Saturday, February 28, 2009

Napa Valley Grille - restaurant review

We had tickets to see a show in Westwood tonight, so the husband picked Napa Valley Grille for dinner. He found it through Open Table, and I'd been there for lunch once (I think - I can't remember exactly), and when I looked at their dinner menu, I was happy to give it a try.

We arrived a little late for our reservation because of bad traffic. The husband had planned on valet parking the car anyway, but we discovered that there was a parking structure right next to the restaurant. Since valet parking was $4 and you would be expected to tip as well, the $7 price of the parking lot wasn't too bad. One warning though - the up ramp is fairly narrow, which can be a concern for larger-sized vehicles.

We were seated quickly upon our arrival at the restaurant, to a table in the back, which was actually closer to the street because of the way the restaurant was situated. We perused the menu, and after a while, our server (T) came by to introduce himself. The husband ordered sparkling water, and then the server later came back to take our orders. He seemed very friendly and personable, so it all seemed to be going well.

The busboy brought out a basket of bread, which came with olive bread and another kind of bread, and he also brought a dish of olive oil and a dish of eggplant tapenade, which was pretty good.

For a starter, the husband and I shared an order of the Grilled Pacific Calamari Bruschetta (grilled calamari with artichokes, roasted cherry tomatoes, grilled ciabatta, meyer lemon vinaigrette). When the dish was brought out, I was a bit surprised that it was called "bruschetta" because it really wasn't. Most of the ingredients were cooked together in a little bit of broth, with two pieces of toasted bread on top. It was delicious, and I enjoyed it more than I would have had it actually been bruschetta.

I should say that at first, a basket of fried calamari was brought to our table. I didn't remember the husband ordering that and didn't even see it on the menu, but since I like fried calamari, I didn't care. We'd each had a piece or two when the runner came by to say that we'd been brought the wrong item, and he gave us the dish we ordered instead and took the fried calamari away.

Now, I will say that I was disappointed that they didn't ask if we just wanted to keep the fried calamari anyway. No, I don't generally ask for stuff for free, but we'd already had a taste of it (and even if we hadn't touched it, they couldn't then serve it to whomever had actually ordered it), so they were just going to take it back to the kitchen and throw it away anyway.

For our next course, I had ordered the Organic Baby Lettuce salad (parmesan crisp, roasted cherry tomatoes, toasted walnut vinaigrette) and the husband ordered the Warm Organic Spinach Salad (crispy prosciutto, blue cheese, roasted pear, pear vinaigrette, harvest nuts). I really enjoyed my salad, which was a nice mixed "weed" salad, and I particularly liked the dressing, which was light and tangy.

For the main course, I had ordered House Made Saffron Infused Garganelli (sweet crab and black garlic, mussels and cockles and shrimp) and the husband ordered Sautéed Center Cut Aged Sirloin "Filet" (crispy weiser farm butterball potato cake, sprouting broccoli, warm cultivated mushroom vinaigrette).

We had finished with our salads and sat at the table chatting for quite some time. It seemed like a really long time that we'd been waiting for our entrees. A manager eventually came by and mentioned that he'd spoken to the chef and that our entrees would be out shortly. We're not sure if something happened with our orders or if the manager happened to notice that we'd been sitting for a while, but it was nice of him to come by to say something. We sat for a while longer, and eventually, our entrees were brought to us. The husband had made an early reservation so that we could have a leisurely dinner and still make our show in plenty of time. Our reservation was at 5:45pm, and we probably arrived and were sat around 6pm. Yes, we had a starter and salad, but our entree still didn't arrive until about 7:10pm. OK, fine, we can still enjoy the entree, and I would forego any idea of dessert that I might have been entertaining. We figured that while we were enjoying our entree, when the server came by, the husband would ask for the check to get that settled so that we could leave as soon as we were done.

The husband very much enjoyed his dinner and particularly liked the sauce that accompanied the dish. I also really liked my dish, which came with a lot of broth that was very tasty, so I kind of wish I'd had a spoon to be able to enjoy all of it. I just contented myself with using the shellfish shells to scoop up some of the liquid. The pasta was pretty good, nice firmness and texture, though just a tad on the large side to comfortably pick up with a fork without worrying about dropping it in the broth and splattering. The crab legs and shrimp and mussels were good. While I have an idea what cockles are (mollusk family, I presumed), I wasn't entirely sure what they looked like. The only other seafood item in my dish was pretty much just clams - clams of the variety that are pretty common. They were still good, so I figured maybe they had a problem getting cockles or something.

So the husband finished his entree first. And he sat there. And as I continued to finish my entree, he continued to sit there. And not once did the server come by to check on us. I then realized that he'd NEVER come back EVEN ONCE to check on us after any of our dishes were delivered to us. We saw him at the other nearby tables talking to them and helping them, and he never once looked in our direction or bothered to stop by. Never once asked us how the food was or if we needed anything. And then he disappeared for a while. He finally returned to an adjacent table, and the husband finally managed to get his attention to ask for the check. At that point, I got up to use the ladies' room and told the husband I'd meet him out front.

Given the kind of restaurant Napa Valley Grille is, I do not expect to be completely ignored by the server. Heck, forget that it was an upscale restaurant - I would not be happy with being that ignored at Chili's or Olive Garden or Mimi's or Denny's. I *might* have given him a pass if, when the husband asked for the check, he apologized for not coming by sooner, asking if we might want some dessert, anything to acknowledge his complete non-service to us.

The food was quite good, but the absolutely atrocious service really turned me off, especially since the delay in getting our entrees and then not being to get the server's attention made us almost late for our show. We arrived just minutes before the show started.

I would not refuse to go back to the restaurant if someone else really wanted to go, but it would certainly not be on my list of places I'd choose to return to nor could I really recommend it to anyone else.

Napa Valley Grille
1100 Glendon Avenue, Suite 100
Los Angeles, CA 90024

Friday, February 27, 2009

the bride's memorable day

A woman's wedding day is usually quite memorable but not always for good reasons.

Presuming this wasn't staged (which it doesn't appear to be), it was pretty funny. Well, pretty funny if you're not the bride.

Clumsy Best Man Ruins Wedding - Watch more Funny Videos

Thursday, February 26, 2009

baby baby

E*Trade has a series of commercials with a little baby that talks. A new one premiered during the Super Bowl this year that was really cute. I love the new friend!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Friday the 13th" - spoiler movie review

I don't generally watch a lot of horror movies. OK, well, I don't anymore. I used to rent and watch quite a few of them. I've seen most of the films in each of the "Friday the 13th", "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Halloween" series. At some point, though, they got to be too much for me. My imagination tends to run away sometimes, so I'd end up having nightmares from the movies I watched. Also, I'm not big on bloody movies, and that tends to be more the trend now (like the "Saw" series) than just being scary, but really scary doesn't work for me either. So, while I do enjoy them, I can't really handle them.

There have been a number of remakes of horror movies in recent years, so when I first heard about "Friday the 13th", it didn't really interest me. Then I heard a little more about it, and it seemed like it really was just a modern version of the story, rather than the weird "re-imaginings" that seem to be happening with many re-made films. Then I saw a couple of trailers, and yep, it did really look interesting. So, even though I had my concerns about whether or not I was making a huge mistake, I decided to accompany the husband, who did want to see the film. (We had gone to see "Freddy vs. Jason" when that was released, mostly at the wish of myself and a friend, because combining the two franchises sounded really interesting, and they actually did a really good job. For my review of that film, click here.)

Generally, I thought they did a good job with this film. Instead of being a remake, it really was more of a sequel. The original story of Jason, who drowned in a lake while his camp counselors were off cavorting and not paying attention to him, and Jason's mother, who was the actual one doing all the killings (well, except for the very end), was told amongst the people in the movie. They had recreated flashbacks of Jason's mom as well.

And then that first batch of teenagers was systematically killed. Most of the killings made sense, except for one that was iffy and one that was downright wrong.

It had occurred to me some time ago that many of the teen horror movies were actually morality tales sugar-coated in a way that made them appealing to teenagers. If you just present a morality tale to a teen, they're going to be uninterested, bored, resentful and will not pay attention. But, couch it in a horror movie with sex and murder and mayhem and screaming - they'll come back time and again for more. If you look at the original stories involving Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers and I believe Freddy Krueger as well, the people who die are teens involved in bad activities. The camp counselors are more interested in getting into each other's pants than they are the kids themselves, and the kids in Michael Myers' hometown are the same way. In "Halloween", the lone survivor is the virginal one. All the other ones who get killed are promiscuous and irresponsible and reckless and engage in bad behaviours. So the subconscious lesson that viewers are learning is that bad behaviour leads to death - so don't do it! OK, well, it's not quite that blunt.

That tradition is upheld in the new film. Of the first batch of teens, they were swearing like sailors, they were preoccupied with sex and marijuana. Bad kids. Must die. The only ones that didn't really make sense were Whitney and her boyfriend. Whitney had been tending to her sick mother for quite some time, and her adventures with her friends that weekend was the first time she'd been away from her mother in a long time. And she felt guilty. Her boyfriend assured her that her mom asked him to take her away for the weekend. They didn't particularly seem interested in finding the batch of marijuana that the others did. They didn't sneak off into the woods to have sex - they really did just go on a walk together. If it had turned out that the boyfriend had lied about her mother asking him to take her away, that would have made his death make more sense, but otherwise, it wasn't cut and dried like the others. The husband says that the fatal error he made was that he was the one to find and mess with Jason's mom's head. Hmmm, ok.

But Whitney? Her death made no sense at all. So when her brother Clay showed up weeks later looking for her, I was still preoccupied with how little sense her death made. So, when it was eventually revealed that Jason had not in fact killed her but was instead holding her prisoner in a dungeon of sorts, it all made much more sense. The explanation seemed to be that she looks a lot like his mother did.

So then there's the next batch of teens who were frolicking about, who Clay happened to run into. And the first guy he met had zero sympathy for the fact that Clay was looking for his missing sister, the guy was an asshole all around, he was rich and flaunted it and used it to buy friends, he got possessive about sort-of-girlfriend Jenna and then had sex with one of the other girls. Yeah, he was a goner. It was funny, though, later in the film, when the girl he'd had sex with was dropped on top of the car he was sitting in while attempting to get away, and he just screamed like a girl.

There was the aforementioned sexpot. Targeted. There was the guy who brought his bong and was smoking weed. Targeted. There was the guy who coveted rich boy's stuff and position and was kind of an ass as well. Targeted. However, he did have a couple of the funniest lines, especially the one he muttered to himself when rich boy made him go to the toolshed to get tools to fix the chair he broke. And then when he was confronted by Jason, he happened to be holding a hockey stick and offered it to Jason because it would go really well with Jason's outfit, since Jason had donned the now-infamous hockey mask.

There was the death of the cop/sheriff who came to investigate that didn't really make a lot of sense - I don't recall collateral damage per se in the original movies. But the final death that didn't make sense was Jenna's, the girl Clay befriended. It might just be a case of guilty by association, but she supported Clay from the first time they met, so I really thought she would be the third survivor. Not to be.

As is customary with these kinds of movies, Jason is not in fact dead at the end. It's not over.

If they were to continue the series, I doubt that I'd see any more. My curiosity was satisfied in seeing this one, which does a good job of pulling off the hallmarks of the series. And yeah, there were a lot of parts I didn't actually watch because I knew there was going to be a lot of blood. It didn't turn out to be too bad for me, but that was because I was mostly trying to focus on the "did this person die for the right reason" game, partly as an attempt to distract myself and look at the movie more clinically rather than being drawn in so I wouldn't be terrified.

There were people playing the first batch of teens and the second batch who looked familiar to me from movies and/or other television shows, and I didn't realize until I read the credits that the recreated flashback scene starred Nana Visitor as Jason's homicidal mother.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

my cave or yours?

Lots of people are having financial situations, and some people even say that, well, if they can't afford a house, they'll just go live in a cave. But they certainly couldn't afford to live in this cave.

The picture of the stairs is kind of nice, but that creepy yellow-lit hallway would be a deal breaker for me.

There would be the advantage, though, that if I didn't know something, and someone made fun of me by asking, "What, do you live in a cave?", I could actually answer in the affirmative and be telling the truth.

The article says that the cave is both heated and cooled, but I would think it would be too cold. I'm not a cold-weather person. And wouldn't there be critters wandering around and such?

And it's probably not something they think about a lot in Missouri, but having lived in California almost all of my life, I'd be terrified of earthquakes. There would really be no place to hide from the raining rocks.

And it would be really hard to find a "CAVE SWEET CAVE" sign.

And my commute would suck.

Monday, February 23, 2009

well, at least the *original* won Best Picture

The husband sent me a link that a friend had sent to him which details the remarkable similarities between "Forrest Gump", a film that was released more than ten years ago, and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", the film currently in theatres.

"Forrest Gump" won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects and Best Editing.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" was nominated for a whole slew of Oscars, but of the ones that "Forrest Gump" won, this film only won Best Visual Effects.

I loved "Forrest Gump" but had no interest in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button".

I guess the Academy still appreciates the cool visual effects, but maybe the movie didn't win any of the other awards because the Academy knew that they'd already given the movie all those awards the last time the movie was made.

The Curious Case of Forrest Gump - Watch more

Sunday, February 22, 2009

81st Academy Awards winners and show

First, the awards.

Best Picture
Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actor
Sean Penn, Milk

Best Actress
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Original Screenplay
Milk, written by Dustin Lance Black

Best Adapted Screenplay
Slumdog Millionaire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Best Animated Feature Film

Best Score
Slumdog Millionaire

Best Original Song
"Jai Ho", Slumdog Millionaire, Music by A.R. Rahman,
Lyric by Gulzar

Best Film Editing
Slumdog Millionaire

Best Art Direction
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Cinematography
Slumdog Millionaire

Best Costume Design
The Duchess

Best Makeup
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Visual Effects
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Sound Editing
The Dark Knight

Best Sound Mixing
Slumdog Millionaire

"Slumdog Millionaire" won in eight of the ten categories in which it received a nomination.

OK, now, my thoughts on the red carpet pre-show and show itself.

Josh Brolin and Diane Lane came together, and I had no idea they were married. So, if James Brolin and Barbara Streisand are still married (are they?), then that would mean that Diane Lane is Barbara Streisand's stepdaughter-in-law. How weird is that?

I loved Amy Adams' dress, and she had on a stunning jeweled necklace. It was pretty big, and she's very slender, but it looked amazing on her.

The cast of "Slumdog Millionaire" being all together was cool. Those little kids are just too cute.

Meryl Streep's daughter's dress was pretty, but I thought her dress and hair were awful - very unflattering on both counts.

Overall, I liked Hugh Jackman as the host. He can sing and dance and be personable, and he kept the show moving along, which was good. I still think it's weird to listen to him with his normal Australian accent, though, since that's not what I'm used to him as. His low-key opening number was pretty cool, and they even managed to fit in a plug for "Wolverine"! Oh, and Anne Hathaway was good with him. Hmmm, maybe they should make a singing/dancing movie together.

I kind of liked that for the acting awards, prior winners were there to present, but I thought the speech to each person took a really long time. When they did that for Best Supporting Actress, I wondered if they would do that for every single nominee, which would mean the show would take FOREVER. But, they only did it with the acting nominees. Maybe just the actors needed that kind of attention, or they figured the actors were the only ones the viewing audience would know? On the one hand, it was probably nice for the nominees, but as the audience, I could have done without.

HAT.ED Whoopi Goldberg's dress. WTF? I was hoping that Amy Adams would win for "Doubt". Oh well.

Steve Martin was funny presenting with Tiny Fey.

I thought it was cool that "Milk" and "Slumdog Millionaire" each won a screenplay award as I figured those were the two mostly likely to win Best Picture. Really liked the speech by the writer of "Milk".

Loved the new footage of Wall-E finding the Oscar statuette (which he tossed away) and the Oscar videotape, which made sense for him to be interested in. So glad that "Wall-E" won for Best Animated Feature. Yeah, Andrew Stanton! That's two for him - "Finding Nemo" also won for Best Animated Feature.

Even though I'm not a Jack Black fan, I did think he was pretty funny. And when Jennifer Aniston was on, there were the obligatory shots of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Awk.ward.

I really didn't care for Sarah Jessica Parker's dress. The ballgown look of the bottom seemed kind of out-of-date, and the bodice just pushed her breasts out too much, but not in a flattering way, I don't think. Oh, and husband Matthew Broderick seemed out of it on the red carpet.

On the other hand, I loved Natalie Portman in her purple dress. So pretty.

For the cinematographer who won for "Slumdog Millionaire", I was so distracted by the handkerchief in his pocket. With the coloring and the way it was situated, it totally looked like a dinosaur head, like he had a miniature T-Rex sticking its head out of his pocket. Weird.

I absolutely hated Jennifer Biel's dress. It would have been fine without that bag that looked like it was hanging off the front of her dress.

I liked the production number about musicals. Hugh Jackman and Beyonce were good together.

As expected, Best Supporting Actor went to Heath Ledger. I almost cried when his family gave their speeches. I had read previously that if he won, the statuette would be going to daughter Matilda.

I am still pissed off that they decided to do a medley of the three nominated songs. OK, so they had movie montages - here were the action movies and comedy movies and blah blah blah movies this past year. OK, these films were just released last year - did you think we forgot about them already? Either we saw them or we didn't. It's not like it was a retrospective, like with the acting awards. They took all that time to show us movies that were out just 12 months ago, but they couldn't take a couple of minutes to let the three frickin' nominated songs be performed? Yeah, ok, I'm mostly pissed because Peter Gabriel declined to perform his nominated song from "Wall-E" because of the medley, and I really wanted to see Peter sing it. But I get why he said no. They medleyed them and then had them sing two of the songs together. They're such different songs. They could have done both songs from "Slumdog Millionaire" one after the other and than had the song from "Wall-E". Stupid Academy.

Really loved Reese Witherspoon's blue dress. It looked great on her, and her blue eyeshadow was a really nice accent.

I was really rooting for Meryl Streep for "Doubt", but I thought Kate Winslet had a really nice acceptance speech. It was surprising to me that she won, given that Meryl Streep had won the SAG Award, but then, for the SAG Awards, Kate Winslet was up for her role in "The Reader" as Best Supporting Actress, which she won for, so they didn't compete against each other in the SAG Awards.

I really liked Sean Penn's acceptance speech, and it was also nice to see him take some ribbing during the announcement of the nominees. He was also a bit self-deprecating, which was nice. I'm wondering about his reference to people with signs outside - some protestors or something? He really did do an amazing job in that film. He looked very calm and collected as he started talking, but when he pulled out his cheat-sheet of notes, you could see his hands just shaking - he must have been so nervous. That was cool to see.

And Best Picture went to "Slumdog Millionaire". How amazing. Warner Bros. originally had the film and was going to send it straight to DVD. They must be kicking themselves HARD.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Frost/Nixon" - spoiler movie review

"Frost/Nixon" is the last of the films I needed to see before the Academy Awards this year. OK, well, I would have liked to have seen "The Class" as well (I had seen the trailer and was interested, and then it was subsequently nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category), but it's currently only in limited release and so a bit hard to get to.

I will admit that I wasn't initially all that interested in this film. I'd seen the trailer, but I'm not a political person, so a movie about Nixon didn't interest me. Then I heard some good word of mouth, and some people said that it wasn't so much about the political history of Nixon as it was a cat-and-mouse game between Richard Nixon and David Frost during the course of the interviews, and that, coupled with a few Oscar nominations, made me decide to see the film. (Just in case you're wondering, Oscar nominations can make me want to see a movie if I'm otherwise even slightly interested anyway, but nominations themselves won't make me see a movie - cases in point would be "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Reader", both of which are nominated for Best Picture and other major categories, but I have zero interest in either film.)

Generally, I enjoyed the film, though I will include the disclaimer that I felt like crap pretty much for the duration of the film, so I missed parts of it, and I wasn't fully focussed on the parts I saw, so I might have enjoyed it more had I actually been not distracted with physical ailments. I was not aware of the historical significance of the interviews since I wasn't very old at the time, though I do remember David Frost as I remember watching and liking a lot of his interviews. It must have been a daunting task indeed to recreate what were historically significant interviews. I did like the documentary style of the film, including opinion and remembrance clips from many of the people involved in the interviews, though of course, they weren't the actual people but rather, the actors who were portraying them in the film.

Frank Langella does a stellar job as Richard Nixon. Any president is a very public figure, but Nixon is particularly so, and I thought Langella did a good job of capturing the essence of Nixon (at least from what I know having seen news footage and such) without resorting to any caricature moves.

Michael Sheen is terrific as David Frost. I had also really enjoyed his performance as Tony Blair in "The Queen". The next role that I'm looking forward to seeing him in will not be when he's playing yet another real-life famous English personality - he will be playing The Cheshire Cat as part of Tim Burton's eclectic cast on "Alice in Wonderland". That film sounds like an acid trip in the making.

The film is based on a stage play, and Frank Langella and Michael Sheen were brought back to play the same characters in the film version. Langella won a Tony for his performance.

Kevin Bacon also does a good job as Nixon's former Chief of Staff.

Here's an interview with David Frost from last October prior to the film's official premiere.

Here's the website about the original interviews, which can be purchased on DVD.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Frosty, Heidi and Frank - we'll see you soon

I can't remember when I started listening to Frosty and Frank, but it was when they were with Jamie White. I enjoyed the show, and even though I do like listening to Jamie to some degree, I also really enjoyed the rare shows when Jamie wasn't there, and it was just Frosty and Frank. And then there was this traffic girl named Heidi, who would do more than just the traffic, but she could never talk for very long because of time constraints, and I always wished there was more time for her to speak.

And then, one day, Frosty and Frank were gone, and Jamie was with Danny Bonaduce. Frosty and Frank disappeared.

And then years later, I found out that Frosty and Frank had been back on the air for a while, with a new third partner - Heidi! How perfect is that? And I've been listening to them ever since. Until after today.

KLSX, the station that Frosty, Heidi and Frank were on, has decided to change from being the only FM talk radio station (in Los Angeles at least) to being yet another boring Top 40 station. The switch-over happens today at 5pm. Today was Frosty, Heidi and Frank's final show, and I got to hear most of it, but the husband has also arranged to have it taped at home, so I'll be able to hear it again and hear the parts I missed.

The highlight for me has to be Frosty's song. Frosty has been working on a CD for some time but the joke is that he'll never be finished, and he rarely let anyone hear any of the songs. Today, he decided to sing one of the songs, even though he was scared that people would think it would suck. He said it wasn't his masterpiece song, but that it fit the theme of the day - the song was called "Endings". It was an amazingly beautiful song, and it did fit really well with the ending of the show. Frosty did a good job singing the song, and he later said that he did have trouble getting through it. When the song ended, there was not a sound from Heidi - I knew she was probably crying too hard to speak. Frank managed to make a joke about there being too much dust in the room and his allergies acting up - a cover-up for his tears. He barely was able to utter the out phrase to get them to a commercial, and he later admitted that he was bawling like a girl.

Frosty had apparently sang a different song previously at an event, but I never heard it. If this isn't his best, though, I can't imagine what the rest of his stuff sounds like. It was really a beautiful song, and as I was driving to work, I was crying in the car listening to it, but when the song ended, and I could hear that Frank was fighting through tears, I lost it.

The end of the show was pretty awesome too. Frank talks tough a lot, and he gives Frosty crap all the time, but Frank talked about how much he loved Frosty and Heidi (how ironic that Frank's parents FINALLY got internet and that this was the first show they were able to listen to?), even more than his family, and he was talking through his tears, and you could hear Heidi and Frosty crying too.

Unlike last time, Frosty, Heidi and Frank aren't disappearing without a sound. They have a presence on MySpace and FaceBook, and they have their own website, where they promise to update people when developments warrant. Frank also has a website, which he says will be broadcasting past shows every weekday from 10am to 2pm, so that'll be cool. I hope they play older stuff because there's a lot of old shows I've never heard.

Frosty, Heidi and Frank have put up an awesome farewell video on their site. It's really nicely done.

Frosty, Heidi and Frank from fhf video on Vimeo.

Frosty, Heidi and Frank - Thank you so much for the years of entertainment and laughs and tears and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moments. Thanks for sharing your lives with us.

Frank - I remember when you first talked about being a dad. I couldn't believe it. But you have turned into a terrific dad, hitting the true mark since she's now told you that she hates you. :)

Heidi - I remember the whole mystery of "The Italian". I'm so happy that you've found love and happiness.

Frosty - You said that you would actually try to take care of yourself and not just sit at home and eat yourself to death. Please do what you said you'd do. That song you sang was amazing. I hope you really do finish the CD and share it with all of us.

I'll be waiting to hear where you guys will be next.

"Slumdog Millionaire" - spoiler movie review

I initially hadn't had much interest in "Slumdog Millionaire", but then it got a lot of good reviews and good word of mouth, and then a friend saw it and said he really liked it, and then it got a fair number of substantive Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, so I decided that I'd go see the film. I really didn't know that much about the film - I'm not sure I'd ever seen a trailer or a TV spot. I think I'd just seen the poster. OK, I knew that it was about someone very poor who wins at the gameshow "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", which would of course change their lives.

Wow does that not tell you squat about what the movie is really about.

Yes, Jamal grew up in the slums of Mumbai, and he eventually ended up on the show, and he ended up winning it all. But the film is told mostly in flashbacks because he is being brutally interrogated by the police under the suspicion of having cheated at the game because he couldn't possibly have known the answers to all those disparate questions.

And in painstaking and heartbreaking succession, it is revealed how a specific instance in his life led to him knowing the answer to each of the questions asked of him during the game. Something as innocuous as the questions on a game show weave the tapestry of the tragedies that comprise his life.

I really had no idea that the film would be as heavy as it was. But they pulled it off brilliantly. Jamal, his brother Salim, and female friend Latika are each shown in three distinct periods of their lives, so each character is played by three different people. At each age - young child, pre-teen and early adult - each of the actors are really phenomenal. The only person in the cast that I recognized was the man playing the police inspector, who also played the father in "The Namesake", another terrific film.

The only thing that was a little odd was that this was so not a Bollywood film, but during the end credits, Jamal and Latika are joined by a group of random train passengers in dancing to a song. It's a little out of place with the rest of the film, but I guess you have to have some kind of dancing regardless, and it is at the end.

After having seen the film, I get why this little indie picture has garnered so much praise.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oscar-Nominated Animated Film Symposium - February 19, 2009

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, otherwise known as the folks that do that little Oscar thing every year, often holds various events at its headquarters in Beverly Hills. Sometimes, they are tickets you have to purchase, and sometimes, they are free events. You can be added to their mailing list to receive their monthly newsletter with upcoming event information. The events are usually held in their auditorium, the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. I've been there for a couple of events and for a number of film screenings, and for obvious reasons, it's a really gorgeous theatre.

Earlier this year, one of the mailings had indicated that they would be holding various symposiums for films nominated in various Oscar categories. This year would be the first time they would have a symposium for the films nominated in the Best Animated Feature category. The directors of each film - Chris Williams and Byron Howard for "Bolt", John Stevenson and Mark Osborne for "Kung Fu Panda", and Andrew Stanton for "Wall-E" - were expected to be in attendance.

The page on the Academy's site about the event alternates images from each of the three nominated films.

Information about the host and other details are also included.

Well, I loved "Wall-E" and I really, really liked "Bolt", so two out of three ain't bad. It was a free event, but you still had to order tickets, as a means of crowd control so they didn't overbook the auditorium.

Free parking was also provided at two different nearby lots, which was nice as parking can be difficult to find in that area.

It didn't take me as long as I thought it would to get there from work so I arrived at about 7pm. The event was sold out, so they were giving out stand-by vouchers. The husband was still en route from his work, so I went inside to get seats. I was surprised that they used a metal detector at the front door, and I couldn't remember if they'd had them on my previous visits. The seats in the middle of the auditorium were blocked off for special guests, so while I initially was going to take seats behind them, I decided that being closer and to the side would be better than being way in the back in the middle, so I found seats on the right side of the auditorium. As I waited for the husband, it turned out that another friend had come to the symposium as well, so he sat with me and then the husband joined us shortly thereafter.

The symposium was hosted by Tom Sito, who I'm not familiar with but who has his own credits in the animation industry. He was ok with some of the commentary and questions that he asked, but for someone moderating a discussion, he stumbled over himself a lot, which is even more surprising since he's also a professor and has written books.

Each of the films was discussed separately, with a clip shown first, and then the director(s) would come up, and Tom would talk to him/them about how the project came about and development and such, and then they'd show another clip. I'd had no interest in seeing "Kung Fu Panda", so the two clips they showed were completely new to me. One of the clips was when the master decided to use dumplings to teach the panda, which was funny in parts but there were elements that bothered me, but it was totally a random personal thing, so I won't go into it here. I hadn't known the character name of the master (played by Dustin Hoffman), but when I heard it, I laughed at the name they'd chosen for him - nice touch! Seeing clips from both "Bolt" and "Wall-E" just made me want to watch each movie all the way through again!

After each of the films was discussed, all the directors were brought back up on stage, and Tom then asked various questions of them. After that, it was open to questions from the audience.

I think my favorite story of the night came from Andrew Stanton, as he talked about working with Ben Burtt, and how Ben amassed the various sounds that would form the language/vocabulary of Wall-E, Eve and each of the other robots, and then they had to go through and decide which "word" would fit in which scene/sequence.

The symposium finished shortly before 10pm. It was really interesting to listen to all of them talk about various aspects of bringing each film to the screen and the challenges of making an animated movie in general. If you can make it to an event, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chad Vader - 2009 Oscar edition

I've previously blogged about Chad Vader. Well, he's back, and just in time for the Oscars this Sunday. Watch as Chad Vader reenacts scenes from each of the five Best Picture nominees.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

times they are a-changin'

People get involved in a lot of things because of the company they keep, and sometimes, these new interests aren't necessarily for the best. What starts out as harmless fun can lead to something more severe, more involving, so that you find yourself doing things you never thought you would do. Family and friends are surprised at the change in you, and you almost become someone they don't even recognize anymore.

First, it starts with a website, and then a blog. And soon, you're on Twitter. And then, as if that's not enough, you're on Facebook. And you're not even a very social person, preferring to spend time with a small select group of people instead. And you've never really been a girlie girl. But you find yourself accepting invitations to and attending cupcake parties at retail establishments and buying Vera Bradley purses and other accessories. When will the madness end!??!?!?!?

OK, yeah, so I've lost my mind. But seriously, what the hell is up with me? It's been kind of weird being involved in some of the things I find myself involved in these days. I love Twitter, though I do keep my follow list very private since I tend to be quite uninhibited in my comments there. And yeah, I tend to tweet about my trips to Disneyland and what I'm doing during the day and whatever random thing pops into my head, so I do have a tendency to babble. At least those who know me in real life would have more of a context about most of what I tweet, but the volume could probably turn them off. But for the few people who either don't know me very well or don't know me at all, I can't imagine what my tweeting looks like to them. I must admit that I'm really surprised no one has stopped following me yet because of how much I babble. Maybe they're all just good at ignoring me. Or they like to see how the mind of an insane person operates.

As for Facebook, I still don't really get it completely, and I'll admit that a lot of its features confuse me, and there are things I'm signed up for/with that I don't entirely understand. But, it has been a way for me to re-connect with some people and connect with others, so it has proved to be valuable in some ways.

But this whole girlie stuff? No, that I don't get at all.

A friend owns a store called CharmingShoppe that sells various retail items, including some collectibles that I'm interested in, so I've been in the store before. And the store carries Vera Bradley handbags, and I've never really been a purse person. I'm really into practical purses, not stylish ones or even cute ones, and I've been used to spending $20 at Mervyn's every couple years when I need a new purse. (Yeah, no more shopping at Mervyn's, I know.) Then, for my birthday last year, a friend bought me a Coach purse. Name brand and expensive. She was very generous, and it took a bit of convincing from various people for me to actually use the purse on a daily basis. But then I got used to it, and I really liked it.

And then I kept going to the retail store, and I'd glance at the purses. The store owner and the manager of the store both love Veras. And another friend is a Vera lover as well. And then last December, I succumbed and bought my first Vera items. And then I saw the telecast of the Rose Parade, in which Vera Bradley had a float that included a few new designs, and a couple looked cute to me. And then, about a month ago, I got notification from and an invitation to a cupcake party being held by CharmingShoppe to introduce the new Spring line, which were the patterns on the float. At first, I totally didn't get the cupcake connection until it dawned on me that two of the new patterns are Cupcakes Pink and Cupcakes Green. Yeah, ok, sometimes, I'm a little dense. And I figured, what could it hurt to go? I'm not a huge fan of cupcakes (the confection), but that's ok. Maybe I'd find something that wasn't too expensive, and I knew other people going, so I'd have a chance to chat with some people. Sounds like fun.

Well, I bought a few purses - three to be exact.

I had originally thought that one of the new Spring designs was red based on the float depiction, but I was told that the coloring on the broadcast was wrong, and that it was actually pink. The pink was too much for me, so I was disappointed, because the idea of red sounded good. And then I found the Frankly Scarlet pattern, which I really like, and I picked out the Libby style, which is practical and has lots of sections. This purse is good for regular use, but it's also nice enough to use for an evening out. Pretty and practical. Hmmm.

I liked the deep tones of the Mediterranean Blue pattern, and I thought that it went really well on the Hannah design. It's a cute little purse that looks very dressy, so I can use it for evenings out, and the pattern will go with the kind of colors I often wear for evenings out.

And from the new Spring line, I really liked Purple Punch, and in the Amy style, it was another cute little bag that I can use for evenings out, perhaps a little more practical with the shoulder strap since it leaves my hands free, unlike with the Hannah. I actually used the Purple Punch Amy when we went out for dinner on Valentine's Day because it went very nicely with the outfit I wore.

I bought a couple of other small accessories, including a purse hook - the good kind that folds up nicely around itself so it's compact and comes with a velvet pouch to carry it in. (I'd first heard of the ones that just hang down, but then after seeing these, those other ones make no sense to me - they take up too much room in storage!) I already have a purse hook, but I wanted a couple more so that I'd have different styles, and I liked this one. I'm hoping they release more styles in the future.

So in addition to having a mini-cupcake and chatting with friends and browsing at the billions of different Vera things in the store [In case you were wondering, no, the husband didn't come. He dropped me off, went to occupy himself elsewhere, and then came back to pick me up when I told him I was done. I liked having a chaffeur. ;) ], there was also a little game held periodically where you could win a prize. And on the second round, I won a prize. It was a Vera item filled with some lotion goodies and other stuff. I think I've figured out that the pattern is Java Blue, but I can't tell what style the item is. On another round, I ended up winning again, but since I didn't really need two of the same thing, I gave my second prize to a friend to give to someone else who would like it. On a subsequent round, I decided not to play anymore, but I did end up seeing the item needed to win a prize, so I pointed it out to someone else so that they could win the prize. That was fun.

So I made my purchases and discovered that the store was offering a few gift with purchase items, which was really nice, and they even had some thank-you gifts for those who had RSVPed for the event, which was even nicer, and it was especially good that many of the extras were in the Purple Punch pattern that I like. I was quite happy about that.

When the husband came to pick me up, I said goodbye to the people I knew who were still there and walked out with my pretty new purchases and other goodies (and yes, I've been using my Kensington Bucket Tote so had brought that with me).

And then Monday night, I had dinner with the husband and a friend at one of our favorite restaurants in Downtown Disney. Afterward, the husband went a different way than us because he'd parked in one place whereas she and I had ended up parking in another place. She wanted to stop by Illuminations since the store was closing soon and they were having a sale, so I stopped with her. I like candles (though burning them doesn't really work ever since we've gotten Orkid, because she's so curious that she's likely to scorch her whiskers or worse on an open flame), but I'm not much into scented candles because the scents tend to be too strong for my taste, and they can be so overpowering that I can't even go in the store. Heck, with Yankee Candle Company, I have enough of a problem walking by their open storefront and generally have to hold my breath to do so. But Illuminations hasn't been quite as bad, and they didn't have their full inventory because of their impending close, so I didn't have a problem wandering around in there.

I followed her as she looked at various things, and then I found myself looking around as well.

She was looking at the Napa Valley Harvest, which is a scent she really likes, and I joked with her that I didn't know what I expected that to smell like. It was actually pretty nice, though I can't begin to know how to describe it.

I smelled the Almond Biscotti, which was nice but would probably be too powerful in the long run. And then I smelled the Pumpkin Chai, which was really nice, not quite as sweet as just regular pumpkin. And I decided to get it in the mini jar candle. And then I also smelled the Japanese Plum Blossom, which is inexplicably nowhere to be found on their site. It has a fresh smell, very light, and I really liked it, so I got that in a mini jar candle as well. I like the mini jars because they're small and they have lids, so the scent is only released if you take the lid off, and the small size would be less fragrant.

I thought the Pineapple Cilantro was actually kind of nice with the scent of the pineapple, but given how much the husband dislikes cilantro, I figured he wouldn't appreciate it. And having it at work isn't an option either because one of my co-workers hates cilantro even more than the husband, so I wouldn't subject him to the smell every time he came into my office. And I didn't bother to smell the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie since I figured that would be my idea of hell, given how much I hate oatmeal and raisins and oatmeal raisin cookies.

I did already own one scented candle, a boysenberry scent from Knott's Berry Farm. It sits on my desk at work, and I don't light it partly because we're not allowed to have lit candles at work and partly because lighting a scented candle would make too much of the scent permeate the room. Just having the lid off lets some of the scent out so I get a whiff of it periodically. I plan to do the same with the two new ones I have. I think I'll put the Japanese Plum Blossom one in my car and see how that works, but the small confined space might make me rethink that shortly. With the Pumpkin Chai, I may have that at work as well and just alternate scents as I like, or I may keep that one at home.

I'm blogging about pretty patterned purses and scented candles.

Who the hell am I, and what the hell have I done with me?

Monday, February 16, 2009

with rain comes beauty

I was off work today for the holiday, so I spent most of the day home and luckily, out of the pounding storm that dropped a ton of rain. It was pouring hard for much of the day, and when it wasn't actually pouring, the rain came down in big fat heavy drops, flung by the wind into the windows, like someone was throwing little water balloons.

But then, in the early afternoon, even when it was still raining, the sun came out, and the combination of the two meant the appearance of a pretty rainbow.

The left side of the rainbow can be seen above the houses across the street. At times, the lighting was just right that the colors on the rainbow became very vibrant.

Here's a view that shows more of the rainbow stretched across the sky.

The right end of the rainbow disappears behind the trees.

The rain pretty much went away after that, and most of the clouds even went away. I know the rain isn't done, but it was nice to see the rainbow.

"Coraline" - spoiler movie review

"Coraline" really shows that neither Tim Burton nor Danny Elfman have lost their touch as they collaborated on yet another spectacular film.

OK, are you still reading this? Because if you haven't already stopped reading this in disgust, you should know that I'm only kidding, that I actually know that Tim Burton and Danny Elfman have nothing to do with this film, which is more than I can say for some real reviewers out there. The film is directed by Henry Selick, the same person who directed "The Nightmare Before Christmas".

I'll admit that I didn't really know much about the film going in. I'm not sure I'd even seen a trailer. I'd seen two different one sheets, the first being a little girl peering into a tiny open door, as depicted below.

There's a second one-sheet that I saw later, which is a portrait of the little girl and two people who look to be her parents. The parents have happy smiles on their faces, but the girl seems a bit puzzled and/or alarmed. I didn't realize until after I'd seen the movie that the parents in the portrait have button eyes, which would account for Coraline's reaction. But then, I saw the billboard while driving, so I only got a quick look at it.

The husband had seen the trailer and said it looked interesting. A friend who has many similiar interests as us knew about the movie and said he was looking forward to seeing it. And he told me that the film is based on a book by Neil Gaiman, who wrote one of my favorite books in the world, "Neverwhere". OK, I'm in.

I then heard that the film was being released in regular theatres and in a 3D version. I've come to really like 3D versions since Disney has been doing a lot of films that way, and the new 3D style is just an enhancement to the film, not as much for shock value and such. We arranged to meet the friend to see the movie in 3D. EPIC FAIL. We arrived at the theatre first, about 20 minutes before showtime, to discover that the screening was already sold out. OK, I had not expected that at all. There was another movie that was going to start about 10 minutes after, and it was a movie we all wanted to see anyway, so we saw that film instead. And when we got out, there were about 40 minutes until the next screening of "Coraline", so we bought tickets and got in line to wait to be let into the theatre.

I really loved this movie, but it's hard to really even say why. I liked the story ok, though I did have one major issue that I'll go into later. I really liked all the characters and how they're fairly well developed. I liked the look of the animation, which is not something I can say about every animated film as I definitely have my preference of animation styles. The movie had a quirkiness and overall charm that I really liked.

Coraline and her parents have moved to a new house, and being an only child to parents who are entirely preoccupied with their work being a writer and editor, Coraline finds herself being quite bored. There's a neighbor boy named Wybie who seems to show up out of nowhere, not to mention Wybie's weird black cat. There are also the downstairs neighbors, sisters who were actresses in days of yore, and an upstairs neighbor who is somehow involved in little rat circuses. But then, Coraline discovers a little blocked off door that one day is mysteriously not so much blocked off.

She crawls through to see what's on the other side.

What she finds on the other side is her mother. Well, ok, not her mother, but her Other Mother. This Other Mother is everything her mother isn't - attentive and a great cook who showers attention on Coraline. Her Other Father is also there, and he's a musician, writing songs on his piano. Her neighbors are there, but they are really successful versions of themselves, and even Wybie is there, although the version of him there has his mouth literally sewn shut so that he can't speak, since his talking in the regular world irritates Coraline quite a bit. And the black cat is there - only it's the same black cat as in her world, and in this alternate world, the black cat can speak to and understand her, and it can do more mysterious and odd things than the Cheshire Cat himself.

Coraline goes back and forth several times between the two worlds, and she is drawn into the alternate world more and more, kind of like the children in "The Twilight Zone" episode "The Bewitchin' Pool", but things certainly don't turn out the same as it did for those kids. The Other Mother wants to sew buttons into where Coraline's eyes are, and that way, Coraline can stay forever. When Coraline hesitates and seems to resist, things change, and the Other Mother isn't the bastion of motherhood that she previously appeared to be.

Coraline begins to find even more disturbing things, but when she resolves to leave the world, she discovers that her own parents have been kidnapped, so she has to go back to rescue them. But the Other Mother doesn't give up the fight quite that easily.

I was pretty entranced throughout the entire film, but I will admit that about half-way through, when bad things started to happen, it actually got a little frightening for me in bits, so I definitely think it's not an appropriate film for young kids.

The major thematic issue I had with the film is that Coraline's parents are very neglectful for much of the early part of the film. They're not just mildly inattentive - they pretty show like they have no interest or affection for her at all. No wonder she's starved for attention and love, and no wonder she is easily lured by The Other Mother. So the lesson is, even if your parents are completely neglectful, you should just deal with it, because the only other alternative is an evil woman who wants to poke your eyes out and put buttons in and take your soul? Ummm, ok. I've not read the book, but I just recently bought it, so I'm looking forward to seeing how the events play out there, especially since the friend mentioned one major difference that wasn't in the book and added for the movie.

I love the design of the title card itself. Once you know the story, the use of the button and the black cat fit perfectly.

Dakota Fanning does the voice of the title character, and she does an excellent job. I've been watching her since she was in "I Am Sam", so it's been interesting to see her grow up and watch her career blossom. She does the nuances of the character well, and I especially like the line of "Still Coraline", as she expresses her irritation that people cannot pronounce her name correctly. (It's like "Caroline", only with an "o" instead of an "a".) Dakota Fanning is also in the new movie "Push", which looks interesting to me, and I'm also interested in seeing how she does in that film. I think she's well on her way from shedding her child actor image and becoming a bonafide adult actor, kind of like the same transition that Anna Paquin has made.

Dakota Fanning voices the character of Coraline.

I had seen Teri Hatcher's name in the credits, but it wasn't until well into the film that I realized she was playing Coraline's mother. She also does the voice of the Other Mother as well, and she is really terrific in this film.

Teri Hatcher as Coraline's mom.

I didn't realize until I saw his picture that John Hodgman, who plays Coraline's father, is "PC" from the popular "PC vs. Mac" commercials. The actor who plays "Mac" (Justin Long) was in "Live Free or Die Hard" and is currently in "He's Just Not That Into You", so it's interesting to see both break out of their commercial roles.

John Hodgman as Coraline's dad.

Keith David is not an actor I'm familiar with (not to be confused with David Keith), but I thought he was wonderful as the voice of the black cat.

Keith David as the black cat.

One of the things I love about the film is how you can see the differences in the way things look and how that plays out in the story. Coraline's real life is drab in color and very plain whereas the alternate world has warm earthy colors.

Coraline's parents don't exactly live in a Technicolor world.

But the tones with the Other Parents are warm and inviting.

There are also major differences in the look of the Other Mother as the story progresses. In the beginning, there's much more roundness to her, which is soothing and pleasant. As she changes though, she becomes more jagged and her lines are more severe.

The Other Mother as Coraline first saw her.

The Other Mother's appearance begins to change as Coraline starts to displease her.

And then, of course, The Other Mother changes even more when you see her metallic innards.

Even though Wybie annoys Coraline at first, he ends up helping Coraline on both sides of the tunnel. I did think that non-talking Wybie was pretty creepy though, even though his regular version wasn't.

Coraline with non-talking Wybie. I like this shot because it was funny when alternate Wybie had all of those cotton candy pieces on him. Mmmmm, cotton candy...

There are so many little things that I really loved about the movie. The garden is really cool in its nice form, but then it turns really ugly when it attacks Coraline. I laughed when Coraline was bored standing at her father's office door, and when she realizes the door creaks, she just keeps moving it back and forth, creaking it, until it drives her father crazy. I loved that the moon was being eclipsed with a giant button. Those ghost kids were pretty creepy. And then after they were rescued by Coraline, one of them says something about her having done "a good thing, a real good thing". OK, then that flashed me back to "The Twilight Zone" episode called "It's A Good Life", in which really bad things happened, so that creeped me out again.

I did notice early on that the moving company is called Ranft Bros. Moving Company. I knew the name somehow sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it, and it wasn't until after the movie that the friend mentioned it was probably a tribute to Joe Ranft, who was working for Pixar when he was tragically killed in 2005, and the Pixar film "Cars" was dedicated to him. The character is supposedly modeled after him and is voiced by his brother Jerome. Both brothers worked with Henry Selick on "The Nightmare Before Christmas".

And no, Danny Elfman didn't write the music for this film, but the music is very Danny-esque.

I saw this book in Borders the other day, and it's got lots of information about the making of the film, so it's on my list of books to pick up sometime.

Here's the official website, with lots of fun things to look at.

A definite recommend on this film, and I'm planning to see it at least once more (in 2D) while it's still in theatres.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Zucca Ristorante - restaurant review

Zucca Ristorante in downtown Los Angeles, part of The Patina Group, had a special prix fixe menu for Valentine's Day that looked really good, so we decided to go there.

There is a public parking lot almost next to Zucca, so it's very convenient to park there. The lot is advertised as parking for those attending Staples Center and Nokia Center events, but since it's a little further away from those venues than other lots, they charge $7 for parking whereas other lots charge $10, so that was nice.

The husband checked in at the hostess station, and we were taken to our table.

Here's the special menu available for the evening.

The husband and I ended up choosing the same things for our first three courses - salmon carpaccio, black tagliolini with grilled baby cuttlefish and asparagus, and lamb chop. For dessert, the husband chose the roasted fig and I chose the panna cotta.

When I was looking at the menu, I had kind of wished I could have picked a salad from the first course choices as my second course because all the second course choices were pasta, and a salad sounded good in addition to the salmon. From the second course list, I'm not a fan of risotto nor gnocchi generally, so I chose the tagliolini mostly because of the cuttlefish. For the entree, I had a really hard time choosing between the lamb and the seafood dish, which sounded amazing too, but I decided on the lamb since there are fewer places where I can get lamb than a cioppino-style dish.

After we had ordered, bread and the sparkling water we had asked for (they have Sole) were brought to the table.

The first course arrived fairly soon. The salmon was nicely cut very thin, and the accompaniments were a nice addition but not overpowering or masking of the salmon taste. It was a very good, refreshing dish.

The second course looked very interesting, with the black pasta and the stark white cuttlefish making a nice contrast. Given my earlier hesitation, I ended up being quite happy that I had ordered this dish. The flavoring of the pasta was delicious, and the pasta itself was very smooth. I also liked the cuttlefish, which was more tender than something like squid or octopus, both of which I also enjoy. It was a really wonderful dish all around and would be great in an entree portion.

The main course arrived, and that was really the highlight of the meal. Two lamb chops were placed over celery root puree. The server had suggested that the lamb be cooked medium rare, which is what we normally get anyway, so we agreed. That's really the perfect degree of cooking as it's enough to bring out the flavor of the cooked meat while still leaving it moist and tender. It's really impossible to describe how absolutely delicious it was. And we had forgotten that it was celery root underneath, so I commented on how the mashed potatoes (which is what I thought it was) tasted different somehow. It was the husband who remembered what it actually was. The celery root puree seemed smoother to me than mashed potatoes and was a tiny bit on the sweet side, which was really nice. And then, of course, there were nice big spears of asparagus, cooked just right. The combination of lamb, celery root puree, asparagus and sauce was just incredible.

For dessert, the panna cotta was simple but very refreshing with blueberries and blackberries. Coffee went nicely with that as well.

The husband's dessert was fig-based, but that's all I really got out of the description. Using my handy-dandy Food Lover's Companion book, here's the breakdown of what he had:

roasted fig mille-feuille: mille feuille is a classic dessert "made with two large oblong pieces of crisp puff pastry spread with whipped cream, custard, jam or fruit puree" and then the "pastries are stacked and topped with another pastry layer, which is generally dusted with confectioner's sugar".

amareno ice cream: amareno is apparently a kind of cherry.

He really enjoyed the dessert, as well as the Graham's 40 year old tawny port that he had with it.

The service was terrific throughout the night. Our dishes were cleared promptly when we were done, and our water glasses were constantly being refilled. The server came by often to check on us, and the staff was attentive without being intrusive. We had a couple of questions for the server about various things, and he was pleasant and helpful. He did make a comment at one point that the chef would be the best person to ask about a particular question we had, but now wasn't a good time since it was a little crazy in the kitchen. We quickly agreed that there was no need to bother the chef on a night like that, but whatever craziness was going on in the back of the house certainly wasn't evident in the front of the house.

We had a 7pm reservation, and it wasn't terribly crowded for the duration of our meal, with a couple of open tables scattered about, but when we left at about 9:00, there were quite a few people waiting for tables. It seems more people had later reservations than we did.

Overall, it was a terrific dinner. We've been to Zucca on several prior occasions, and this particular visit was definitely on par with the good experiences we've had previously.

Zucca Ristorante
801 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What on earth?

What could possibly be the story behind this picture? Well, if you want to know, you can read my merchandise and decor trip report from Disneyland from February 1, 2009.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"Dollhouse" - February 13, 2009 episode

Caroline nervously paces the room, as she has to make a very difficult decision that she doesn't want to make. Something has happened, and one of the ways she can get out of it is to volunteer for a program, and after five years, she'll be done and free.

Next, two mopeds are shown racing through the streets, and as the two veer off, one driver ends up crashing the bike to the ground, and it's revealed that Caroline (who we later learn is now called Echo) is that driver. She picks the bike up and catches up to the other driver, racing through Chinatown and into a sort of restaurant/club with a big banner that says "Happy Birthday, Matt". It turns out that the other driver is the birthday boy himself, and the two continue to have fun at the party. Echo is in this very, very short white dress, (yeah it's barely-legal short), but she looks amazing in it, dancing with Matt. He goes to get them a drink, and Echo ends up leaving the party and getting into a black van. She is taken away to a compound where she tells people that she may have found the guy, and she's trying to figure out if she should go back to the party after her treatment.

However, her treatment is actually a mind wipe, as we see a rewind of all the memories they're stripping from her. It turns out that Matt had paid for a weekend of fun with her, and we see how they met and what their weekend entailed. After she left the party, one of Matt's friends asked where she was, and Matt made a Cinderella reference about the clock striking midnight (metaphorically since the friend confusedly pointed out that it was 5am at the time), but Echo's transformation back to her old self is very different than Cinderella's.

After the treatment, Echo has a blank look on her face and doesn't remember anything that's happened. She's taken to see a doctor, who arranges a massage for her, but while she's waiting, her attention is caught by flashing lights, and she goes upstairs to investigate and sees a girl (who is a new recruit being mapped) strapped to a table with gadgets all around her. The tech who wiped her mind notices her and ushers her out, trying to come up with an explanation of what she saw.

We learn that Echo is an "active", someone who has had their own personality and memories completely wiped and who is imprinted with the memories and personality of whatever type of person is needed and requested by the company's clients. But none of them seem to know what's going on or that their memories aren't real, so I wonder why they all think they live in this big house. Really nice set, by the way.

Some kind of big-shot executive is shown talking to his daughter (she's supposed to be 12, but she looked younger than that to me) at home, but as soon as she hangs up, she is subdued by strangers and kidnapped. The man shows up at the Dollhouse offices and says that he just wants someone to facilitate the ransom exchange - he doesn't want the people caught or brought to justice, he just wants to pay the money and get his daughter back. Echo gets this task and arrives at the man's house. He is uncomfortable with the way she is handling the conversations with the kidnappers, to the point that when she says she knows what she's doing because she's been doing this for years, he laughs derisively at her since he knows that she's simply an active. He knows he's not supposed to reveal to her that she's an active, but he makes a cryptic comment about whether or not she was a clown or something else the previous day, which confuses her and which makes her flash on her imprintation process, which disorients her.

A meeting is arranged on the docks, and the money is being taken away by the head kidnapper's men but suddenly, something goes wrong with Echo and she collapses. When the client asks what's wrong, she says not to let them all get on the boat. The deal had been that when the money was on the boat, they would release his daughter. Echo says they have no intention of releasing the girl. When the client tries to stop the last man, the client ends up getting shot, and the kidnappers get away with the money and the girl.

Echo is picked up by the van, and she's talking what sounds like nonsense. But then it's revealed that her imprint personality was a kidnap victim, and one of the men she saw on the docks was one of the who kidnapped her, which is what caused her breakdown. She is determined to track them down to save the little girl, right after her treatment. The word "treatment" seems to be a trigger that works with the actives. Echo's Watcher...ummm...I mean...Handler figures out what's going on and tries to get them not to wipe her memory just yet because Echo is the key to finding the little girl. The tech nerd who's been wiping minds turns out to be one of the people who developed the system, and there's some discussion about the ethics of what they're doing and whether they're simply providing a service or engaged in something more sinister. The imprints come from a composite of multiple personalities, and one of the personalities used for this particular character had been abused as a child and had never gotten over it, having killed herself within the past year. The handler manages to convince them not to wipe Echo's mind yet, so they set out to find the kidnappers. Based on her phone conversations with the kidnappers and what the little girl had said when she was on the phone with her father, Echo figures out that one of the kidnappers knows the little girl and is probably one of her teachers. When a suspect is identified, they head to the suspect's sister's secluded cabin.

Echo is dropped off and knocks on the door, and they eventually let her in. She tells the other men that they're not going to get anything out of this because the one man is going to kill them all, and that he wants something more than money, namely, the little girls. She explains exactly what the man is going to do and what he has done, killing his partners, taking the little girls, abusing them and then dumping them for dead, and she confronts him and tells him to his face that she's not afraid of him anymore. As the men engage in a firefight, she goes to rescue the little girl. The man who had been the abuser is killed, and the others are letting her leave, but then the door explodes in, and a team from Dollhouse, including the new recruit she'd seen earlier, take out the rest of the men and recover all the money and will remove all evidence. The client is still alive and will be happy to get his daughter back.

This time, Echo's mind is thoroughly wiped, and the girls lay down in recessed beds that are about the size and shape of a coffin with a glass cover overhead. Weird sleeping setup.

Meanwhile, an FBI agent has been trying to track down the Dollhouse, something that seems more like a rumour and myth than reality, but he's convinced it's real. He takes measures to get more information about the location of the Dollhouse. At the end, someone is sending a picture presumably to the FBI agent, and it's a picture of Echo. The person is also watching a video of Echo when she was Caroline while two people lay dead behind him. I don't really understand this part, but based on the previews for the next episode, the husband is speculating that the man watching the video is Alpha, a rogue active (since all the actives seem to be named after the phonetic alphabet), and the dead people are Caroline's parents.

There were parts of the story that I found to be a bit confusing, but overall, I really enjoyed the show. I liked the marked difference in Caroline and Echo - whereas Caroline was frazzled and nervous and jumpy and looking worried and concerned, Echo is cool and polished and calm, almost to the extent where she would probably fit right in if she decided to move to the town of Stepford. The imprinting idea also has a bit of the Stepford Wives feel to it, although in that case, they didn't just replace the personalities, but rather, the entire being. However, the FBI guy did say that getting rid of the personalities is a kind of murder in and of itself.

They've set up the question of Echo's past, what happened that led her there. And that also makes you wonder what the backstory is for all the other people there. And why do they all think they're there, living there, sleeping in weird quarters and not even questioning how weird that is, and what exactly do they think they're getting treatment for?

Much of the advertising that I've seen has focussed on Eliza Dushku with mannequins, which I think is a good representation. Mannequins are a clean slate (and Caroline doesn't think a clean slate can be possible), and you can dress them up to be and look like whatever you want, to suit whatever you need. That's the same for the actives - they're clean to start with each time and then they're dressed up through imprintation.

Echo and the mannequins, instead of the bunnymen

Echo in the mind-wipe chamber with her handler and tech.

I really liked Eliza Dushku, who played all the different aspects of her character, or multiple characters. I know her a little from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", but I got into Buffy late in the game, so I've only seen some of Eliza's appearances on that show. I can see why she'd be interested in this role since she will be mostly playing a different character every week because of the imprints and yet still be building the character of Echo as time goes by. The variety of challenges will be like it was for Scott Bakula on "Quantum Leap", but in this case, she will actually be playing different characters every week, not one character pretending to be different people every week.

Because the debut of "Dollhouse" was right after the return of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" on its new night, they had little vignettes of Eliza Dushku and Summer Glau talking about the two shows and each of their characters. It's funny that they're packaging the two together. Even one of Eliza's publicity shots as Echo resembles a publicity shot of Summer as Cameron.

Eliza Dushku as Echo

Summer Glau as Cameron

Another publicity shot of Summer Glau as Cameron, showing Cameron's terminator roots.

Summer Glau, in a picture that better shows how pretty she is.

So, yeah, I know Summer is pretty, and she's pretty hot too, but in the vignettes with the two of them, Eliza looked so much prettier. Sorry, Summer, you're pretty, and you're hot, but Eliza is just smokin'. Yeah, I'm jealous.

I was surprised to see another familiar face - Amy Acker, whose name the husband recognized, but I didn't until I saw her on screen as the doctor attending to Echo - she played Fred in "Angel". I'd only really watched the last season of that show. She's not included in the cast pictures I've seen online, so I'm not sure how big her role is, but they've certainly set her up as an intriguing character because of the scars on her face.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of the show, and Hot Chicks Night on FOX looks like it's gonna be terrific.