Friday, July 15, 2022


Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Running Time: 2 hours, 39 minutes
Rating: PG-13

If you know me, you know I'm a bit of an Elvis fanatic. He was my first crush, my first introduction to "movie musicals" and I still turn up his jams from time to time. I had very high hopes when I heard that one of my favorite directors, Baz Luhrmann, had attached himself to the new "Elvis" movie. I was also super into the casting of Austin Butler (who I've loved since the awful and short-lived "The Carrie Diaries" back in 2013). Let's go ahead and give the man the Oscar. I dare you to disagree with me. He was SPECTACULAR. Honestly, if he decided to go out on tour as Elvis, I would pay good money to see that show. For the most part, I was very pleased with the film. Did I absolutely love it? Sadly, no, but it had a pretty difficult bar to reach. But honestly, if you attach Elvis' name to anything, I'm going to watch it.

Just a few pics of me and the King over the years!

Hunk of burning love!

Can't help falling in love!

Paying my respects.

Luhrmann's signature directing style is a bit over the top (see "Moulin Rouge!", "Romeo + Juliet") so I expected nothing less here. However, I wish he had shown a bit more restraint in the first 30 minutes. I felt the editing and cinematography were all over the place, jumping back and forth from Elvis' childhood to later years, with manic close-ups and zoom shots. At times, I had to look away from the screen to prevent being disoriented. The film eventually finds its footing and calms down a bit, allowing me to focus more on the story and performances.

It's clear that Luhrmann presents Colonel Tom Parker as the antagonist, and it's a pretty unbiased opinion that he and he alone caused Elvis' demise. Tom Hanks brilliantly portrays this nefarious character because every time he came on screen, I cringed. This character is a dispicable human, taking advantage of Elvis' naiveté in his youth, and introducing him to uppers to keep him up, and downers to keep him down in his later years. I'm not entirely sure how accurate this is, but its nice to have someone to blame for the downfall of such an influential and incredible artist.

The film touches only briefly on his successful-turned-flailing film career, and it doesn't give hardly any attention to the many, many affairs he had with co-stars, particularly his infamous affair with Ann-Margret during the filming of "Viva Las Vegas". The film does shine a light on his passion for gospel music, and the influence that many Black artists had on him. It would be impossible to include every interesting facet about this man's life in a film under 3 hours, but they managed to squeeze in a lot.

I appreciated the few scenes that felt like an actual concert - Butler's embodiment of Presley is other-wordly - and I admit I got emotional at the end, seeing brief footage of the real Elvis, and his unfortunate, long fall from grace. Fans will be covered in chills seeing these clips, and I would have loved to see more. Whether or not you're an Elvis fanatic like me, this is an entertaining movie for sure. Just give it a minute to find its footing and welcome Austin Butler as a household name.

Friday, July 8, 2022

a'Verde Cocina

Viewers of the show "Top Chef" might recall a fan favorite contestant from a few seasons ago by the name of Katsuji Tanabe. His previous venture into the restaurant scene in downtown Raleigh was sadly shattered by Covid, but he is back - with a vengence. a'Verde Cocina opened in Cary this spring, and I had been terribly eager to try it out. I have nothing but excellent words to say about every morsel of food, the atmosphere and decor, and the service. I loved everything about the restaurant's style and vibe, including the surprises in the bathroom (you'll have to check it out for yourself). I even appreciated that they bring over a water pitcher for every table - each dish has a bit of spice, so people are chugging water and those glasses go empty, FAST. I will most certainly be back to a'Verde Cocina, and on a regular basis.

Cocktails are unique (and strong, from what my dining partner tells me). I opted for a mocktail of their "Like, Literally" drink featuring Peach Nectar, Lime, Meyer Lemon, Agave, Jalapeno and "like, literally a bunch of" Cilantro. It was as if they concocted this specifically for my palate. Spicy, herbaceous, sweet - I look forward to returning when I can taste the salty tequila notes.

While your instinct is to order the Chips and Salsa (and you should, the housemade Creamy Chipotle Salsa was nice and smoky and spicy), you also should order the Freshly Baked Grandma's Cornbread with Honey Truffle Butter. I am certainly a sucker for ANYTHING truffle, but the cornbread is solid enough to stand alone. It's moist, sweet and loaded with real corn. What I thought was shaved butter on top turned out to be Cotija Cheese - even better. You'll have leftovers of this, which is great heated up for breakfast the next day.

What appears to be an unassuming Shrimp Quesadilla turned out to be one of the best my dining partner and I have ever had, and most of the credit goes to the crispy Chihuahua Cheese on the outside. Upon first glance, it looked like the tortilla had been cooked a touch too long, but no - this is deliciously salty, crispy cheese, people! Spicy Roasted Salsa and fresh Pico De Gallo accompany, and it's drizzled with a cooling Mexican Crema. We loved it.

A'Verde's Cochinita Pibil features a crazy tender Pork Shank that's been braised in Miso, Achiote and Sour Orange and is accompanied by Pickled Onions, Refried Black Beans and Blue Corn Tortillas. The sauce is out of this world (I regret not having a spoon to gather more for each bite). While this dish encourages you to build-your-own tacos, I enjoyed scraping the meat through the sauce and going directly to the face with it. The pickled onions were a surprisingly nice acidity for someone who does not like onions, and the refried black beans were, dare I say it, the star of the show. Everything was sprinkled with salty Cotija Cheese.

To satisfy my sweet tooth, I opted for the Ube Flan - ube is having a major moment right now (especialy if you're a regular at Trader Joe's) - and the stunning purple hue allowed me to feast with my eyes before tasting. I loved the coconut and vanilla flavor that the purple yam imparts, more than the texture of the flan itself. Fresh Blueberries and dollops of Whipped Cream are a nice addition. This is large enough to share, and if you LOVE flan, you will certainly love this.

I can't wait to go back to a'Verde to try more of their unique, whimsical dishes. The Truffle Mushroom Tacos, Street Charred Corn and Breakfast Cereal Tres Leches have my name all over them.