What I’ve Been Working On

I know my posts have been sparse lately. This is why:

I do plan to keep writing but it will probably take me a while to figure out how to balance it with being the best mom I can be. As much as I love complaining about Hollywood and politics, there’s something I love more now. Blah-blah-blah cliche life-changing sentiments. But whatever. It’s all true.

NFT Radar: Unicorn Bar & Restaurant

Hipsters across the city highly anticipated the coming of the Unicorn. A circus-themed bar named after a popular mythical creature and the promise of pinball? Hard to go wrong with that concept. That’s why opening night drew a line around the block of folks waiting in the rain to peek inside. A line! In the rain! For a bar! Me, I waited till the next day and enjoyed the mellow happy hour vibe that involves chairs and fast service. Though, due to budget constraints, there were some disappointments (no juicer for cocktails or pinball room yet), there were also many pleasant surprises. The whimsical circus decor is spot-on. There are plenty of big, comfy booths and the jukebox rocks. Most impressive is the menu: a selection of gourmet corndogs, which also come in veggie versions! The titular Unicorn dog is topped with cream cheese, caramelized onions and Siracha. Another inspired dog involves a chewy latke-like coating and is served with sour cream and applesauce. Round out your meal with a salted caramel apple or fried candy bar. When funds permit, they do plan to finish the basement, so go grab a corndog and help this My Little Pony become a full-fledged Unicorn!


1118 E Pike St 98122
206-555-1000
www.unicornseattle.com

X-posted from Not For Tourists.

DVD Review: Che – Criterion Collection

2010
Rated R
255 minutes

***

Steven Soderbergh is certainly one of the most intriguing directors of all time. He was, and continues to be, a pioneer of independent filmmaking, whilst simultaneously leading a double life as a successful mainstream filmmaker. He makes no apologies for either incarnation. He has no need to. It’s likely that most of the people buying tickets to the “Oceans” films have no idea that “Che” even exists. And he continues to feed his indie audience with challenging films that leave them little room to complain about selling out. Though it cost almost as much as one of his mainstream films, the $65 million “Che” is not your typical Hollywood biopic. There’s very little back-story, romance, and certainly no cheesy revelatory moments that spoon-feed the uninitiated as to how Ernesto “Che” Guevara came to be a face on dorm room walls. Instead, it gets right to the meat of the revolution, giving the reasons behind the t-shirt packaged rebellion without condoning or admonishing it. This is not an origin story. We’re just thrown into the action, seeing him do what made him famous.

The story is told in two parts. The first, titled “The Argentine,” deals principally with the behind-the-scenes of the Cuban Revolution, occasionally narrated by an interview that Guevara gave in New York in 1964 and inter-cut with a controversial speech he gave to the U.N. It’s an exciting, non-partisan look at a man who was considered a freedom-fighter by some and a murderer by others. Part two, entitled “Guerilla,” skips ahead several years to Che’s fall in Bolivia as he fails to rinse and repeat his Cuban success.

It’s a riveting film, but not exactly light viewing. I’m rarely convinced that any film needs to be over three hours long, even when broken into two parts. There were certainly moments where it could have been trimmed down. But it’s also incredibly focused. So much so that college professors from many different departments could make a case for the educational properties of this epic. Written from Che’s diaries and other factual source materials, it’s part war film, part history lesson, and part political treatise. “The Argentine,” in particular, is chock full of thoughtful dialogue about a thoughtful revolution.

Benicio Del Toro is astoundingly at ease in Guevara’s skin. During the black and white sequences, it practically feels like a documentary. And that is more to do with his performance than with Soderbergh’s hand-held camera.

Del Toro’s performance also conveys the impression that with Che, what you see is what you get. He had no private life or dark secrets. The interviewer asks him what is the most important quality a revolutionary can possess. He responds “Love… Love of humanity, justice and truth”. That tells you everything you need to know about his motivations. You don’t see his private life because he forsook it for the cause. The Che on the posters was not a man; he was a revolutionary machine. He completely embodied the symbol that he became. And while that unwavering motivation contributed to his success in Cuba, it also led to his failure and downfall in Bolivia.

At the start of “Guerilla,” Fidel Castro reads a letter from his M.I.A. colleague. “When people hate their government,” Che observes, “it’s not to hard to take a town”. Unfortunately, for his mission in Bolivia, there’s also the reverse. Che says, “In a real revolution, one either wins or dies.” The trouble is that he’s absolutely right. It recalls the computer in “War Games”. He was too driven by his mission. Therefore, he was programmed to fail.

Now you can absorb “Che” with the Criterion Collection DVD, presenting high-definition digital masters of the film on two discs with audio commentaries. The third disc includes a making-of documentary, interviews with historians and people who were actually part of the Cuban Revolution and the Bolivia campaign, a short piece about the camera used to shoot “Che” and documentary short, “The End of the Revolution,” which was filmed in Bolivia shortly after Che’s execution. After all that, you still won’t know Che’s favorite color or what he liked to eat for breakfast, but you’ll surely understand what he was all about.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

NFT Radar: Salvatore Ristorante

Italian is one of those cuisines that, if not done right, is not only a huge disappointment, but also a waste of calories. What’s the point of ingesting all that oil and fat if every bite isn’t a transcendent experience? Fortunately, Salvatore understands this. A real guy from the real Italy he’s owned and operated his titular Ristorante for 20 years. Every night, he gregariously greets regulars like family and welcomes newbies into the fold like a cunning cult leader. You can leave eventually, but not before he stuffs you silly with traditional Italian flavors done right. Start with the luscious Bruchetta or just nibble on complimentary fresh bread. It’s wise to order from the lengthy specials menu, as it showcases a mixture of Salvatore’s recent whims (Salmon Ravioli) and classic family recipes (Spaghetti and Meatballs). The regular menu is also full of gems like the hearty Wild Boar. Pair your meal with a vino from their fantastic wine list. I’d tell you to pace yourself so you can cram in dessert, but they’ll do it for you. The Salvatore experience is Italian in every way, meaning you’re in it for the long haul. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the caloric orgy.


6100 Roosevelt Way NE 98115
206-527-9301

X-posted from Not For Tourists.

NFT Radar: La Isla

I know that Madonna song is about San Pedro, but it’s hard not to get it stuck in your head when dining at La Isla. This amazing Puerto Rican restaurant in Ballard is certainly where my stomach longs for me to be. Popular for a damned good reason is the Pernil Special: slow roasted pork shoulder that’s been “marinated for days” in some kind of magic elixir, making it super tender and flavorful. Also mind-blowing is the Pastelon: a Puerto Rican “lasagna,” layered with sweet plantains and cheesy goodness, plus your choice of meat or veggies. All entrees come with a generous helping of house recipe rice and beans and tostones (or sub these with sweet mash or maduros), plus their incredible mojito garlic sauce. Smother everything on your plate in it or try to resist shooting it straight from the dish. Get a box for your meal so you can have dessert. They have the best Tres Leches in town. And with lunch and happy hour specials (half-price apps and strong cocktails, 3-6 and 10-1 nightly), there are plenty of ways to lower the bill. If eating and drinking isn’t enough to entertain you, they’ll set you up with Dominoes.


2320 NW Market St 98107
206-789-0516
www.laislaseattle.com

X-posted from Not For Tourists.

Film Threat Review: Shuttle

2008
Rated R
108 minutes

***

At 2:30 in the morning, it’s tempting to accept a ride from anyone who seems to be in the ride-giving business. And who knows, maybe it’s your lucky day. But maybe the guy behind the wheel actually has nefarious plans that don’t involve reuniting you with your fluffy duvet anytime soon.

“Shuttle” is one of these worst-case scenarios. Returning from a trip to Mexico in the wee hours, Mel and Jules, who have been friends for, like, 10 million years, are anxious to get home. The driver of a small shuttle service offers to undercut Big Shuttle and take the girls downtown. The pouring rain and a cash shortage encourage them to accept. Seth and Matt, just want an excuse to talk for a bit longer to the cute girls they met in Mexico, so they manage to worm their way onto the shuttle too. Also along for the ride is a squirrelly family man named Andy. Perhaps the doomed passengers realize something is wrong when the driver insists on taking a traffic detour in the middle of the night, but by then it’s too late. They’re already trapped on a shuttle with a mad man in the bad part of town where cell phones don’t work. His true intentions aren’t revealed until the very end, but it quickly becomes clear that he doesn’t mean for anyone to get home.

Despite a few “twists,” Edward Anderson’s script isn’t particularly inspired. This is one of those thrillers in which the main characters have ample escape opportunities but, for whatever flimsy reasons, decide not to take them. The protagonists are pretty cookie cutter “young person” and their conflicts, designed to create character development, are pretty trite. “Shuttle” purports to be smarter than it is. Still, keeping the driver’s motive a secret makes for a riveting enough story. You also have to give credit for a reasonably original ending. It helps that the acting is competent enough to not be distracting. You might not take much away from this film, but it’s an entertaining way to spend an afternoon. And maybe it will give you pause the next time you need a ride somewhere. Remember, ladies: Yellow Cab takes credit cards.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Film Threat Review: Brooklyn Force

2008
Unrated
13 minutes

*

So there’s this obscure series of sci-fi films with a bit of a cult following. It’s about a small faction of religious types who rise up against all odds to defeat an evil empire. It’s a six part-series. The first three are kind of terrible with really stiff acting, terrible dialogue, some irritating characters and too much of a focus on this silly little made-up religion. But then they get it together for the next three. The writing gets way better, the bad guy acts more badass, the special effects are less green-screen heavy and the actors are much more natural. One actor, who plays a smuggler initially caught up in the war by accident, is even pretty sexy. I heard he adlibbed several of his cooler lines. Anyway, you probably haven’t heard of these movies but they apparently heavily influenced a few filmmakers out there. People like Kevin Smith, Edgar Wright and Adam Bertocci.

Now Smith and Wright understood the obscurity of these films and therefore used a light touch when referencing them in their stories. But Bertocci, the writer, director, editor and star of “Brooklyn Force”, took it all the way. What’s the point of a light reference when you can make nearly all your dialogue into a paraphrase of “Star Wars”? I theorize that, when coming up with the idea for the film, his thought process was thus:

It could be like those quote-athons you have with your buddies, only recorded on film. I could make other people watch it and they would be super impressed with my powers of recollection. Better still I could use all those light sabers I have laying around my studio apartment and show off my After Effects skills by making them look like real, working light sabers! All those “Star Wars” sound effects I’ve been storing on my hard drive could really come in handy here too. Now all we need is a plot… it doesn’t have to be a very strong plot. Just some good vs. evil story that will make it seem like the references are completely fitting and not just an excuse to show off how much I love “Star Wars”. Something about the gentrification of Williamsburg and an indie record store to give it some hipster cred. Oh, and I can ask that cute girl from work to be in it. Didn’t she say she was an actress? Maybe it will give me a chance to get to know her better…

I know there are things called “fan films” and that this probably falls into that category. But I guess I don’t see the point in the fan film. Look, I love Star Wars like every other cinephile born in the late seventies. But when I have a jones for it, I’ll watch the original movies. Not some nerd’s love letter to them. “Brooklyn Force” is a tedious little movie, even at a mere 13 minutes. Or maybe I’m just bitter because Bertocci’s film erroneously claims, “Episode 3 is underrated”.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).