy Crippen is once again the engaging emcee, and the event begins with a “cocktail hour” reception. After being seated, the lights are dimmed and we get a clue as to what the secret ingredient will be. My first bite of ostrich in my 25 years was from Spring House’s Chef Grandinetti: a salad featuring Ostrich Roulade, Asparagus, Beets, Radish, and a Blueberry Gastrique. Roulade is essentially meat wrapped around a filling – in this case, ostrich stuffing. I had trouble with the fact that it was cold, and I didn’t see a lot of continuity with the dish. The beets were the star here, though they could have been a bit more al dente.

Chef Bobby from Noble’s Grille produced a better dish with his Ostrich Tartare (which is RAW, mind you), Fried Egg, Pickled Red Onion, Shaved Fennel, Arugula, Radish and Black Garlic Aioli. This is a classic French preparation, and the richness of the egg yolk enhanced the tartare very well. Again, since the ostrich was cold, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with either of these plates.

As soon as I saw the description for course #3, my eyes were pleased, and I knew my stomach finally would be. In a “gumbo”-like dish, Spring House presented Charred Ostrich atop a Lobster Hash, with Andouille Sausgae, Mushrooms and Bell Pepper Gravy. It was pleasantly spicy, but the ostrich would have been better in chunks, among the rest of the dish. Instead, it seemed like a bit of an afterthought, being placed on top of the stew.

Noble’s clearly won this round. Peppercorn Crusted Ostrich Filet is paired with Toasted Farro, Ostrich Sausage, Charred Patty Pan Salad, Parsnip Chips and Pomegranate Seeds. This Farro was much like a creamy risotto, and the ostrich sausage boasted wonderful notes of sage. The Parsnip Chips were a nice salty crunch, and the tart pops of pomegranate seeds were excellent surprises. The ostrich was cooked a perfect medium rare.

Course #5 didn’t disappoint, featuring a Pan Roasted Ostrich Filet with Curried NC Sweet Potato and Carrot Puree, Slab Bacon, Crispy Potato Strings and Red Wine Reduction. My tablemates and I searched for (and couldn’t find) any bacon, but instead found two dollops of Bleu Cheese. The Potato Strings were a nice crunch, and the puree would be perfect for autumn, though the curry notes were notably missing.

At this point, I was getting tired of such gamey dishes. I was truly hoping Chef Bobby would attempt a dessert, but I wanted it to be GOOD. He must have read my mind, as I was presented with a Devil’s Food Cake topped with a Milk Chocolate Chantilly, with Cast Iron Cocoa Ostrich Carpaccio alongside thin Strawberry slices. A Strawberry Consomm√© was a nice base, and it was difficult to distinguish between the strawberries and the ostrich, since they have such similar textures. The mint did a nice job disguising the gamey flavor. Not being a chocolate person, this was the best Devil’s Food Cake I’ve ever had, moister than any I can remember, and the Chantilly Cream was a nice replacement to a heavy frosting.

It was pretty clear Noble’s had it in the bag when it was announced who completed each dish. Fire in the Triad runs through June 26, and I’m game (ha) for anyone who wants to go try it out. Tickets are $59, but you definitely get your money’s worth. Fellow adventurous eaters – here’s your chance to play Iron Chef.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Running Time: 2 hours, 23 minutes
Rating: PG-13

I had been itching to see this film since it got pushed back from its Winter 2012 release date. The day finally arrived. This is quintessential Baz Luhrmann, for fans of “Moulin Rouge” and “Romeo + Juliet,” like myself, and my friends out there who get weak in the knees for Leo, you will not be disappointed. The 1974 production and Baz's take are quite different, and I prefer Luhrmann’s film. It’s visually stunning with thoughtful casting (for the most part), and the costumes, cars and hairstyles transport you back to the roaring ‘20s.

We spend a lot of time with Tobey Maguire as our trustworthy narrator Nick Carraway. (“Brothers” totally changed my opinion of Maguire – rent it as SOON as you finish reading this if you haven’t seen it.) Nick’s narration takes a new route: we hear the story as a flashback while Nick is in a rehabilitation clinic. And the tale begins.

This is how we want to see Leo – not in "J. Edgar" or "DjangoUnchained" (though he nailed both roles). Sadly, though, this is the second Baz Luhmann film that Leo dies at the end of. I found him more believable as the tortured Gatsby than Robert Redford in the original film. We don’t trust Gatsby, though we are easily mesmerized by him.
Photo courtesy of Cineplex

Carey Mulligan easily transforms into Daisy, and is thankfully not nearly as manic as Mia Farrow’s interpretation of the character. Joel Edgerton plays her brute of a husband, Tom, and is much harder than 1974’s Bruce Dern. I had a problem finding any sympathy for him, even at the end when he begs her to remember a time when she loved him. This is due in part to the fact that Luhrmann omitted a crucial monologue delivered by Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. In the 1974 film, we get a peek into Tom and Myrtle’s illicit affair, and she describes how they met, and how much she cares for him. I missed that here. As Myrtle, Isla Fisher was fine, but didn’t make a huge impact.

My heart melted a few times, once in particular when a little miniature schnauzer popped onscreen. (RIP my little schnauzer, Gretchen Peedwix Clark!) We also don’t see Daisy and Tom’s daughter until the final scene, while she had a bit of a larger role in the original film.

I love Flux Pavillion and the like (a little more than I want to admit), but I didn’t enjoy the hip-hop and dubstep "score" like I was hoping. My movie companion said she enjoyed it more than she was expecting. A tisket, a tasket. The party scenes are SO Baz – the close-ups on the musicians and alternating between fast and slow-motion shots echo “Moulin Rouge” and “R+J.”

The film has fallen victim to mixed reviews, but I loved it because I love Baz, Leo, Tobey and Carey. For those of you who don’t enjoy stylized films and who don’t think a classic book should be translated to the screen (and into a stylized film nonetheless) will have problems with it. Give it a chance though – you won’t get bored. Luhrmann and co. “repeat the past” pretty well here.