Archive for January, 2013

Chevy Chase Pavilion: It’s Alive!

January 29, 2013

Have you made a recent visit to Chevy Chase Pavilion? I hadn’t been there in a while because the ongoing construction made it a formidable challenge to enter and exit the building. It literally took me half an hour to find my way out one Saturday afternoon. But I digress. Recently I took my chances and wow! The make-over is by no means complete, but what is finished is something else.

The design is certainly not staid, but right now it’s hard to say that it’s customer-friendly either. The lighting is purply blues and pinks, which can be cool at night, but during the day is a little odd.  At first I thought I had stumbled into Studio 54, but once I let the surroundings settle in, I did feel like I was entering something special as I took the newly lit escalator to my floor.Chevy Chase Pavilion escalators

The Cheesecake Factory still calls the Pavilion its home, but now it has competition. Say “hello” to “Top Chef’s” Bryan Voltgaggio and his newly opened restaurant, Range. I haven’t yet dined there,but I can’t wait. The restaurant is enormous and serves a wide variety of food made possible by its seven mini-kitchens.

But wait until you see the revamped Starbucks. It’s still on the lower level, but that is about all that is the same. What was once its front is now its back and vice versa. And the seating area…Yikes! It’s huge and comfy…more like a lounge and it’s very inviting.

The little store near the Metro entrance is still in its space…still available for those losing (at least for me) lottery tickets and other last-minute purchases. J Crew, CVS, World Market and Ritchie & Co. Shoes are also open for business.  Other stores will be joining them eventually, but the largest neighbor will be H&M. From the looks of things, it seems as if it will be enormous.

Finally, the all important restrooms. The separate facilities for men and women are no longer. Now there are two unisex facilities with a changing area for babies. The area is relatively clean and because you can lock the door it feels a lot safer than the old facility.

I’ll follow up with an update when the renovations are complete. But the signs of life are definitely encouraging. Now if someone would only help out Mazza Galleria.

Side Effects: First Do No Harm—Movie

January 23, 2013

In a world of special effects, overly dramatic music, doomsday plots and a barrage of any number of assault weapons obliterating many of today’s films, it’s refreshing to have a movie dependent solely upon script and acting. Such a movie is director Steven Soderbergh’sSide Effects”–a fast-moving, thought-provoking thriller. He and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, “Side Effects” deliver a frill-free film with terrific performances from all involved.Side Effects

After a disturbing opening, we go back three months in time where Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is nervously anticipating the release from prison of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum). While Martin, imprisoned for insider trading shortly after their marriage is looking forward to new business opportunities and getting on with their life together, Emily is in a different place.  Anxious about his return, she finds herself in the hospital following a suicide attempt in her apartment building garage. In the hospital she meets psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). He reluctantly agrees to her discharge after receiving a promise from her to see him privately for treatment. As a result, Banks consults with Emily’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Erica Seibert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), to discuss potential courses of therapy. Seibert had treated Emily briefly for depression and anxiety following Martin’s imprisonment. That conversation leads to a prescription for medication and directs the course of action for the remainder of the movie. To say much more would take away from the enjoyment of the film.

 In addition to being a thriller, “Side Effects” offers the audience some interesting questions to ponder. With a plethora of drugs from which to choose, how do doctors decide which one to prescribe—how much do non-medical considerations enter into the equation. If something goes wrong, who is actually to blame… the doctor, the pharmaceutical company…and to what extent?

“Side Effects” provides Rooney Mara with the opportunity to showcase another side of her acting personality and she seizes it. So tough and strong in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” her Emily is the exact opposite in this film. Jude Law gives one of his best performances in quite some time. He finally has a role into which he can sink his teeth. The same thing can be said for Catherine Zeta-Jones. It’s been too long since she’s been given a decent part and”Side Effects” puts an end to that drought. Channing Tatum continues his streak of good performances. He has proven to have a very likeable screen presence.

“Side Effects” will put your brain to work and keep you entertained. That’s the ultimate side effect a movie can provide.

3 nuggets out of 4

Mama: Beware of Dark Spots on the Wall—Movie

January 23, 2013

What is Guillermo del Toro’s (and those who work with him) utter fascination with children and the walls that house them? Such is the case with “Mama.” Written by Neil Cross, Andrés Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti , directed by Andrés Muschietti and executive produced by Guillermo del Toro, “Mama” is not overly scary (depending upon your scare threshold) , but it is creepily satisfying and entertaining.Mama

“Mama” is about two sisters, ages three and one when we first meet them. Among others, their mother has just been killed by their father. Early on after the murders, the father grabs the two girls from their city apartment and escapes with them into a deserted cabin in the suburban woods. There he kills himself, leaving the sisters to fend for themselves…or is there more? Mama? Since the girls’ disappearance, their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has had people looking for them and his patience is rewarded when five years later they are found in the cabin, more wild animal-like than human. Following some therapy, the sisters go to live with their uncle and his rocker girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) both of  whom have been granted custody of the siblings.  But then what? Who did take care of the girls in the cabin? How did they survive? What do the butterflies, shadows, wall crumblings and black spots all mean?

Muschietti does an excellent job of combining psychological and visual terror…and that’s why “Mama” is so compelling. The two little girls–Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse are spectacular, especially Chapentier as the older sister. They actually make you care about them and that’s because these two are real actresses. It’s amazing, but true. Chastain, dark eye shadow and rocker-black hair looks and sounds very different from what we’re used to seeing.  She’s very good at portraying someone who’s not necessarily ready for motherhood, but finds herself caring in spite of herself.  In a dual role as murderous father and caring uncle, Coster-Waldau is very convincing as both men.

Is “Mama” for everyone? No. But it is definitely a cut-above most horror films. Now, if we can just break free from those walls.

2 ¾ nuggets out of 4

Broken City: More than the City is Broken—Movie

January 21, 2013

What do you get when you cross an Australian, a Welsh woman, a Bostonian and a Canadian? A film about a New York City mayoral election, corruption and sex, of course!

This melting pot of actors come together to form “Broken City,” a political potboiler written by Brian Tucker and directed by Allen Hughes of Michigan, naturally.

A John Boehner-tanned Russell Crowe plays Nicholas Hostetler, an in-your-face mayor with potential corruption problems, running for reelection against Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper) … subtle, isn’t that? In the final days of his campaign, Hoestetler hires PI Jack Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) to tail his wife, Cathleen, (Catherine Zeta-Jones) whom he suspects of having an affair. Taggart is a former police detective who owes the Mayor and with his hiring, the Mayor has come to collect.

Skyline aside, nothing about this movie says New York. In real-life NYC, mayoral corruption is the least of the city’s problems—DC, yes…NYC, no. And that’s just for starters.

No one is horrible in this movie, but all of the actors deserve so much better. Please, someone give CZK a great script. She is so talented and gorgeous. Won’t someone help her out? And my beloved Russell Crowe…What has happened? I’m praying that your future has better films in it. At least Mark Wahlberg has “Ted” in his recent past, but he is way too much a creature of Boston to ever convincingly play a New Yorker.Broken City

Oh, yes, there is also a subplot involving Taggart and his Puerto Rican actress-girlfriend. But I guess the powers that be decided this plot was going nowhere, because it’s dropped mid-film, never to be heard from again.

Political corruption can make for a very good movie. Sex and corruption can also make for a good movie. However, Brian Tucker and Allen Hughes don’t know how to wed the two. Therefore, you are left to ponder the casting.

2 nuggets out of 4

Life of Pi: More Heart than Math—Movie

January 21, 2013

If a college football player can fall in love with an online, nonexistent person, then I have no shame for falling head over heels for a computer-animated Bengal tiger. I’m looking at you, Richard Parker, the battered companion of Pi, in director Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.”

Based on Yann Martel’s novel, “Life of Pi” with screenplay by David Magee, the film follows the story of an inquisitive, smart Indian boy searching for what? Life’s meaning…religion…God.Life of Pi--IMBD

Told in flashbacks by the adult Pi to a writer who has heard some of his story from Pi’s “uncle,” Pi reflects on how he came to be. We learn that his family maintained a zoo in India and in an effort to give his children a better life, Pi’s father decided to pack up the family and the animals and ship out to Canada. While on the boat, a horrific storm hit, and Pi was separated from the rest of his family, finding refuge on a life boat. Although several animals survived initially, early on in his journey Pi’s only companion became Richard Parker. For 227 days Pi had to figure out how to overcome starvation and the elements, but outwit a hungry Richard Parker, too.

To say the special effects are spectacular is an understatement and I saw this movie without 3D. It’s really not necessary. The storm…the animals…they all seem very real. The Bengal tiger, in particular, is amazing. How can he not be real?

The cast is really very good and all of the actors portraying Pi at various stages in his life are excellent.  The two with the most screen time, the adult Pi, Irrfan Khan, and especially the shipwrecked Pi, Suraj Sharma, are terrific. Khan does a fantastic job in conveying the joy and pain of his life. Sharma commands the screen as he does his best to save himself and Richard Parker. You can literally see his mind working overtime.

What’s real? What’s imagined? What is faith? I’m not sure…I don’t have any answers. I do know I was entertained and the two hours flew by. “Life of Pi” is well worth seeing.  But remember…Richard Parker is mine.

3 nuggets out of 4

Zero Dark Thirty: A Tribute to Dedication—Movie

January 14, 2013

Less controversial than reports would lead you to believe, “Zero Dark Thirty” is, nevertheless, a gripping film that as the movie nears its conclusion, will have you on the edge of your seat, even if the outcome is known.

Beginning with one of those heart-breaking phone calls made September 11, 2001, “Zero Dark Thirty” then moves on to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the horrific day’s master-mind. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty” is derived from that real-life hunt and takes you behind the scenes into how that search and killing came to be.

Jessica Chastain plays Maya, based on the actual CIA officer who spent a decade—at the time her entire career—searching for Bin Laden. We meet her as she lands in Pakistan and accompanies fellow CIA operative Dan (Jason Clarke) as he begins another day of interrogating Ammar, a prisoner with alleged ties to Saudi terrorists. Eventually Ammar provides them with a tidbit which brings the hunt into focus. After many years, unbelievable focus and determination and, yes, some brilliance and luck, Maya believes she finally is able to pinpoint Bin Laden’s whereabouts. In fact, “Zero Dark Thirty’s ” suspense quotient kicks into high gear when the CIA operatives follow the courier they think will lead them to Bin Laden and then the actual raid.ZeroDarkThirty2012Poster

Much of the film is pretty slow; let’s face it…watching someone stare at a computer screen isn’t all that compelling. But “Zero Dark Thirty” does a very good job in showing us the painstaking work the intelligence community performs and how long it takes for decisions to be made and acted upon. Perhaps surprisingly, some of the most interesting and memorable scenes take place in CIA headquarters in Langley,VA, as Maya interacts with some of her CIA superiors.

Jessica Chastain is very good as the dedicated operative who seems to carry the whole operation on her shoulders. She beautifully captures the look and feel of someone who has no life other than her job. Jason Clarke is terrific as her colleague and friend.  He seems to move effortlessly from villainous interrogator to best friend—the film picks up every time he’s on screen.

“Zero Dark Thirty” has a great supporting cast. Singled out for mention among many good performances are James Gandolfini as the unnamed CIA Chief, Leon Panetta; a fabulous Marc Strong portraying the CIA officer who comes to Pakistan with perhaps one of the best motivational lines spoken since “Win one for the Gipper,” screaming “Bring me people to kill,”  and finally, Jennifer Ehle, as Maya’s embassy colleague, Jessica, who has a powerful turn as the veteran operative.

Like the superior “Argo” (at least to me), “Zero Dark Thirty,” is at is best when it shows us the heroism and dedication to country of the federal workers that most of us never think about. That alone makes “Zero Dark Thirty” worthy of our attention.

3 nuggets out of 4

Not Fade Away: Fades A Little Too Soon—Movie

January 10, 2013

“Not Fade Away” has a fantastic soundtrack and is a nice walk down memory lane for some. BUT does that justify an $11 movie ticket? Probably not.

Written and directed by the “Soprano’s” David Chase, this semi-autobiographical film, set at the beginning of the musical British Invasion, is about New Jersey teen Doug (John Magaro)who wants to earn his living as a rock and roller against the wishes of his Italian-American father, Pat (James Gandolfini).  Original, isn’t it?

For all we know this story might go back as far as Adam and/or Cain and Abel. But for sure this movie musical does go back to at least 1927 with one of movie’s earliest talkies,” The Jazz Singer,” which is the story of a son who pursues a career in show business over the objections of his Jewish cantor father. It’s not new and, frankly, it’s not better told.  Even the movie’s romance between the not so popular Doug and the “in” girl, Grace Dietz (Bella Heathcote), is something we saw with television’s “Gossip Girl’s” Dan and Serena for six seasons.

Even though “Not Fade Away’s” story is as old as dirt, that takes nothing away from the acting and the music—they are both terrific. James Gandolfini is very creditable as the strict, old-fashioned father. In fact, the scenes that he plays quietly are the most authentic and most heartfelt of the filmNot Fade Away poster. John Magaro is also very good and has an excellent voice. My first reaction, upon hearing him sing at “Not Fade Away’s” beginning was, “Why isn’t he singing lead?” And Bella Heathcote (a dead-ringer for “Gilmore Girl’s” Alexis Bledel ) is fine portraying the object of Doug’s affections during a time of changing moirés for women.

But the true saving grace of “Not Fade Away” is the soundtrack. Under the music supervision of Steve Van Zandt, “Not Fade Away” has compiled the best rock music of the ‘60s. It’s enough to make you want to go out and start your own garage band or, at the very least, download the early Beatles and Rolling Stones.

2 nuggets out of 4

The Impossible: Impossible to Forget—Movie

January 8, 2013

From the first crashing wave to the final hug, “The Impossible” grabs your heart and doesn’t let go. Beautifully acted and magnificently shot, “The Impossible” is, in short, a must-see film.

The struggle to survive, keeping hope when hope is hard to come by and the compassion of strangers (save for one American, unfortunately) is at “The Impossible’s” core. Because it is true, “The Impossible” is more frightening than any horror story. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona with screenplay by Sergio G. Sánchez  and story by María BelónThe Impossible poster, the film is based on the real-life story of the Belón family who experienced the terror of the December 26, 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand and ripped the family apart.(It is worth pointing out that the Belóns are Spanish.)

Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor portray Maria and Henry, an English couple on vacation in Thailand with their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), when the tsunami hits.  As the huge waves smash the resort in which they are staying, Maria and Lucas are separated from Henry and the other two boys. That is when the spirit and strength of the human heart kicks in.

Every element about “The Impossible” is nearly sheer perfection.  Since the plight of Maria and Lucas is more harrowing physically, the film spends the most time with them and their ordeal. Through the terrific force of nature that is Tom Holland, we see Lucas grow up before our very eyes as he takes charge of his mother’s care. Naomi Watts so realistically portrays what it means to be a mother even as she is suffering physically and emotionally, she takes your breath away.

Ewan McGregor has less screen time, but he makes the most of every second. As Henry, his joy at finding his two younger sons is tempered by the wholly unacceptable idea that he may never see his wife and oldest son again. McGregor makes you feel what he’s going through without saying much. And the two young actors, particularly Samuel Joslin as Thomas, give amazing performances. They seem very natural and watching Thomas assume the role of older brother will break your heart.

The entire production crew does award-winning work. Naomi Watts’ makeup is extraordinary and there was an audible gasp from my audience when we saw the hole in her leg. The depiction of Thailand during and after the tsunami is phenomenal.  “The Impossible” does such an amazing job of portraying an actual tsunami cutting its way through Thailand, you feel you are experiencing the tsunami as it’s happening. On a purely cinematic level, these scenes are simply astounding. Finally, there is Fernando Velázquez’s score. It would have been easy to go over the top, but his music never does. It’s pitch-perfect.

“The Impossible” will be impossible to forget upon leaving the theatre. That is not a bad thing.

4 nuggets out of 4

%d bloggers like this: