Thursday, October 24, 2019


Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz
Director: Todd Phillips
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Rating: R

I love the Joker character just as much as the next person. I'm just as fascinated with Heath Ledger's portrayal and was just as hyped to see Joaquin Phoenix's interpretation, like everyone else. And I certainly love Joaquin Phoenix, just like every other cinephile. However, I unfortunately found "Joker" to be just a little short of my extremely high bar. I think Joaquin did a fabulous job embodying this disturbed character, but was this his best work? Not in my opinion. The actors (and there are a lot of great ones in this film) did the best with the material they were given, but was it incredibly strong material? Not really. I think we will always be excited to indulge in another Batman film, especially one that tells the villain's tale, and I look forward to the next one, but for now, I think you can safely pass on "Joker".

Arthur Fleck is a mentally ill aspiring comedian who lives with his mother (Frances Conroy) in Gotham City. It's pitiful - he's the butt of jokes, gets bullied and beat up by kids younger than him, but he tries to be a good son and take care of his mother. He suffers from a real-life condition where he uncontrollably laughs, seemingly at the most inopportune times. It's easy to empathize with him in the beginning. One afternoon, he has an interaction with neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz) that seems to send him on a spiral. He obsesses about their brief encounter, writes jokes based off of it, and even follows her. We hope their odd friendship might be good for him, but ultimately, the darkness in Arthur takes center stage.

I loved seeing Bobby De Niro as late night talk show host/comedian Murray Franklin - where has this man been?! He is delightful in this role, and Arthur both idolizes and envies him. I can't overlook the brief moment we have with Brian Tyree Henry (of "Atlanta" fame) and I would have loved more screen time with him, as always.

The film makes references to the Bruce Wayne family, and it does leave open the possibility of a sequel, or at least more stories to follow. I think one of the main issues I had with the film was the pacing. It was a bit slow and I wish the movie would have just gotten on with things already. I think the best/worst moment was when a group of corporate "thugs" started singing "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music" to Arthur on the subway. I almost burst out laughing. The ending is pretty uncomfortable (when it finally gets here), but honestly, I was just glad for it to be over.

Saturday, October 12, 2019


Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Lili Reinhart
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Rating: R

If this movie doesn't make you want to go to the gym, nothing will. This star-studded cast are all at their best - both acting-wise and physically - and the fact that this film is based off a true story makes it all the more compelling. The movie does take some liberties and slightly exaggerates the real life account, but still, I don't know how I didn't hear about this in the news! I was on the fence about watching this film, a story about women exploiting their sexuality for money, but they sure try to convince themselves and the audience that it's alright. The directors and screenwriters are also women, which gave me more confidence that they would handle the subject matter appropriately. These women clearly broke the law, but it's an incredibly entertaining film, and you won't be able to look away.

We meet our protagonist, Destiny (Constance Wu), in 2007. She's an amateur dancer, trying to make some extra cash to help her grandmother. She's doing alright for herself, until she sees Queen Bee Ramona (J. Lo) and the crazy amount of cash she is able to earn. Destiny convinces Ramona to mentor her, and she begins tutoring her in all things strip club. The scene where Ramona teaches Destiny how to pole dance features a classical music underscoring, reminding us there is an art to this type of movement. Fast forward to the recession of 2008, when things slow down significantly - clients vacate the clubs, people stop spending money  - and the ladies find themselves down on their luck. Until one day, Ramona hatches up a new plan. It's illegal, but it's effective.

This film is an interesting game of - who's really the bad guy here? Should we root for these ladies who are criminals, drugging and robbing men? Or the sleazy men who frequent the clubs and demand sexual favors? Then one day, the women decide they've had enough of the creeps and start picking up seemingly innocent men at bars, drugging them and leading them to the club where they run up their credit cards. It's not a spoiler to say that's ultimately how the ladies' empire collapses.

The fact that J. Lo is 50 years old is freaking insane. Her hair should win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It also makes sense that this film was produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, who had their hands in "The Big Short", because the narration and style reminded me of that film. My girl Lili Reinhart does her best with the role she's given, and Keke Palmer provides some comedic relief. The soundtrack is killer and so is the hair/make-up and costuming. The chemistry among these women is palpable. You really buy into this sisterhood they've created.

You'll leave this film feeling pretty unsettled and out of shape, but these women did a fantastic job telling this unbelievable story. It will really make you question just how far people will go to survive.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Katharine Brasserie

I previously wrote about The Katharine Brasserie in Winston-Salem when it opened back in 2016. It was a fine experience, but did not compare to the outstanding meal I had here last month when I celebrated my birthday. I was so impressed and blown away by the menu, execution, service and attention to detail. Last week, I was thrilled to get a sneak peek of Chef Adam Barnett's new fall menu, which will debut the week of October 7th. We had 7 courses and everything was exceptional - I do not use that word lightly. The Katharine has done a 180 since my visit 3 years ago, and the hard work this team is doing has really paid off.

You'll want to arrive early to have a cocktail in their beautiful bar area that boasts natural light. They make a killer Martini and French 75, but I was partial to The Felicity, a Vodka cocktail with Domaine de Canton (ginger liqueur), Elderflower Liqueur, Lime Juice and Basil. It was so easy to drink and very refreshing. I actually continued sipping it with our first course, Apple and Roquefort Salad, which reminded me of a sophisticated spin on the classic Waldorf Salad. Bitter ingredients like Arugula, Frisée and Celery are married with sweet Apples, savory Walnuts and beautifully creamy Roquefort Cheese for a bit of umami. This is a thoughtfully composed salad, where every ingredient shines. It's dressed with a white balsamic vinaigrette for a nice tang of acid.
The Felicity

Apple and Roquefort Salad
It's finally starting to feel like fall, and the Butternut Squash Bisque screams autumn. It's a lovely orange hue and features Coconut Milk(!) which makes it super velvety and luscious. The heat level from the Harissa is perfect - it just warms the back of your throat - and it mingles with the coconut milk nicely. Chef finishes the soup with a drizzle of Crème Fraîche to cool things down.
Butternut Squash Bisque
The Katharine's wine game is strong. Throughout the evening, Erin Doby (General Manager and Sommelier) offered wine pairings from California and France. Erin knows what she is doing. If you have any questions about what to pair with your meal, she's got you covered. The Landmark Chardonnay from Sonoma paired nicely with these first two courses.

One of my favorite dishes of the night was the Ricotta Gnocchi - the moment it arrived at the table, I began salivating from the fragrance. Meaty Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, roasted Butternut Squash, tender Duck Confit and Arugula are tossed together in a fabulous Sage Brown Butter sauce. I wanted to bottle this sauce up and wear it as an Eau de Parfum. It was so freaking delicious. The gnocchi was tender yet hearty, and every ingredient maintained its integrity in this dish. Really satisfying.
Ricotta Gnocchi
While The Katharine is definitely able to satisfy my inner glutton, don't worry - if you're vegan, they've got you. I was really impressed with the Cauliflower "Couscous". The sweet and tangy Tomato Sauce is thickened with Cauliflower (not cheese!) and spiced with Harissa. I would never know this dish didn't have Parmesan. Haricot Verts cooked al dente and Almonds provide a nice crunch, and while I wasn't expecting it to be, this dish was every bit as satisfying as the previous. I also was shocked to discover that a Pinot Noir and Cab Franc Rosé was hearty enough to stand up to both of these dishes! I'm telling you, the Som knows her stuff.
Cauliflower "Couscous"
Chef Barnett sautées some of the finest Salmon I've ever had. Every rendition I've had at The Katherine has been sensational, but this might be my favorite so far. The Salmon is thick and cooked perfectly with a deliciously crispy crust. It rests on a Leek and Celery Root purée with Potatoes and a Crème Fraîche Mustard Beurre Blanc sauce. The pop from the mustard seeds gives nice acid and texture, and the award for best supporting ingredient goes to that fabulous leek and celery root puree. It's nice and bitter and cuts through the richness of the fish and the sauce. I would eat this every day for the rest of my life. I was also obsessing over the Santenay Terre d'Enfrance Burgundy wine that was paired with this!
Sauteed Salmon with Mustard Beurre Blanc
I was so excited when a beautiful, thick, cooked to perfection Coriander Crusted Duck Breast was placed in front of me. For carnivores, this was the star of the show, and such a nice change from your typical steak. The coriander crust provided a nice slight crunch and flavor burst, and is a nod to the old-school Duck à l'orange, but with a highly modernized spin. It sat atop tender Cabbage, Potatoes and Shiitake Mushrooms, and finished with a lovely Orange-Coriander sauce.
Coriander Crusted Duck Breast
The grand finale was the Crème Brûlée. Now let me tell you: I have had Crème Brûlée before, many, many times. But not like this. I swear there was something special in the custard, but Chef assured me it was just high-quality ingredients and proper technique. The crazy strong vanilla flavor in that creamy custard, topped with that crackling burnt sugar - it was out of this world. We even got two Brown Sugar Sablé Cookies to go along with it! I couldn't stop eating it. It was irresistible.
Creme Brulee
The thought and care that went into devising this menu and preparing the food is evident. 7 courses and 0 complaints. Chef Barnett has some rock star sous chefs who were able to take his vision and execute it perfectly. If you haven't been to The Katharine (or if you haven't been since it opened), it is so worth a trip. I'll be back in 2 weeks to celebrate my mom's birthday - it's that fantastic. Run, don't walk, to check this place out.