Friday, June 29, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Trotsky

The Trotsky (2009)
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Colm Feore

A Canadian film dipping into the well of Canadian talent, The Trotsky employs the upstart Jay Baruchel as Leon Bronstein, a child of privelege, who decides he is the reincartnation of Leon Trotsky (whose last name was, incidentally, originally Bronstein). He beings by rebelling against his father's own company and then when he moves to a public school, moves to form a union giving the students a voice. In his journey, he encounters a powerful pricipal and his sidekick, meets an older woman he assumes must be his wife-to-be (as she has the name and approximate age difference as Trotsky's wife) and a group of students who he has to get on his side.

The movie centres around the struggle between apathy and boredom amongst teenagers. Bronstein believes they are apathetic and just need provoking and the principal believes they just don't care. Using the Trotsky plotline as a vehicle for this is an interesting idea, but carrying the two plots at times proves too much an undertaking and each story suffers a bit as a result. The love plot develops too quickly and is frankly a little hard to fathom (17/27 is a strange age gap no matter which gender is in which role). Not to say it wasn't interesting, I learned a bit about Trotsky along the way and enjoyed how the character felt the need to force the pieces into place. It just felt like each piece had to be hurried along to fit it into the span of the movie.

Without Baruchel, who I personally feel is proving he can hold his own as a strong supporting actor and the occasional lead role, and Feore, whose veteran acting presence is felt in anything he does; this movie would certainly not rise above the status of made-for-tv. However, they made it a viable movie and filled the holes in the plotline enough for me to give it a 6.75/10. I feel like a 7/10 is approaching 'great' and it's just not quite there, but close.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Orphanage

The Orphanage (2007 Spanish w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo

The opening scene shows Laura, an orphan at an orphanage, being adopted. Years later, she returns to the orphanage with her husband and son Simon. Before long, Simon develops invisible friends and spends much of his time playing with them. A worker named Benigna visits them and reports that Simon is HIV-positive. After a fight, Simon disappears and Laura unearths the truth about what happened at the orphanage after she left so many years ago and how Benigna and Simon's 'invisible' friends are involved. Laura can only connect with the past when she acts out thigns from her time at the orphanage.
This movie was directed by critically-acclaimed Guillermo del Toro. I personally prefer Pan's Labyrinth, but I guess he didn't write this one and thus only his style was infused. I found the story a bit disjointed and it didn't have the creeping effect that I had hoped it would. It was a well-shot movie and the acting was decent, I suppose, though I did lose a little in translation, perhaps. I should say, I think some of the suspense may not have carried over as much. I did enjoy the storyline of the boy who was nearing death being able to see the dead and his parents thinking they were just invisible. It is a twist on the traditional 'only kids can see the evil/dead/monster' theme.

It was certainly not without enjoyment or suspense, but it didn't quite live up to what I thought it could be (not that I could put my finger on exactly what was missing). I will give it a 7/10.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Random Movie Review: Headhunters (Hodejegerne)

Headhunters (Hodejegerne) (2011 Danish w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Ansel Hennie, Nikolai Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund

I went to see this movie with my dad, because we used to go to movies every month or two when I lived in Toronto, but we don't get the chance as often these days. I had a day off work and he was heading down, so I thought I'd check out the one theatre that plays independent and foreign films here and see what was playing.

I'm sure glad I did, as I'm not sure I ever would've found this movie otherwise. Roger Brown(Hennie) is at the top of his game as a headhunter, but he feels it isn't enough to keep his wife Diana interested. He turns to stealing art to fund the life he thinks she wants. He eventually gets caught in an elaborate trap when he denies a man a job and attempts to steal an expensive piece of art from him. The plot thickens as you begin to wonder who all is involved with the conspiracy and who are the 'innocent' parties.

The main actor reminded me veery much of Steve Buscemi. He has a somewhat similar look (if not so bug-eyed) and at least in this role, acted with similar style. The antagonist (Clas Greve, played by Coster-Waldau) and the women in the movie have that Nordic beauty to them that I personally find alluring.

I don't get to the movies all that often these days, I usually end up watching them on my computer or at least on dvd, especially these types as I am the lone member of my house that likes them and that seems like a waste of money. It was an enjoyable, refreshing experience and the 8/10 I am giving it probably owes at least a half point to that experience.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Random Movie Review: Love and Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs (2010)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Judy Greer

I've had a pretty good streak of movies to start this off, but oh boy does that end with this one. Usually I don't mind Jake Gyllenhaal, but his middle of the road acting was offset by the always terrible Anna Hathaway. There was a point, much like the hated-by-me Gwyneth Paltrow, where Anne Hathaway looked like she might be a promising young actress. Then, over time, she just flat-lined and that was that. I don't know if it was when she disrobed her t-shirt in Brokeback Mountain and set into motion her career of being topless, or if it was just that she was just never as good as she appeared.

You know a movie is going to be trouble when the opening credits plays the song 'Two Princes' and within 5 minutes, it has 'Macarena' (unfortunately, also later has 'Jackass', which I like)The movie is based around a womanizer who is not as successful as his brother or parents. His brother sets him up a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep and his life changes when he meets a female patient (Hathaway) in a doctor's office. I find her unbelievable as the sickly patient and she seems to overdo it in almost every way. The brother is a b-rate version of the fat Jonah Hill and comes off as such. The bright spots of the movie are the loveable Judy Greer as the secretary at the doctor's office and Oliver Platt as Gyllenhaal's co-worker. I wish there were more Greer, because she is waaay more likeable than Hathaway. I mean, she spent most of the movie naked and it wasn't even remotely enjoyable.

I was hoping it might be an enjoyable rom-com, but instead it just dragged along and I was happy when it was over. I'll give this one a 4/10

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Churros

In honour of all the movies I've been reviewing, I am going to officially call this recipe Benicio del Churros


Oil for frying (make 1 inch deep)
1/2 cup Water
1/4 cup Vegan Margarine
1/2 cup Flour
1 Egg Replacer
dash Sugar
dash Salt
Sugar + Cinnamon for topping 

Heat oil in a large, deep pan on medium-high (bring to 375F or so...if you let it heat on med-high while following the rest of the directions, you should be good)

Bring water and margarine to a low boil. Stir in flour, salt and sugar and mix into a ball. Remove from heat and stir in egg replacer. Pour mixture into a piping bag or piping tool (used for icing) with a large star or circle tip. Pipe long pieces into the oil and fry each side for 1-2 minutes. Remove from pan, shake off excess oil and toss with cinnamon and sugar. Enjoy while warm!

A Record a Week: Na Caileagan - Aireamh 2 (The Highland Lassies Volume 2)



Two things off the bat. I can't pronounce any of the names of the songs; I am not capable of judging this style of music at all.

This is really my first exploration of this style in any way. I've heard Celtic music of varying types and Scottish bagpipes, but never this style. It sort of reminded me of opera, in a way that I could tell songs that had a sad (minor) tone to them and the ones that were happier, but not the specifics of what they were about. The music is beautiful in the same way as opera as well. Choir-style music always has a haunting beauty that I enjoy, even if it's not a style of music I particularly seek out.

This almost certainly was from the well of records I received from my Scottish stepfather, so I will have to dig a little deeper with him when I seem him next weekend.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Random Movie Review: Rear Window

Rear Window (1954)
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly

I was a little dismayed to find out that there was a remake of this movie with Christopher Reeve and Daryl Hannah. I guess the wave of rehashing old ideas started a while ago. Hopefully this means that this won't be on the long list of movies that they seem to drag out of the grave and beat to death. Even worse, it appears the Reeve version was post-accident and he lives in a house decked out with paralysis assistance. This means they were trying to find roles for him and thought they'd butcher a classic in the process. No disrespect to Reeve or his accident, but couldn't they just have done an original story instead of jamming his disability into this role?

But I digress. The original film, which is the one I watched, is quite good. Grace Kelly does a great job as the airy girlfriend who not only becomes interested in what is happening, but gets herself heavily involved. Stewart's character is a photographer known for getting the close-ups and daring shots that has broken his leg during a shoot and ends up holed up in a wheelchair with nothing to do but watch the world from his rear window. After watching a couple argue, he notices the wife is gone and a series of bizarre events leads him to believe he's killed her. He can't convince his detective friend and decides he needs some hard evidence to do so. When he sends his maid and girlfriend over to check it out, calamity occurs.

Hitchcock was long the master of suspense and this movie had a whole new technique. To have a movie shot almost entirely from the perspective of the window leads to characters moving in and out of screen as opposed to screen following them, as is the restrictions of watching anything from a window. The result is that L.B. 'Jeff' Jefferies (Stewart) only has the pieces of information he can gather from the shared yard and the rooms with the rear windows in the opposite apartment. He has to wildly extrapolate with that information and when his assumptions turn out to be truthful, he is left caught in his own apartment.

I enjoy the fact the camera rarely turns in on the apartment and never into any of the other apartments. It keeps the focus on the scenes unfolding in the opposing apartments.

It would have been interesting to be around in a time when cinematic techniques like this were being discovered. I guess we are watching the entire digital effects era turning over now, but these earlier accomplishments seem to involve much more creative prowess. Maybe I'm just generational-ly cynical.

Anyhow, this movie isn't perfect, but it is terrific. I will give it an 8.5/10

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Random Movie Review: Straw Dogs

Straw Dogs (1971)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan

I watched this one back-to-back with Mysterious Skin and I think it was a bit of an overdose on terror/suspense involving the rape vehicle.

This movie details two Americans who move to a town in England and face a group of locals who are bent on terrorizing them. At first it seems harmless, but it escalates quickly and  turns murderous (to say the least). Hoffman does a great job as the too-passive man that turns aggressive when the situation calls for it.  Out of all the Hoffman movies I have seen, this one ranks high if not highest of them. The supporting cast does a good job portraying a gang that is basically like a Clockwork Orange Lite.

On another note, isn't the name 'Peckinpah' the best last name? I sure think so. This is probably also the best of his work, now that I think about it.

This was from the era of story over effects and it is nice to see. I'll rate it a 7.5/10.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Random Movie Review: Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin (2004)
Starring: Joseph  Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg, Elizabeth Shue

Well, if you've seen Gordon-Levitt in 3rd Rock From the Sun or Inception, then this will be a bit of a shock. Well, maybe not a shock, since he's an actor after all, but let's call it a change of pace. Neil (Gordon-Levitt) is a hardened male prostitute who was sexually assaulted by his childhood baseball coach. Brian is an outcast who is obsessed with a lost period of time from his youth that he believes was an alien abduction. Brian seeks out Neil, who was on his little league team and whom he believes was involved in the abduction, only to uncover the truth of what happened to the two of them when they were younger. Neil's life is entirely laid out from his experience and he is left scarred and emotionally hollow. He takes increasing risks with his life and it leads him into a dangerous situation.

It was uncomfortable to watch, but the movie was bold and well done. I can't even imagine how people who were sexually assaulted as children survive, but this certainly takes a look at two very different paths (complete life-altering and complete repression). There are certainly other factors that are in play in both of their situations, but it is interesting to see them get to the heart of their issues and finally confront them in a raw manner years later.

I got the feeling that I had seen the movie when I started watching it, but I must have only caught 10 minutes or perhaps a long trailer. I certainly don't remember the culmination. Now that I have taken in the movie in its entirety, I will give it a 7.5/10.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Random Movie Review: Alien

Alien (1979)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto

A mining ship returning from a mission is re-routed to investigate a signal from a nearby planet. Upon arrival, they find an alien lifeform torn apart from the inside. In Searching around, the officer finds a room filled with eggs, one of which explodes and attaches to his face. They return to the ship and start heading back to earth. The creature attaches from his face, leaving him seemingly okay. Not until later, when the creature explodes from his chest do they realize there's a problem. The creature rips through the crew and long the way, they expose one of the crew as an android who has been programmed to return the ship regardless of the crew being alive or not. Ripley desposes of him and at the end is the only one left. She boards a pod and sets to return to earth, unaware of the alien being aboard with her. She kicks it out into space after a struggle, living to see the next movie (which will be reviewed at a later date).

It was interesting to re-watch this right after seeing Prometheus. Obvioiusly it was many years before and the special effects show it. However, some parts, such as the steam releasing from the helmets as they explore, I found to be interesting. I like looking at old sci-fi and seeing what they did creatively to make up for the lack of special effects technology. A lot of times it makes it seem more realistic, since it was made up mostly of things humans could actually replicate.

I'm not a big fan of Weaver, but she did a good job in this one. The story was well-written, decently tense, fairly well acted and was well set up to have a prequel, which surprisingly took 40 years to come out. I'll give it a 6.75/10

Monday, June 18, 2012

Random Movie Review: Prometheus

Prometheus (2012)
Starring: Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace

Well, this was a better go for Charlize than Snow White. The dreadful accent is gone and delivery of lines is not so drawn out, so good job director. Actually, there is one (fairly obvious to me at least) 'reveal' line she has that is a bit overstated, but I guess it can be forgiven.

Set as a prequel to the Alien series, Prometheus is named for the ship that a group sets out to discover the beginning of human life upon. I wish I had boned up on the original movies first, alas, I watched the first one the day after instead.

Some of how they arrived at the setup for Alien was done well, but some of it felt a little forced. I do find it amusing when a prequel comes out so many years later that the objects they use to tie the movies together (in this case a ship or parts therein) are technologically advanced or, obviously, look better in general. All of that stragness aside, the movie was visually stunning. I skipped the 3d, because I find it cumbersome over top of my regular eyeglasses and a bit strenuous on the eyes. Plus I was at the cheap theatre where they don't offer that option. The acting was decent, the effects were nice and the plot was interesting enough to keep me paying attention throughout.

I don't want to spoil anything, but I'll just say one thing I find amusing in general is when people in movies run away from a large item that starts a ways away from them, why do they run in the path that the item is travelling? With the distance, I would figure just evacuating the course might be the best plan.

While it certainly did not answer all of the questions about Alien, the movie stood alone as a visual piece and the story doesn't necessarily hinge on having watched the other series either. I will rate it a 7/10.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Cornmeal Biscuits

1 1/2 cups Flour
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp Cornmeal
2 tsp Baking Powder
3/4 tsp Baking Soda
3/4 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tbsp Sugar
6 tbsp Margarine (I used 4 tbsp Becel VEGAN and 2 tbsp Vegan Shortening)
3/4 cup Vegan 'Buttermilk'

Preheat oven to 400F. Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Using two knifes or pastry cutter, cut in margarine until it becomes mealy with some small chunks:

To create buttermilk, add 1 cup soy milk (or other protein-rich milk substitute) and 1 tbsp lemon juice and let stand 10 minutes. Take 3/4 cup of resulting liquid and add to flour mix, stirring until blended. Roll out dough (I had to add a dusting of extra flour to the mix to be able to roll out) until 1-inch thick. Cut out circles or whatever shape you enjoy and put on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Brush the top with extra 'buttermilk' and bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Record a Week: Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks - Last Train to Hicksville



This album started off sounding a lot like one of my new favourites, The Gourds. However, it swims through many styles in a seemingly random way. It goes through a sort alt-country beginning, then on to what sounds like Polynesian lounge music and in there somewhere is the slap-bass sounds of 70's disco-infused rock. All encompassing, I would refer to it as an eclectic version of an alt-folk or alt-country album.

Given the time of release (1973) and the Californian roots of the band, I suppose I can see why a folk/country act can end up sounding like this. At the heart of disco time and being from coastal California, those influences would certainly be there.

The name sounded familiar to me, but I feel like I might have just made the 'similar name' connection to Stevie Nicks (not at all the same).  Not sure where this record came from, but I imagine it would have fit in with any of my parental units' record collections. I really enjoyed the songs that were alt-country and alt-folk, but did get lost in some of the slap bass and slower songs. I'm going to look into some of their other work and see if I can find a cohesive album of that stuff.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Random Movie Review: Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar (2011 French with English Subtitles)
Starring: Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, Émillien Néron

This movie was another one like Turtles Can Fly, that gripped me early and kept me on hooked.

The movie begins with two children(Simon and Alice) in the schoolyard. Simon runs in to get milk for all of the kids. When he goes inside, he finds that his teacher has hung herself in the classroom. Simon runs to the office and the school is cleared, but not before Alice gets a view as well, thus the two children have an emotional tie to the death throughout the movie that the other children do not. It turns out that the death weighs heavily on Simon due to an earlier interaction and he blames himself.

The replacement teacher is a refugee from Algiers who has escaped a world of death himself. He has a distinct interest in the two children who saw the teacher and isn't able to drop the subject. The ensuing interactions leave the class in a state of turmoil and have a negative impact on the children. The parents aren't happy and the ensuing investigation opens up a lot of truths about the teacher and students.

Like Turtles Can Fly, the young girl did an excellent job creating a vibrant character. The cast of her(a Genie winner), Simon and M. Lazhar are a great group and make for an incredibly touching story. I give this movie an 8/10. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Record a Week: Grease - The Soundtrack




GREASE (Reprise)

Another alphabetical mishap, current me is slapping the me who put these records in order.

Watching the movie, it's easy to forget that it actually was released in the disco era. It's all about the rock n' roll in the film, yet the album starts off with the Barry Gibb produced title track. Listening to the record, I was confused for a minute and actually had to say to myself 'is this film more disco than I remember?'

Well no, it isn''s just that song. This album includes that song as well as all of the great songs from the movie (Greased lightnin', Summer Nights, You're the one That I Want, We Go Together) and all the ones that I had forgotten due to how banal they are (Beauty School Drop-Out, Sandy, There are Worse Things I Could Do), as well as some songs I don't remember at all from the film and one entire side done by Sha Na Na (which may or may not have appeared in the movie at that I think about it, probably in the dance-a-thon scene).

I probably have purposely watched this movie maybe twice, but have 'second-hand' seen it 100 times or so. I wasn't entirely into musicals (especially movie form) when I was younger, but I've come around on them. Also, this was a time when John Travolta wasn't as crazy as he is now. If I remember correctly, my sister watched this movie so many times the vhs tape got fuzzy. I don't think I even consciously watched it all the way through until well into the time when DVDs were a thing, probably some time when it was on tv.

Enough about the movie though, this isn't Random Movie Review. This record was a fun listen for nostalgic purposes and also because the upbeat songs are really, really fun. Those songs, while perhaps not being on my iPod, are good ones to have to play at a BBQ or a wedding or anywhere group dancing could break out at any given time.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Random Movie Review: Shame

Shame (2011)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

The first scene in this movie lays out the NC-17 rating by showing you a full-view shot of Michael's Fass-member.

The story follows Brandon (Fassbender), through his exploits as a sex-addict. He keeps a private, lonely life, which allows for his habit to exist without interference. When his sister Sissy (Mulligan) shows up, things start going awry. She stumbles upon his exploits, his work begins to suspect something and he finds himself unable to perform with a woman he actually has feelings for. Sissy also has a number of issues and the two of them together brew a perfect storm for a terrible event. In the end, it all leads to Brandon wondering if he can change his ways.

It is an interesting exploration of human flaws and how they effect various situations and relationships. Fassbender is quickly becoming the 'it' guy in Hollywood after the indie hit Fish Tank and the Tarantino hit Inglourious Basterds, he's appeared in X-Men: First Class, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, as well as this film and Prometheus (which I will review shortly).

Fassbender and Mulligan did a wonderful job in this movie. I usually am drawn to Mulligan, so I was surprised to find her off-putting in this role, but then realized that that was sort of the point and came around on her performance. However, the movie sort of doesn't go anywhere in the end and it is sort of anti-climactic (though many climaxes are shown throughout - har dee har). I will rate this a 7/10

Friday, June 8, 2012

Random Movie Review: Turtles Can Fly

Turtles Can Fly (2004 Kurdish w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Soran Ebrahim, Ajil Sabari, Avaz Latif

Wowzers, this was (as the cover notes) a powerful movie. Emotionally moving and gripping throughout the whole thing. This is the type of movie I went to see frequently in my single days living in Toronto, but see less of these days. I am sure happy I caught it, though.

The first film shot in Iraq post-Hussein era, it tells the story of the US invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein. The story, though, is not told through the US soldiers, nor the Iraqi soldiers' eyes, but instead revolves around a kid, Soran (nicknamed Satellite) and his gang of friends who disable and sell landmines. Satellite gained his nickname by helping bring news of the invasion by hooking up satellite dishes. In a town on the Turkish-Iraq border, he and his two right-hand men begin seeing a quiet armless boy and beautiful girl with a young child and becomes intrigued with them. They keep mainly to themselves, because it turns out, the armless boy is clairvoyant and can see the future. After protecting Satellite's group with some information, Satellite is set on befriending the group and appears to have a specific interest in the beautiful girl. When the main story of the war meets the critical point at which typical war movies would have their redemption/victory scene, tragedy falls upon the main group of children.

The story pulls you in quickly as you root for the nerdy Satellite, who reminds me of a lifelong family friend of mine (in appearance, mainly). The beautiful girl character strongly reminds me of a character named philothei from the novel Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernier. Philothei is a beautiful Turkish girl who is quiet and has scattered one-page monologues throughout the story and the main boy falls in love with her in a time of war and things end badly. I was gripped by that character in that novel and this cinematic character as well. As I revisit the plot of that book, I find some eerie similarities between the two. If they ever make a movie of that book, she would be the perfect girl to play that character.

Needless to say this will receive a high rating from me, I will give it an 8.75 and a strong recommendation that you check it out if you get the chance.

Random Movie Review: Cape Fear

Cape Fear (1991)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange

While I was watching this movie, I thought to myself, 'boy, De Niro and Nolte both sort of peaked with this'.

Reading through their imdbs, they have each had a few good movies since then, but De Niro has mostly gone soft and 'adult contemporary' and Nolte, he's just crazy.

This story follows a recently released rapist who follows the man who was his lawyer and his family and terrorizes them. Lesser roles contributed by Gregory Peck and Juliette Lewis (at the end and beginning of their careers, respectively). De Niro does an excellent job playing the antagonist and really gets inside of Nolte's head (or his character, rather) by interacting with his wife and daughter. The name of the movie plays a double, as they are on their houseboat at a place called 'Cape Fear' and, well, the fear part is rather obvious.

This brought to mind one of my favourite Simpsons episodes that was based on this movie. In that episode, Sideshow Bob plays the De Niro character who chases the family out of town, forcing them to relocate under the witness protection program as 'the Sampsons'. Bob, much like De Niro, straps himself to the bottom of the vehicle to follow the family. In the Simpsons, there is obviously the addition of comedy, such as the family taking a detour through a cactus field while Bob is under the car and Bob stepping on a slew of rakes right after he detaches himself. The saviour in the movie is a can of lighter fluid sprayed by Juliette Lewis onto De Niro while he lights his cigar, combined with a crash of the boat allowing the family to get away. The saviour on the Simpsons was Bart asking Bob to sing the entire score of the H.M.S. Pinafore when he realizes they will be back in Sprinfield by the time that is over.

While not really scary or terrorizing by today's standards, it was still a well done movie. I'll give it a 7/10, with probably .5 or 1 point of that coming from the fact it reminds me of that lovely Simpsons episode.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Random Movie Review: Like Water for Chocolate

Like Water For Chocolate (1992 Spanish w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Marco Leonardi, Lumi Cavazos, Regina Torne

Set in Mexico in the early 20th century, Like Water for Chocolate is an erotic tale about a boy who falls in love with a girl whose mother will not allow her to marry. The mother has it set out that it is her duty as the youngest to care for her mother until her death.

In what feels like a Shakespearean move, the boy marries the girls older sister just to be close to her. In what also feels very much like Shakespeare, many mishaps happen leading to a tragedy soon after the inevitable culmination of their love. Tita wins the heart of the boy through the seduction of cooking and he never lets go of his desire. The sexual tension is the forefront of the movie, but there is an underlayer of guilt that is explored as well. The guilt of the child that wants to break loose from their parents' rules, but simultaneously feels guilty doing so. In this case it's the daughter being tethered to her mother's care, but has been explored many different ways over time.

Sometimes it is hard to get a sense of the acting when you watch a movie in subtitles, but I feel like the actors did a wonderful job of creating that sexual tension and it at least didn't translate as stale or badly acted in any way. This movie holds up well and would be heaven for any teenage boy (which I would have been around its release). I'll give it a 7/10.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Random Movie Review: Blade Runner - Director's Cut

Blade Runner - Director's Cut (1982 Original 1992 Director's Cut)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos

One of two things need to happen in relation to 'futuristic' movies. Either real-life cars need to show some sign of heading towards the realm of hovering, or sci-fi/futuristic action movie writers need to make a different design of weaponry to go along with the pie-in-the-sky idea of flying cars. The two things just don't seem to line up. The idea of a world where there's life on multiple planets and cars fly doesn't coincide with chasing someone with a Smith & Wesson. I have no problem with the idea of hovering cars, I think it's a fun way to look at a future that's probably not coming. However, to think that the technology will fly right along in that way, but the desigin of the handgun will have halted forever in about 1975 seems a bit far fetched (which I guess does come in line with sci-fi). Why not just make a weird laser gun or something? It's just as conceivable as flying cars.

Anyhow. I have seen this movie before, but it's been a really long time so I thought I'd revisit it.

The story revolves around Rick Deckard (Ford), a 'blade runner' who has to find four robotic human clones that are hiding amongst humans on earth in order to kill the man who made them. The story and style seem a bit outdated, but for the most part it actually holds up fairly well 30 years down the road. Harrison Ford doesn't seem any different than he does in any of his action flicks, which is par for the course for him. Rutger Hauer does a great job as the sort of 'main nemesis' of the clones. The special effects were actually pretty good for their time, though perhaps this version has a redux with the technology of 10 years later. I found that the era of the 'film toaster' had some pretty interesting effect techniques for blending and such that are bypassed for the oft-unbelievable CGI methods of every movie these days.

It ran a bit longer than I had patience for, but I'll still give it a 7.5/10.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Random Movie Review: Snow White and The Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Starring: Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth

In short....meh.

I am usually a huge fan of Theron's, but her accent was not so hot and the lines she was given were sub-par at best. There were some lines and imagery that they were trying so hard to make symbolic that they ended up missing the mark. I know they have to have the lines like 'mirror, mirror on the wall', but the way they are drawn out made me feel uncomfortable. We all know they have to be in there, don't try to force it so much. Then there were the scenes like where Snow White bites an apple and drops it after the first bite and the camera does a ten second zoom-in. I get foreshadowing, but we all know this story and a simple pause on the scene/small focus on the apple when the characters leave would suffice.

Secondly, and probably the most discussed part of the film, in what realm is Kristen Stewart fairer than Charlize Theron? In fact, I would go as far to say that, all cast included, it would be 1. Theron, 2. Hemsworth, 3. Stewart. Couldn't they at least have a more angelic looking Snow White? Or if they'd would rather go the strong and beautiful look, something more akin to the Katniss role, that'd be fine too. How about someone like Saoirse Ronan? I just found Stewart to be believable as either the 'fairest' or heart strong or whatever. Plus, she can't seem to escape the lead-lady love triangle, or apparently the drug-eyed look. My last beef is that they took the faces of of average stature(?) and edited their faces on to little people's faces. Is it that important to have b-list celebrities in the movie that you have to do this and not just hire little people? Seems offensive or discriminating or something.

Now on to what I did enjoy. The battle scenes were quite enjoyable, the dark forest scenes were interesting and the enchanted land of the dwarfs(I cringe at the term) was beautiful and visually stunning. The special effects were typical of summer movies, that is to say, paired with action, usually the focal point.

The visual effects mixed with a portion of #2 on my celebrity exception list do float this movie up a bit in my books. Also, I have enjoyed anything I have seen any Hemsworth in so far. I'll give this a 6.5/10.  (I'd stretch to 6.75 even)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Random Movie Review: Annie Hall

Annie Hall (1977)
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts

Largely considered to be Allen's jump into the upper tier of comedic film directors. One scene(maybe more than one, I don't remember) feature a young Christopher Walken, who was, according to IMDB, billed as Christopher Wlaken). It's funny, because 50 years hasn't changed him one bit. He still talks the same and seemingly acts exactly the same in every role. Yet, many of us still love him (myself included). Another thing I found amusing is that When Alvy and Annie go to the movie theatre, the poster (and movie they're trying to see, I believe) is Persona, by Ingmar Bergman, director of Friday's movie Cries & Whispers.

I'm not an expert on movies from this era, but I'd guess it's one of the first to use the device of swimming between the scene and monologue for comedic effect. It's something he has ridden throughout his movie career. As with many of his films, this is loaded with sexual indulgence and self-loathing. A mostly auto-biographical career, from my understanding. It's a well he continues to tap, even though he has passedon his leading-role status to various actors (and maybe landed on an appropriate one in Owen Wilson).

I have a soft spot for Woody Allen films and it's nice to take a look at the one that got the ball rolling for him. I will give it a 7.5/10

Sunday Brunch: Baked Donuts

Adapted from a King Arthur Flour donut recipe.

1 cup Flour, minus a heaping tablespoon
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
2 tbsp Soy Buttermilk (1 cup Soy Milk w/ 1 tbsp Lemon Juice, left out for 5 minutes...take 2 tbsp of the result)
3 tbsp Vegetable Oil
2 Egg Replacers (I use Ener-G, as usual)

Preheat Oven to 375F. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a measuring cup or small bowl, mix wet ingredients and fold into dry mix. DO NOT OVERMIX! Spoon batter into greased muffin tin or donut pan. Bake for 11 minutes or until lightly golden.

Optional - drizzle with chocolate sauce (as pictured)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Record a Week: Lesley Gore - The Golden Hits of Lesley Gore



Before listening to this record I had NO idea that It's My Party and Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows were by the same person. Perhaps my knowledge of early 60's pop music is a little bit limited. No, that's definitely it. I always get angry when I notice that a record is out of alphabetical order, but I also don't want to leave any here I am revisiting a 'G' title that was living amongst the 'H's.

You know the record label has limited confidence in the continuance of an artist's career if their 'Golden Hits' album comes out two years in. Perhaps this was to capitalize on the chart success while they could, that certainly seems like a thing that record labels did at the time. Also amusing, the jacket lists the mailing address for the Lesley Gore Fan Club. I wonder if a letter would be returned, or perhaps even acknowledged if sent there now? This sounds like a fun experiment. I will update if I ever get around to that.

Now down to the songs. They are typical pop formula songs, and they're done well. You have upbeat songs and songs of poppy sorrow, all containing similar lyrics. It's as if the lyrics were all written and then just plugged in. Why should the music behind 'it's my party and I'll cry if I want to' be any different than, say 'just let me cry'. In fact, most of the titles or themes of the album revolve around crying, loss, being a loser or a fool. All themes covered by most of the jukebox pop of that time period. It's My Party has lived on to this day (though not many people I know could tell you it was written by Gore) and Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows is known at the very least for being played in the Simpsons, both accidentally by Marge and Ruth, and purposefully by Homer and Chief Wiggum in the Thelma and Louise-themed episode.

I enjoyed this album. Not one I would necessarily seek out, but I would certainly be happy to hear a song or two come on the jukebox while I was getting a soda-pop at the beach in the summer.

EDIT: I received an email notifying me that the address on the back of the LP is no longer valid, but there is a fan club at

Friday, June 1, 2012

Random Movie Review: Cries & Whispers

Cries & Whispers (1972 - Swedish w/English subtitles)

Starring: Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin

I have to admit, when this movie got going, I thought it was going to be one of those foreign stylistic movies that are good in their own right, but outside of my realm of comprehension. However, once the story gets going, I was hooked in. Don't get me wrong, there was PLENTY of stylization, but the dialogue took a while to get going and I thought it would be more like one of those indie art films that they poke fun at on Simpsons or Family Guy, where you have to figure out what the director is trying to say from a series of disconnected scenes.

The movie is set in Sweden in the early 20th Century and revolves around a woman dying of cancer, her caretaker and her two sisters. The story swims through flashbacks of all of the womens' sinister pasts, which starts to explain the discordance of their present. One of the most powerful devices in the film is the backdrop of the house. The house is the setting for many of the scenes, both past and present, and the walls of the room are painted a bold red, as well as red carpeting and decor. This atmosphere really sets the tone of death, anger and regret; themes frequently visited throughout the story. There are also two very powerful scenes involving the dying/deceased woman. One where she goes into a convulsion/screaming fit not long before she dies, and one where she is speaking to the women posthumously and the sisters won't have anything to do with her. The convulsion one spoke loudly to me, as it was something I witnessed with my mother. I have read that this is not an abnormal thing to happen when someone is dying, which makes sense because really, who wouldn't scream about that? The posthumous scene is one that sums up everything the sisters feel throughout the movie and that they haven't gotten past anything at all.

The tension built in this movie had a lot of impact, while managing to be only minimally uncomfortable, save for a couple of scenes. As I said before, it took a while to get going and also there was one really bizarre flashback scene, but it was otherwise really good. I give it a 8/10.