Thursday, February 26, 2015

Movie Review: “The Judge”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast: 

   Robert Downey Jr. continues to deliver stellar performances showing why he is currently one of the best in the business. He has been amazing in the Iron Man series and Sherlock Holmes films…but a film like this, devoid of all the effects candy, where the entertainment can only come from your acting ability, shows exactly why he is at the top of the pile. It helps tremendously that the role is not unlike previous ones where he is called on to tap into arrogance and conceit, but it also calls for a serious connection that explores why his character has been shaped thusly. This is where it’s revealed that Downey is truly top notch and can deliver the goods.

   Robert Duvall has had a very long career of great performances and he continues to deliver in this film. It really doesn’t matter what the role is, Duvall makes it work. This role works very well as it calls on him to take us into the heart of a man that has shaped his life by dispensing justice, but has not been so successful at dispensing love to his children in their later years. Being very prideful and dealing with serious health issues, Duvall’s character issues are magnified and complimented by his interactions with Downey and excellent chemistry they project as estranged father and son.

The Plot: 
   Hank Palmer (Downey) is a successful Chicago lawyer that has made a lucrative career to of defending the worst society has to offer…criminals with real money, power and influence. He is known for never losing and doesn’t care that his clients are guilty…only that such a fact cannot be proven in court.

   Joseph Palmer (Duvall) is a small town judge that has been on the bench for over forty years. He is hated by some, loved by most and highly respected for his position and dedication to dispensing the law fairly. Very prideful and strict, his children address him by is title in personal situations and defer to his authority when around him. His middle son, Hank, has been the only son to buck his system…moving away as a statement of his defiance.

   When Hank’s mother, Joseph’s wife, passes away unexpectedly, events are set into motion that will bring these two back together in the most unexpected way. Hank returns home for the funeral to find that his father has gotten himself into some serious trouble, and in their small town, he is the only person good enough at what he does to even have a chance to help his father escape the punishment of prison. What follows is an intense look into a tough relationship shaped by them having to navigate through this difficult situation.

The Verdict: 

   I very much wanted to see this film because I knew that Downey and Duvall would deliver very powerful performances. In this I certainly was not disappointed. I was also pleasantly surprised by the other talent tapped for making this film….such as Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, and Vincent D’Onofrio.

   Just as much as the film was about the relationship between father and son, it was also about Hank Palmer coming to terms with his past and his connection to the small town he grew up in, and the relationships he previously had that resurface from his visit. The foreshadowing in the film is very revealing if you are able to pick it up. I enjoyed the fact that the filmmakers added some twist as some of the situations seems painfully obvious to me.

   I expected a cliche ending and was very pleased, if not also a little sad, that the film didn’t end as I expected. Overall, the closure was a relief, but the open nature of what the future holds for Hank left me wanting some semblance of answers to the questions I had.

   I do love a good drama every now and then and this one was certainly my cup of tea. I knew I was going to be treated to stellar performances and was very pleased not to be disappointed in that. The direction was also very good as was the script.…leaving three and a half cinnamon sticks in my cup, and feeling a bit guilty it didn’t leave more.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Creating the Ultimate “You.”

   Everyone has a life philosophy, or at least they should…in terms of how to live life to the fullest while being a positive contribution to it.  Some may not agree and that’s fine (hopefully there are more that do than don’t). I actually adhere to several philosophical views while navigating the complexities of life and had an opportunity to share one of them with my daughter recently.

   My daughter is very bright and gifted, but like the rest of us, must balance the totality of who she is and wishes to become within the hours allowed to all of us each day. So when she came to me concerned about the pressures of school, calamity of home, and overall frustration with life…I was delighted to once again be afforded the opportunity to impart what little wisdom I have acquired over the years.

   Success in life is not just the balancing act of tasks and goals, but also a focusing act of dedication and progress. Although “success” is a subjective term according to what your goals and philosophy is, the formula for attaining it remains pretty consistent. For me, becoming the best version of “you” that is possible is the ultimate success. This, of course, is tied into the original idea of living life to the fullest while being a positive contribution to it. 

   The answer to the woes afflicting my daughter were, of course, about organization…but more importantly than that (given the fact school already organizes much of the day for her) was that she give 100% of herself to what she is doing, at the time she is doing it. I know this may sound simplistic (and it probably is) but the application of such has worked tremendously for her.

   Focus, for a teenager, does not come easy. The practice of compartmentalizing life is, in my opinion, helpful. For a teenager dealing with school both academically and socially, focusing all your energy on the subject at hand, knowing all other subjects will be dealt with accordingly the same way in their own time, relieves that “weight of the world” feeling. 

   When she’s in class…it’s 100% into whatever subject is presented blocking out thoughts of future plans, past situations, and other subjects (boys…smh). The same is applied to basketball after school (or whatever sport she elects to do), homework, and music (she is self taught in numerous instruments with a love for the piano).

   In this way I have convinced her (with some success) that she can create the “ultimate her.” Her grades have improved, her game has improved…her overall happiness has improved. I should also mention that she has begun taking her faith seriously as well, with the same dedication of focus and time…completing the improvement of her “total fitness.”

   So now I share this philosophy with the world (many are already practicing it no doubt) in hopes that this sharing can help someone else to improve and embark on the worthwhile endeavor of creating the ultimate “you.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Movie Review: “The Signal” 

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

   That said…this month’s film is a science-fiction movie that flew under the radar of The Boxed Office, but did not escape my notice….:-)

The Cast: 

   There really isn’t much to say about Lawrence Fishburne. If you’re a fan of his like I am, you already know how he commands the screen when he’s in front of the camera…and I can tell you that his performance in this film is much the same. Playing Damon, the administrator of a mysterious facility, he drew me in and never revealed to me if he was friend or foe. Fishbone excels at playing roles of characters that keep their motives and intentions close-to-the-vest. In the end I trusted him…but you will have to watch the film to find out if that was the right call.

   I hadn’t seen much of Brenton Thraites before this film, and have only seen him since in “The Giver.” I think he’s a capable actor and with more time and ample work, will do quite well in the film industry. In this film, because of the nature of this character, Nic, I dare say it must have been easy to play a freaked out MIT student with no clue where he is or what is happening. It’s just my opinion that some roles are simply easier to pull off than others, and although I feel this is one of those roles, I certainly think Thraites did it very well.

The Plot: 
  Nic and his two friends are driving across country to make a move, but along the way they decide to track down the signal of a notorious hacker (as it happens to be in the way). Finding an seemingly abandoned house, the all experience and disturbing and unexplained experience that finds Nic waking up in a facility, alone, with no memory of how he got there.

   The facility administrator Damon, meets with Nic frequently with the single agenda of  finding out how Nic tracked the signal and what he found when he tracked it down. Of course, Nic isn’t forthcoming with answers as he has none, which only heightens the tension between the two as Nic becomes obsessed (understandably so) with finding his friends and leaving the facility.

   As Nic begins to make some small discoveries about where he is, where his friends are, and what happened to them, it becomes clear that there is much more to the situation than Damon is telling (assuming he knows anything at all), and Nic is remembering. What happens next is exciting and mind-blowing as Nic makes good his escape after realizing something profound has happened to all of them, but even with that revelation…he is not even close to prepared for the truth of what is really going on!

The Verdict: 

  Even though this film didn’t have a huge budget to work with, they made it work regardless. The character development at the beginning of the film makes it feel as though it’s another type of film than the science-fiction sleeper that it is. Once the weirdness starts, the entire tone changes and it’s this change that riveted me to my seat.

   I’m not going to spoil anything for you about the story, but I will say that the suspense gets intense at times and the special effects (once they really begin) are pretty darn good considering the low budget. There were some parts that I absolutely had to replay (I watched it On-Demand) and thought to myself “this must be where all the money from the budget went.” That, and paying Fishburne.

   I have to say that I did not see the ending coming the way it did and was very pleased to have been surprised. I really didn’t have any expectations before watching the film, not knowing anything about it beforehand, but I still had that feeling that it was better than I expected it to be when it was over. 

   Science-Fiction is exactly my flavor, so this film was certainly welcome in my cup and the fact that the direction took it in so many places and solicited so many emotions gave it some extra zing. I didn’t track this film’s signal when it hit theaters, but caught up with the broadcast later…receiving it with three and a half spicy cinnamon sticks, out of five, in my cup.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Child Support Tragedy

   Don’t let the title fool you. Are deadbeat dads a problem in our society? Yup, they certainly are. However this post is not about those individuals that would call themselves “men” while shirking their known responsibility, nor is about the unfortunate circumstantial victims that have no knowledge of the fact they have passed on their genetic code. Nor is it about the men that are victimized by a woman unwilling to let a man be a father to his child. See…I don’t know anything about all that, so I won’t speak of it.

   I was a father at 18 and upon finding out such news, there was never a question in my mind about what I was going to do. Not having even met my own father until I was in my mid twenties, I grew up with the mindset that real men are fathers. Now many years later I have raised four more children in addition to the first, and have learned enough to offer some insight into some of the challenges of parenting. I’ve tackled the question of parenting being a role or responsibility, discussed the different parenting philosophies of either being a teacher or Santa Claus, and even weighed in on the issue of spanking. So you see, I don’t know anything about being a deadbeat dad.

   The tragedy I speak of comes from a recent story I came across that absolutely blew my mind. A man from Detroit, Michigan named Carnell Alexander has been accused of owing more than $30,000 in unpaid child support. I wouldn’t bat an eye at this if he were really a deadbeat dad, but the rub in all this is that he is not even a father!

   The court system (such as it is) is telling this man to pay up the money or face going to jail. Now I’ve blogged about some of the madness that can come from the judge’s bench, and this is just another variety of it (although it always seems to involve fathers). It just seems as though nobody has enough common sense to figure this situation out…and then they (the government/court system) has the nerve to wonder why we (sensible people) don’t trust them.

   The mother of the child has admitted (on camera) she put Mr. Alexander’s name down because there had to be a name for the father in order for her to receive benefits from the state (I won’t even get started on this tomfoolery). DNA tests have confirmed, conclusively, that Mr. Alexander is NOT the father of the child. So tell me dear reader, what sense does it make to threaten this man with jail and poverty for a situation he had absolutely nothing to do with?

   This is the child support tragedy I speak of. It’s tragic that this man is faced with such consequences when there are real deadbeat dads more deserving of this hammer. It’s tragic that we are governed  by such “brilliant” minds that can’t figure out who is really to blame and should be punished. I can only hope an innocent man is not victimized by the bureaucratic idiocy once again and he is afforded the chance to continue his pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness…such as it is in these troubling times.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie Review: “Fury” 

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast: 

   Brad Pitt has been a consistent actor that always delivers a stellar performance. In this film, his portrayal of Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier is gritty and hard-nosed, but not without a touch of compassion to connect us to the fact he still retains some humanity while dealing with inhumane circumstances. Pitt also conveys just how heavy the head is that wears the crown as defined by being that person in command that is forced to make the hard decisions when nobody els can…or will.
   Shia LaBeouf has been struggling with his public image recently but his acting ability is not. He delivers an excellent performance as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan, the gunner of the tank. LaBeouf captures the essence of a man slowly losing his grip on sanity from constantly living the horrors of war.
   Michael Pena is a very capable actor and delivers a great performance as Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia, the tank’s driver. Like Swan he is adversely effected by a life of war and struggles to maintain his human connection while carrying out his function to ensure the survival of the crew.

The Plot: 
   With the Allied final push into Nazi Germany, the five man crew of a Sherman tank, Fury, are tasked with being one of the spearheads of the push. After the crew loses their gunner, he is replaced by the new and inexperienced Army typist, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman).
   Naturally Ellison goes through a period of harsh treatment by is crew, both due to is newness, and his reluctance to acclimate to the reality of war. On one such occasion of reluctance, his inaction cases the death of their platoon leader which infuriates Collier and prompts  him to force Ellison to kill a German prisoner.
Later the crew of the Fury partake in the capturing of a small German town and come upon a pair of German women. Collier coaxes Ellison to spend some intimate time with one of them, further strengthening the bond between these two men as Collier has reminded Ellison why they are fighting and that life can be more than just war again. The moment doesn’t last as the rest of the crew, particularly Grady ‘Coon-ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), disrupt the setting, further exacerbated by a German attack on the town that kills both women.
   The crew of Fury then receives orders to hold a strategic position along with other tanks. What follows is the summation of all the experience and horrible lessons of war as the crew of Fury must do the impossible.

The Verdict: 

   I very much enjoy war films and have always felt that “Saving Private Ryan” has set the bar. Of course it’s too much to ask of any film to compare to that, and I try not to do so, but it’s always in the back of my mind anyway.
   That said, this film stacks up pretty well in terms if both entertainment and impact. While the central point of the film differers, the theater (WW2) remains the same. What is very unique about the setting within the context of the larger event is the tank itself. The battlefield looks very different from inside a tank…especially one that is in no way invulnerable either to other soldiers and certainly not to enemy tanks.

      Of course the acting and action kept me enthralled as did the expectation I had watching a war film (that there would be plenty of death by gratuitous violence). Although the film delivered this, the pace slowed a bit in some parts, but the story never faltered so it wasn’t an issue for me. 

   Although not the absolute best war film I have ever seen, it still had me riveted to the screen in anticipation of what was going to happen next. I was interested in the fate of the characters and intrigued by their circumstances. This movie steadily rolled over me and blasted three and a half cinnamon sticks, out of five, in my cup of tea.

Rating 3.5 /5

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Weapons of Mass Discussion

   Without a doubt there are certain subjects that incite an emotional reaction and invigorate some deep seeded passion within us. No matter how calm and reasonable we can be, or even start out to be…there are just some things that we feel so strongly about that we digress and revert to something a little less than reasonable…or calm. We have all heard (or at least I hope we all have) to not bring up certain subjects in social gatherings…to ensure those gatherings remain amicable. Fortunately on this blog, we can bring these subjects up and discuss them without breaking up a party or throwing a single punch.

   Sports is one of those touchy subjects…especially depending on the teams being discussed. Walking around New York wearing Boston Red Sox gear might get you in bit of trouble. So will getting into a discussion wherein your prevailing opinion is that the Yankees suck, and Boston rules. Now…I’m not saying that mind you, I’m just saying that such a conversation would be a very tough one to have with Yankees fan. Personally, I don’t see what all the hubbub is about. I have never found sports to be an overly important subject, not even newsworthy really, and think the fact professional athletes get paid so much just contributes to making the world the topsy-turvy place it is. That said, my opinion is not shared by the millions of sports fanatics and all the bar room brawls, wagered money, and overturned cars in celebration make this subject one of the weapons of mass discussion.

   Politics is another touchy subject…probably on a more profound level than sports. I have never heard of someone attempting to kill their spouse over a game, but can never forget how politics divided this country so much that a woman ran her husband over and people actually petitioned to secede from the union. This is how polarizing and passionate people become over politics…and I think it’s utterly ridiculous. Politics is not rocket science and with some applied common sense, it can be easily figured out that most of our politicians engage in political monkey business and some serious reform is needed to either make them honest…or make them gone. There are very few politicians that will talk straight and I’m flabbergasted that the ones that do are not supported more…by everyone. Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised…the system (with the help of media propaganda)  ensures that so many people either see red or blue, donkey or elephant, right or left…without realizing both are colors, both are animals, and both sides are needed for a strong embrace. Proper etiquette in serene social settings says to stay away from the subject of politics…it is, after all, a weapon of mass discussion. I have to admit though that I relish when it comes up (especially when it shouldn’t) because it’s just another opportunity to declare my independence…and smack both sides around. 

   Religion is another touchy subject…so much so that this post marks the very first time I have ever discussed it in the three years of doing this blog. I have purposely stayed away from the subject as I feel it should be a private and personal matter…but that’s just not how it plays out in reality. Some people are very vocal and public with their faith (and in all fairness, many beliefs call for just that kind of attention in the service of bringing others closer to God) and use every opportunity to share it. Some of the nicest and spiritual people become very visceral when their faith is challenged. In a country where there is a separation of church and state, they become very intertwined when you try to burn the wrong book as your freedom of expression. You would think in a civilized world that killing someone because they choose to worship differently than you would be a thing of the past…but if by past you mean just the other day, then you’re right. I think beyond the fandom of sports, the polarizing effect of politics…religion is probably the most dangerous weapon of mass discussion. Anything can be justified in the mind that thinks it has been chosen by the almighty to carry out actions not meant to be questioned or understood. In this we can have calm…but still without reason.

   The touchy subjects of the weapons of mass discussion have been laid out before you for consumption and digestion. Indulge yourself and let social etiquette give way to base emotions. After all…it’s better you do it here than at the next social function you will be attending…and possibly disrupting. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eating Well in Boston

   I don’t think it’s a big secret that I love to eat good food. I think that it’s an improvement from my previous position of just loving to eat…nearly any food. As I age and grow wiser, I try to make better decisions on how I treat my body and that starts with what I put in it. That said, when I’m at home I follow a strict diet and try to give myself a fighting chance to enjoy my later years. This also has the benefit of make those times when I indulge purely for the joy of taste less detrimental to my overall plan.

   I don’t eat out too often, but when I do I’m very selective in where I go and what I eat. I look for places that can present healthy choices  (relatively speaking considering how I eat at home) without sacrificing extraordinary taste. Once I find such a place, they gain a loyal customer…and I gain weight (LOL!). 

   I have decided to showcase my top five favorite places to eat. If you live in the Boston area, treat yourself and check these places out. If you don’t live here but find yourself visiting for a bit, treat yourself and check these places out. I present them in alphabetical order…because that’s just how my OCD works.

1.) Al Wadi Lebanese Restaurant - West Roxbury

   If you don’t like Lebanese food, stop now. I happen to LOVE Mediterranean food with a particular emphasis on the Lebanese flavor. The price range is moderate, especially for the amount of food you get. In fact, if I have one complaint, it’s the amount of food you get. After ordering a bunch of small appetizers before the main course (because there are so many I wanted to try that I couldn’t settle on just one), I found myself completely stuffed by the time the main dish arrived! Understand, this is not a real complaint, but a testament to the fact that you can walk in this place, order a few appetizers, and be completely satisfied…stuffed in fact. My favorite combination of “appetizer” dinner is: Warak Enab - A tasty mix of parsley, onions, tomatoes, rice and a hint of lemon wrapped in grape leaves. Fatayer Sabenegh - Mini pies prepared with fresh dough stuffed with spinach, lemon and sumac. Arnabeet Mekleh - Hand cut Cauliflowers lightly fried and served with tahini sauce. On top of that, the atmosphere is relaxing, the staff is courteous and personable, and the food is phenomenal.

2.) Fairmount Grille - Hyde Park

   This place has quickly become the only place to be in Hyde Park if you’re hungry. After the space went through a few eateries, the current owner struck gold with the combination of talent he has brought together. Without a doubt, Chef Jako is one of the best in the business. Claiming that the spirits of all the great chefs of the past speak to him while cooking, I’m inclined not to argue since the culinary euphoria is real. I don’t want it to become a recurring theme (nor do I want to reveal my greed) but portion sizes is again an issue…that’s not really an issue. I have to be absolutely starving to actually finish a plate here, otherwise…I’m bringing something home. On top of all this, the drinks are among the best in the entire city. My usual delight is the Baked Atlantic Haddock - baked with lemon, white wine, butter, topped with seasoned bread crumbs with pesto rice and broccolini. Yes…I have tried to duplicate the pesto rice at home. No…I have not been successful. I’m quickly becoming a regular, and loving every bite.

3.) In House Cafe - Allston

   Just mentioning this place is making my mouth water…and I’m not even hungry as I write this. They tout themselves as serving the freshest food…and you can certainly taste the difference. I usually frequent this place for a better breakfast than you are going to get anywhere else. Really…if you’re going to one of those other chain restaurants and thinking you’re having a good breakfast, this place will make you realize that eating garbage is not a good breakfast. Of course they serve lunch and dinner as well, but I’m never in the area for dinner and only periodically in the area for lunch. The larger point though is that when I’m in the area, this is where I’ll be eating at. The staff is very appreciative of recurring customers and remember who you are to the point of anticipating what you will be eating when you arrive. They already know when they see me that I’m probably going to order the Mediterranean Omelette - Spinach, fresh tomato, feta cheese and a hint of roasted garlic or the Falafel Wrap (with hummus) - Lettuce or parsley with tomato, turnips or pickles and tahini sauce. I always leave here looking forward to returning.

4.) Sophia Italian Steakhouse - West Roxbury

   A little bit on the pricey side, it’s totally understandable for the atmosphere they provide and incredible food they serve. Everyone should treat themselves to this type of restaurant every now and then and just enjoy the experience. The menu has been through a recent change, but this hasn’t changed the fact that this one of the best places to eat in the city. The staff is downright fun, which might come as a surprise given the elegance of the place, but not too surprising as this is a common occurrence with all the restaurants in this post. I should also note that they make the best Clear Chocolate Martini…period. My usual indulgence is either the Graham Crusted Cod - With beurre blanc, red bliss parmesan mashed potato and asparagus or the Grilled Atlantic Salmon - With a grilled asparagus pesto, roasted fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach. Most of my time is spent deciding which one to get. One day I’m just going to order both…then explode.
5.) Stone Hearth Pizza - Needham

   First let me say that this restaurant has six locations and this review is exclusive to the one in Needham. I can say without a doubt that not all of them are the same…having been to the Allston location, and finding this out the hard way. That said the Needham location makes the best pizza…on the planet! Granted, I have not eaten pizza all over the globe, but just the fact the pizza makes you feel this way says something about their dedication to making great food. Their modus operandi is “sustainable, organic and local” and you can certainly taste the difference! In fact, this restaurant is single-handily responsible for my refusal to eat pizza from anywhere else. I just can’t stomach the difference. It’s like having the opportunity to commute via a Bentley, and taking up an offer instead to commute by tricycle. It’s just not gonna happen. The variety of awesome food on the menu is vast so please appreciate my efforts when I limit this list to just my three favorite pizzas (in order from least to best) .The Bean - Garlic oil, white bean spread, fresh mozzarella and sautéed red onion, topped with a salad of spinach, shaved red onion and pesto. Roasted Garden - Garlic-infused olive oil, spinach, fontina and parmesan cheese over a sauce consisting of braised red/yellow peppers, onions, rosemary, tomatoes. The Divine Goddess  - Garlic oil, topped with a mixture of fresh spinach, broccoli, local ricotta cheese, garlic, then finished with our cheese blend and a pinch of parmesan. Although I have tried, words do not adequately describe the joy the food here brings.

   So there you have it…my definitive list of the best places to eat in Boston, and as an added bonus, if you are ever in Arizona…check out the Pita Jungle. My experience at their Arcadia location remains one of the best…ever.