Thursday, December 31, 2009

Julie and Julia

Back in my teen years, my mother grew a bit bored with the roast beef and meatloaf meals she had been cooking for decades. We were less than gracious about what we called her "gourmet cooking" but I don't recall refusing to eat what was served. I think she favored the Galloping Gourmet over Julia Child, but it was impossible to be alive in America back then and not to know who Julia Child was. Her style was as unique as William F. Buckley's.

Meryl Streep's Julia ranks right up there with Philip Seymour Hoffman's Capote and Kate Blanchett's Dylan and Hepburn. It would have been so easy to paint Julia's large personality with ridicule or farce, but that line was not crossed.

Briefly, the movie is about Julia Child's path to becoming a famous chef juxtaposed with Julie Powell's blog about cooking every recipe from Julia's first book in the course of a year. Quite frankly, I would have been happy with more of the former and less of the latter. While Julia is a cultural icon, Julie is a pop phenomenon, and a not very interesting one at that. I have to give her kudos, though, for being able to bone a duck.

Amy Adams played Julie. She is one those actresses who morph enough with each role that I don't pick up on the fact that I have seen her in other movies, including important films like "June Bug" and "Doubt". Ditto Stanley Tucci as Paul. I raked over his filmography, trying to figure out just where I've seen him before. It appears I've seen him all over the place, but not in any roles that stick in my mind.

This movie could have been the story of a great romance. I wish someone loved me the way Paul loved Julia. And I wish I loved someone like Julia loved Paul. Maybe I need to cultivate a big personality, a grating falsetto, and a love of French cooking.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


A few weeks ago, my neighbor called, wanting to foist some Mad Ants basketball tickets onto me. I told him I had other plans, but I did not elaborate, because those plans involved a butt dent in the couch and watching Bill Maher make fun of religion in "Religulous". Some people would not think that was funny.

But I did. Religion, and the people who practice it, are easy targets for ridicule. I just don't understand how an individual can reject scientific evidence that supports the concept of evolution and yet believe in talking snakes, virgin birth, and raising people from the dead, without suffering enough cognitive dissonance to make his/her head explode.

I confess that I lack the capacity (or the imagination?) to make the leap of faith that religion requires. And I have tried, I truly have. I can get excited about becoming a believer for about 15 minutes, but then it all just fades away. Consequently, while I found "Religulous" to be entertaining, it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. The movie was obviously edited for comedic effect as well, so any insight it might appear to provide should be taken with a grain of salt.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Not a movie review

Not that I don't have a movie to watch from Netflix. I have a bad habit of not watching my Netflix movies in a timely fashion, a habit I was trying to break - hence, the sequence of movie reviews - but now I am back to my old wastrel tricks.

So what have I been up to? Well, I went on a business trip last week. I complain a lot about my job and I don't always agree with how I am managed, but there are very few really bad things I can say about my employer, especially when they own what amounts to a time share in private jets. And that is how found myself in this...

... eating this...

... with a view like this.

The problem is our fair city is very expensive and difficult to fly in and out of, and the company's solution is NetJets. This was my first time on board, and it puts commercial flight to shame. There is no security to pass through, none of this get-to-the-airport-hours-ahead-of-time. In fact, I was late due to an accident on the highway and THEY WAITED FOR ME. And the steward brought us coffee and breakfast when we took off and hot towels when we arrived(!!!)

The time at HQ was not very interesting. We were seated in the "basement" with the contractors, and this was our view:

Believe it or not, there is a deer in that picture. My travelling companion and I were so excited, you'd think we had never seen wildlife before. And, for me, that was the highlight of the trip. That, and getting to watch "Monday Night Football" and back-to-back-to-back reruns of "Law and Order: SVU".

The low point was getting sick from the salad bar in the cafeteria - the shrimp cooties in the mango and shrimp salad must have jumped across to the asparagus (I'm allergic to shellfish). The upside was I missed the company party, bowling followed by a meal in a shrimp-infested hibachi restaurant. By the time I felt better, it was time to go home.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Gran Torino

I like Clint Eastwood. I like most Clint Eastwood movies. "Gran Torino" is no exception.

Basically, the story involves recently widowed Walt who lives in a changing neighborhood. Walt likes to growl and complain. Estranged from his own family, he unwillingly gets involved with the Hmong family next door. There is gang violence involved, and Walt decides he has to do something about it.

Like most Clint Eastwood movies, it is best not to examine this one too closely, or you will notice that there is only one multi-dimensional character and that the rest of the cast is there to move the plot along. And don't think too much about how good-natured the Hmong are about being called a wide variety of racial epithets. And don't get caught up in wondering if your own death will have meaning.

Instead, laugh out loud when Walt decides to "man up" his teenage neighbor Thao by teaching him how men talk to each other (it involves a lot of profanity and ethnic slurs) and cry a little about the need for some to drag down the others and nod approvingly at the surprisingly satisfying ending.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Mystic River

Many years ago, I watched "Mystic Pizza" so I assumed "Mystic River" took place in a southern Connecticut port town. But no, it's Boston based. A second level of confusion resulted in the fact that one character is named "Sean" but not the character played by Sean Penn, who is "Jimmy". Just as I can't keep track of who has the ball when the Vikings play Green Bay, I had trouble keeping the names straight, except for "Dave". And I did not realize this was a Clint Eastwood-directed film until the end, when the credits rolled.

This was one long, slow-paced, dark movie. I don't think there was a moment of levity in the whole thing. And a certain amount of knowledge had to be inferred from the dialog. Fortunately, my daughter was on hand to keep me up to speed.

The basic story line is, three eleven-year-old boys are deeply affected by what happens to one of them, Dave. Flash forward 25 years, and we see that one is a cop and one is a petty thief turned local boss of his own little fiefdom, while damaged Dave acts kind of dumb but is smarter than we think. Jimmy's nineteen-year-old daughter is brutally murdered, and Sean the cop works the case. He and his partner focus on one likely candidate after another, but by the time they nab the perpetrator, one of their suspects becomes fish food.

This movie reminds me of "Unforgiven" - another Clint Eastwood movie - which I "got" but could not explain. Things are not tied up in a neat little bundle in the end. If you can stand that kind of uncertainty, this may be a movie for you.