Archive for April, 2010

Grab Some Culture While You’re At It—Restroom

April 29, 2010

Cafés aside, it’s not easy to find a public restroom in DC’s Penn Quarter/Chinatown. There’s no department store in the area and you have to be inside the Regal Movie Theatre or the Verizon Center as a paying customer in order to use their restrooms. What’s a person to do in an emergency?

Relax. The National Portrait Gallery is your friend. It’s right in the heart of Penn Quarter and not as crowded as some of the other museums. The Gallery is free and you don’t have to have your bags checked by security.

There are restrooms on every level which means there’s not much, if any, wait. The restrooms are clean, bright and well-stocked. And while you make your way to the facilities, you have the opportunity to see some beautiful works of art. It’s possible to become so enthralled you might forget your planned trip to the movies or Ann Taylor shopping and, god forbid, avail yourself of some culture.

The only caveat is the hours—the Gallery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. 

National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F Streets, NW, DC  20001

Starbucks: Changes in Penn Quarter

April 29, 2010

Something really great has happened at several Starbucks in DC’s Penn Quarter. They’ve been refurbished and the winner is the consumer.

457 7th St NW. This Starbucks now has fewer couches and smaller tables. They’ve been replaced by family-style tables and long counter-tops and stools made from dark wood. The counters face out onto  the street. The refurbishing makes it possible for more people to have a seat and linger over a cup of coffee.

What hasn’t changed is the service and the restrooms. The baristas are the slowest of any Starbucks I’ve encountered. The people are very nice, but they just don’t seem to have their act together when it comes to taking orders and serving coffee.

No revamping of the restrooms. They work and sometimes that’s the most important thing.

800 7th St NW.  This two-level Starbucks has replaced its couches and many smaller tables with large, family-style tables for sharing and long countertops and stools, all made from dark wood. The number of outlets along the walls near the counters makes it easier than ever to hook up to the Internet without exhausting one’s batteries.

This particular Starbucks seems to be home to a lot of writers, students and tourists. The larger tables enable more folk to have a seat while enjoying their lattes.  Although the line of tourists can be frightening, the visitors usually grab their coffee and leave. The staff is also terrific–they are jovial and quick.

What separates this Starbucks from the pack? Three restrooms—a unisex restroom on the first floor and individual men’s and women’s restrooms on the second level. This particular women’s room is gigantic, well-lit and stocked and even has the xcelerator hand-dryer.

Sometimes change is good.

Soul Kitchen—Movie

April 29, 2010

Soul Kitchen, a German film (which recently closed Filmfest DC), is wonderful—funny, suspenseful, and yes, full of soul.

Written by Fatih Akin and Adam Bousdoukos and directed by Akin, Soul Kitchen is the delightful story of two brothers who couldn’t be more different…or more adorable. Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) wears his heart on his sleeve and is the hardworking owner/chef of a restaurant in a rundown section of Hamburg. Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu), a gambler and some-time drug user, is just recently out of prison on a work release program and gets a job in his brother’s restaurant.

Zinos’ restaurant, Soul Kitchen, serves up plain comfort food and has a very small following. Zinos is just barely managing to keep his head and restaurant above water, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, now faces foreclosure. For once in his life the gods are shining on him and he runs into a talented, but extremely temperamental chef who, thanks to his “delightful” personality, has just been fired. Zinos offers him the chef job in his restaurant and after a rough start, the restaurant begins to attract a new, upscale crowd and staves off closing. However, Zinos’ large heart gets him in trouble and it’s how he and his brother face these troubles that makes the film so compelling.

Is Soul Kitchen deep, full of meaning-of-life questions? No, emphatically no. But it’s full of heart and fun, has a great ensemble cast, and a terrific, soul music soundtrack to boot (and the best head of hair on a lead actor in a long time). It’s easy to see why Soul Kitchen won a Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

3 1/2 nuggets out of 4

Death at a Funeral—Movie

April 28, 2010

Death at a Funeral, based on the English movie of the same name, is a well-made comedy with some great performances from some surprising sources.

Directed by Neil LaBute (The Shape of Things, Nurse Betty, In the Company of Men) and written by Dean Craig  (who also wrote the English version), Death at a Funeral begins with a comedy of errors…misplaced body and mislabeled pills…and takes off from there. Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence play brothers of the deceased, with Rock the less successful financially, albeit more responsible brother. Tracy Morgan is a friend of the family as is Zoe Saldano and Luke Wilson. James Marsden, Danny Glover, Loretta Devine, Ron Glass, Regina Hall and Keith David as other family members and friends round out a terrific ensemble cast. Additionally, Peter Dinklage reprises his role from the UK film as “friend” of the deceased.

At first glance LaBute seems an odd directing choice since he usually directs from his own screenplays which come from the very dark side of comedy. However, he gets some fabulous, nuanced performances from Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence. They actually act. Even Tracy Morgan is reined in to some extent.

Special kudos must be given to James Marsden. There seems to be nothing this man can’t do…singing and dancing in Enchanted and Hairspray, romantic comedy in 27 Dresses and drama in The Notebook. In Death at a Funeral, as Saldano’s nervous, mistakenly drugged boyfriend, he steals every scene he’s in. His performance is absolutely hysterical, but never goes over the top. An interesting aside is the use of race…or lack thereof in the film. Saldano’s father doesn’t dislike her boyfriend because he’s white since he’s enamored of her former white boyfriend (Luke Wilson). It has everything to do with professional status.

Death at a Funeral is not the thigh slapper one might have expected but is rather a funny, thoughtful comedy and certainly worth your time.

3 nuggets out of 4

The Secret in Their Eyes—Movie

April 28, 2010

Most people in the “know” expected A Prophet to receive the Academy Award for best foreign movie, so there was genuine shock when the Argentinean film, The Secret in Their Eyes was awarded the prize. However, once you actually see this film, you won’t be surprised. The Secret in Their Eyes is the perfect blend of story, acting and humor.

Written by Eduardo Sacheri (based on his novel of the same name) and Juan José Campanella and directed by Campanella, The Secret in Their Eyes is the story of retired detective Benjamín Esposito’s (Ricardo Darín) efforts to solve completely a disturbing rape and murder case once and for all. He’s written a novel based on this case and takes his draft to his former boss, Irene, (Soledad Villamil), (and due to circumstances of class, someone he has loved from afar for 25 years) for her input. Writing this novel renews both their interest in the case and in each other.

Part procedural drama, part thriller and part love story, The Secret in Their Eyes unwinds in past and present times, but is never confusing and is so well executed that you’ll be quietly applauding certain breathtaking scenes. Director Campanella is no stranger to procedural dramas, having directed several episodes of Law and Order. However, incorporating more humor than one might expect, he turns that genre on its ear.

Forget the subtitles and length (127 minutes). The Secret in Their Eyes is filmmaking at its very best. This phenomenal movie holds your interest from beginning to end and should not be missed.

4 nuggets out of 4


April 26, 2010

Reykjavik-Rotterdam, written by Arnaldur Indriðason and Óskar Jónasson and directed by Jónasson, is a low-key, highly entertaining caper/thriller movie from Iceland.

Bartasar Kormakur (a dead ringer for Colin Farrell) plays Kristófer, a former petty criminal with two adorable, young sons and a devoted, hard-working wife, Íris (Lilja Nótt Þórarinsdóttir). Kristófer is struggling to walk the straight and narrow under trying financial circumstances. Unfortunately his loving wife comes with some baggage—ne’er do-well brother, Arnór (Jörundur Ragnarsson) and  former boyfriend, Steingrímur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson). It’s this baggage that propels the story forward.

What makes Reykjavik-Rotterdam a standout movie is the script. The dialogue is sharp and the film is injected with intelligent, sly humor throughout. It’s that humor that enables you to get you over some of the toughest scenes.

Reykjavik-Rotterdam is being developed as a vehicle for Mark Walhberg under the direction of the current star, Kormakur. That could be interesting (although I’d prefer Colin Farrell in the lead), but if the Icelandic version comes to your town, catch it first.

3 out of 4 nuggets

An Evening with Kevin Smith: A Bus Load of Fun

April 26, 2010

You know an evening in DC’s Sixth and I Historic Synagogue won’t be dull when Kevin Smith greets his sold-out audience’s standing ovation with “I’m living the comic’s wet dream—apparently I’m not too fat to be loved.” An Evening with Kevin Smith is the billing and it is just that. Writer/director of such cult “classics” as Clerks, Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Dogma and the not so successful, Jersey Girls, Smith proves himself to be one of the most genial, self-deprecating, observant Hollywood insiders with whom one could hope to spend some time.

The evening with him is smutty, funny, filthy and highly entertaining. Smith divided the Synagogue into quadrants and invited questioners to line up behind the two microphones on each level—two on the main level and two on the balcony. Each answer was basically a 15 to 30 minute hilarious monologue. Before the questions began, he talked about how he arrived in DC…no, it wasn’t by plane but by his own bus…so as not to have to go through the “too big for the seat” thing again. That confession led to an uproarious story about the first time he used a bus to get to a gig…which leads to a story about Bear Nation and cubs and that is just the beginning. We learn that he has no plans to do a movie about his hero/idol George Carlin, with some hilarious anecdotes to go with the answer. What’s his favorite beverage? Yoohoo! Remakes are fine with him, including his own movies. He has no plans to direct a super hero movie and is film school worth it? Not necessarily.  His stories about working with his hero, Bruce Willis, are very enlightening–acting with him is fun, directing not so much

To say that Smith was generous with his time and his audience is an understatement. He seemed genuinely surprised that his fans adore him and made one woman’s evening when he used her cell phone to call her friend and wish her a happy birthday.

The Historic Synagogue seemed an unlikely venue for Smith, which he acknowledged immediately. But the Synagogue’s interior made for a cozy environment, meshed nicely with the evening’s format and certainly worked in Smith’s and the audience’s favor.

An Evening with Kevin Smith is making its way through the Northeast. If you’re a fan, it’s definitely worth your time.

Color Me Dull—Comedic Nugget

April 26, 2010

This Sunday I was checking out the list of local best-sellers and was shocked…maybe horrified is a better word…at what I discovered. What does it say about DC that the #2 bestselling nonfiction paperback is The Official SAT Study Guide (Second Edition)? The SATs?? This is what Washington, DC, our nation’s capital is interested in? To quote John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!!” Over the years, I’ve tried to defend DC’s fashion sense when NYC and LA fashionistas refuse to believe that we wear anything but beige or one color pantsuits. But SATs. This is indefensible. Even I didn’t know DC was this dull.

One more glass ceiling broken—Comedic Nugget

April 24, 2010

From the Washington Post: “another staff account received nearly 1,800 access denials for pornography Web sites in a two-week period and had more than 600 images saved on her laptop’s hard drive.” I don’t know about you but as a woman I was thrilled and a little proud when I read this. Finally! Trolling for porn is not just for men anymore. You go, girl! Somewhere, Betty Friedan is smiling. We’ve come a long way, baby!

The Runaways—Movie

April 20, 2010

Sex, drugs and rock and roll…The Runaways is all this and much more.

The Runaways, written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, is the story of 70’s all-girl rock group, The Runaways. Based in part on lead singer Cherie Currie’s book, “Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway,” The Runaways shows in dramatic fashion the highs and lows of fame…both literally and figuratively.

The Runaways is well-served from fabulous acting by Kristin Stewart and Dakota Fanning as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie respectively. Stewart makes you forget about her Twilight career.  She displays the grit and determination of Runaways’ founder Jett, and boy, can she sing. She is absolutely fantastic.  The real revelation, however, is Fanning. She is amazing in every conceivable way. This is her introduction to Hollywood as an adult actress and Fanning delivers big time. She has the voice and the moves to compete with any rocker of any era.  Her portrayal of Currie’s journey from wide-eye innocent to uninhibited, drug-toking, hardened performer is shockingly great. Fanning has the acting chops that prove she’ll have a successful career for as long as she wants. Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley, the band’s manager and producer, seems more caricature than real person. But he does convey how hard it was for an all female rock group to be taken seriously.

The Runaways is better than most biopics. It makes you long for a sequel…how Jett moved on from the Runaways to The Blackhearts.  But in the meantime, just be thankful we have The Runaways for terrific performances from some unexpected places and for some of the best rock and roll music heard in a movie in a long time.

3 nuggets out of 4

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