Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Rob reviews "Dans Paris"

Today I watched Dans Paris (allow me to translate for you "Inside Paris") starring Romain Duris, and Monsieur Duris is the reason I checked this out from Netflix.  Duris was the titular "Heartbreaker" in that movie starring Vanessa Paradis, and during the moments I was able to take my eyes off her -- well, I couldn't take my eyes off her, but during the moments she wasn't onscreen I noticed that Duris was a pretty good actor too.  I've seen him in several other movies "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" "Moliere" "Paris" "Russian Dolls" and pretty much anything else of his I could track down.  The London Guardian says " He does have a completely transformative smile, capable of changing his face in the flick of a lip: from sexy to silly, brooding to buffoonish."  And I agree.  Romain Duris joins William Powell as the only male actors who I will watch in anything.
Here he plays Paul, a man suicidally depressed after his girlfriend breaks up with him.  Why they broke up I am not sure.  French people break up some times for reasons that don't translate well.  Suffice it to say that he was not easy to live and she was only slightly easier than him.  He seemed a little depressed before they broke up actually, as in the scene where she nudges him with the car to try to get him to get in and he lies down in front of the car.  I can certainly understand his being depressed.  Joana Preiss is not a classic beauty but she is certainly sexy as she dances unselfconsciously here.

He heads home to Dad and little brother Jonathan (Louis Garrel) intending to wallow in self-pity, and maybe work enough gumption to kill himself, but they have other plans.  They know he's in trouble cuz he lays around the house all day in his underwear listening to Kim Wilde's "Cambodia" (without a doubt the saddest 80's synth-pop song ever).  Actually the whole family is still dealing with the fallout from the suicide of only daughter (sister) Claire several years previously.  Dad fixates on everyday chores -- making soup, buying a Christmas tree. etc.  Jonathan tries to help Paul; he makes a deal with his older brother that if can make it to Le Bon Marche in 20 minutes, Paul will put on his pants and meet him there.  It ends up taking him seven hours but only because he runs into an old girlfriend (Alice Bataud) and makes two new girlfriends on the way.  Naturally he has sex with all three.  This definitely seems like the healthiest way to deal with depression.
Near the end this movie contains one of the most amazing scenes I've ever seen, as this rather dark comedy turns into a musical when Paul calls his ex and they sing to each other.  Don't roll your eyes, it works.  I would include it here but you really need to see the whole movie to see why this works.
I'll give this movie 4 out of five stars -- docked one star because Vanessa Paradis is not in it.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Rob's restaurant reviews: Chick Fil-A

I love Chick Fil-A.  It is about the only fast food chain I patronize.  (Five Guys isn't fast food, is it?)

You can get a grilled chicken breast on a whole wheat bun, which is a nice healthy option and my usual entree.  I can also count on them to have some great unsweetened iced tea too.  Unsweetened iced tea is not an option at most places, and if they do offer it you can bet it's been sitting around getting funky for days.  But it's always fresh at Chick Fil-A.  They even have lemon slices to go with it.
So no complaints about the food, but that doesn't mean I don't have complaints.  Their motto (or slogan or whatever you call it) "We didn't invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich" bothers me in several ways.  First I don't believe it.  It's been three hundred years since the Earl of Sandwich gave the two-slice comestible its current title, and of course people have been eating sandwiches for thousands of years before that, they just didn't know what to call it.  Does it really seem likely that in all that time nobody thought to put a piece of chicken between two pieces of bread until some Georgia cracker in 1946?
And second, it's kind of patronizing, is it not?  Do they think we really might believe that Chick Fil-A invented chickens?  I mean, come on, chickens have been around for longer even than sandwiches.  That is not an urban legend that is crying out to be debunked.  "Oh, you poor lunkhead customers of ours, we did not invent chickens."
And okay, even if he did invent the chicken sandwich, there's a saying on the wall of most Chick Fil-A's that just makes me shake my head every time I see it:
Not exactly poetry, is it?  You have to eat so you might as well eat food that tastes good.  Wow, thanks, Mr Cathay, I was going to eat this pile of dog doo till you said that and made me think.  You're pretty smart.  Are you sure you didn't invent the chicken?
One more complaint. I always know when it's Sunday even without any other clues cuz that';s the day I crave Chick- Fil-A.  And it's the day they're closed.  I understand the Sabbath day stuff, but can't we compromise?  Have some Jews or Muslims or atheist teenagers run the place on Sunday   I mean, food is essential to life on Sunday too, is it not?

Rob's Reviews "Helena From the Wedding."

If they ever decide to teach a course in how to make a movie Robert Loy hates, the students will do well to study this turkey.  3 or 4 couples get together, they are all whiny and self-absorbed, and are all either having an affair, trying to have an affair, or dealing with the repercussions from the affair they just had.  Nobody really likes any of their "friends" (and who can blame them?)  Throw in a pointless fake British accent from Gillian Jacobs that fades in and out like an AM radio station at night, and an ending where two people who have a lot they need to talk about say absolutely in the climactic scene -- if a movie where nothing happens can be said to have a climax.  Ostensibly this is because they're too emotionally overwhelmed for words, but it feels like the writer and director were just lazy and wanted us to do their work for them.  (Most egregious example of this I can think of is "Lost in Translation"; they can study that one in this class too.)
Speaking of Gillian Jacobs, she is not pretty.  I don't care what anybody at Greendale Community College thinks.  I did watch some of the extras on this DVD just to see if the cast said all the usual "I just loved the script, it was so intelligent and different" and they did, with a straight face, which means they saved all their best acting for the extras reel.  Jacobs added that what she loved about her character was that she was an enigma.  That girl needs a dictionary, "enigma" does not mean "half-baked character from lazy writers."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rob's Reviews "Home"

I watch a lot of French movies these days and not just because I've fallen hopelessly in love with Vanessa Paradis. Even though I've seen some English-speaking movies lately that I've really enjoyed ("Bridesmaids" was hilarious, Paul Giamatti was great (as always) in "Win Win" and I actually went to the theater and saw "Moneyball" and was not disappointed) the general level of quality in French films seems to be higher -- maybe because the real dindes don't make it to our shores.
Yesterday I watched "Home" which was about a very happy family that lived an isolated existence right beside an abandoned highway.Their idyllic lifestyle is ruined when they open that stretch of highway for traffic again.  In a matter of hours there's no way for the kids to cross the street to go to school without risking their lives and they have to go way out of their way and use a tunnel even though it's "full of creepies" according to youngest daughter Marion.  The poor cat, who's probably never seen a car is strangling himself tied to the clothesline pole.  And everybody starts to go a little crazy.

All Judith the oldest daughter ever wanted to do was sunbathe, chain smoke and listen to horrible French death metal music. Hard to do when truck drivers are honking at you every few seconds. Marion counts cars and is convinced that every mosquito bite is a cancerous lesion. The youngest kid, a boy, goes into a depression cuz the few friends he had around there all had sense enough to move. Mom may suffer the worst but she's the reason they can't leave. There's something unsaid wrong about her and this is the "only place she feels well". Dad tries to keep it all together but eventually his efforts to save his family end up endangering every one of their lives.
This light-hearted movie took a real dark turn toward the end but never lost his appeal. I thought it had some interesting things to say about home, how we get attached to places and also just how far we will go to take care of the ones we love.
My only complaint is that Vanessa Paradis was not in it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Meanderings about math and music

I can't remember where I heard it -- probably on "Radiolab" the podcast that blows my mind every time I listen to it -- and I probably misinterpreted it anyway; but I sorta remember some mathematician somewhere saying there's really no such as random numbers -- or maybe no such thing as a random number generator. Anyway, I contend there's no such thing as random shuffle on an Ipod. Most of the time when I have mine on shuffle I don't really think about any underlying theme to the supposedly-random songs, but the other night I was driving and a song from the Monkees came on ("What am I Doing Hanging Round?")
followed by Eddy Raven's "I've Got Mexico."
I've got like 1600 songs on my Ipod. What are the odds that a song about a man who left Mexico and lost a girl would be followed by a song about a man who lost a girl and moved to Mexico? I was anxious to see what the next song would be, and it turned out to be Steve Earle's "Guitar Town" which has nothing to do with Mexico (although it does reference Texas and "San Antone" neighbors of Mexico. I got home before it could start another song but I'm sure it would have been Johnny Rodriguez's "Riding My Thumb to Mexico".
Unless of course the Ipod realized that I was onto this little game it was playing to amuse itself. I believe this is called the Observer Effect but I could be wrong and I'm willing to bet that I am. Today I got in the car, first song up was "Ragged as the Road" by Reckless Kelly,
and #2 was "Going Mobile" from the Who. And I thought to myself -- I might have even said it out loud -- "oh, so we're doing road songs, eh?" But then the next song was the mega-depressing Christmas song "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Dan Fogelberg, by no means a road song -- unless, and this just occurred to me, you count the road the wise men traveled to give the baby Jesus those useless presents they had for him. (A few songs later when the Ipod thought I had forgotten it did try to sneak "Highway 61 Revisited" by me.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Rob's Reviews: "A Ship Made of Paper."

Scott Spencer writes about obsessive, all-consuming, damn-the-torpedoes Capital-L Love. That is why, although I recommend all of his books, he is probably never going to top "Endless Love", because that kind of love is most common to teenagers -- although most of them don't try to burn down their girlfriend's house to prove their love.
(I don't want to start talking about "Endless Love" because it's one of my favorite books ever, and I probably wouldn't get around to reviewing "Ship," but I will say this, whenever people look at me with confusion because I am unhappy that one of my favorite books is being made into a movie, well, here's a perfect example: "Endless Love" is a magnificent book, but a putrid motion picture. And more people are familiar with the film and when they think of Jade Butterfield they see Brooke Shields -- and that is a shame.)
In this book the protagonist is in his thirties, and living proof that when you chase after your heart's desire a lot of innocent people get hurt. Because of his obsession with a woman, this dude loses a girlfriend who really loves him, the love of his four-year-old stepdaughter, his house, his money, most of his law practice, the vision in one eye, and any semblance of self-respect. He also accidentally (no, really) shoots his girlfriend's husband in the throat with a bottle rocket, causing him to have a stroke. Ruined lives everywhere you look. And all for a woman whose appeal was impossible for me to see -- a woman he could never completely have, and he was okay with that. Well, as okay as this fool was about anything.
When I read "Romeo and Juliet" as a young man, I thought it was a tragedy of two star-crossed lovers whose love was too much for their narrow-minded world to contain. When I reread it now it seems like a tragedy of two knuckle-headed hormone-riddled teenagers who kill themselves rather than wait a week for their feelings to cool off. Sort of the same deal here, with David and Jade in "Endless Love" you understand those feelings -- heck, you've experienced those feelings at that age. But with the couple in "A Ship Made of Paper" you just want to shake these people and tell them to grow up.

Monday, August 22, 2011

One of the things that interests me is to go back to books I've read before and see what I underlined or highlighted. Sometimes I wonder what the heck I was thinking, and sometimes I think "Great line (or good point): I certainly am an astute reader." I picked up "Precious and Few: Pop Music in the early 70's."

It looks like I only highlighted two lines in this book when I read it a few years ago. This one I think because, even though it's about a horrible song "Seasons in the Sun," the point the Brothers Breithaupt make about it is valid and funny.

When the narrator admits to "Pa-pa" (emphasis on second syllable) in a repentant, defeated voice that he was the "black sheep of the family" you have to wonder just how much of bad seed this starfish-collecting, bird-watching, tree-climbing nature boy could have been.

This next line is about the O'Jays' "Love Train" and about how sincere people were peace, love and understanding, how sure they were that we could make a better world. ". . . not since the early 70's have statements like "form a love train" been made without irony." And I think I underlined this one for a diametrically different reason that the first one. This one made me a little sad.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

More of Rob's RomComs

The other day I watched "Elizabethtown" and it really did not do it for me. Cameron Crowe's directorial debut was "Say Anything" and he must have said everything he had to say in that movie, cuz he hasn't done anything near that level of quality since. He has chosen to work with Kate Hudson and Tom Cruise (twice!) which should tell you something about what he understands about acting. One thing I've noticed in all his films (other than "Say Anything") is that the guy has no idea how to portray genuine emotion, which is why his soundtracks are so extensive: "Here, this song will tell you what you should be feeling now."
The biggest problem with "Elizabethtown" is its 2 hour and 3 minute running time. There may be some romcoms that need that much time, but I doubt it. Let's face it, the fun of watching romantic comedies is watching these people that we know should be together try to figure it what we know. If it takes more than ninety minutes than you are just too stupid for me to care whether you find true love or not.
Kirsten Dunst's character is evidently supposed to be quirky and endearing, but she was just weird and annoying, maybe mentally ill. She had an invisible camera that she kept taking snapshots with until I wanted to strangle her with the invisible strap.
And logistically this movie made no sense at all. In just a few days the grieving widow Susan Sarandon (way too good for this celluloid turd) took auto repair, organic cooking, plumbing repair and several other classes including tap dance -- which she learned well enough to perform at her husband's memorial service. (Hey, we all have our own ways of expressing emotion, some people tap dance, Cameron Crowe plays Tom Petty records.)
Speaking of that memorial service I really don't think any band in the world would keep playing "Freebird" after the auditorium caught fire, the sprinklers came on and all the guests left.
Oh, and scattering your dad's ashes all over the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated (while U2 plays "Pride (in the Name of Love)" of fricking course) looks like it should have some meaning -- until Orlando Bloom trivializes it by scattering some more of the ashes on a rusty metal dinosaur in some forgotten roadside attraction, and you realize -- if you haven't by now -- Cameron Crowe has no idea what he's doing.
This movie ends with a long drawn-out road trip that Kirsten sends Orlando on from Kentucky to Nebraska with a series of perfectly-timed mix CDs she made for him. This would never in a million years time out right, of course. She would have been waiting for days for him to show up at that Farmer's Market in Nowhere, Nebraska if Orlando had decided to skip that one step or if he hadn't been the one that found those clues in dog books and shoes that she left for him.
Enough. There's a lot more to hate about this movie but I gotta stop somewhere. I don't want to write a completely negative review so I will say that Paula Deen does an almost credible job of playing herself.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Romcom Review "How Do You Know"

"How Do You Know" is not a great movie, not even a great romcom -- for one thing, Owen Wilson is in it. (What a talentless nudnik he is; he's also the reason I haven't seen and may never see Woody Allen's new movie "Midnight in Paris" even though it's about my favorite era -- the 20's -- and Ernest, F. Scott and Zelda are in it. But OW plays a writer in it and I'm sure they'd throw me out of the theater for booing and jeering such heinous miscasting.) And Jack Nicholson really hams it up here, leaving no scenery unchewed. Not to mention the fact that it's obvious from the very beginning where we're going, not only who the heroine will choose but who the real bad guy is behind our hero's misfortunes.
That being said, I really liked it. Saving graces include Reese Witherspoon -- who makes every movie she is 800 per cent better than it would have been without her -- and a baseball/softball backdrop. Paul Rudd's character took a while to grow on me -- he seemed a little self-absorbed, morose and insensitive at first -- but when he did I was really pulling for the guy. My wife's question when I tell her about a movie I liked is "Did you squall?" and the answer here is yes, twice. Once, when the B couple (Kathryn Hahn and Lenny Venito) got together at the hospital, that was really well done. In fact, I think it took coaching them into re-enacting it after Rudd forgets to record it that teaches our hero how to do what psychiatrist Tony Shalhoub says is the secret to happiness -- "Finding out what you want and learning how to ask for it."
(Who says romcoms aren't educational?)
I realized while I was watching this movie why I love this film genre so much. People in romantic comedies think and behave the way I think people should -- but don't -- in real life. Rudd has a choice he can either go to jail for three years for something he didn't do or he can let his no-good father, for whom he still feels an inexplicable affection go to jail for "twenty-five years to death". And he makes his decision based on whether or not he feels he has a shot with Reese Witherspoon after he gives her a jar of Play-Doh and his impassioned speech. If she doesn't throw him out on his ear, it's up the river Dad time. If she does he might as well go to jail, he's going to be miserable wherever he is anyway. That makes sense to me.
And Reese eventually chooses this unemployed, living over a bakery, under indictment schlub over a pro baseball player making 14 million dollars a year. True the ball player is a womanizer and a narcissist, and he looks like Owen Wilson but most women in the real world would stick with him. But not in romcom world, and that's why I like visiting there so often.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My 24 favorite songs

Actually, I wouldn't say these are my 24 favorite songs, but it's hard to argue with the fact that they are the songs I listen to most on my I-Pod. Some are favorites, some are surprising -- embarrassing even if I believed in guilty pleasures, but I don't; I believe in pleasures. If you like a song then enjoy it, whether it's cheesy or not.
Two caveats. One, I do not count the song that is far and away the most listened to because it's not really a song; it's some surf sounds and violins I listen to at night to drown out the tinnitus so I can go to sleep. Two, my counts were somehow wiped out a few months ago and reset, so these are only my top recent choices.
2. I Was Made For Sunny Days by the Weepies. (I'll stand by this one. I love that song. And I love the Weepies and their simple, romantic but thoughtful and tuneful songs. I also love sunny days.)
3. Don't Forget Me by Harry Nilsson (Before my wife and I went on our recent trip to Belize, we finally got around to making our wills. Hers was all about property distribution and minor child care. Mine was about what music to play at my funeral. Specifically, this song.)

BTW this song might rank even higher cuz I also listen to Neko Case's cover, which is great but nowhere near Nillson's masterpiece
4. Cornbread and Butter Beans by the Carolina Chocolate Drops (I don't even know what to tell people when they ask me what kind of music I like best. I usually just tell them real country or old-timey or I say like the The Carolina Chocolate Drops.)
5. I Walk the Line by Johnny Cash. (Absolute classic, belongs on everybody's playlist)
6. Bad Romance by Lady Gaga (For the most part Lady Gaga's appeal escapes me, particularly her wardrobe evidently picked up at Elton John's yard sale, but I like this song. Even though it makes no sense.)
7. Blame it on the Rain by Milli Vanilli (Yeah, I know this band was a sham, but whoever that is singing and playing on this track made a catchy tune.)
8. Bullet by Steel Train. (Oh yeah, now you're talking. This is my absolute favorite song to listen to driving down the road with the windows down. Steel Train is my second favorite band from the Garden State. Even though they're not on this list, Gaslight Anthem is my favorite.)
9. Yes to Booty by Elizabeth Cook.
10. I'll Drink Cheap by The Fox Hunt. (Another example of my favorite type of music. "Two Yuenglings for me, two Jaeger bombs for you; Darling, I'll drink cheap so you don't have to." Now that's gallant.)

11. Love Thy Will Be Done by Martika.
12. A Little Bit Me by the Monkees (Not sure how that got on there. Not my favorite Monkees song.)
13. Bloodbuzz by The National. (If you're not familiar with this band, do your ears a favor and get familiar with them.)
14. Dancing Barefoot by Patti Smith
15. Let's Just Fall by Reckless Kelly
16. Plundered My Soul by the Rolling Stones (The best of the recently- released outtakes from "Exile on Main Street.")
17. Could I Have This Dance by Anne Murray. (Before they play #3 at my funeral, I intend to dance with Kim to this one at our 50th wedding anniversary.)
18. Black, Brown and White by Big Bill Broonzy. (I was not familiar with Mr. Broonzy until I heard Tom Jones (Yes, that Tom Jones) talking about his desert island discs of which this was one. Thanks, Tom.)
19. White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes (I've always been a sucker for beautiful harmonies.)
20. All the Pretty Girls by fun.
21. Without You by Harry Nilsson. (The only solo artist with two songs on the top 24 -- there's a band with two coming up in a second -- does that mean he's my favorite singer?)
22. Bare Feet on the Dash by Jackson Taylor and the Sinners (Because when I'm driving down the road listening to "Bullet" with the windows down, Kim's bare feet on the dash is what I want to see.)
23. So What if we're Out of Tune (With the Rest of the World)? by Marah.
24. My Heart is the Bums on the Street by Marah. (Criminally underrated band. Search for them on Youtube and you get mostly misspelled Mariah Carey. Before my I-Pod counters got reset I am sure that Marah's "Angels of Destruction" was the song I listened to most.)
25. Kerosene by Miranda Lambert.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Two Movies Today

One category of movie I've been using as a romcom palate cleanser are movies that I always felt like I should have seen but never actually got around to.
Most of them are movies that I've avoided because I didn't think I like them -- I recently watched "Midnight Cowboy" for the first time; I hadn't watched it before because I thought it would be bleak and dark and depressing. It actually turned out to be even worse than I thought -- not only was it bleak and dark and depressing, but Jon Voight's character of Joe Buck was so broadly drawn that he could have fit right into a Snuffy Smith comic strip, I mean, just ridiculous. It was interesting to me cause I couldn't figure out how anybody stayed awake long enough to give this thing an X rating, and because it might be the original bromance, but other than that not much to recommend it.
And there are movies that just slip through the cracks. "The Last of Sheila" which I also saw recently. This originally came out at the one time in my life when I actually saw most movies that came out in the theaters, but somehow I missed this one. I really liked it even though Raquel Welch is in trying to act, one of those mysteries that once it's all explained you want to go back and watch it again just so can kick yourself for missing all those obvious clues.
But I digress. Today's first movie was "Shaft" which must be an important film because In 2000 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Maybe, but it was really just a typical detective story, and could have played out much the same with a white detective (minus all the "jive" and "soul brother" talk) In fact, it was originally conceived with a caucasian lead but after the success of "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" they darkened it up. ("Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song", BTW, had the record for most consecutive esses in a movie title word until 1973 when Sssssss, the story of a mad scientist who turns men into snakes was released. This was during the time when I saw most movies and I saw this one -- maybe this was what I was watching when I should have been watching "The Last of Sheila")
Anyway I thought Shaft was an ass. And I know he's a "sex machine" and all that, but he had the single gayest piece of art over his bed I have ever seen -- a white man in a colorful dress with padded shoulders and hoops at the hips. The only poster that might possibly be gayer would be one of Ratso and Joe Buck strolling New York together. The chicks are crazy about him anyway, and even the police lieutenant must have lusted after him. Why else would he keep supplying Shaft with information and getting nothing from him but attitude? I did enjoy the early 70's background stuff -- the reverse Coppertone poster with the dog pulling down a black girl's bathing suit to expose her white bottom, and the movie theater showing a double feature of "Patton" and "MASH".
Ah, the 70's.
I also watched "The Parking Lot Movie" which I enjoyed. It was great hearing from other people who realize what jerks most people who drive cars are.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Rob's RomComs

I've expanded my movie-watching tastes a bit lately, in that I will occasionally watch something other than a romantic comedy. But it's still by far my favorite genre. I like the envelope-pushing boundary-breaking ones as much as I like the slick by-the-numbers Hollywood pix -- unless Kate Hudson is in it, can't stand her. I have no problem with cliches if they're done with competency and respect. Perfect recent example: "The Switch" It's obvious from the second scene (if not from the poster and the title of the film) exactly where how this is going to end, but Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston and a great supporting cast (Jeff Goldblum is hilarious as the wacky friend who gives dubious advice) just reel me in. (BTW, there are quite a few actresses I like, some I will go see anything they are in, but I haven't had a favorite actor since William Powell (Google him, you young whippersnappers) but I have to say everything I've seen with Jason Bateman in it was better because he was in it.)
Yesterday I watched "Heartbreakers" and I loved this French film, best romcom I've seen in a while. Two things I really like about foreign films (three, if you can't the fact that the DVD will always have subtitles so deafies like me can follow the action, something not always true of American motion pictures -- why do some DVDs have Spanish and Portugese subtitles but not English. The second thing I'm going to do when I become President is make it a law that all movies must be subtitled for the deaf and hearing-impaired) : One, is that most of the time I don't recognize the actors (although I've seen enough French movies that now I do recognize some of l'acteurs) so I don't have the distraction of trying to follow a movie while wondering why nobody points out to the lead character "You know you look just like Robin Williams" or Brad Pitt or (God help us) Kate Hudson. You have to be a pretty good actor to make me forget I've seen you in a dozen or so other films and read about you in People magazine. Two, the actors look like real people. One problem I have with American films and TV (even my favorite show "Bones") is that you have all these cops and lawyers and doctors and people not know for their good looks all looking drop dead gorgeous. Vanessa Paradis, the star of "Heartbreakers" has a humongous gap between her two front teeth and a flat chest, two "flaws" that would have to be "fixed" before she could even get a walk-on role in Hollywood, but she's absolutely stunning (and Johnny Depp evidently agrees, she's his baby mama) and the movie gains verisimilitude because she does look like a real person and and not a botoxed, siliconed Tinseltown cyborg. Same for the male lead Romain Duris, who is handsome but not nearly as studly as he thinks. Instead of playing his part broadly for laughs every second he brings some nuance. I didn't even recognize him as the titular character in "Moliere" until the movie was over. (He was great in that one too, by the way.)
Not that this one wasn't predictable too. Alex and his sister and brother-in-law make their living by breaking up romances. Say you don't like the guy your daughter's about to marry, whip out your checkbook and call the heartbreaker team.
Since Alex is in debt to a mobster he and his team take a case that violates one of their tenets -- never try to break up a happy relationship, only one where one of the partners is unhappy, although maybe not aware of that fact yet. Juliette is in love with her handsome, rich, generous fiancee and she takes an instant dislike (of course) to Alex, who pretends to be her bodyguard. Gradually he comes to care for her -- not just to love her, that's too easy, but to like her and to want to not do anything that could spoil her chance at happiness -- and so even though he knows it means he won't get paid -- and will take one hell of an ass-cutting from the loanshark's goon -- he pulls back just before he succeeds in seducing her, which is when we realize that she has feelings for him too.
I won't say any more about how it gets to where you know it's going, other than to say that I am a connouiseur of those scenes where the guy and the girl realize where they belong and run from an airport or their own wedding back to the girl or guy that seemed so inappropriate 90 minutes ago, and this movie contains my new favorite of said scenes.
I guess I'll use a scale of one to ten stars on my movie review scale, and I have to give Heartbreakers a 10. I wouldn't change a thing. See it now, because Universal Pictures and Working Title have reportedly snapped up English remake rights to "Heartbreakers" and you know they'll mess it up, probably cast Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler to bozo it up.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Adventures in homebrewing

I just got my sixth batch of homebrew into the primary fermenter today, and I thought it might be good to take a look back before they all start to melt together in my memory. The first two batches -- an Irish red ale and a raspberry wheat -- were learning experiences and as such they were successes. Actually they were not exactly failures as finished product either. The Irish red was fine if nothing spectacular, the raspberry wheat had a whinge of artificial fruit flavor from the raspberry extract, but both were drinkable -- they must have been, they're all gone.
But I think I really hit my stride with batch #3, a double chocolate stout. This was my first full boil (i.e. in a kettle big enough to boil the full five or more gallons rather than adding water after the boil to make it to the five gallon mark) and I think that's a big part of the reason it turned out so well. I've tried to do something different with each batch but nothing has resulted in a giant leap in quality the way full boil has. And another reason may well be that I freaking love chocolate, love stout and lovelovelove chocolate stout. This beer tasted great after two weeks in the bottle, but now after two months I honestly believe it is as good as any chocolate stout I've ever purchased in the store. And I'm very sad that I only have a handful of bottles left.
Batch #4 was an imperial IPA (India pale ale) and it turned out very nicely. This was my first dry hop and my first partial mash. It's very good, very hoppy and just a little darker than an IPA should be. Not sure what the problem is there, but all my brews seem to come out darker than the style guides would have. (Another reason to love Stout: it can't be too dark.) And I have every reason to believe that like the stout it will get better with age -- if I can keep my hands off it long enough to let it age.
I did a Cascade pale ale for my fifth batch, and I experimented with this one a little. I had some frozen blueberries that my son Dylan and I picked last summer and I wanted to use some of them in here. I heard a homebrew podcast where a guy was talking about brewing with blueberries and he said he didn't do anything to them (other than thaw them out) and they just floated on top of the fermenter and did not add much in the way of flavor or color. So I decided I would mash mine up some and this seemed to work out well; they did not float to the top and they turned my formerly straw-colored brew purple.
So I felt good about my decision to mash the fruit -- until bottling day, where bits of blueberry clogged up everything -- my siphoning tube, my bottling wand (as a a matter of fact, my bottling wand has still not recovered and I may have to buy another one) -- and I eventually ended up straining the beer through an old (but very clean t-shirt) and even so I ended up with only 4 gallons instead of five. Worst of all, I was half way through the bottling process when I realized I had not added any priming sugar -- which is the stuff yeast eats to carbonate the beer -- so I poured it all back in and started over, with a sick feeling because I know the more you handle the beer the more chance there is of something going wrong. And I think something did. I opened one blueberry beer today just to see how it was coming along and at least half of it fizzed out all over the counter. Overcarbonated to say the least. The second one I popped open had absolutely no carbonation whatsoever. So I'm afraid I've got a batch that's half berry wine cooler and half blueberry seltzer. But maybe I just happened to grab the two beers that got the yeast extremes and the others will be fine. Time will tell.
What I made today was a hibiscus honey wheat and so far no problems. It's pink and I'm done for a while with Crayola beers. I'm trying to decide what to do for my next batch -- maybe a mead, maybe another chocolate beer, or maybe it's time to go all grain, maybe brew in a bag. . .

Saturday, March 05, 2011

In 199o Charlie Sheen shot and wounded his fiance Kelly Preston. In 1994 he was sued by a college student who alleged that he struck her in the head after she declined to have sex with him.In 1996 he assaulted a porn star. In 2006, his wife at the time, the actress Denise Richards, filed a restraining order against him, saying Mr. Sheen had shoved and threatened to kill her. In December 2009, Mr. Sheen’s third wife, Brooke Mueller, a real-estate executive, called 911 after Mr. Sheen held a knife to her throat. And on Tuesday, Ms. Mueller requested a temporary restraining order against her former husband, alleging that he had threatened to cut her head off, “put it in a box and send it to your mom.”

What I want to know is why is this guy on the cover of People and US, all over television and not in prison? Hey Media, he's not a "bad boy" and there is nothing cute about this. He's a psychopath.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Riotous Return of Rob's Rotgut Reviews.

Today I'm trying a Smoked Porter from Stone Brewery. I like Porter, I like everything I've tried from Stone -- some of their stuff is desert island beer, stuff I would want with me if I were a castaway -- but I'm not sure what it means when a beer is smoked. Obviously it's not smoked the same way as ham, is it? I'll be having this with a smoked Gouda as well, and I don't know how they smoke cheese either. ( I tried to smoke cheese once back in the 70's but I couldn't keep the damn thing lit.)

APPEARANCE: Pours a deep, dark brown. Almost black but if you hold it up to the light you can see some ruby around the edges.

AROMA: I'm not really getting much in the olfactories. Maybe some oakiness.

TASTE: Well, no, let me do mouthfeel first:

MOUTHFEEL: Thinner than I expected -- but that's what I get for having preconceptions about a beer I know nothing about. I'm sure it's because I expect black beers to taste and feel like stout.

Okay, now TASTE: Well, one sip is enough to teach me what smoked beer is all about. You know how a good barbecued potato chip tastes. This is like that, tangy and (duh!) smoky. The smokiness lingers or dissipates briefly and then reappears again -- kind of an after-aftertaste. It's interesting how the malt and the hops are noticeable but definitely playing second or third fiddle to the smoke. The smokiness of the Gouda is even more in-your-face but maybe not as long-lasting - but I'm not sure because I've got that smoky taste in my mouth now and I'm not sure which is cheese and which is ale. (By the way, Gouda recently replaced Swiss as my number one favorite cheese -- so congratulations to Gouda.)

DRINKABILITY: Hard to say. At the Brewvival this weekend I complimented the rep from the Bruery on their sweet potato beer, and he said he liked it too, but he could only drink like one a year. I can definitely see myself drink more than one smoked porter a year; I can even see myself have two back to back, although a palate cleanser in between might be a good idea.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Most movies I watch these days go in one eye and out the other, an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours even if tomorrow I don't remember much about it. Some movies stick with me though, and the documentary "Who is Harry Nilsson (and why is everybody talking about him?) is one of them.

Probably all I knew about Harry Nilsson before I saw this movie was "Everybody's Talking at Me" the theme song from Midnight Cowboy and his beautiful "Without You" and the novelty hit "Coconut" (as in "You put de lime in the coconut"). If I'd thought a little harder I might've remembered that he sang "Best Friend" the theme song of a sitcom I watched as a kid called "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." Oh, and he and John Lennon got kicked out of a nightclub for heckling the Smothers Brothers.
But now I know this guy was a true musical genius. John Lennon and Paul McCartney both said that their favorite American band was Harry Nilsson, and I think it's because he had as much talent as four very talented guys. He could write complex, witty lyrics or get right to the heart of the listener with a few perfectly-chosen words. His gift for melody was equally prodigious, and his voice was angelic and powerful.

He had something else inside him though, something that compelled him to sabotage first his career, then his talent and finally to destroy himself. Right after Nilsson Schmilsson became a huge hit, Harry split with his producer and made sure that all the tracks on he next album were too raunchy ("You're breaking my heart, you're tearing it apart, so fuck you" which Harry actually wanted to be the first single, probably because he knew there was no way the radio was going to play it) or too uncommercial to sell. He got his wish, Son Of Schmilsson was a flop, and he set to destroying his vocal instrument with drugs and alcohol and nioctine -- it's physically painful watch this guy smoke two cigarettes at a time. By the time he got together to record with John Lennon, these two seemed to be having a contest as to who could blow out their larynx first. Nilsson bragged to a friend that there was actual blood on the microphones.
What's even sadder is that by the time he meets the love of his life, the events he'd set into motion were unstoppable and he died at age 53.
And I just can't figure out why he wanted to do that.
If you can write and sing like this:

I mean, damn, isn't that a reason to live?