Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Into The Woods

Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, everyone else in Hollywood
Director: Rob Marshall
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Rating: PG

I wish! More than anything, more than life! That all stage musicals would be made into movies! Especially with the care that Rob Marshall brings to his film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's beloved musical "Into the Woods." People are very protective of this show (and musical theatre in general), and being a fan, I thought this was a solid portrayal. Several kids were sitting in the audience and were amused and entertained by the numerous fairy tales intertwined into one story. You've got Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel - this is a town I'd like to live in. Everyone is beautiful and has killer pipes.
The great one: Meryl Streep.
Photo Courtesy Vanity Fair
Though some of the casting may have caused uproars when it was announced earlier this year, everyone truly brought heart to their role. Emily Blunt is freaking gorgeous and can sing like a canary. The one and only Meryl could play a chair and it would be the perfect choice, though it's impossible not to compare her to the other great one, Bernadette Peters, who originated the role of the Witch on Broadway. Meryl's performance of "Last Midnight" didn't give me quite the chills the climactic song typically does when I hear Bernie sing it, but that's me being VERY picky. Meryl evokes a lot of sympathy as the Witch, bringing another dimension and emotional level to the character that we traditionally choose to root against.

The other great one: Bernadette Peters.
Photo Courtesy Fanpop
Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen's duet "Agony" is the most hilarious scene, worth seeing the movie for. Every line Pine's prince delivers is of utmost narcissism. He is fantastic in this role and is getting to be so good-looking it's disgusting. Anna Kendrick was a casting choice I questioned but now appreciate. She isn't the traditional Cinderella I imagine, but she is likable and relatable and kills all of her songs. Don't blink, or you may miss Johnny Depp, a strong choice as the Wolf. Though his "Hello Little Girl" gets a little child molestery on poor Little Red. I suppose this song has always been a bit chi-mo but I didn't notice it until now.

Besides the set looking a little fake, I have very few complaints about this film. If you're a fan of this musical, you will no doubt enjoy singing and bopping your head along, but if you aren't familiar, you will probably be dying for one spoken word (surprise! there are none). This is a refreshing take on the soundtrack, and a thoughtfully done production.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Rating: PG-13

I had some serious doubts about Christian Bale portraying Moses in Ridley Scott's latest snoozefest epic tale "Exodus: Gods and Kings." He won't be winning an Oscar for this role, but he was believable for the most part. Props though to Bale, for going from playing the love of my life in the 1994 classic "Little Women," to every little boy's hero in Nolan's Batman trilogy, to the Chosen One in arguably the most famous story in the Old Testament. Beautiful cinematography, extravagant costumes and a fairly strong supporting cast makes this a successful film overall, though it could have been shortened by about 45 minutes. And by the way, Egypt is supposedly banning its release.

Moses was hot!
Photo Courtesy of Wall Street Journal/20th Century Fox
Biblical films and TV shows are apparently trending this year ("Noah," "Son of God," NBC's "AD".) You know the story: Baby Moses' life is spared when his mother sends him down the Nile in a basket, where he is found and adopted by the royal Egyptian family. He ultimately leads the Israelite slaves to freedom in Canaan through the Red Sea. Joel Edgerton gives an honest performance as Ramses, Moses' adopted brother and the heir to the Egyptian throne. Ramses is clearly conflicted as a leader and as his father said, "those who want most badly to lead are those who are least equipped to do so."

Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley are familiar faces, who only grace the screen for a combined total of 7 minutes. Same goes for everyone's favorite meth maker sidekick Aaron Paul, though his first line really wasn't until the parting of the Red Sea. It's a risk, trusting writers and directors to present stories you've always heard about in the way they've always imagined them. God appears to Moses in the form of a 10 year old boy, an interesting choice, one I don't feel strongly about one way or the other. The 10 plagues that were cast upon Egypt took an impressive 25 minutes, and were beautifully portrayed, as horrid as they may have been. Scott's parting of the Red Sea wasn't at all like I imagined, but over the top special effects exist for a reason.

I was expecting this to be more of a holiday blockbuster, but I'm afraid this one has already gotten swept to the side. It's the strongest Biblical take I've seen in a while, but don't worry if you wait to RedBox this one.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Texas: Part Deux

My love affair with Texas has gotten out of control. It seems like a different world down there, one that I can't seem to get enough of after a brief taste of it in the spring of 2014. After exploring more of the sites and bites that Houston has to offer, and dipping my toes into the funky, music-heavy, food truck haven that is Austin, it's safe to say I'll be back many, many times. It's also safe to say that it's nearly impossible to want to be a vegetarian in this state.

I thank my trusty host and BFF Kate for selecting the best of the best when it came to our dining experiences. Sweet Paris Creperie is one of the best breakfasts I've ever had. Torn between sweet and savory, we opted for both - Le Mexicain, offering Pork Carnitas and Chipotle Salsa, and the Toasted Bueno, my first food "moment" of the trip. I seriously paused to savor the sticky Dulce de Leche, marrying Bananas, Coconut, Cinnamon and Vanilla Bean Sugar. It was sensational.

Underbelly's Executive Chef Chris Shepherd received the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. Naturally, his joint was on my list. Pork Carnitas, Lamb Barbacoa, Korean Goat Dumplings - see above re: hard to try vegetarianism here. Everything's bigger in Texas, especially the flavors. And the variety of cuisines - my gosh! Everything I ate topped the last. Istanbul Grill is outstanding Turkish food. The Kofte Kebab lamb patties are juicy, tender and boast huge flavor. The Iskender Kebab reminded me oddly of Italian food - doner meat is topped with toasted pita crumbs and tomato sauce, with a pool of cooling yogurt around the dish. Mind blown. I couldn't get enough.

These days, Austin is known for two things: the music and food truck scenes. In a 12 hour span, I indulged in BBQ, Thai and Tex-Mex, all from food trucks. It's all the rage there, but I can't help but wonder how long they will continue to be so popular. I couldn't wait to get my hands on some authentic Texas-style 'que, so stop # 1: La Barbecue. This place has become an institution in Austin. Pulled Pork piled on top of Chopped Brisket with Pickled Red Onions sits on a soft bun. It was nearly the size of my face, and so easy to devour. I'm a vinegary Carolina BBQ gal at heart, but this was to die for.

After perusing the happenings on South Congress Street, we decided to check out East Side Kings' Thai-Kun, which made Bon Appetit Magazine's list of Top 10 Best New Restaurants. Yes, a FOOD TRUCK made this list. (As well as Huffington Post's and Travel Channel's). Did I mention the creator, Paul Qui, won Top Chef? I couldn't have been more SOLD on this place. But if you can't handle spice, this is not the truck for you. I typically can't get things hot enough to satisfy me, but the Black Noodles and Waterfall Pork melted my face off. I'm disappointed that the spice totally overwhelmed the other flavors, besides Fish Sauce. Luckily, I spotted a taco truck later that night (or earlier the next morning, depending on how you look at it) which made up for it.

Brunch at Searsucker in Austin gave me my second food "moment" of the trip: a Duck Fat Biscuit, swimming in Duck Fat Gravy with Chicken Fried Steak. Duck ME it was tasty. Ducking delicious. The savoriness and richness of the dish really only allowed you to eat about 3 bites, but I will remember the salty, crunchy, buttery flavors for a very long time. Brown Butter Bourbon French Toast was absolutely gorgeous and picturesque, but missing all notes of Brown Butter and Bourbon! What's that about! But eating the fruit garnish made up for all the indulgent dishes I had tried this weekend.

Look at that cream!
This drink is prettier than me.
Honorable mention bites include Shipley's Do-nuts, giving me the fullest cream-filled donut I've ever had. The elasticity of the yeast dough almost pops in your mouth when you bite into it, and the cream just oozes out. For future reference, these can be devoured in 2.5 bites. My new favorite cocktail from Anvil ingeniously combines Gin, Lambrusco, Lemon and Rose Syrup. Sweet, tart, acidic - heaven! Thanks to my fantastic tour guides and friends for indulging in my indulgences! Texas loves Texas and so do I!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2

Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Christoph Waltz
Director: Sean Anders
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Rating: R

I could watch Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis all day. Seriously, they're cracking me up more than any comedic actors right now, and they're all hot, in a weird "you're only hot because you're funny" kind of way. (In all honesty, Bateman is slowly creeping into my #3 spot, right after DiCaprio and Fassbender, for those of you taking notes). I'm a big "Always Sunny" fan, so if this is the first time you're experiencing Day, I admit he's a little polarizing, but give him time to win you over. Anywho, if you saw and enjoyed the first installment of Horrible Bosses (it grossed $300 million, so some of you definitely did), you're bound to love the second one. A similar plot, hilarious cameos, eye candy galore - this is a guaranteed 2 hours of FUN.

Yum, yum and yum! Photo Courtesy of Hollywood Reporter
Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day) are at it again. Dissatisfied with their employment, looking to be their own bosses, getting screwed over by the man - same old song and dance. As they try to come up with something less illegal to do than killing your boss (like in the first movie) Kurt suggests "kidnaping," to which Nick replies that adding a "p" would actually make it a real thing. Conundrums like these fill the movie, including witty improvised bits - "I would marry Snap, bone Crackle, and kill Pop."

We're thrilled to welcome back the familiar supporting cast of Jen Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, who reprise their roles of sex-addicted former boss of Dale, insanely inhumane former boss of Nick, and hit man instructor/coach, respectively. They all shine. We're thoroughly pleased to have Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine join the cast as a father-son pair. More like pair of a-holes! Their greed and deranged heartlessness is almost laughable, but it's no laughing matter to our three musketeers.

If I had it my way, there would be an HB3, HB4, HB5 and so on. I didn't tire of the predicaments, as silly as they may have gotten. I can only imagine how much laughter came from the set of this film. This will definitely have you rolling.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Starring: Matt McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 49 minutes

This is a pretty polarizing film. For every "I loved it," I heard an "I hated it." Readers, I didn't love it, I didn't hate it - rather, I didn't NOT love it, if that makes any sense. Matt McConaughey is an absolute gold mine in this role - the more I see of him, the more I like him - and I wouldn't be surprised one bit if the Academy pulls another "two Oscars in a row," a la Tom Hanks (Philadelphia and Forrest Gump). If you're into Sci Fi, you will adore this movie. As a fan of "Gravity" and "Alien," I appreciated the spacial and Sci Fi elements of it, but could have stood for it to be about 30 minutes shorter. Don't they know people can't sit through nearly a three hour long movie? I mean, I was engrossed for as long as possible, but they lost me about 2 hours and 15 minutes in.
Lincoln Commercial or Interstellar?
Photo Courtesy DoddleMe
This film is as much about Sci Fi as it is about family relationships. Several scenes between McConaughey and the beautiful, brilliant child who plays his daughter will nearly bring tears to your eyes. He is so believable in this role and seems truly genuine, showing depth that I haven't seen before. (Though some moments reminded me all too much of his infamous Lincoln commercials, see: monotone monologues, gazing out into traffic space.) Joking aside, McConaughey will win you over, even if that's the only thing you take from this film.

Kudos to Chris Nolan for writing such a thought-provoking and captivating story, one I'd never seen or heard before. Former NASA pilot Cooper (McConaughey) and his family live in a time and place that isn't clear to the audience, but one thing is certain - mankind and the future of the Earth as our home as we know it, is in trouble. Cooper is recruited by NASA to fly into space and explore a wormhole/portal outside of Saturn, to see if it is possible to support human life once the Earth inevitably fails us. Much to the chagrin of his daughter, he heads out into space. Alongside him is Anne Hathaway, who plays a scientist with no social life or social skills - perfect for her! (That was a dig at Anne, whom just I can't stand.)

The females who play Cooper's daughter Murph shine. Mackenzie Foy (as young Murph) had such real chemistry with McConaughey - your heart breaks for her as he drives away to his mission after a reluctant goodbye. I can't get enough of Jessica Chastain, who plays older Murph. Such a beauty and natural talent. John Lithgow isn't in the film long enough as Cooper's father-in-law, and several cameos make for nice surprises (Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, Matt Damon and Topher Grace being among them).

This film is without a doubt going to receive several award nominations this year. You'd be missing out to not see it, but be prepared for a long afternoon, to pay attention, and to hear a lot of McConaughey's Southern drawl and "whistle S," as I like to call it. The ending is a bit far-fetched, but I was glad to know how they wrapped up the story, though it could have been done a lot sooner.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed
Director: Dan Gilroy
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Rating: R

In "Nightcrawler," Jake Gyllenhaal is possibly the sexiest creep the big screen has ever seen. It's hard not to be mesmerized by his blue eyes, charming smirk and dark hair (especially when it's twisted into a bun, oi!) but unfortunately, my high hopes for this film were not met. I imagined it would be in the same vein as last year's hit "Prisoners," or perhaps even my favorite Gyllanhaal film "Brothers". Alas, it was entirely too long and at times oddly reminiscent of "Network." In the first 15 minutes, I thought I had the plot figured out. I was way off. This tour de force by Gyllenhaal will earn him several nominations this season, but that's about all this movie will get. It won't be on at the theatre another week.

Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, an outcast with terribly awkward social skills and just enough nervous tics and oddities that you know immediately not to trust him. It's hard to put your finger on what's wrong with him, but something is definitely off. He's looking for work, perhaps a purpose, and will do just about anything to make a name for himself. Enter Bill Paxton, everyone's favorite twister chaser/Titanic historian/polygamist. Paxton plays a stringer, a freelance journalist of sorts, who inspires Bloom to become one as well. He and his partner Rick (a fabulous performance by Riz Ahmed) begin selling their footage to a dying news station, and questioning their morals each time they arrive on the scene of a brutal crime.

Rene Russo (you read me right, where has she been? OH, being married to the director.) is brilliant as Nina, the TV station manager who recognizes Bloom's talent as well as his creep factor. Suggestions of blackmail and foul play make for an incredibly uncomfortable confrontation at a Mexican restaurant between these two. This tension leads to one of the best "behind the scenes" scene I've ever seen (wow, 3 times in 1 sentence!) Getting a taste of what it's like in the news control room during a broadcast is something I'm not familiar with at all, and it was incredibly intriguing.

You'll be close to passing out during the final climactic 15 minutes. I was holding my breath, clutching my armrest, tapping my feet - it's seriously intense for a while. But there is definitely some humor in this film - you just have to appreciate dark comedy. And for a mentally unstable person, Bloom actually makes some very thoughtful observations about running a business and surviving in a dog-eat-dog world. I'd save your $5.75 - $18 (depending on what city you're in) and hold out for the other guaranteed hits this season.