Starsky & Hutch (***)

Posted on March 7th, 2004 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

I went into Starsky & Hutch with lowwwwwww expectations, as I generally find myself being annoyed by Ben Stiller, I’ve been disappointed with Owen Wilson’s recent role choices, I don’t think I’ve ever liked anything that Snoop Dogg has done, and although I haven’t seen Old School, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it (and S&H is directed by the same guy). So, put it all together and I was sure this would be a toilet-humor-intensive schlock-fest of the worst magnitude.

Boy, was I wrong. The movie is very, very funny. Stiller and Wilson have great chemistry, Snoop makes a good Huggy Bear, and there’s even some halfway decent cop-action sequences. As a kid I watched the original TV series regularly, but I couldn’t tell you one single plot line or catch phrase from the show. However, I did remember some strange tidbits, such as how perfectly Ben Stiller captured the akimbo-ness of Starsky’s running style when chasing a suspect.

The movie also captures the gestalt of the ’70s very well, with bevies of glossy-lipped, Farrah-haired, free-love-embracing foxes, pimp daddies, muscle cars, cocaine, leisure suits, discos, and the music…man, does the movie get the music right. I shudder to think what the music budget was for this film, because they got all the good stuff, like:
Chicago – Old Days
Dazz – Brick

Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash

Right Back Where We Started From – Maxine Nightingale

Use Me – Bill Withers

Dancing Machine – Jackson 5

That’s The Way I Like It – KC & The Sunshine Band

Don’t Give Up On Us – Owen Wilson (originally by David Soul, the original Hutch!)

Afternoon Delight – Starland Vocal Band

 

The story revolves around a drug lord (Vince Vaughn) who is introducing a type of cocaine that is not detectable by drug-sniffing dogs. The drug is extracted from a genetically altered coca plant, gets you just as high, and tastes like artificial sweetener. The name of this concoction? It is, of course, called “New Coke”, in a funny nod to one of the great shared cultural experiences of the 80’s.

Starsky and Hutch are paired together in that old tradition of the straight-laced, by-the-book cop (Starsky) being paired with the laid-back, rule-bending partner (Hutch) by their always angry, always shouting boss. The film also portrays Starsky and Hutch as a sort of ambiguously gay duo…not that there’s anything wrong with that…but also has the boys chasing the ladies, and even includes Hutch involved in a cocaine-fueled menage-a-trois with two cheerleaders (it’s not as seedy as it sounds).

There’s also a stunningly funny, excrutiatingly discomforting, mind-numbingly absurd cameo by Will Ferrell, where he…no, I just can’t explain it. You have to see it for yourself. I’m not a big Will Ferrell fan, so believe me when I say that his scenes alone are worth the price of admission and are, by themselves, funnier than most of the “comedies” being released by Hollywood these days.

Also watch for the nearly unrecognizable Juliette Lewis as the drug lord’s girlfriend, Chris Penn as another cop, Jason Bateman

Spartan (***)

Posted on March 2nd, 2004 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

We knew next-to-nothing about this movie, except that it was written and directed by David Mamet and starred Val Kilmer. That was good enough for us, so we headed down to take in an early-evening show after work.

The film starts with no ado, and no explanation of the characters or the setting or the plot or anything. In fact, Mamet structures the story in such a way that there is almost zero exposition by any of the characters, and you have to really pay attention to understand what is going on, who the characters are, and why they are doing what they’re doing. It’s not deliberately obtuse, or anything, but you, as the viewer, are responsible for staying with the story, and what’s there is there, so if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.

Normally I don’t hesitate to talk about plot, since the marketing people behind most movies seem to delight in telling most of the story in the trailer. However, in Spartan the plot unfolds in little, begrudging steps, and a large part of my enjoyment of this film was the pleasant feeling as each new piece of the jigsaw puzzle snicked into place. But below I am going to talk about the plot, so I recommend that if you haven’t seen the film, but think you might see it, go ahead and see it, then come back here to read the rest.
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SPOILERS AHEAD
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

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As the movie opens, we see Val Kilmer as a vaguely military-type guy, and he appears to be observing some sort of pursuit training in a forest area. A young male recruit is chasing/tracking a young female recruit and Kilmer’s character is providing advice/encouragement/criticism. In a wonderfully unexpected turn of events, there are no romantic entanglements between any of our primary characters. It’s not that I’m anti-romance, or anything, it’s just that in virtually every other movie where a character is a young, female military recruit (or just a young female), there is an inevitable subplot involving love (or at least lust). It was refreshing here to see people able to interact without falling into bed with each other for a change.

Once the training sessions are complete, Kilmer’s character packs his duffle and climbs in his truck to head out, but instead he’s stopped, handed a message, and climbs aboard a chopper that speeds him to a situation room where it’s apparent that something bad (and big) has happened. If you haven’t already seen the film, please don’t read this part because it’s wonderful to experience the arc of the story as it is told on the screen. What’s happened is that a girl is missing, presumably an important girl given all the hubbub.

It turns out that the president’s daughter has been kidnapped, and Kilmer’s character has been brought in to find her and bring her back. It becomes clear during the film that things like Constitutional rights, the Geneva convention, and human compassion do not apply to Kilmer’s character, and

Shade Cafe / Restaurant / Bistro (***½)

Posted on March 2nd, 2004 in Houston,Restaurant Reviews by mynagirl

Shade

250 W. 19th Street

Houston, Tx 77008

713 863 7500

You can tell when you enter a new restaurant if it’s helmed by a true restaurateur or a wannabe. This place is the real deal. We went to Shade for brunch this morning, and the entire experience was perfectly crafted, start to finish. It’s definitely going to be on the repeat list.

For starters, the restaurant is located in the old location of the Kaldi Cafe, next door to Edin and October Galleries on 19th in the heart of the heavy foot traffic antique-ing district. The space has been unrecognizeably transformed from Kaldi’s dilapidated corner-of-an-antiques-shop crumbliness to an airy, soft, Asian-inspired eatery that is easily prepared to compete with Houston’s nicest bistros. (Since I believe Shade is owned by the same person who runs the Daily Review on Lamar, this doesn’t surprise me — the Daily Review is one of Houston’s nicest bistros).

Brunch menu includes Gingerbread pancakes, a Fried Green Tomato and Bacon Sandwich, or Grilled Salmon with Basmati rice and a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. Dinner menu offers appetizers such as grilled qual with steamed stir fry rice and orange infused hoisin sauce and entrees like Wasabi and Cucumber crusted red snapper in a vegetable stir fry with a ginger and red curry coconut sauce, and grilled marinated medallions of pork served with homemade ciabiatta bread and caprese salad.

Dawn of the Dead (**½)

Posted on March 2nd, 2004 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

This weekend Mynagirl and I surveyed the movie scene looking for something we’d like to see. There are a lot of serious and/or meaningful and/or thought-provoking films out that we plan to see someday, but we’ve both been working our donkeys off at work and decided to opt for some escapist fare. Which brought us to Dawn of the Dead, the big-budget, Hollywood remake of the old George Romero zombie classic. We serendipitously hooked up with our friend Bruce, who is a bit of a horror-film-buff, and headed to the local Googolplex.

My expectations were that we would see a splattery, mindless zombie film, and that’s exactly what we got, with a bit more humor and touch more flair than I was expecting (but not much). For those of you who may not already know, the story follows the conventions of virtually every zombie film ever made, which consists of:

Extraordinarily normal people go about their daily lives.
People start turning into zombies.
A cast of survivors quickly coalesce in some last-stand location with zombies right outside.
There is friction among the survivors.
People you like die.
People you don’t like die.
Dead people tend to come back to life as zombies, somehow surprising the people who have spent the last 45 minutes of screen time fighting off undead zombies.
People wander off by themselves, even though that means death in zombie movies.
The movie does not resolve itself until the verrrry end – in this case that means staying and sitting through the credits!

Two of the best things about this film are Sarah Polley as the plucky heroine and Ving Rhames playing the strong, smart, menacing type that he plays so well. The rest of the cast is also strong, surprisingly so for such a throwaway movie. The cynical side of me says that the producers were able to attract such heavy talent by telling potential cast members that this would be 28 Days Later with a bigger budget and a deeper message. So, they all signed up, shot their scenes, then the filmmakers went in the editing room, yoinked out the “message” parts, put in some slow-motion zombie head explosions and called it a “film”.

There are a couple of other ways that this “Dead” is different from previous incarnations. For one thing, the zombies here are quite speedy, as opposed to the stereotypical zombie from the past which attacked with the speed of a fast-growing mushroom. We also learn that zombies ignore dogs (although I shudder to think about the “table scraps”), and that infected women give birth to infected babies (yuck). We also learn that there are a lot of zombies who (to their detriment) look like Jay Leno, Burt Reynolds, and Rosie O’Donnell.

And while the new “Dead” is certainly gloppy, it’s not really scary. There are some tense moments where our survivors try to outrun the Zombie Olympic Track Team, and there are (of course) obligatory “shriek” cuts of zombies popping into frame when the

Chatter’s Cafe and Bistro (**)

Posted on March 2nd, 2004 in Restaurant Reviews by mynagirl

Chatter’s Cafe and Bistro

South Heights

Houston, Tx

Located in the old Star Pizza building on South Heights, the new owners have completely revamped the interior, aiming for an inviting “olde worlde” feel. A bar area fills out the area by the hostess stand at the entrance, and the beige-walled dining rooms are separated by a look-through area with antique bicycles and sideboards.

So far our two visits have been a bit uneven; I’m not sure whether to chalk it up to a new restaurant or a restaurant that isn’t destined to be long for this world. The menu is mediterrean-ish, with hummus served with pita points, chicken kebabs and basmati rice, and a variety of sandwiches. The hummus (we’ve had it both times and, truth be told, it was the hummus that brought us back for a second trip) was top-notch: freshly prepared with a wonderful, creamy texture, layered with olive oil and fresh strips of basil, served with warm pita bread. The other dishes there have ranged from bad (a watery tomato basil soup) to okay (the chicken kebabs, but kinda underdone, which is scary for chicken) to pretty good (a walnut chicken salad sandwich and a philly cheesesteak sandwich).

The other factor that puts Chatter’s into the “maybe” pile for me is that it has the hallmarks of a family-owned establishment trying to save here and there on cost. Both times we’ve been there have been too many wait staff for how few patrons there were at the time (although we’ve driven by other times and seen a packed parking lot, so go figure). The waiters and waitresses all seem very inexperienced, not like “career” waitstaff; you can tell when someone is still learning how to balance a tray of food. When I ordered a sandwich and it arrived on a different type of bread than I had expected and I asked, “doesn’t this come on pita bread?”, I got a pretty snippy, “No it doesn’t,” in reply. I’d expect a little smoother of a response from someone who’d been a waiter for a longer period of time, or maybe it’s just that the guy was related to the owner and didn’t really fear for losing his job.

My final “maybe” factor with Chatter’s (and this is really a deciding factor for me on picking out where I’m going to eat), is that the chairs there are NOT PADDED. I guess I have a bony rear, but whenever we think about going back there I cringe because I don’t want to spend 40 minutes or more in discomfort on those murderously hard chairs. Dining out for me is about the entire experience — good food, decent wait staff, not too noisy / clattery, and a comfy, cozy, sit. There are very few restaurants where I’ll put up with uncomfortable chairs just because the food’s good. And if the food’s only mediocre and the chairs are bad? Forget it, location isn’t good enough to draw me in — there are too many good restaurants