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Welcome to this review site. These reviews are opinions based on my experiences - they are not meant to be definitive.  I invite you to add comments, view the films, see the shows, visit the places, taste the food and form your own opinions - we are unique individuals.  
Looking for something specific? Use the search feature in the header bar at the top of the page to search posts on this blog site only.  Want to browse and see what I have posted? Scroll down, in the side bar are my archives, click on a month and look at the titles.  Want to browse a specific section?  Use the labels at the side to call up posts on that topic.  Want to view the website of the place I visited, click the title of my post.
Hope you enjoy reading.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Soloist

As I watched The Soloist I tried to understand what it was about.  Was this a movie about the difference in societal class?  Was this a movie about the underbelly of society and homelessness?  Was it a movie about a struggling artist? About the struggling professional?  Or was it a movie about finding oneself and personal redemption? As I soaked in this wonderful film, completely intrigued by how it would play itself out, I continued to ask myself what specifically was this film touching on.  I could feel the film’s power and I knew there was a message to be taken home, but what was it?  I watched and watched and in the final scene, that final handshake between two friends I realized the strength of this film; for it is all of those above things, poignantly touching on each and everyone of those themes but most of all The Soloist is a film about friendship.

The Soloist is very simply written.  Robert Downey Jr. plays Steve Lopez, a respected and popular columnist for the Los Angeles Times.  He is searching for a story and as he sits in a local parkade he hears some beautiful music.  He goes to explore where the sound is coming from and he meets Nathaniel Thomas Ayres, played by Jamie Foxx.  Mr. Ayres is homeless and quite surprisingly making the beautiful music on a two stringed violin.  Some stock rambling from a homeless man and some polite response from Mr. Lopez seems to be all there is; but, as Mr. Lopez turns to walk away Mr. Ayres rambles that he once attended Julliard.  This simple statement, once verified, completely intrigues Mr. Lopez and he decides to write Mr. Ayres’s story.  As he gathers information and talks to Mr. Ayres both character’s lives are profoundly changed and they discover a true friendship.

This film has all the aspects to make it a great contender for Oscar consideration.  The story, as mentioned above is very simple in its dialogue. So simple that its power and where it takes you creeps up and gently wraps its arms around you.  This straight forward story is pleasantly surprising in an era of film that often force messages down the viewer’s throat.  The cinematography is truly brilliant.  Shots that paint pictures and draw us into them.  It is, simply stated, beautiful.  The cast are all quite exceptional.  This is a dialogue film where characters just talk to each other and while other actors may throw so much of this away, Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, and Catherine Keener find the beats that make this dialogue hit home. Finally, laying underneath this already very carefully layered script is a stunning classical soundtrack which ties everything together.  These elements combined create a full and detailed picture which deserves recognition in the highest regard.

There are no explosions, no car chases, no Hollywood special effects to this film and it does not need them. This film carries its viewer from the meeting of two people to the point when they realize their intricate involvement in each other’s life.  The film opens a secret window and lets us watch this journey happen.  It is beautiful to see this true slice of life and simply remember that little things amount to great things.    

Sunday, June 14, 2009

One Eleven Yorkville: Champagne, Oysters, Caviar

I think the name and location say it all. It is Yorkville and they serve champagne, oysters and caviar. Of course just because you have the location and a swanky menu doesn't mean you have it all, you still have to do it right and One Eleven has done it right.

Atmosphere is one of the key elements if you want people to continually come back to your establishment.  From the waterfall flowing beside the stairs as you descend into the restaurant and the unique art deco inside One Eleven creates a relaxing gathering place.  This small underground space has a max capacity of sixty people; however, the dark colours, mirrored walls and dim lighting play tricks on your perception making the place feel much larger than it is. In addition to this perception trickery, there is a vertical column of bubbling blue "water" in the center of the room which helps create the artificial feeling of semi private quarters to the restaurant.  This artificial feeling offered our group a sense of intimacy and seclusion from those around us.  In contrast to this privacy and intimacy,  the venue is  small enough to feel comfortable mingling  with the rest of the crowd.  There is often live music in the background and the Tuesday night I was there the vocal stylings of Mike Ferfolia ( added a kick to the atmosphere making it feel a little bit more like a party.  Using a number of classics from the seventies he united the crowd with the common theme of his voice but did not overpower the room so that we could enjoy our meals and friends.  The atmosphere alone is enough for me to recommend you go and check out One Eleven Yorkville; however, they enticed me for a return trip with a wonderful meal.

We were celebrating a birthday so the chefs prepared a special three course meal and paired it with wine.  I cannot speak for their regular menu but I can suggest based on what we received and what they specialize in, just about anything on a plate would make you melt.  Our meal consisted of a mixed green salad with vinagrette, roast chicken on a bed of asparagus and blackened potatoes, followed by a baked fruit crisp, all paired with  a wonderful french wine.  Each aspect of the meal, almost literally melted in my mouth, everything was perfectly tender and full of flavor.  It is one of the best meals I have experienced in a long time.   

Great food, elegant upscale styling, and good entertainment provide a combination of excellence for this small intimate space in Yorkville.  If you have not been there yet stop in and see for yourself.  One Eleven Yorkville has done it right.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian

Every movie offers a different experience.  Some blow us away with special effects inspiring adventure, some woo us with love making us cuddle our sweeties, some provide a powerful message challenging us to change the world.  Unfortunately, when movies do nothing more than entertain us for a few hours we often pan them or write them off a trite pieces of trash.  Sitting in the theatre watching Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian I found myself smiling, chuckling and finally laughing.  When I realized what was happening I put down my critical pen for acting, story, direction and all the regular things and simply checked in to see if I was enjoying myself.  Night at the Museum 2 offers nothing more than a few hours of good old entertainment.

A lot has happened since the first Night at the Museum.  Larry Daly, played by Ben Stiller, has left his position as museum night guard and become the successful owner of Daly Devices, a company that sells useful devices such as the glow in the dark flashlight. In his absence the old museum has been handed over to progress, new technology has come in and all the old exhibits are being put into permanent storage beneath the Smithsonian.  When Larry receives a desperate call from Jebediah Smith, the miniscule and tough talking cowboy played by Owen Wilson, that he and all of his wax friends are under attack by the evil Kahmunrah, played by Hank Azaria, Larry must dawn his guard uniform once again to help his endangered friends.

There is nothing grandiose about this movie but there are a few highlights deserving special attention.  Ben Stiller plays the quick witted confrontational character he perfected through films such as Madagascar, Tropic Thunder and Dodgeball.  He does not give us anything new but he is still fun to watch particularly in the scene with Brandon (pronounced Brundun) the Smithsonian guard played by Jonah Hill.  Hill and Stiller stand toe to toe matching wits with the same tempo and speech pattern that Stiller uses for many of his characters.  This mirror image of attitudes is worth the cost of admission.  Amelia Earhart, played by Amy Adams, provides the movie’s straight man.  Adams plays this character with “moxy”, the zest for life which she notes Larry has lost.  Her tongue is quick but not humorous, it focusses on living life to the fullest and following your dreams.  Adams keeps this often heavy handed message light hearted while using it to drive her inspiring character's vivaciousness.  Last but not least, Hank Azaria graces the screen with another one of his great characters denoted by his unique and always interesting speech choices.  As the evil ruler Kah Mun Rah he is everything but menacing and terrible; rather he is quite silly and perfectly suited to play this misguided ruler.  No one stands out and no one will win an Oscar for these roles; however, they do keep us smiling from start to finish.

Keeping us smiling and sometimes laughing is the experience Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian offers.  There are no Oscar winning performances, no life changing messages rammed down our throats, no cutting edge special effects that will change movie the industry, or even a unique or new plot to go down in film history.  Although these elements are not present in the movie, Battle of the Smithsonian does not suffer for their absence.  This movie is light hearted, humorous and fun, and truly it does not need to be anything more or less than what it is.  

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rui Sousa: Plastics Artists

I was recently contacted by this artist inviting me to take a look at his work.  He is a plastics artist and I believe he hails from Portugal.  I took a look at his site and found it to be very interesting.  I openly admit that I am not an art critic, in truth I have no real knowledge of various kinds of art other than that of film and to a good degree food.  With art I also feel it is important to see it in person, something that may be textured, or three dimensional, or using a special media is lost in a photograph.  With all of that said I offer up my humble impressions of Rui Sousa's work.

There are a number of individual portfolios within his work. Each one following a different title and theme.  As I looked through them what struck me most was the difference in each portfolio. Some of the images were disturbing to me.  A mix of natural and unnatural things or a blending of creatures that sat uneasily with me.  Other portfolios were images that reminded me of childhood. Light images that were playful and colourful. Images I could see sitting beside Paul Frank items or hanging on the walls of a children's room.  

With that said I encourage you to take a look for yourself and see how the images effect you.

Reign Over Me: Whose Reality Guides Us?

When a person loses the drive to carry on what do they have left?  This loss is enough to make anyone shut down and replace the socially accepted world for one of fantasy.  In this state of turmoil the individual feels their only safety is in what they create and it may be their friends who must help them see more.  Reign Over Me tells the story of a man in this situation and the friend who reopens the world to him; however, the film challenges the viewer with the philosophical question: “does everyone need to live in the same reality?”

Since his starring role in Punch Drunk Love, Adam Sandler, well known for his comedy, is slowly showing the world he is a very powerful dramatic actor. Sandler demonstrates his power and skill through Charlie Fineman in Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me.  As the movie develops, we learn Charlie’s wife and children perished on September 11, 2001.  The result of this tragedy is his complete social shutdown; he quits his job, exiles his in-laws, his only remaining family, and hides from his pain in the fantasy world of video games and music.  Sandler plays Charlie’s moroseness and anger with such conviction the viewer feels his pain; however; his ability to find humor, laughter, joy and love in this tragic character truly makes this a powerful performance.  In the brief moments when he smiles while riding his scooter, jest with Don Cheadle, or glances at the woman he so desperately desires Sandler provides stark contrast to the dominant sadness running through this character. This contrast creates an exceptionally layered and interesting character drawing us into the film.  Sandler offers a phenomenal performance but he does not stand alone in this film.

When Alan Johnson, played by Don Cheadle, begins working himself back into Charlie’s life he unconsciously uncovers he is not present for his own.  Cheadle’s choice for consistency in this role makes him powerful.  Alan Johnson is stuck in an unsatisfying marriage, facing a malpractice suit at work and exile from his partners; he is a man defeated by his own life.  His quest to save Charlie is his life’s blood because in saving Charlie he saves himself.  This opportunity is exciting and rejuvenating; however, Cheadle explores the depths of his defeat by approaching his quest for salvation with no more fervor than sitting down to dinner with the family he is slowly losing.  When he finally reaches a moment of explosive excitement we witness the fire burning within this man and know he has the power to reclaim his life.  To achieve this he must challenge Charlie to break free of his fantasy world and challenge himself if breaking the fantasy is the correct thing to do.

Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me is a compelling story dealing with a controversial issue of perception.  Charlie’s diligent fight to preserve the reality he creates makes me wonder if he needs anything else.  His reality is not socially acceptable however it does not adversely effect what is socially acceptable.  In that he does no harm should he be changed?  Conversely, each time someone attempts to bring the socially acceptable reality to Charlie it adversely effects him.  His in-laws, Alan, the psychiatrists all want to help him face “reality”; however, they also demonstrate their selfishness by imposing their wants and disrespecting Charlie’s.  It may appear that leaving Charlie alone is the stronger option; but, I feel the Judge, played by Donald Sutherland, addresses the film’s philosophical question the best with his statement “...this man may or may not need help.”  With this he sums it all up suggesting there is no way to tell or qualify as all options have equally weighted value.  

Reign Over Me is a powerful film dealing with a controversial issue which questions the audiences perception of reality.  The performances by Sandler and Cheadle are exceptionally powerful drawing the viewer into the film so that we may face this controversy on a personal level.  It is a riveting film carrying us through the turmoil and struggle in these men’s lives and leaves us to answer the questions presented for ourselves.