interstellar-movie-mcconaughey.jpgFor two and a half hours I waited for something to pump energy, concept, or even engaging visuals into this bloated Hollywood block buster.

And for two and a half hours I waited in vain.

Interstellar is excruciatingly bad. Bad, B A D! Why do I say this?  Here’s why! It pops up on our collective event horizon after the following truly engaging films: Alien, Contact, 2001, Gravity, The Right Stuff, Star Wars, hell, even Star Trek, to name but a few. Christopher (Inception, The Prestige) Nolan has gotten his knickers in such a twist paying homage to these earlier, far better films, that he seems to have forgotten that we’ve all seen them too.

We know about wormholes. We’ve seen spaceships leaving earth’s gravitational pull. We’ve watched scientists writing equations at the blackboards that somehow explain how relativity works. The very people who would be willing to sit through a new, highly-hyped sci fi film—for two and a half hours!—would be savvy about these basic space voyager tropes. What was Nolan thinking?!!!!

The only person who seemed to have forgotten these concepts More…

jennifer-lawrence-katniss.jpgApparently while I wasn’t paying attention (i.e. during the second installment of the Hunger Games film trilogy, which I failed to view) Katniss has destroyed the very Games that put her, her buddies and her lumpen no-necked boyfriend Peeta in such deep owl pucky. But at any rate, Mockingjay Part I opens with a glassy-eyed Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) along with her mother and sister living in a giant silo community called District 13 many many levels underground. Somewhere, far away, the malicious leader of all this mischief, Snow (Donald Sutherland) is still wearing white Nehru jackets and wringing his hands like the Roman dictator upon which his character is styled. Donald Sutherland began life as an actor playing smug, cloying smart alecks (M.A.S.H., etc) and he’s never stopped.

I figure I had to watch this phenomenon if I wanted to crystallize my growing insight into the Millennial mind set. Don’t get me wrong. I certainly applaud the actress in Lawrence as much as the next aging girl. But at a certain point in Mockingjay I found myself wincing. Katniss isn’t simply a tough action heroine. She’s the Messiah. And all of the survivors More…

hawking.jpgI expected treacle, but The Theory of Everything turned out to be a beautifully-crafted biopic about astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, his intellectual ascent and his physical decline. Kudos to confident director James Marsh.
Made from a book by his wife Jane—who married Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) while he was a student at Cambridge and stood by him during the entire devastating course of the onset of motor neuron disorder, the film moves swiftly thanks to a superb cast and cinematic expertise. Hawking is a well-known figure, both in the rarified halls of cosmological theory, and in popular culture. His disease, his wheelchair, his electronically-generated “voice”, his impish grin—all are fairly iconic to anyone who can pick up a copy of People magazine.

Smartly photographed and well played, The Theory of Everything, reveals a bit of the back story we’re all keen to discover. As the sympathetic, brave, and ultimately weary wife, actress Felicity Jones is perfect. Her resolve, her deep interest in him and in maintaining his dignity, are all etched on the screen in the actress’ deft and very lightly-drawn portrait.

As Hawking, British theatrical wunderkind Eddy Redmayne outdoes Daniel Day Lewis’ left foot, if you know what I mean. It manages to avoid being the predictable freak show, and yet it also avoids shedding insight into the bold and controversial theories that have made Hawking the stuff off Isaac Newtonian legend.

A nice way to pass a few hours. Watch Redmayne, on the fast track to be next year’s Benedict Cumberbatch.

birdman.jpgI’m still trying to wrap my head around this surreal bit of brilliance. Michael Keaton’s performance in Birdman is blazing.

In one of the purest cases of art imitating life, this stunning film casts former action hero Batman Michael Keaton as a former action hero “Birdman” movie star Riggan Thompson. Like his character, Keaton seemed to have dropped off the big screen for the past decade, and in both metaphorical and literal senses Birdman is his comeback as a leading man. A resounding, unforgettable, Oscar-contender comeback!

Directed by Babel’s Alejandro Iñarritu, with taut camerawork by Gravity’s Oscar-winner Emmanuel Lubezki, the film defies easy categorization. A mannered—at times surreal—black comedy of backstage egos, psychodrama, and promiscuity, the film follows the three final days of theatrical rehearsals and previews before Thompson’s opening night on Broadway. Starring in a play he wrote and directed, Thompson is an engaging mass of anxieties. His daughter (Emma Stone) fresh out of rehab is working in the theater and loaded with attitude. His co-star (Edward Norton) is gunning for top billing. Various current and former mistresses, as well as an ex-wife, continue to plague his last grasp at self-worth. Throw into this mix a stalwart producer buddy (Zach Galifianakis) and a caustic New York theater critic (Lindsey Duncan) determined to destroy his new show and you have every stereotype needed to explore the thorny jungle of theater.

Whether we get to be the hero of our own life, or whether we simply play that part, More…

crawler6_0.jpgTravis Bickle—meet Lou Bloom.

In the nocturnal swamp-crawl through Los Angeles that is Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sardonic psychopath against the gorgeous cinematic sweep of Don Gilroy’s new film. Shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) the film offers a riveting elegy on the loneliness of 21st century urbanity, a landscape upon which Gyllenhaal’s desperate, crafty opportunist Bloom fashions a career out of capturing news footage of grisly, graphic car crashes, suburban shootings, and blood-drenched explosions. “If it bleeds, it leads,” local TV station news director (played by Rene Russo) tells freelance photographer Bloom, who quickly convinces both her, and us that he can and will do anything to get his footage broadcast.

A sobering morality play fusing Yankee ingenuity with narcissistic ruthlessness, the film bristles with all the visual chill of a David Lynch dreamscape painted by Edward Hopper. Oozing eerie geek charm, Bloom and his ill-gotten video equipment stake out violent crime scenes and spectacular accidents, acquiring more skill and sensational footage the more he discards all shreds of decency or compassion.

Gyllenhaal’s gaunt glassy-eyed character thrives on this blood-drenched quest for More…

gone-girl-11-600x421.jpgDirector David Fincher has done some competent, stylish B movies in the past, e.g. Zodiac, The Social Network, and I guess you could call his latest, Gone Girl, a competent, stylish B movie.

I went to see the film because as a writer I was curious about the plotting of the original story. And I came away impressed with the intricate, he says/she/says twists and turns of this lurid domestic saga. I also came away with the sobering lesson that it doesn’t matter how smart your story is, if you don’t deliver an ending that satisfies all of your plotline teasing, your reader (or in this case, viewer) will come away feeling unsatisfied and ripped off.

First off, could anyone tell me why Ben Affleck is allowed in front of a camera? Listless and wooden, he is impossible to like. Yes, I know. His character was supposed to be questionable. Is he telling us the truth when he says he doesn’t know where his wife is? Did he kill her? Is he hiding some huge horrible secret? Maybe Affleck is fine for that character — typecast even. But he is almost unwatchable.

I was curious to see what the fuss was about—the book by Gillian Flynn is such a huge hit.

Okay we meet the couple and their first five years together, mostly in flashbacks told by the wife’s diary. Amy and Nick Dunne have been a dream couple, until More…

bn-ek167_joan_g_20140904162629.jpgJoan Rivers - wow - how many times did I use her “Can we talk?” line when I was a smart aleck kid?

A brilliant, genuinely funny trailblazer who definitely did it her way. Admit it, the world is a less edgy, less honest place without Joan’s witchy tongue and spot-on zingers. Such brazen chutzpah! Such cheek! What a woman!

Thanks for the laughs!

mice.jpgWould you travel 7000 miles to watch a stage full of pink and white mice singing the Wedding March from Lohengrin?

Well I did, and my reward—in addition to hearing sumptuous music performed in an acoustically perfect hall—was watching the reigning Lohengrin underscoring his stardom.

Gifted with a perfect stage name, Klaus Florian Vogt also has the looks and the voice to go with it. I’d been told that I was in for a treat by several of Vogt’s global devotées, but I was not prepared for the tenor’s ravishing opening notes as the mythic knight who arrives in time to save a medieval town from its political rivals.

The voice began high in the tenor register, in a long shimmering phrase and simply spun outward into the entire hall, celestial and pure. Unearthly in fact. Vogt’s voice is lieder light, and yet it has a gorgeous crystalline tone and relentless power. His voice stayed strong and clear to the very end, where in Hans Neuenfels’ brilliant production, Lohengrin rejects human society and moves on to find a better world.

Looking and sounding exactly as a Wagnerian hero should, the blonde, rockstar handsome Vogt More…

rte1.jpgSeriously, this was the most seamless, delicious, relaxing, vibrant farm dinner I’ve ever enjoyed. (And there have been plenty!)

Route One Farms—sprawled out along the fertile alluvial plains by Waddell Creek—joined forces with Feel Good Foods and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard wines - and romanced 125 of us last Sunday.

Courses came swiftly, from salmon and Little Gems salad with dill aioli, on to potatoes and romanos and grilled eggplant, Fogline chicken, pasta with fresh tomatoes and cheeses, it all flowed seamlessly. Paul Rangell and company created the late summer soundtrack.
Wines to match, including a port with ice cream, walnuts, golden raspberries and whipped cream for dessert.
We told our favorite Orin Martin stories—Steiny, host farmer Jeff Larkey, et al.—and sailed out into the super moon on the way home. Kudos to the entire team—Zane, Jasmine, Melody, etc.!! (photo: from Hilltromper’s Traci Hukill)

robin.jpgRobin Williams, so desperately gifted, so desperately troubled.

He died of an overdose of talent.

Thanks for all the laughter and tears!