January 29, 2014

Movie Review: Rush *

And the Oscar goes to...Ron Howard for the worst movie he's ever made. And for the worst make-up ever. And the worst script. And the worst score. Should I go on?
Oh my god. What the hell, Ron Howard?
Rush is a fascinating based-on-true-events-story about two rival Formula One race car drivers that was made into a made-for-TV-type feature film, only not as good. By the time we get to the famous gut-wrenching crash scene it's not even gut-wrenching. There's something very formulaic about the whole thing and I could not have cared less. After the crash, which didn't feel very life-threatening at all, we have Niki Lauda, burned in an inferno and when he rises from the ashes to drive again he looks like a guy with prosthetic burns across his forehead. Ho hum.
The photography is as contrived as the script. Everything about this film is too much. Ron Howard tried too hard to make this a nail-biting film and he ended up making a check-your-watch film.
There's no tension (except in the over-the-top score), there's no chemistry between the characters, there's nothing about this film that's appealing. The saccharin voice-over at the end that tells us James Hunt died at 45..."He remains the only person I ever envied," says Niki Lauda. Cue the film ending score with pounding drums and drama as the credits roll.
It's really very funny.
The only good thing about this film is Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, who's very hunky and very nice to look at. He's the only reason I gave this film a star.
One star of five for Rush.

January 26, 2014

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street ****1/2

I didn't expect to like The Wolf of Wall Street, didn't even plan on seeing it. I'd heard enough about it, read enough reviews that I didn't think it was my kind of movie. But since it was nominated for Golden Globe awards, SAG awards and Academy Awards I had to see what the fuss was all about. And I do love Martin Scorsese.
Surprisingly, I loved the film. Loved most everything about it; the acting, directing, photography...
If you hate the decadence of the story it's only because you hate the decadence of that lifestyle, and rightfully so. It's hard to imagine people living like that; so many people, so sucked in by this ultimate salesman.
It's a story that grabbed me. Unfortunately it let me go several times throughout the film - certain scenes seemed to last longer than necessary, and about 3/4 of the way through it seemed draggy and had me checking my watch, but then it picked up again and I was mesmerized, even while I was hating what was going on on the screen.
There's so much distasteful stuff that goes on; midget throwing, snorting coke from someone's nether regions ('ass' for those who might not know what I'm talking about)...but it all has a place in the story.
If Scorsese had cut half an hour I might have given it five stars. As it is, four and a half stars of five for The Wolf of Wall Street.

January 22, 2014

What the Hell is Quinoa?

Like most things that EVERYONE's talking about, or wearing or reading...at some point you want to know what the fuss is all about. Like Fifty Shades of Grey, remember that? If you read my blog you know how that worked out.
But Quinoa? What the hell is quinoa? It's the new big thing in the cooking world. I won't tell you it's good for you (it is) because then you won't try it. I won't stress that it has a high level of protein, or that it contains flavonoids, anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, omega-3 fatty acid...forget all that. Who cares? What I'm going to tell you is it tastes really good; kind of nutty with a nice crunch, and is a great base for veggies, meats, fish...whatever. See for yourself what the fuss is all about.
Here's one recipe but if you Google it you'll find a ton more.
Quinoa: much better than Fifty Shades of Grey.

Quinoa Fried Rice
1 cup quinoa (or 2½ to 3 cups leftover cooked quinoa)
1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken stock
¼ small onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 scallions, chopped 
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 eggs
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
1 ½ tablespoons teriyaki sauce
2 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
¾ teaspoon sesame oil

·       Rinse quinoa a few times in cold water.
·       Bring quinoa and water or chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, and then reduce to a simmer. Season with salt.
·       Simmer for 15-20 minutes until quinoa is fluffy and cooked through. Remove from heat and let set for five minutes or so. Fluff with a fork.
·       Cool and store in the fridge, preferably overnight.
·       Mix teriyaki, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Set aside.
·       Heat ½ tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over a high heat. Add onion and carrot, cook about two minutes.
·       Add 2 scallions, garlic and ginger to the pan. Cook another two minutes. Add in the rest of the olive oil and the quinoa. Stir-fry about two minutes.
·       Add sauce and stir-fry until incorporated, about two minutes.
·       Make a well in the center of the quinoa and break eggs into it. Let cook a minute and then mix in. 
·     Add peas, then toss everything together until the peas are warmed through.


January 16, 2014

Movie Review: August: Osage County ****1/2

August: Osage County  is a story of the ultimate dysfunctional family. Well, maybe there is no such thing.
Aren't all families dysfunctional? Is this family more dysfunctional than most? Hopefully. Perhaps it's a bit overblown. It's not a perfect film; it reaches a little too far for humor and pathos but who cares, really, when it's so riveting and powerful?
Meryl Streep's performance could easily have gone over the edge, but doesn't. Julia Roberts is mostly wonderful as the controlling but absent daughter. I'm not a big Juliette Lewis fan so let me just say her performance was fine. The other many performances are all strong, but the subtle star of the film is Julianne Nicholson who plays the middle daughter with grace, elegance and authenticity.
The film is not getting rave reviews by the (other) critics but I was moved and stunned and surprised and angered. A film that evokes all of those emotions just has to be defined as successful.
Four and a half stars of five for August: Osage County.
P.S. Read my review of the play.

January 11, 2014

Movie Review: Long Walk to Freedom ****

Not many of us can fathom being imprisoned for 27 years and not wanting revenge upon release, but Nelson Mandela was that person. He lived his ethics and his convictions, and his gift to the world was his example.
This is a story we all know but the film is worth seeing because most of us never knew the complete picture. We still don't, even after seeing Long Walk To Freedom, but we're closer, and better for it.
Idris Elba is wonderful as Mandela although it took me a while to get over his physicality. Mandela was a very tall man but he was slight in build. Elba is sturdy. Oddly, his character doesn't age much, although Mandela was 70 when he was released, so no Academy Awards here for the makeup artist.
Nelson Mandela was an unusual man, the kind of man we don't see often. I recommend Long Walk to Freedom, especially to younger people who never knew who he was.
Four stars of five for Long Walk to Freedom.

January 8, 2014

Beating the Winter Blues with Alison Keim

All anyone's talking about these days is the weather. I know it's freakin' cold but you'd think we were born and raised in the Caribbean, the way we're reacting to a little cold snap and a little snow.
Okay, yes, it's more than a little snow, and -14 is more than a cold snap. And I admit that I live in an ivory tower where I have good heat, don't have to shovel and I don't own a car so I don't worry about a parking space or my car starting or digging it out after the snow plows go through. And there are stores and restaurants minutes away by foot. Nice life, right?
But it's winter. And we live in Chicago. This too shall pass.
Meanwhile, my friend's daughter is now blogging for ULoop and she wrote a terrific column about beating the winter blues so I'm sharing it with you. Being the daughter of one of my closest friends isn't credential enough to get on my blog, but she also happens to be a great writer. And she's really smart. And beautiful. All right, I'll stop.
I think these are great tips. But you be the judge.
Take it away Alison!

How To Beat the Winter Blues
by Alison Keim

It’s that time of the year again. The gingerbread cookies are officially stale; you’ve reached the last drops of the eggnog, and the Christmas tree is nestled nicely back in storage until next year. Now that the holiday season has reached it’s end, it leaves a sense of ‘now what’ when taking on the dreary rest of the winter. Each day it seems harder to get out of bed, and when you do, you find yourself feeling groggy, cold, and miserable, resembling much like the weather outside. Here are a few tips I always follow that help me beat the winter blues.
1No more hitting snooze
It’s almost impossible to hit the snooze button just once, and after you start…well, you find yourself laying in bed until you realize you have to sprint out of the house flustered, smelly, and looking a wreck (causing you to feel like a wreck). Instead, take your phone and place it on the other side of the room for when your alarm goes off. This way you’ll have to physically get out of your bed to turn it off. You will be less likely to go back into your bed and fall back asleep than you would be while lying in your bed. With more time in the morning you can clean yourself up appropriately, have a nice healthy breakfast, and you’ll find yourself feeling happier, healthier, and more prepared for each day.
Read the rest of the article.

January 5, 2014

Movie Review: Monsieur Lazhar *****

I originally wrote the review of this film in 2012, but recently watched it again on Netflix, and it moved me as much, maybe even more, than when I watched it originally. If you're looking for a film that will keep you riveted for an hour and a half, get this from Netflix or some other film-viewing venue. I'm sure you'll love it.
Here's my 2012 review:

If you don't see another movie this year go see Monsieur Lazhar. Even if you hate subtitles.
There's a glut of vapid rom-coms and summer action films flooding the movie market right now, so if that's your thing you're in for a great time. But if you want to see a film that's subtle and poignant, and will grab your heart, Monsieur Lazhar is the one to see.
The story begins with kids on a playground, then gorgeous photography of the interior of the school as young Simon goes to get the milk and take it to the classroom. Finding the door locked, he looks through the window and (if you hate knowing anything about a film before you see it STOP HERE and just go rent the film), sees his beloved teacher hanging from a pipe. It's a heart-stopping moment where I gasped, even though I knew the premise. Simon drops the crate of milk and goes running through the halls and the camera stays on the empty hall as you hear his footsteps receding. See what I mean about subtle? An American film would show him running down the hall, tears and snot spewing from his face, just in case we didn't get the emotion. Foreign films give the audience so much more credit than (most) American films.
But I digress.
Monsieur Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant with a wrenching story of his own, has read of the tragedy and goes to the school to offer his services to replace the dead teacher. Monhamed Fellag is wonderful and affecting as Lazhar - he has a face for film. He works to help the children through their grief, and his humanity and compassion trump the school's rules and regulations; don't talk about the dead teacher, don't talk about suicide, don't touch the children.
The final scene is killer. If I'd not been in public I would have thrown myself to the floor and sobbed.
This is a must-see. You'll think about this film long after it's over.
Five stars out of five for Monsieur Lazhar.
Oh, and one thing about subtitles: when you lose yourself in the film you won't even realize you're reading. Try it, you'll see. So worth it.

January 3, 2014

Writing Tip: Write Five Minutes Every Day

Writing five minutes a day doesn't seem hard, does it? We can all certainly do more than that, but to have some discipline about writing, five minutes a day is a reasonable, reachable goal.
Jerry Cleaver
This is a tip I learned from one of my writing coaches, Jerry Cleaver, and it's a good one. The least that happens is we get five minutes of writing done per day. But mostly you'll find, as I do, that once you start you just keep going, and the sky's the limit; maybe you'll finish a story/novel/article/poem, write a new chapter, discover new characters...it's all about sitting down and not being distracted by the Internet or TV or a book or the state of our nails or what the Bears are doing. It's all about just doing it.
And if it turns out it's only five minutes, well...it's gotten you back into your story and it will be rolling around in your brain until tomorrow's five minutes. Thinking about it is part of the writing process.
Make this your new year's resolution and think about what you can accomplish if you pledge to write at least five minutes a day. Perhaps you'll be typing "The End" as you finish your first (or second or third) novel this year.