Monday, January 25, 2016

The Danish Girl

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts
Director: Tom Hooper
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Rating: R

Eddie Redmayne has once again given one of the most powerful performances of the year as Lili Elbe, who received the first transgender operation surgery in 1930. Sadly "The Danish Girl" hasn't gotten as much recognition as I thought it should have, especially seeing how important the film is, and that it was made at such an appropriate time. It's hard to fathom the thousands of people like Lili who grew up during a time when they couldn't talk about this. It's even more difficult to fathom the thousands of people struggling and alone today.
Lili Elbe and Eddie as Lili
Photo Courtesy E! Online
We meet Lili as Einar Wegener in 1920s Copenhagen. He and his wife Gerda, played with such beauty by Alicia Vikander, are both artists and big in the social scene. When Gerda's female model fails to show, she asks her husband to be a stand-in. As he holds the ball gown and delicate heels, we immediately see how it prompts muffled emotions from his past. What turns into a silly game soon becomes a struggle for the married couple.

Supporting cast members exist, but it's really Lili and Gerda's story. Their chemisry as both friends and lovers is palpable. They are totally believable in their roles. Redmayne's effeminate portrayal of Lili is extraordinarily believable. He brings her to life with such grace and charm. Vikander's performance as Lili's understandably heartbroken yet compassionate wife is one that undoubtedly makes her a strong contender for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Likewise for Eddie and the Best Actor Oscar (though the Academy is political and will likely honor Leo instead, since Eddie won last year for "The Theory of Everything.")

The music is wonderful. It's a soaring theme. The landscape is beautiful. The film is classic Tom Hooper - jumping right to the point, but full of quiet, touching moments, much in the style of "The King's Speech". It's full of emotion, and Eddie and Alicia's work is truly beautiful. It's a wonderful message, and heartbreaking at the same time.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Capital Grille

The Capital Grille is one of the best, if not the best, restaurants in Charlotte. And it just happens to be home to the best steak I've ever eaten. After years of hearing how special the restaurant is, and how fantastic the food is from my dad, I got to finally experience it for myself, prior to a Charlotte Hornets game. It surpassed my expectations. The atmosphere is as if you're in a study or a library, dimly lit, with dark wooden booths and tables. (Apologies for the dark photos!) Our server took special care of us, as it was my parents' anniversary! It couldn't have been a better evening.

Bread heaven.
My favorite special occasion drink is a Ketel One dirty martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives. Naturally, dinner at the Capital Grille is a special occasion. I sipped on my martini as I indulged in the bread basket, featuring pumpernickle with golden raisins and walnuts; onion ciabatta; sesame and poppy seed rolls; and a tall salty cracker sticking out the top. For the record, I tried them all, and my favorite was the pumpernickle. Or the onion ciabatta. It's too close to call - it's best we got to try them all.

An amuse bouche is an indicator that you're in a special place. Very few restaurants in the Triad do this, so I was tickled when a spoonful of crab salad appeared atop a slice of cucumber, topped with green onion and drizzled with sesame oil. It was a fabulous and fresh appetite whetter.

Amuse Bouche!
Any of the Capital Grille's steaks can be topped or encrusted with any of their unique and varied crusts. I had the Filet topped with their Gorgonzola and Truffle crust. This was the best steak of my life. The steak was beautifully medium rare and tender, and the crust adds a salty richness - it's literally perfection. The special that evening was a bone-in Filet, which was decidedly more tender, but I thought my crust really killed the competition. The bone-in Filet special was served with a South African Lobster tail, which was cut tableside and served as a centerpiece! The lobster was incredibly sweet and decadent. Drizzle it with the melted butter bowl they bring, and sprinkle it with salt - it doesn't get any better.
This filet with gorgonzola/truffle crust. I'm really not sure I can even.
Forget what you think you know about Brussels Sprouts. The Capital Grille's are outstanding. They're fork tender, and I'm not sure that I'll ever find them done better. The chef adds chunks of smoky bacon for added flavor and to further prove that his are the best.
This giant South African lobster tail was a gorgeous centerpiece before we devoured it.
It would be in your favor to save room for dessert, though I much preferred the Cheesecake to the Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake. If you like fudgey, dense, coffee-flavored desserts, you will adore that one. However, I stole several bites of the cheesecake, made with cream cheese and ricotta, the latter adding a really nice, almost savory tang. The cheesecake is smooth and sits atop a Vanilla Wafer crust, and the top is bruleed, to make it even more luxurious. Berries are a nice pop of color.

If you find yourself in Charlotte for a show, a game, or just for fun (and lucky you!), you should check out The Capital Grille. You actually can find more affordable options on the menu, especially if you dine at their stunning bar, but regardless, this place is worth the splurge.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Revenant

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Greeson, Forrest Goodluck
Director: Alejandro Inarritu
Running Time: 2 hours, 36 minutes
Rating: R

I had been anticipating this one for a long time. Seeing lovely Leo on the big screen never gets old, even though he certainly looks weathered in this film. There's a lot of hype surrounding this movie - how did the cast and crew survive those gnarly filming conditions? Will Leo finally win his Oscar? While it was a little long and strangely lacked a lot of dialogue, for the most part, this film delivers. It's very much in the style of Director Alejandro Iñárritu, who found fame with films like "21 Grams" (one of my all-time faves) and "Birdman" (one of my not so faves). Calling "The Revenant" a tour de force by Leo is an understatement.
I'd still do him.
Photo Courtesy The Independent
For those of you who aren't familiar with the term "revenant," I looked it up for us. It means "a person who has returned, supposedly from the dead." This film tells the story of one man's quest for revenge, and he truly goes through hell and back, escaping death multiple times to do so. Leo plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper exploring uncharted territory in the early 1800s. After a vicious bear attack leaves him immobile, a few men (including Glass' son) linger back to see that he has a proper burial after his inevitable death. One of the men, Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy at perhaps his best), decides they would all be better off if Glass were to just die already. Right in front of him, Fitzgerald offs Glass' son and leaves Glass to die.

Throughout the movie, Glass keeps reciting a mantra he told his son a long time ago, along the lines of: "If you can still catch a breath, try to keep living." This mantra keeps him going through more than one person should in a lifetime. His will to live is relentless. This was such a physical role for Leo. His physicality is unlike anything I've ever seen him do. Several visuals will stay with me: Leo eating (and almost puking up) real raw bison liver; the warm horse carcass that becomes his shelter during a storm - and I can't imagine the cold, wet clothes they had to wear the whole time! Leo is as much the star of the film as is the cinematographer and the landscape. You'll want to make sure you have a jacket on when you watch it. Seeing these men try to survive (barely) in the grueling exterior is truly remarkable.

I would be remiss not to dwell a bit on Tom Hardy's performance. His character is so distusting and loathesome. The evil in his eyes is as evident as Leo's despair. He isn't getting the attention he deserves from this role. It's also worth noting that there's very little dialogue in this film. Leo had about 15 lines during the whole thing. The soaring score only graces our presence thrice during the movie - we hear the brush of the wind and the running of the water more than anything else.

This movie is a lot to take in. You'll be thankful of your warm coat, cooked food and roof over your head. More than anything, I will be thankful when Leo gets onstage to accept his Academy Award. If this role doesn't prove that he is the greatest out there today, I don't know what possibly can.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy
Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Running Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Rating: R

The less you know about "Room" the better. I didn't watch the trailer, I hadn't read any articles about it, I just knew that it was getting a ton of accolades and recognition, right in time for the Golden Globes and the SAGs. And there is serious buzz that Brie Larson could even take home the Oscar for Best Actress. I walked into the theatre unsure of what to expect, and was taken for an insanely emotional and raw ride. And this film is not for the claustrophobic.

Photo Courtesy Hitfix
This film is based off the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue. While I haven't read the book and can't speak on the translation from page to screen, it's obvious that the movie's success depends largely on the relationship between "Ma" and Jack, and the chemistry between the actors who play them. Their chemistry is beautiful. Brie Larson has certainly earned her stripes with the role of Joy, who is known throughout the film as "Ma" to her 5-year-old son Jack. Jacob Tremblay, the actor who portrays him, is unbelievable. We meet these two in a room, affectionately known to Jack as "Room." It's magical how they have made this small space their own little world, and their home. It's so big to Jack - everything has a name and a purpose. We know that not all is well by the sorrowful, distressed look in Ma's eyes, and by unpleasant nightly visits from a man named "Old Nick," who Jack is hidden from.

Otherwise, Ma and Jack have a seemingly normal life in Room. They do aerobics, have bathtime, play with toys, watch TV and eat meals together. The cinematography is very intimate - we are up close and way personal with these characters. It's cinematographically like the film "Boyhood." On an unrelated note, Joan Allen is a sight for sore eyes. Her sensitive portrayal as Nancy is a highlight in an otherwise dark story.

If it seems like I'm being a bit dodgy with this review, it's because I am. It is in your best interest, dear readers, for me to not divulge any of the plot. I urge you to not watch the trailer if you plan to see this film. I'll say that the first and second hours seem like different films, with different struggles and different joys. I'll also say that the climax is underscored by one of the most beautiful songs EVER! ("The Mighty Rio Grande" by This Will Destroy You.) You'll leave this movie with feelings. You'll leave provoked. This film is heavy stuff, but it's beautifully done.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Big Short

Starring: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt
Director: Adam McKay
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Rating: R

"The Big Short" couldn't have a better cast. Unfortunately, it's a waste of eye candy, as all of these would-be hotties have terrible hairdos and spray tans. Enough about the men - this film tells the story of something we're all too familiar with: the incidents and fraud that ultimately led to the financial crisis in 2007. I give it a B. I didn't love it, but the acting was excellent, and I actually learned a lot about what really happened, though I admit some of the dialogue was a touch (ok, an embrace) over my head.
See what I mean? Waste of eye candy!
Photo courtesy GQ
I'm not sure that this film should be categorized as a comedy, though the Golden Globes would disagree with me. There are comedic moments, most notably one with Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, a Luda music video and Tony Bourdain (yum!) explaining what a CDO is while chopping fish for a seafood stew. The most comedic of the bunch (Steve Carell) is the most serious, and arguably, the best in the film. Christian Bale is rarely not perfection, but I wasn't enamored with him in this role. Perhaps it was the writing of the character; perhaps it was his interpretation of it. These two play trader Mark Baum and hedge fund manager Dr. Michael Burry, respectively, who are among the first to be aware of the impending financial doom.

Finn Wittrock, where have you been all my life? I couldn't help but fall for you on the past few seasons of American Horror Story, but in this film, you really charmed me with your looks AND your noggin. He plays Jamie Shipley, a young investor, who with his business partner and their mentor hop on the case and uncover some wrongdoings in the banking world.
Finn Wittrock, the ONLY eye candy; thank you so very much for this.
Photo courtesy
The soundtrack is great and handheld cameras make you feel right there, though Ryan Gosling's narration directly to the camera seems out of place. His portrayal as an investor was pretty cold and insensitive. Blink and you'll miss Brad Pitt (or you may not even recognize him - I'll reiterate, waste of eye candy.)

By the end, after discovering what is bound to happen to the American economy, Baum (Carell) is like a balloon about to pop. His declaration that not only were banks fraudulent (in America during this time), corruption was seen in politics, sports, religion - it's really unsettling. We're reminded that these men who bet against the banks and the housing market ultimately got millions of dollars, which was just dandy for them, but terribly frightening for the American economy. It's worth a watch, but be prepared to listen and pay attention.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Virginia Madsen, Bradley Cooper
Director: David O. Russell
Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Rating: PG-13

"Joy" marks the third time Jennifer Lawrence has partnered with director David O. Russell (not to mention their third time with Bradley Cooper, and second with Robert DeNiro, too). Lawrence is now apparently David O's muse, a la Sam Jackson and Quentin Taratino; and DiCaprio/DeNiro and Marty Scorsese. She certainly plays a fabulous kickass woman, and while the supporting cast is excellent, it's really her show. This film tells the true story of Joy Mangano, the woman most famous for creating several household items and becoming a multi-millionaire thanks to her success on QVC and HSN. There are hidden comedic moments in an otherwise emotional story. And it's also a great reminder that truth is stranger than fiction.

Photo Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Joy is a busy, working mom with a full-time job, two kids, two parents that need mothering, and an ex-husband, who lives in her basement. When she has a rare moment alone, she finds pleasure in her inventions, most notably a dog collar that she could never get a patent for. It's not until she invents a self-wringing mop that she hits on a potentially truly successful business idea. Her well-intentioned but clueless father (DeNiro), her surprinsgly loving ex-husband, and best friend accompany her to a meeting with her father's new wealthy girlfriend who becomes her investor.

Bradley Cooper, who I could have used more screen time with, welcomes her to QVC. Joy shows a startling amount of confidence and isn't phased by Joan Rivers and other TV sales gurus of the era. Instead, she seems to fit right in. Her mop becomes an overnight success, though odds never seem to stay in her favor, and just as you think she has everything under control, there is a plot twist.

I would be remiss to not mention how fabulous Virginia Madsen's comedic timing is in this role as Joy's mother. We all know one of these women - she lives in her soap operas which she records on VHS tapes galore. She is also clueless but means well, and a major shout out goes to twins Aundrea and Gia Gadsby, who play Joy's daughter. They are precious, and dare I say, potentially the next Olsen twins?

The trailer doesn't accurately represent the movie, so I liked it much better than I thought I would. Joy is relentless. Her drive and determination is so impressive. I wasn't familiar with her story, and I'm thankful that David O. brought it to Jennifer, and that she brought Joy to life. She seemed a tad too young to play such a maternal figure, but you definitely root for her the entire time. This is my favorite of the Lawrence/O. Russell collabos so far.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Starring: Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber
Director: Tom McCarthy
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
Rating: R

This time of year is busy for Cuisine & Screen! The release of awards show season films has me hopping in and out of theatres as often as possible. I hate to kick things off with kind of a downer, but "Spotlight" really puts the spotlight on a pretty disturbing topic. The film gives us a look into the investigative journalism and uncovering of the child molestation scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, and the world.

It's been a while since I've been so on the fence about a film. It's pretty dark and dialogue-heavy, and it's driven more by strong, underrated acting than the plot. It's pretty incredible to be reminded what basically 4 people uncovered. Liev Schreiber plays the editor who prompted these newspaper journalists to research a small column that was published, hinting at some foul play in the Catholic Church. Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams (who's seemingly everywhere), the fantastic Mark Ruffalo and Brian d'Arcy James (loved ya, "Smash"!) portray the reporters who are tasked with this daunting assignment.

Stanley Tucci is one of the best out there today, and stars in an almost unrecognizable supporting role as an attorney who sets up interviews with victims for the journalists. We cringe as they relive their trauma. Just as progress is made in identifying the nearly 100 priests in Boston alone who molested children, the work is suddenly stalled - 9/11 happens, and this story gets pushed to the backburner. Victims begin to think their voices will never be heard. The journalists who are so invested in this story become frustrated. The film is pretty long, but it's representative of how long it took to uncover this scandal and tell it correctly and appropriately.

This is not the best picture of the year, but it's a pretty engrossing film. The actors were fully committed; one didn't outshine the other. But in all honesty, I think you could pass on this one. There are plenty of other films to look forward to coming out soon.