Thursday, December 27, 2012

Les Miserables

Movie:  Les Miserables
Like/Don't Like:  Really liked, with just a few exceptions

Like just about everyone else on the planet, I love this musical. I've seen it on the stage 3 times.  I grew up listening to the soundtrack over and over and over again.  I once went to a show tunes singalong and the moment of belting out I Dreamed a Dream with a few hundred other nerds holds a very special place in my memory.  I also love the book a lot.  I think it's a perfect story.  So I was excited for this movie to come out and naturally I have a lot to say.  To the list!

1.)  I didn't hate Anne Hathaway.  Everybody knows that she's not my favorite actress, and when I found out that she was playing Fantine my initial reaction was, "Ugh. Of course she is! I'd like to spit now, please." but I went in with an open mind because I genuinely wanted to like her so that I could like the movie on a whole.  So I think that it shows real growth that there were only a few moments when I thought, "Oh, GIVE ME A BREAK ANNE HATHAWAY!" She sang her song, and all in one long shot and on key, which you have to give her props for, and then she died and we all moved on.  Side note: I think the short hair suits her.  It has turned her into the edgy waife she's always wanted to be.

2.)  Do not see this with expectations of awesome singing.  These are not trained singers who can act, like you would see on the stage.  These are trained actors who can sing.  Nearly all of them are outmatched by the songs. So just be prepared for Marius to sound like Kermit the Frog at times.  And Javert to be so understated that you wonder if someone should check for a pulse.  That being said - they all sang well.  And live.  They were not recorded in the studio and then dubbed in but actually recorded live as they were filming, and that takes a lot of skill. And what they lack in vocal power they make up for in performance.  Except for Russell Crowe.  They could have put epaulets on an animatron and you would have seen the same performance.

3.)  Be prepared to see a lot of pores because this was shot almost entirely in close-up.  Which was great for the really intimate songs but dreadful for the big numbers when all you want to see are waving flags and rifles being thrust in the air and not actors with their mouths wide open sustaining a note. I mean, I love Hugh Jackman but I don't need to see how many freckles he has on his nose.

4.)  So I would have made different casting and directorial decisions.  But I can't complain too much because it's Les Miserables.  The story is so powerful and the music is so breathtaking that even if it was nothing but close-ups of Anne Hathaway's nostrils (which sometimes it was) I still would have loved it. What I'm saying is it's hard to go wrong with this.  And it's hard to not get swept up in the whole thing. I wept like a baby at the end.  And at the beginning.  And parts in the middle.  And I had to stop myself from singing along with Do You Hear the People Sing. I really appreciated the authenticity they were going for and I felt like they captured the drama grandness of the stage production while still giving us an intimate film.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Gone With The Wind

Book:  Gone With The Wind
Author:  Margaret Mitchell
Like/Don't Like:  Like.  Although I would have liked it more if were half the length.

Much like Sherman's march to Atlanta, reading this book was a long slog. But it in the end it was mostly worth it. There's always something rewarding in reading a grand and epic novel.  Because it's so vast I'm going to need a list to capture most of my opinions:

1.)  Scarlett O'Hara is a moron.  And I spent 900 pages wishing she would just shut it because every time she opened her mouth she said something dumb.  She was selfish and conniving and dumb as a box of nails.  She was also spirited and brave and quick, which saved her a bit in my eyes.  I wish that she had evolved a little throughout but she stayed the same almost the whole way through. It wasn't until the very end that I started feeling sympathy for her and that still wasn't enough to make me wish for a different ending.  She got what she deserved.

2.)  Rhett Butler is the best kind of anti-hero.  Confident, unapologetic, roguish, handsome, mustachioed.  If he weren't such a cad he'd be a dream.

3.)  I thought the writing was effortless.  Margaret Mitchell knew this world perfectly and it was fascinating to read about a time and place from such a insider point of view.  I never got tired of reading about it, which is saying something. I especially loved how she treated her characters.  She never blamed nor excused her characters flaws. Because of that she had some truly profound insights into human nature. 

4.)  Oh, those Yankees.  Always coming around to burn something down.  Like all wars, the Civil War was much more complicated than we think it was.  So I appreciated getting the South's side of the story.  However, the most tedious part of the book was all the history thrown in.  It kind of got in the way of the story.

5.)  I had to keep reminding myself that this was a book written by a southerner in the 1930s about the Civil War from a southerner's point of view.  So I had to kind of gloss over the INCREDIBLY OFFENSIVE ideas about blacks and women.  I cringed a lot.

6.)  As far as an epic goes, this was a good one.  When things were winding down I could think back to the glorious early days at Tara with fondness and see how far all the characters had come.  It was a satisfying read.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fahrenheit 451

Book:  Fahrenheit 451
Author:  Ray Bradbury
Like/Don't like:  It was kind of eerie.  In a good way.

When Ray Bradbury died in June I found myself feeling nostalgic.  Which is weird because (shameful admission forthcoming) I have only read one of his books.  And it was not this book.  It was Something Wicked This Way Come and it was maybe 25 years ago. But he's one of those writers that I admire.  The stuff he says about his life of writing is inspiring.  Not just because he was a writer but because he was happy about it.  Writers are notorious for complaining about how hard their lot is.  He always struck me as being so cheery about it.  So I felt a little sad that he was gone and decided that I needed to start working my way through his stuff.

When I tell people that I've never read this book they aways look a little bewildered.  Because it's weird right, that I've never read this?  I mean, it's a book about books.  And it's a classic that nearly everyone read in high school.  But I didn't.  I read Moby Dick, which, I learned while reading the obituary on his website, Ray Bradbury wrote the screen adaptation for. Do you see how books are the circle of life?

In a way, I'm glad that I didn't read it until now, because it is eerily telling of the world we live in.  I'm not too worried about us burning books, but Bradbury got it right about everyone walking around with ear buds embedded, and giant TVs taking up our living spaces, and war happening and people just kind of shrugging their shoulders about it.  There is always some truth in dystopic literature but this was really spooky how close he came to describing us.  To say that I enjoyed it would be strange, but it definitley struck a chord.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Nickel Diner

Restaurant:  Nickel Diner
Location:  524 S. Main Street, Los Angeles
Like/Don't Like:  Holy Cats!  If it were a rich, single, non-weird Mormon man I would marry it.

We was looking for a place in downtown LA to have my birthday dinner because we were going to be down there for a sing-along (natch). I already love a few places in that area but I wanted to go someplace new.  So I got onto Yelp and found this gem. It's right in the heart of downtown, a few blocks from City Hall, the area looks a little sketchy in the dark, but let me tell you, it may actually be worth getting mugged if you can have their root beer creme brulee.

I was with a bunch of people who like to eat and want to share, which is the best group to be with when you're going out to eat, and we each ordered something different and passed the plates around.  I had the skirt steak with chimichurri (perfect), there was some mac and cheese which was out of sight, spicy pulled pork, cat fish with brussel sprout hash (I don't even like cat fish very much but I would have cuddled with this after hours), stuffed artichoke and a pork chop with some kind of jam sauce that made me want to weep. So delicious.  And then we couldn't pass on the desserts.  We tried the smore cake, the surprise cupcake (surprise! Pop Rocks!), and the aforementioned root beer creme brulee.  You know how most creme brulee that you get when you eat out is kind of grainy?  This was so silky and delicious and root beery.  I wanted to lick the ramekin. And here's the kicker - they're really known for their breakfast.  I can't wait to try it.

The review on Yelp said the ambiance was "Hipster Casual", which was initially a deterrent.  And it was also dead on.  But it was also kind of legit.  It didn't look like it was trying too hard. And the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful.  They kept the water coming and they joked with us without being obnoxious and made really good suggestions.  After I finished my dinner I told our server that I just wanted to hug everyone, it was so good.  So on my way out she gave me a big hug.  You know you have a winner when you leave with a hug.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Book:  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Author:  Aimee Bender
Like/Don't Like:  Mmmm...lemon cake.  Oh, wait, yes.  I liked it.

It took me a bit to form a solid enough opinion on this novel before writing anything and I've decided that I liked it.  Even though I felt uncomfortable through the whole thing. 

Rose is about 9 when she realizes that she can taste emotions in the food that people cook for her.  It starts with her mother's despair and her brothers confusion.  And this starts a lifetime of trying to avoid anything but food that is made in a factory because she can't process all the bad emotions that others struggle with and hide.  It was a pretty interesting premise.  But her family was so awkward.  I cringed every time they would have a conversation because they just had no idea how to communicate.  So the whole time I was reading it I just wanted to yell, "Will someone just give this girl a hug!"

The bulk of the blame goes to the author for this very drawn out style of writing.  A conversation of just a few sentences could last pages and pages because she kept interrupting with thoughts.  And that's a fine technique but it felt overplayed at times.  Also, it felt a little sloppy at places, like time had no meaning.  But I cannot deny that the story lingered with me long after I finished.  I think she captured the confusion and fear in Rose nicely.  Overall it was a good read.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Midnight in Paris

Movie:  Midnight in Paris
Like/Don't Like:  Yeah, I liked it

I never quite get the allure of a Woody Allen film.  I think my west coast, non-neurotic sensibilities makes him sort of just okay in my book.  But I aside from the usual unrelatable characters that are always in his films, I thought this one was totally charming.  Mostly because it's set in Paris, partly in the 1920s which means it's filled with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and Picasso and Cole Porter.  And the whole thing was warmly lit and had lovely jazz music in the background and, well, I watched it like 2 weeks ago which means that it has completely slipped out of my mind.  But it counts if I remember that I liked it, right?


Book:  Unbroken
Author:  Laura Hillenbrand
Like/Don't Like:  Like, if only to learn that you should never go to war against the Japanese.

You should read this book, because it's a ridiculously good story told by an amazing writer and you'll be so grateful that you have never 1.) been lost at see for 40+ days, 2.)  been captured by the Japanese and put into a POW camp, 3.) what, you need more to be grateful for than that?

It's the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic mile runner and WWII vet whose plane went down in the Pacific, which he and a fellow crewman survived, only for the current to sweep them right into enemy territory.  You will want to shut the book when you get to the part about all the torture they went through in those camps. Those Japanese were hard core when it came to brutality.  There were several times I had to shut the book and  breathe slowly and imagine fields of daisies because it was just so horrific.  But it is a testament to how resilient the human spirit is.

And I have to give it up to the author.  Laura Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit and I was floored by how much a story about a horse sucked me in.  So I wasn't surprised by what a gripping story-teller she is.  I generally stay away from non-fiction because all I really care about is a good story told well and most non-fiction writers have the good story but forget that they are not in a lecture hall.  Hillenbrand moves things along and gives you just enough facts and data to keep you feeling like you're actually learning something while being entertained.

And if none of that has piqued your interest you should know that somewhere in the south Pacific, while they're floating along, exhausted and starving, Louis decides to get even with the sharks who have been stalking them the whole time.  So he kills one with his bare hands.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Movie:  Brave
Like/Don't Like:  Like.  I was suprised by some parts.  But in a good way.

I've never been envious of a cartoon character's hair until I saw Merida's red curls.  Pixar should get an oscar just for how glorious they looked.  In other news:  this was a sweet movie.  All I've really heard about it was that the animation was amazing.  And I totally agree.  Let's all move to Scotland!  But the story was really good.  And suprising.  You don't often find a movie that deals almost exclusively with a mother/daughter relationship, but especially an animated one.  Because most mother's are dead or abscent in animated Disney films.  And you definitely don't find a Disney movie without a love story.  This didn't have one at all.  And it was kind of refreshing.  I was genuinely surprised by the twist this had (no, I won't tell you ) and was kind of put off at first but then went with the flow and saw that it was a really tender story.  It still has everything you expect from Pixar, it was funny and sweet and had a lot of depth. And Merida made a great heroine.  It was pretty solid.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


TV Show:  Bunheads
Like/Don't Like:  Conditional like, if only because it is so familiar
(NOTE:  There is a big spoiler in this so stop reading if you haven't watched the first episode and are planning to.  Or keep reading and just live with knowing.)

I don't normally review TV shows, simply because I don't usually start watching new TV shows.  I don't like being committed to a show, even with the magic of the DVR.  And also, it's tough to judge a show on just a few episodes. But this was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created Gilmore Girls, and if there was one show that I loved and truly miss and wish that they would do a reunion special just so I can see how happy Luke and Loralei are right now that would be it.  So I recorded the first two episodes and watched them tonight and am happy to report that this is Gilmore Girls on the west coast.

Proof:  it has several actors from GG.  Like Emily.  And Gypsy.  And Mitchum Huntsburger as a hippie barkeep.  The same gal who did the music in GG is doing the music here, with similar guitar strumming and la-la-ing.  It has the same rat-a-tat-tat dialogue that I loved in GG, with lots of pop culture references and sarcastic zingers.  And Sutton Foster is a good fit for that, even though I hope she'll ease out of her Broadway broadness and into the subtleties you can get away with in television.  So over all, I liked it, because it was so nicely familiar.

But here's where I object (And here's where the spoiler begins.  You've been warned.)  I do not think that I can get beyond Alan Ruck being given to us for one episode and then so abruptly taken away.  When I saw that it was him I squealed, because who doesn't love Cameron?  And he's such a sweetheart in the first episode.  And now he's gone.  Boo.  I fear I will always think what might have been.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Book:  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author:  Alan Bradley
Like/Don't Like:  I was completely taken in

I've been a little annoyed lately with writers who don't trust their readers.  Few things infuriate me more than when an author spends too much time explaining things that should be understandable through context.  Or puts in references simply to look smart.  It makes me feel like they think I'm dumb.  You have to trust that your reader will figure things out on her own.

So here we have Alan Bradley who not only wrote a YA novel, a genre that is fraught with this sort of stuff, but did it without the slightest bit of condescension.  This story is stocked with Latin phrases, chemical compounds, allusions to female chemists, snippets of Shakespeare, and a mystery involving stamp collecting and not a bit of it is spoon fed to you like you're an imbecile.  He does not coddle his readers at all  His heroine, Flavia de Luce, is a smart, no-nonsense, eleven year old budding chemist and member of the British gentry.  She's a heroine I can get behind and not just because she's a girl sleuth.  I love girl sleuths.  With the exception of Nancy Drew who was just too perfect.  Ugh, didn't you just wish Ned would dump her, even if he was a dope? 

Anyway, Flavia finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery and she manages to make her way around the inspectors and the murderer and her two scheming sisters to discover the truth, all while whizzing around the English countryside on her bike.  It is charming and smart and a book I would have devoured if I had gotten my hands on it as an 11 year old.  Ok, so I devoured it as a 36 year old.  It's just that good.

Monday, May 28, 2012


TV Show:  Sherlock (both seasons 1 and 2 - because I'm behind, okay?)
Like/Don't Like:  So much to love!

I never reviewed this after the first season but I finally got around the watching the last episode of the second season and I am still heartily in love with the whole thing that I felt like I needed to share it with the world.  Although, let's be honest here, you've already seen it right?  Right?! So you know what I'm talking about.  It's AWESOME!  With a side of Holy Cow!

Aren't you so excited that they got it right?  Sure, the Robert Downey Jr. movies are highly entertaining, but they're not really Sherlock Holmes.  He's just a really beefed up smart guy (listen, I'm not complaining.  I'm just speaking the truth.)  But this is Sherlock Holmes. Even as a 21st century Sherlock, it's dead on.  It has captured his genius and arrogance and condescension and his itty bitty slip of humanity. I love how they have taken his most famous stories - A Study in Scarlett, The Hound of the Baskervilles, etc. - and gave them a modern twist.  The stories move quickly and nothing is wasted, just like the books.

Benedict Cumberbatch has that other-worldly look about him, which makes him a great Sherlock because we all know he's an alien.  And Martin Freeman has always been the perfect rumpled but stalwart friend - just right for Watson.  They made Moriarty sufficiently creepy.  Maybe too creepy. Can he be too creepy?  And bonus, Rupert Graves is Lestrange.  He has aged into quite the silver fox from his days as the floppy-haired Freddie Honeychurch in A Room With A View.

I just saw that there will be a season 3.  Let's rejoice!

(Note:  season one is streaming on Netflix and you can catch season two on  It's worth it.  Also, have something or someone to hold onto because it gets a little tense.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Book: Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Like/Don't Like: I wouldn't recommend it

This has been on my radar for a long time now. And I keep thinking that loads of people have recommended it to me. But maybe they were just asking if I had read it and what did I think. Maybe that was it.

Well, here's what I think: meh.

I think it must have been just mentioned rather than recommended because it's about the Japanese Internment and I would never have read a book about that subject unless it had come with high praise. There are few things in American history that make me more incensed than the internment camps. I get all sorts of angry over it. But there's more to the story than just that. There's a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl both living in Seattle during World War II and they fall in love and it keeps jumping back to the Chinese kid as an old man reminiscing about those days. Which isn't a bad story. It was just poorly written. Not even badly written. Just sloppy. And kind of lazy. The author seemed to have used up all of his descriptors by about page 30 and then just kept repeating them. The shift bell at Boeing Field, the "I am Chinese" button the kid wore, his father not speaking to him - all of these things and more just kept coming back. And that made all the other weaknesses in his writing - weaknesses that I probably would have overlooked had it been a stronger story - turn into annoyances.

But my biggest problem was that I didn't really believe the characters. They didn't talk like 12 year olds. They talked like a middle aged guy writing like a 12 year old. They talked like a history teacher. So their relationship seemed phony from the start. But I will say that all of the eye-rolling I did helped with taking my mind off of the injustice that went on in the book.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pho Century

Restaurant:  Pho Century
Location: 1244 W. Foothill, Upland
Like/Don't Like:  Yeah, I liked it.

Restaurant Club went Vietnamese tonight and it was pretty tasty.  It was just me and Katie so we didn't get to sample as much stuff as I would have liked - and there was a lot to sample from the looks of the menu - but what we had was tasty and the service was great.

K had a steak stir fry that was pretty ordinary except for the garlic butter sauce they fried it in, which was heavenly.  And I had the coconut curry soup with chicken and rice noodles.  The broth was killer and the noodles were great.  I always forget that I don't really like meat in my soup because it is almost always over cooked.  This was the case tonight but everything else was so good that I just ate around it. We also tried the cream cheese wontons and an avocado shake, both were great.

The gal who served us was super helpful and explained everything on the menu.  And the place was hopping, which is a good sign.


Book:  Wonderstruck
Author:  Brian Selznik
Like/Don't Like:  Loved. 

This is by the same author as The Invention of Hugo Cabert and it is done in the same style of prose and pictures.  If you haven't read that one yet you must.  Trust your friend.  I think it's such a beautiful way to tell a story. 

This story was simpler than Hugo's but it still captured my attention from the very beginning.  It follows two children, Ben who is living in Minnesota in the 70s and Rose who lives in New York in the 20s and both end up spending a lot of time at the NY Natural History Museum.  You know that their stories will connect somehow but it's still very nice getting to that point.

I love how simple the stories are. The pictures aren't anything magnificent but he has a gift of putting little details in each one that are delightful.  And I think it's great that he uses real places and events to build a story around. 

I made the mistake of starting this at around 11 at night, thinking that I would read a few pages and finish it the next day.  By 1 (yes, it does move that quickly) I was done and enchanted.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Hunger Games

Movie:  The Hunger Games
Like/Don't Like:  Liked, once my heart started again.

Here's a fact:  I do not see movies that are intense or violent or give me a heart attack.  I don't like to be in suspense, I don't like to be scared.  I don't like watching people running from danger or people killing or being killed. 

If I did not love the Hunger Games trilogy so much I would never have gone to see this movie.  It would not have even been on my radar because I cover my eyes or change the channel when even commercials for these types of movies come on.  And truthfully, it came to a point where I didn't even need to see this movie.  The book was more than enough.  I would get excited when I would watch the trailer, but that was mostly because it would remind me how much I loved the book.  It is well documented here how much I loved it.  I mean, you should have all been in my room in the hours that followed my finishing Mockingjay to witness the absolute mess I had become.  Strike that, you would have needed a dinghy to float out, I was crying so much.  I had a very real and emotional experience with those books.

So really, it was my curiosity that got me to watch the movie.  I was hopeful that because Suzanne Collins was so closely involved in its making that it would have the same heart that the books did.  And I am relieved to say that it came close-ish.

First off, as a stand alone movie it was pretty great.  It is very faithful to the book but it managed to have it's own identity.  I think anyone who hasn't read the book wouldn't feel like they've missed out on anything (although, let's be honest and a little judgy here, they're missing out on a lot.)  I note this first because most problems I had with the movie had to do with what was missing, but I'll get to that later.  On to the things that worked for me.

I LOVED the reaping scenes.  Holy cats!  Did you just feel like you had a ton of bricks on your chest through the whole thing.  All those kids dressed in their shabby best, silently standing there, waiting.  It was so quiet...all except for my weeping.

Speaking of sound, I thought that the music was perfection.  Especially the lack of music.  There were so many moments when any other musical director would have jammed them full of strings and horns.  But the music was pretty sparse and when it was played it was dead on.  And then I saw that T Bone Burnett was behind it and it all made sense. 

One of my biggest apprehensions about seeing the movie was the violence.  I have a pretty vivid imagination but when I read a book I can control the images that descriptions will conjure.  I can also shut a book or skip a paragraph.  But I can only close my eyes in a movie and sometimes that is not enough.  I am, above all, a delicate flower.  So yes, this was more violence than I care for but I was grateful that their desire to make money (thus getting it a PG-13 rating) overcame their desire to be sensational. 

Now, for things I thought could be better.  My biggest problem was that I really missed Katniss.  The whole book is from her perspective.  And there are pages and pages of just her thoughts about her family and Peeta and Gale and the games and being a pawn for the Capitol to play with.  So much of the conflict is in her head and most of that is gone in the movie.  I get that it's hard to translate that, but I still missed it.

I also would have loved to have seen the reaction of the citizen's of the Capitol throughout the game.  I thought it was great that they showed the behind-the scenes stuff of the gamekeepers but it would have been effective to show just what the games mean to the people they make it for.

And on a personal note:  when that mutt jumped out of the bushes at Peeta I actually screamed, which was a first for me.  I have never screamed in a movie before.  Mostly because I don't ever go to movies that would scare me.  But I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

Sweet Land of Liberty, this is the longest review.  So I'll just end with this.  I liked it.  I thought it was thrilling and I was so happy that it met whatever low expectations I had and then some.  And finally, Stanley Tucci could spend the rest of his career doing nothing but staring into a camera and reciting the periodic table of elements and I would still pay full price to see him.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

Movie:  Mirror, Mirror
Like/Don't Like:  It was cute.

Okay, so I saw a Julia Roberts movie before I saw the Hunger Games.  Don't judge me people.

And I have to say, that as far as Julia Roberts is concerned, she should stick with being the bad guy.  Because we already know that she thinks we're dumb.  Right?  She doesn't like us at all. So being a meanie totally works for her.  And I actually kind of liked her in this, which is a first for me.

It's a spin on Snow White, complete with seven dwarfs and a handsome prince.  It was cheesy and predictable, slow in some parts and had a really bizarre Bollywood dance sequence during the end credits.  And yet, I was entertained.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Euro Cafe

Restaurant:  Euro Cafe
Location:  546 E. Baseline, Claremont, CA 91711
Like/Don't Like:  LOVED!  So good. 

I'm sure everyone in Claremont already knows about this place as Claremontians have the tendency to know everything about everything.  So I'm not sure if I should be a little miffed that my Claremont friends have never mentioned it.  Whatever, they can make it up to me by meeting me at Bert & Rocky's and buying me ice cream.

Anyway, this place is great. It's billed as Portuguese/Italian so there's a lot of pasta and panini and linguica.  The Restaurant Club met up and order a bunch of different things and sampled each other's dishes and everything tasted amazing and very fresh.  The cheese on the sandwiches tasted like it was made that day.  All the meat was super tender and the pastries were excellent. 

The best part was that when we walked in I happened to mention to someone that it was our first time and right as we were sitting down this little old Portuguese man came over and started chatting with us.  He was the owner, Joey, and kept stopping by, first with a complimentary appetizer of house-made linguica (delicious) and garlic bread.  And then he would stop over to see how the food was.  He complimented Heather on her choice of Bife a Portuguesa and decided that she needed a glass of wine to go with it so brought one out to her.  And then for me for finding the place.  We didn't have the heart to tell him none of us drank.  But you know it's a good place when they bring you free food and wine just for giving them a try.  On his last stop Joey brought us business cards and showed us a CD he made of him sing Portuguese songs and told us that on the last Saturday of the month he puts on a show there. Dinner and a show?  Best place ever. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Night Circus

Book:  The Night Circus
Author:  Erin Morgenstern (no relation to S. Morgenster, I think)
Like/Don't Like:  I didn't dislike it.  So yes.  Like.

What I'm about to say may make it sound as if I didn't enjoy this book.  It's just that I've been particularly sensitive to bad writing lately.  I get annoyed with authors very early on and then give up on a book in a huff.  I don't know what my issue is.  It's not always the case, but I would say for the last 6 months or so I've have low tolerance for lazy writing.  So, to say that this book didn't annoy me is high praise.  In fact, I found it kind of diverting.  It is certainly not highly entertaining or particularly magical (both things I think it would like to be) but on the whole it was an enjoyable enough read.

The story is centered around two magicians who have been brought up to out-magic each other in a competition.  The arena for this competition is a circus that magically appears in cities around the world.  They each create tents of wonder and illusion and try to one-up each other.  But their competition affects more than just themselves and their teachers/magical mentors, it affects everyone who is involved with the circus.

Or, so I'm told.  Because the book's biggest flaw is that it doesn't tell the why very well.  Why the magic they were using affected everyone, or why the circus would fall apart if the two of them stopped.  A lot of the whys could have been answered if the author has stopped worrying about describing the magical tents (so much so that she started to repeat herself) and focus more on the characters and plot.

But, in spite of that, the story was interesting enough and the world that was created was beautiful formed.  And while I could have used more explanation and less adjectives describing the scent of mulled cider in the air I wasn't that bad.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Super 8

Movie:  Super 8
Like/Don't Like:  Like - despite all the times I had to a cover my eyes

How did I not know that this is a scary alien movie?  I'm usually really up on these sorts of things, but I started watching this and was all, "Oh, early teen boys are so hilarious.  Elle Fanning has princess hair," which then turned to, "EEEEEKKKKKK!!!!!  Scary alien!!!!!!"  You all know what a delicate flower I am when it comes to scary things like aliens and guns and explosions.  I was tense through the last hour of the movie.

But it was still a really cool flick.  And I give that all to the kids.  Movie aliens have no problem eating adults.  But kids are generally safe in a PG-13 film.  I felt confident that none of them would have their guts sucked out.  Plus, I meant it about teen boys.  They're a riot.  It was a nice story with funny characters and cool effects.  It felt exactly like what a JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg movie should be.  Complete with too many lens flares (oh, JJ Abrams, enough! with those lens flares.  I nearly had an epileptic fit during Star Trek.)  And it had heart.  I liked that the alien other reasons for being so destructive other than just wanting to destroy Earth.  I suppose I'm grateful I didn't know it would freak me out so much because I never would have watched it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Captain America

Movie:  Captain America
Like/Don't Like:  Liked.  Truly.

This is the kind of action movie I can get behind - the kind where the weapons vaporize people instead of leaving bloody messes all over the place.  That way, I can imagine them being transported into a field of daisies and ice cream trucks.

Anyway, I actually did like it for more than just that.  There were some funny bits and the action wasn't too gratuitous (I get so bored with things blowing up) and it was packed with great actors (I love both Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones) and surprise cameos like that one guy who played Henry Tilney in that one version of Northanger Abbey I like, and that other guy who plays Willoughby in that one version of Sense & Sensibility that I like, and "IS THAT RICHARD ARMITAGE!!!???"  Which is what Katie shouted while I was busy looking down at my knitting and I had to rewind to verify.  Yes it was.  In a suit with retro glasses.  Sigh. 

The ending leaves a little to be desired because they're setting up for the Avengers, which I'm surprisingly looking forward to.  But it was action packed and fun to watch.  And all those people who were vaporized are now enjoying a refreshing Choco Taco in that field of daisies.

Thornfield Hall

Book:  Thornfield Hall
Author:  Emma Tennant
Like/Don't Like:  Wretched

Someone must have given this to me because in general if I'm going to pick up a knock-off of a classic (particularly of one I know so well as I do Jane Eyre) it has to come highly recommended.  But this has been sitting in my stack of to-be-read books for a very long time and I thought, oh, why not, and dove in.

I'll tell you why not.  It was rubbish. 

I love Jane Eyre.  If I believed in such things it would easily find a spot in my top 10.  So I'm a little biased.  But I think even people who haven't read the book would find this unbearable.  In it we get the point of view of Adele, along with a bit of Mr. Rochester and Mrs. Fairfax.  There were some serious flaws in the writing.  Continuity, for one.  I am a stickler for these sorts of things so I noticed right away when it says it is "nearly full dark outside" and then what is supposed to be a few hours later "turning dusk."  There were things like this riddled throughout.  Then there was the constant saying of names.  Does this bother anyone else?  Adele was always saying, "My mother, the celebrated actress, Celine Varens." like on every other page, even deep into the story, when we KNOW that she was her mother.  And Mrs. Fairfax was always saying, "While working at that magnificent estate, Thornfield Hall under the watchful eye of my master, Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester."  Yes, we know all of this!  And there was too much use of the old bait and switch.  A revelation would nearly be made but first you have to read through two pages of a flashback before getting to it.  It was frustrating.

But I suppose all of those can be chalked up to my own pet peeves.  So how about I give you some highlights of the story since I know you're not going to read it (because you trust me, right)(warning:  these may come as a shock to those who know Jane Eyre):  Adele becomes best friends with Bertha, Mr. Rochester's mad wife up in the attic; she hates Jane; she has a twin brother who was born just minutes before her but who has a different father (they were conceived on the same day but by two different men) but who is only briefly mentioned at the end of the book as an "oh, and by the way"; her mother (the celebrated actress Celine Varens, in case you have forgotten) didn't die but went off to Italy with a musician; and how about this one - Bertha didn't fall from the rooftop in the fire, that was Grace Poole. Mrs. Fairfax killed her much earlier, slipped Adele a mickey in order to convince her that she was the one who killed her, and later told all as she dangled a very pregnant Jane out of a window like she was some sort of Scooby-doo villain.  Then, realizing that the jig was up she lights the place on fire and throws herself out the window.  What the H?!

To top it all off, just three short paragraphs after all of this goes down, the phrase "and they lived happily ever after" is actually used and the book ends with a brief explanation of how Adele went on to become a celebrated actress, like her mother, Celine Varens.

I once caught a glimpse of a show about Anne of Green Gables the Much Later Years where Gilbert had died and Anne was hooking up with some guy named Gene.  It was blaspheme.  This felt the same way.  I could not shake the sour look off of my face for a good half hour after finishing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

Movie:  Sherlock Holmes:  Game of Shadows
Like/Don't Like:  Like.  Yes, I remember that I liked it.

Who's with me that the world has been given a gift in a clean and sober Robert Downey Jr.?  I feel like ever since he's cleaned up his act he's become a national treasure.  Okay, so that's a stretch, but I really like him in everything he does.  It's not like he's blessed with much of a range (he basically plays the same character in all of his movies) but he's fun to watch.  And I've grown accustomed to Jude Law.  And I like Sherlock Holmes in general, so this movie was a no brainer.  The perfect Christmas break movie.

That being said, it's been a week since I've seen it and it has almost completely left my brain and the only thing that remains of it is the vague sense that I liked it.  I liked that Moriarty was there and I thought their meet ups were clever.  There were some very funny moments.  And it moved along nicely.  And while I'm not that much of a fan of gratuitous special effects, the slow motion stuff was pretty cool, even though I was over it long before it finished. I did have to cover my eyes a number of times because I'm a delicate flower and don't go in much for punching and shooting and stuff like that.  But overall, it was fun.

Anansi Boys

Book:  Anansi Boys
Author: Neil Gaiman
Like/Don't Like:  It's Neil Gaiman.  Of course I'm going to like it.

Whenever I read Neil Gaiman I am reminded that there are people who tell good stories and then there are people who are good storytellers.  He fits into both categories but it's the second that I really care about.  I can't tell you how many times I have finished a book and said, "That was a good story but it was written by the wrong person."  Mostly, I want every story to be told by Neil Gaiman.  I saw him on a show a little while ago and he was asked to describe his genre and he said, "I like to think I'm just a writer," which made me love him even more. He gets what a lot of writers today don't, that the point isn't just to tell an interesting story, it's to tell an interesting story well, and when it's done well there is no need to categorize it into a specific genre.

Once again this has turned into a Neil Gaiman love-fest.  On to the gist.

Fat Charlie Nancy has just found out that 1.) his father has died in karaoke bar, and 2.) his father was a god, and 3.) he has a brother he didn't know about.  He finally meets his brother and trouble abounds.  The story had a great rhythm to it.  It flowed very nicely from one scene to the next and weaved in bits of old myths into a modern story with ease.  I got sucked right in and felt completely satisfied when it was done.  Yay.