Friday, October 12, 2018

A Star is Born

Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle
Director: Bradley Cooper
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Rating: R

I knew I would love this movie from the moment I heard it was in production. I'm very partial to Gaga; anything she touches is gold in my eyes. I wasn't familiar with the 3 previous film versions of "A Star is Born", so I knew very little about the plot going in. I could have watched Bradley Cooper and Gaga for hours. Their chemistry is palpable, and while I wasn't surprised that she was amazing, this was the best I've ever seen Cooper. He completely became his character; he was not the blue-eyed Cooper we all know and love. And for his directorial debut? This film was heartbreakingly beautiful. From the very first scene, it was easy to buy in to this world they created for us. I won't spoil anything, in case there's anyone else out there in the world who didn't know the story. I'll just urge you to see this magical film as soon as you can.

This is a remarkable story of being in the right place at the right time, and how one artist helped jump start the career of another, while also falling in love. We meet Jackson Maine onstage, ripping into a bottle of booze as fast as he rips into the next song. He is weathered, with bloodshot eyes and sunburned skin. It's remarkable that he can remember the notes and words of the song for how loaded he is. Ally is a waitress, and aspiring singer/songwriter in her free time. She struggles with self-esteem and lacks the confidence it takes to pursue a career in music. Ally regularly performs at a drag bar, and one night, famed musician Jack Maine hears her sing, and practically falls in love with her in that moment. They talk all night about life, music, fears and dreams, and he arranges for her to go on tour with him, much to her surprise. We're entranced by Jack's charisma, and fall in love with him at the same time Ally does. We share in her misery when he drinks too much, wasting what talent he has left.

This film has an interesting commentary on the media and public image of an artist. Ally initially finds success being herself, performing singer-songwriter tunes, with little makeup and zero intention behind her every move. When she links up with producer Rez, nearly everything about her changes - her clothes, her appearance, her music, her art - it's a shocking transformation, and Jack isn't shy about letting her know that. While she reaches super-stardom, Jack fears she has totally lost touch with who she is. It's hard for her to hear this from a man who is rarely sober.

Supporting characters Lorenzo (Ally's father, played wonderfully by Andrew Dice Clay) and Bobby (Jack's brother, played by the always amazing Sam Elliott) add to the film, though it's really Ally and Jack's world we're interested in. We get backstory from both characters, but the present is more captivating.

I can't stop singing "Shallow", the lead song of the film. If anyone had doubts that Gaga had amazing pipes, shame on you; but if anyone was unsure of Cooper's vocal and musical abilities, you'll be pleasantly surprised. He even took vocal lessons to lower his voice an entire octave - something noticeable which definitely added to the authenticity of his character. I'm eager to check out the previous 3 versions of this film, though I can't imagine they'll be able to top this one.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace
Director: Spike Lee

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Rating: R

Spike Lee is one of our most powerful, and depending on how you look at it, polarizing voices in Hollywood. Love him or hate him, he is a brilliant storyteller and puts the truth in your face, no matter how hard it is to watch. BlacKkKlansman is his latest masterpiece, and it couldn't be more timely. Several scenes and phrases were a direct correlation with what's happening in the world right now. His frightening tale of an African American cop who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan is a both an entertaining and enlightening story, and while things have improved dramatically since the 1970s, events like last year in Charlottesville remind us that sadly, racism is alive and well in our country.

John David Washington (Denzel's son!) plays Ron Stallworth, a soft-spoken, intelligent, African American cop. He gets a lot of grief from the guys on the squad, but he's willing to take it for the job. An ad for the KKK catches his eye, and gives them a call, asking for more information. His "white sounding" voice over the phone fools the KKK leader into wanting to meet with him. Enter Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, whose star continues to be on the rise) who agrees to play Ron for the meeting. This is the undercover operation of a lifetime, but these guys are pros - cool and calm.

Laura Harrier stars as Patrice, Ron's passionate black advocate love interest, who knows nothing about this undercover operation. When the KKK decides to take action against Patrice and her Black Civil Union student group, Ron's feelings get in the way of work, and things start to get ugly.

The language in this film is striking, and it was difficult to watch some scenes. Topher Grace played Grand Wizard David Duke with such ease, and it was absolutely terrifying to see him justify every cruel thought and action. The casting in this film was superb, and I have high expectations for John David Washington's next picture.

Lee closes his film with scenes from the mess in Charlottesville, just one year ago. It is utterly insane to see the progress our society has made in the past 50 years, and then to see so many people stuck in the past. I have chills as I write this post, and can only hope for a more positive and progressive next 50 years.

Lao Restaurant + Bar

Lao Restaurant + Bar is my new favorite restaurant in Greensboro. It's quickly becoming like another favorite, Bandito Bodega, where everything is just amazing. The atmosphere is upscale and modern, service is prompt and the food is absolutely incredible. But let me back up. Lao Restaurant + Bar took over Crafted's old space on Elm Street in downtown Greensboro. The dining room is still in the back, the bar is still on the side, but the cuisine is Laotian. A country neighboring Thailand, Laos' cuisine is very similar to Thai food. It's all the expected flavors - cilantro, curry, mango - but it's just different enough that you might not recognize any of the dishes. (Instead of Pad Thai, you'll find Laab.) Greensboro has been needing a place like this, and I can't wait to eat my way through the menu.

I was impressed with the extensive cocktail list, and even more impressed that the heat in the Spicy Thai Collins was prevalent. "How well do you handle spice?" asked my server after I ordered the drink, featuring muddled jalapenos, cucumber, Thai basil, lime juice, gin, simple syrup and soda. The heat was exactly the level I was hoping for - and not for the faint of heart. The Sake Sour is also a delightfully light cocktail, with sake (most likely unfiltered/cloudy), lemon juice, egg white, simple syrup, bitters and pineapple juice. Gotta love a cocktail that features egg white, to give it that frothy look and texture.
Loving these cocktails - off to a great start!
I've had Laotian food one time before, at Bida Manda in Raleigh, but I wasn't familiar enough with the cuisine to quite know what I was ordering. Laab is one of the more well-known Laotian dishes, so I started there. It's a cold, chopped meat salad - and tastes way better than that description. I chose chicken for my protein, and it was seasoned with a spicy lime sauce and fresh herbs. I wasn't prepared for the number of red and green onions in the dish, and was pleasantly surprised to find no offensive, overpowering onion flavor. It was absolutely delicious. The dish was light and refreshing, and the mint and cilantro brightened it up. Lime juice provided great acidity, and if you request romaine leaves, you can make your own little Laab burritos. I am also obsessed with the little rice cart that my sticky rice came in!
Chicken Laab
Kua Mee is a sweet and savory stir-fry noodle dish, topped with an egg omelette, your choice of protein, bean sprouts and all the cilantro in the world. For a cilantro lover like myself, I grinned ear to ear when I saw the big bunch of green to brighten up the dish. I chose Pork Belly as my protein, and was happy that it wasn't too fatty. It was like a thick-cut bacon, and added a nice salty bite to the caramelized flavor of the noodles. What's an omelette doing in there, you ask? The same thing it's doing on sushi menus - just try it, you'll like it.
Kua Mee with egg omelette and loads of cilantro!
I thought the Kua Mee was the best thing ever, until I tasted the Mee Katti, a red coconut curry with rice noodles, peanuts, whipped egg, cabbage, bean sprouts, cilantro and your choice of protein. The heat was noticeable but not overpowering, as was the coconut flavor. I chose chicken as my protein, and it was so tender, I couldn't tell whether I was eating the chicken or the egg. The peanuts added a lovely nutty crunch, and the cilantro again...I was a happy girl.
Mee Katti, aka red coconut curry goodness and a side of cilantro
Kua Prabang features tender flank steak, with green beans, green onions, red bell peppers and mushrooms in a wildly flavorful sauce. This is not your average stir-fry. Add in rice, which gets coated in that delicious sauce, and you've got a hearty, familiar, yet new dish.
Kua Prabang
My third favorite dessert in the world is Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango (behind Bananas Foster and cake from Maxie B's). If you like Rice Pudding, you'll love this dish. If you don't like Rice Pudding, you'll probably still adore it. I squealed when I saw this traditional Thai dish on the menu. There's almost a buttery popcorn flavor in the sauce that gets drizzled over the sticky rice, and the sweet acidity of the mango gives this dish a really amazing balance of flavor. Sesame seeds are more for aesthetic and a teeny crunch, but no sweet sticky rice is complete without it.
I am elated that this restaurant is in downtown Greensboro, and they're open for lunch! If you haven't been, or are nervous about trying a new cuisine, get outside your box! Support local businesses! I love introducing my palate to new flavors, and hope this post has inspired you to do the same.