Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Wife

Starring: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater
Director: Björn Runge
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Rating: R

"How many people could possibly be going to see 'The Wife' starring Glenn Close?" I joked to my mom, after she suggested we go purchase our tickets early to avoid the crowd. I was stunned to walk into a packed theatre - mostly older women - but packed, nonetheless. I'd been hearing buzz about Close's performance in this film, how it could finally win her her first Oscar after 6 nominations. Is this my favorite Glenn Close role? No. Will it earn her an Oscar? Possibly, but probably not. But was her portrayal of a resentful wife, that quietly built throughout the 1 hour and 40 minutes a privilege to watch? Yes. Close is one of our best today, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how strong of a performance Jonathan Pryce delivered. In fact, he may have shown her up.

Close plays Joan Castleman, wife and backbone to Joe, a novelist who has just learned that he won the Nobel Prize in literature. We share in their celebration, but can't help but notice a slight coldness develop in Joan. Their son David is an aspiring writer, and quite troubled. He seeks approval and acknowledgement from his father, but his requests fall on deaf ears. The three of them bicker their way to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony, where we learn that Joe and Joan's seemingly perfect marriage is not quite what it seems.

We learn even more about the characters in flashbacks, where young Joan is played by Close's daughter in real life. This helps us understand how a lifetime of resentment was built up. I must acknowledge my love of Jonathan Pryce, whom I have adored since I saw him in the film "Evita". He has the juicier role here, and his character is more polarizing, which is why it was easy for him to almost steal the show from Close. But the Academy loves Glenn Close (not enough, apparently) and her emotional, wordless stare that indicates something more is happening below the surface will be enough to seal her a nomination. An Oscar though? I'm just not sure.

The reveal of the main conflict took me by surprise, and I hesitate to divulge much more information, so as to not ruin it for you readers! The less you know about this film going in, the better. I encourage you to not watch the trailer, to avoid any spoilers. I knew nothing about the story line, and every twist and turn kept me fully engaged. I loved this film.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Eighth Grade

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan
Director: Bo Burnham
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Rating: R

I could tell this movie would be special in just the first 3 minutes of the film. Written and directed by comedian Bo Burnham, you're immediately transported to a typical eighth grade class. We see students sniffing permanent markers, playing with the rubber bands on their braces, stacking crayola markers to make sticks - yep, been there! Such nuanced moments really spoke to the time period of the film and the world these pre-teens live in. I wondered if older generations would enjoy this film as much as I did, since eighth grade doesn't seem that terribly long ago to me. As the film's conflicts and themes unfolded, I realized that anyone can relate to this film, regardless of age, race or gender. Even though the main character is a 13-year-old white girl, it's a universal story, crafted into a brilliant film.

Elsie Fisher portrays Kayla with such ease - you can hardly tell she's acting at all. The pimples on her face, the smudged make-up, the slouched posture - she's just trying to figure it all out. She doesn't have any friends and barely says a word at school, yet is addicted to social media and films her own self-help vlogs (video blogs). We feel sorry for her, and root for her to break out of this neurotic, isolated shell.

Perhaps Kayla's first major social interaction comes when she attends a birthday party for Kennedy, the cool girl at school, whose mom guilt-tripped her into inviting Kayla. We suffer right alongside Kayla, who practically panics the entire time until she meets Kennedy's cousin Gabe, who is very self-unaware and is as awkward as she is. It nearly broke my heart when Kennedy "ooh-ed" and "aah-ed" over everyone's "cool" gifts, and dismissed Kayla's card game gift with disgust. Everyone can relate to the mean, cool girl that you want so badly to impress, but just can't.

The soundtrack is very much in your face. Several scenes had me laughing out loud, when the music would reflect her pulse racing as she sees the class hottie. Her mouth would be agape as she stared at this prepubescent 13-year-old boy with lust and wonder. She even kisses her hand at one point, pretending it's him - what teenage girl hasn't done this?! How did Bo Burnham know?!

Kayla's relationship with her single dad is complicated. The two clearly have a bond, but she often reprimands him for being corny and ignores his efforts to reach out to her. Kayla nearly dies from embarrassment when he catches her in a compromising position with a banana. His monologue toward the end of the film reminded me of the infamous Dad monologue in "Call Me By Your Name". Regardless of this caring father, I was left wondering if her lack of self-confidence had anything to do with not having a mother figure in her life.

Her class goes to a high school "training day", where she meets Olivia, a senior who takes Kayla under her wing, giving her the boost of confidence she so badly needs. She also turns out to be Kayla's first friend. A touching scene with Gabe toward the end of the film leaves you with hope that Kayla will find her self-esteem and be able to move on from this difficult phase of her life.

Several scenes in this film are so viscerally awkward that everyone in the audience reacted differently. Some people slouched down and could hardly look at the screen, while others laughed out loud with a nervous giggle. It's remarkable how well this feeling of discomfort was translated through the screen. I absolutely loved this movie and believe that anyone will be able to connect with it.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Veritas Vineyard & Winery: Wine Dinner

I had no idea how beautiful the Shenandoah Wine Region in central Virginia is. The next time I want a scenic wine fix, I won't need to fly out to Napa, I'll just drive 3 hours North and enjoy myself. We're fortunate to have several wineries right outside of Winston-Salem, in the Yadkin Valley, but the wines in the Shenandoah Valley blew me away. Afton Mountain Vineyards was a favorite, and if you visit King Family Vineyards on Sunday, they have Polo - quite the spectacle. If you decide to go for north for a special occasion, check out Veritas Vineyard & Winery to see if they're offering a wine dinner. My beau and I recently attended one, and adored every course. I'm already checking the schedule to see when we can return.

Upon your arrival, you're greeted with a flute of bubbly - what's not to love? The property is gorgeous. It's exactly what you think of when you picture a lush vineyard, surrounded by mountains. The servers were gracious and the evening was paced appropriately. After the bubbly settled, we were poured a glass of Saddleback Chardonnay to accompany Rye and Mustard Spaetzle with Chicken Sausage and sauteed greens. We're both spaetzle lovers (they're basically just German noodles or tiny dumplings) and the rye and mustard turned up the flavor. We agreed that every wine pairing was lovely, and I appreciated that this Chardonnay was perfectly balanced between dry and buttery. 

The second course was our favorite, hands down. We were both very excited about this dish - Goat Cheese and Corn Bisque, with charred corn and shrimp throughout, which provided a great pop of flavor and texture. It's as if they scraped the corn off the husk, then squeezed every drop of the corn milk into the pot, and married it with the flavor of the goat cheese. It was thick, luscious and amazing! The best dish of the night. The Not Your Grandma's Rosé alongside was perfectly fine, but the bisque stole the show entirely.

You really can't go wrong when you pair a perfectly cooked medium rare steak with a big, bold red. I loved the Vintner's Reserve, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. ...but the filet. It was absolutely to die for, and the Tomato Jam alongside was an unexpected, yet delightful flavor combination. The acid from the jam really cut through the unctuousness of the beef. And to cook filets perfectly for 20 people? Not easy to do. If we weren't already thoroughly impressed with the chef, we were now.

Dessert seemed like it was made specifically for us. We're not chocolate people (I know, pick your jaw up off the keyboard!) so the idea of Watermelon Sorbet with Apple Consommé (like a broth) was both a beautiful palate cleanser and a dessert right out of my dreams. I've grown to appreciate a good dessert wine, and the Petit Manseng brought out the warm notes of the apple, and was a beautiful golden color. It reminded me of drinking mead, which is wine made from fermenting honey and water. A stellar way to end the dinner.

A nip of Port later, and we were calling the Uber. The port was an even tastier digestif, that needed nothing more than a mouth to drink it.

It's difficult to put into words how special of an evening this was. When you like all the food, all the wine, and the company, it really doesn't get much better - unless you can spend the night on the premises, which will happen next time.