The West Wing (1999)

LR0sW7OlKBTV Series – If you haven’t watched The West Wing yet – WHY NOT?  This is easily one of the highest rated shows in TV history. If you haven’t watched it in years, then it is time to re-watch it.  Once again it is very timely with the upcoming election and I bet that you will be wishing that a person like Jed Bartlet would be running for President. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it gives you a sneak peek into the everyday workings of the staff of the West Wing of the White House.  Unlike some other political series, the main characters are realistic with human shortcomings and watchers can’t help but sympathize and root for them and get an insight into their personal lives and their devotion to public service.  It’s fun to compare this drama which originally aired in 1999 and aired for 7 seasons to current series such as House of Cards, Madam Secretary, Scandal, and Veep.

And here’s another bonus – Joshua Malina, who was on the show as Will Bailey for 4 seasons now has a podcast called “The West Wing Weekly” that he co-hosts with Hrishikesh Hirway. Every week, the Podcast features one episode of the show airing chronologically starting with the “Pilot” which aired on March 23rd. So you can binge watch and catch up or watch an episode and then listen to the corresponding podcast episode.

Each podcast features recaps of the episode, commentary from the hosts, and special guests including former West Wing cast members, writers, and directors.

Devil (2010)

devilMovie- Five people at an office building enter an elevator. Only one gets out. Devil combines a locked room mystery plot with the trappings of a horror movie. The five people trapped in the elevator all have guilty pasts and every time the lights go out in the broken elevator, they go back on to reveal that someone else is injured or dead. Police and security guards are watching through the security camera, comparing the sign-in sheet at the front desk to the elevator passengers and researching them and their histories to try to figure out who’s doing it. In true mystery fashion, just as they begin to suspect one passenger especially, that is the next passenger to die. Those watching from the security station are split on whether they are watching a horrific supernatural event (one security guard is superstitious and convinced that the Devil is roaming the Earth) or a bunch of frightened people acting irrationally (one of the police officers is determinedly cynical and irreligious due to personal tragedy). The audience, however, is not left wondering at the end of the movie. We get to see the big scary payoff scene of the Devil speaking through/being one of the passengers, and it is sufficiently creepy.

Devil will appeal to fans of both horror and mystery movies.  While it is not the cleverest movie ever, it has some good surprises and I did not predict too early which one of the people in the elevator was the culprit.

The Babadook (2014)

babadookMovie- Young widow Amelia has struggled to raise her difficult 6-year-old son Sam alone since her husband died the day Sam was born. Sam is a very stressed out (and stressful) kid–he brings homemade weapons to school, fears imaginary monsters, acts out constantly, and generally runs roughshod over the listless, colorless Amelia. Things intensify, though, when Amelia reads him a bedtime story from a creepy storybook that has appeared on his shelf, Mister Babadook. Both Amelia and Sam are disturbed by the monster in the story, who Sam quickly becomes convinced is stalking them. The presence of the Babadook becomes slowly more pervasive throughout the movie until it finally takes over.

I was particularly struck by how quickly one’s perceptions of the characters change. I was initially annoyed by Sam but by the end of the movie felt quite protective towards him. The settings in the movie are excellent as well:  they are claustrophobic and oppressive, especially inside Amelia and Sam’s house. The Babadook will appeal to people who typically aren’t fans of horror movies. It is mercifully short on scare chords, cheap made-you-jumps, and gore, but still plenty terrifying on a psychological level and full of suspense.

Sicario (2015)

indexMovie – Image your world includes beheadings, bodies hanging off of overpasses, and a constant fear of knowing you could die every day. For some this is their reality. Mexico is in a war with narcotics traffickers and their armies. Sicario tries to tell a story about just one strand among many woven into everyday life on the border between the US and Mexico.

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a FBI agent who has just volunteered for an operation that will take her into the heart of Juarez. Along with Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), they are trying to regain some control over the drug wars that are going on in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Kate is left wondering what she has signed up for after witnessing several questionable actions during an extradition of a top cartel leader from Mexico to the US. In addition Kate never gets the full story until it’s too late for her to back out.

Cinematically, the film reminds me somewhat of Interstellar. High shots of landscapes and cities, and the score chosen for the film are very similar with the score, and planet and space travel shots in Interstellar. Though not as gruesome or bloody as I thought it would be, the movie does have some parts that will make some cringe.

If you like films with one story line and minimal characters, you will like this. There is not as much action as I thought there would be but this makes the movie so much better. I feel the director is trying to give the audience a look into what everyday life may be like for those involved in this never-ending war.

Summertime Nostalgia

Movies – Summertime brings back memories baseball, adventures, mischief, and family vacations. It’s a time for wondering the woods, going to water parks, hanging out with friends, and first loves/crushes. Here are some movies to help get that nostalgia feeling back.

5166BKF2PFLMy number one favorite summertime film is The Sandlot. A group of neighborhood kids playing baseball all day long, or until they lose the ball for that day. These kids didn’t have a care in the world accept playing baseball, being kids, and enjoying summer. That is until they hit a special ball into the yard of “the beast”. They will do everything they can to get it back. “You’re killing me smalls!”

51Q041CWDEL._SY445_Next classic is Stand by Me. Four boys go off on an adventure to locate a dead body. Not very summery of a topic, but it is an adventure. This is what kids do… to some point. They go off in search of adventures and end up discovering things about themselves and their friends. What better time in one’s life to go on adventures! As a kid we would go down to our local train tracks and look for tadpoles and snails. Stand by Me is a classic which will always remind me of precarious summertime adventure.

794043492624;size=m2Now and Then is a story about four girls and the summer that brought them closer. The movie opens in a cemetery with the girls trying to summon a spirit. The girls are also trying to raise money to buy a tree house. The films flashbacks between the girls as adults and teens. It is a great film for everyone. Personally, I never tried to summon a spirit via a cemetery because there were no cemeteries nearby, but it sounds like something my friends and I would have done.

Summer is a great time for everyone to learn, live, laugh, and love. I recommend watching some on these movies before summers end and reliving your summertime memories with your loved ones.

Splice (2010)

4271Movie- Geneticist couple Elsa and Clive have successfully spliced together the DNA of different living animal organisms and created a pair of hybrids named Fred and Ginger, a scientific breakthrough that promises to yield great medical benefits. However, they are not satisfied, and wish to create creatures with human genetics. Against the wishes of their employer, they clandestinely create a human hybrid with DNA from all kinds of animals. Elsa treats the creature like a daughter, putting it in dresses, teaching it language, and naming it Dren. As Dren begins to get older (and more aggressive), Elsa and Clive move her to Elsa’s abandoned childhood home, a farmhouse and barn with plenty of room to hide Dren. Meanwhile, the Fred and Ginger experiment goes horribly, publicly wrong, with disturbing implications for Dren that earn this movie’s R rating.

Dren’s character design resides squarely in the uncanny valley, by turns beautiful and ineffably creepy. Without spoiling anything, the relationships among the characters in this film are really twisted and the movie’s end is quite graphic. I enjoyed the suspense and quiet build-up of the earlier half of the film more than the series of increasingly unpleasant events that make up the latter half of the film, though I suspect many who typically enjoy films in the horror genre will relish the ending. Splice will appeal to fans of other films with genetic experiments gone wrong, such as Jurassic Park and The Fly.


How to Be Single (2016)

how to be singleMovie – I went to see How to Be Single because 1. I love romantic comedies, and 2. I am a huge of Rebel Wilson.

For the first time in her life, Alice (Dakota Johnson) is single.  She had hoped that taking a break from her long-time boyfriend, Josh would give her the chance to find herself, but instead she feels completely lost in the world.  Everything changes when she meets her new coworker, Robin (Rebel Wilson), who throws Alice into the wild world of hookups and partying.  Along with a cast of fellow love-seekers in a hook-up world, Alice learns to embrace the freedom of single life.

This film is hilarious.  There are so many great moments, both funny and those verging on serious.  While it mainly centers on the life of Alice, viewers also get a look into the lives of Alice’s sister Meg, Robin, and the hopelessly romantic Lucy; four women learning how to be single in bustling New York city.  The title really says it all.  For a romantic comedy,  I thought How to Be Single was actually pretty honest and relatable.  As far as unrealistic love stories go, there was a lot of truth to this film about what it’s like to be single in a society obsessed with searching for your soul mate.  How to Be Single provides a glimpse into the reality of singlehood, while still making you laugh.

Poldark (2015)

poldarkTV Series – Family, friends, and servants assumed that Captain Ross Poldark did not survive fighting in the American Revolutionary War, but after a 3 year absence he returns to Cornwall and instead of a hero’s welcome he is faced with heartbreak and ruin.  His father has died, his beloved is engaged to his cousin, and his family estate is in severe neglect, the house squatted in by “faithful” servants.

The division and tension of the classes is even more apparent after the war. Ross has to make a living and needs means to restore the family estate, so he decides to open his father’s old copper mine.  He is no longer interested in his role as a gentleman and works side by side with the workers he employs. This surprisingly creates much resentment from his peers who would relish in his failure.  Poldark maintains his integrity and he is fiercely loyal to those devoted to him.

This superb historical drama could well fill the void for Downton Abbey fans.  It gives a strong sense of time and place – the beauty of Cornwall – and is rich in character development. Aidan Turner is wonderfully cast as Poldark and is complete eye candy too!

Caution: may cause hunger pains (Part I)

Movies – I enjoy a good film about cooking, food adventures, and or anything that features cooking. Food and movies go hand in hand. Here are couple of films without fail always make me hungry.

onesheetThe first one always makes me crave brie with pears, and fried egg sandwiches with a good beer. Spanglish, star Adam Sandler as a chef of a small restaurant. The movie is about boundaries and relationships, where they should start and end. Cultural and family dynamic differences are the major cause of drama in the movie. But it’s his fried egg sandwich that gets me every time.

chefNext on the list is Chef. It stars Jon Favreau as a chef who loses it after a bad review and his rant goes viral causing him to rethink his career and family responsibilities. This sends him from LA to Miami with his ex-wife and son, and into a new venture, the food truck business. While driving the truck back to LA, various stops are made and include beignets from New Orleans and brisket from Austin.  Brisket looks amazing and this film makes me want tostones (pressed fried plantains with garlic sauce) and yuca with garlic and vinegar! Mmm!!!

91XUvt3NWxL._SL1500_Tortilla Soup stars Hector Elizondo as a chef and father of three women. Hector has lost his taste and needs others to taste the food as he preps. The food shots of the films are gorgeous and tempting. His red snapper and nopales (cactus) make me crave breakfast by the ocean in Puerto Vallarta, MX. It also reminds me of my aunt in Mexico making fresh flour tortillas and huevos con chorizo (eggs and sausage). It always takes me back to when I was a kid!

chocolatFor dessert I give you Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche. A movie about a wandering women and her young daughter who come to a small French village to open up a chocolate shop on the eve of lent. Her hot chocolate drink is rich and thick the way it is traditional made in Spain. She uses her chocolate to change the lives of the citizens of this small village. It is only right for them to change hers as well. She also makes a chocolate with a kick from chili peppers. It’s a good thing I know a place that sells chocolate jalapeno ice cream. Hope I didn’t make you too hungry.

What Maisie Knew (2012)

maisieMovie–  I watched this emotional drama during my “Alexander Skarsgård” phase, following my seven season binge on True Blood.

What Maisie Knew is the heartbreaking story of a young girl subject to the wrath of her parents’ divorce.  Hungry with greed, Maisie’s parents (played by Julianne Moore & Steve Coogan) force their daughter into the midst of a heated custody battle.  Thrown from house to house, parent to parent, Maisie is repeatedly neglected and forgotten, with no sense of stability in her life.

Her mother, a hot-headed rockstar and her father, a distant art dealer, are too wrapped up in their own little worlds to provide a supportable life for their young daughter.  Living in environments subject to drug addiction and neglect, Maisie is often left in the care of  her longtime nanny, and the mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård).

I didn’t expect to get so emotionally wrapped up in the sorrowful and whirlwind life of Maisie.  The acting was spot on in this film–I adore Julianne Moore, and obviously Alexander Skarsgård.  Maisie is played by newcomer Onata Aprile, who I thought did a fantastic job capturing the complexity of the character.  All I wanted was for someone to give her the love and care she deserved.  Heartbreakingly mesmerizing, grab some tissues, just in case.