Gordon & Barbara in Paris

Gordon & Barbara in Paris
Here's Looking at YOU

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Seasons Greetings from Southern California

Just another beautiful December day near out Laguna Woods home.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN--Directed by Simon Curtis/ Starring Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh with Julia Ormond and Emma Watson/written by Adrian Hodges from books by Colin Clark/Original Music by Conrad Pope/rated R/ 1hr36min

Bifocal Review by Barbara and Gordon Rich

(B) This film is about a week with Marilyn Monroe, as told from the viewpoint of a young assistant (Eddie Redmayne) on the romantic comedy,The Prince and the Showgirl. Michelle Williams, as Marilyn, is very convincing, showing her vulnerable side as well as her notorious role as a sex symbol. Kenneth Branagh deserves a nod for his role as the frustrated Sir Lawrence Olivier. He captures the very essence of his character. Redmayne’s innocence as an awestruck assistant plays well during this film as he leads us through this unusual week, combining the prim and proper English and the more relaxed American style. I loved, also, the musical score. I enjoyed my week with Marilyn. It was nostalgic even if it was only two hours in a theater. I give it three binoculars.

(G) This film was another unexpected pleasure this movie season. I am not sure why I didn’t expect the very best. Kenneth Branagh—who never disappoints--was absolutely perfect as Sir Lawrence Olivier. Michelle Williams’ talent (and a body double) made me forget that she doesn’t really resemble Ms. Monroe, but she does have a special something, like Marilyn, that lights up the screen. The film was so good it made me want to go out and buy one of Colin Clark’s books. Yes, he is the lucky young man whose claim to fame was that Marilyn Monroe paid special attention to him for a few days. He also wrote two books on the subject apparently (I’d never heard of him before) but I love it when a desire for the written word is the result of a film’s full and rich portrayal. Naturally, it doesn’t hurt that the central subject matter was Marilyn Monroe. I give it three and a half binoculars and predict nominations for Branagh, Redmayne and Williams.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

J. Edgar

J.EDGAR--Directed by Clint Eastwood/Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts/written by Dustin Lance Black/rated R/2hr28min

Bifocal Review
By
Barbara and Gordon Rich


(B) I kept waiting for something in this film to be worth my time and money. It never happened. I have seen better make-up on corpses in funeral homes. It may have been the lighting and the close-ups that made it all too obvious, but seeing the pores of actor’s skin was not necessary. In fact, it was extremely distracting. I found myself dozing off, and if it wasn’t for the ONE explosion in the movie, I would have. DiCaprio, in this film is like asking Sinatra to chant in a monotone. My point is this: A great artist was wasted. Sadly, my dissatisfaction with the film in general, soured my opinions about the other great performers that were sprinkled throughout the movie. One and one-half binoculars is my rating and this mostly for set-direction and score.


(G) I really WANTED to like this film for two main reasons. First, I often am accused of being too hard on Clint Eastwood as a director. I thought that this would be a chance for him to prove me wrong about his heavy-handed direction and unnecessarily frequent close-ups without any dialogue. I also think that Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the finest actors we have in America today. Too often, however he seems to take on roles that rely almost entirely on his acting ability. As we know, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “a single actor doth not a movie make.” Unfortunately, J Edgar’s full value is summed up in a final line in the film, (again I paraphrase) that we are doomed to repeat history that we don’t know anything about. In this case, J Edgar Hoover the first director of the FBI held sway over the Bureau and many presidents and related world figures for almost forty years. By now, however, there is probably not a single person on the planet who doesn’t understand the concept that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We should not have to pay $10 and sit through an incredibly boring movie for reinforcement of that concept. There are literally thousands of bloggers (and other fine, real journalists) out there who are reinforcing this tidbit of knowledge with us on a daily basis, for free or nearly free, and if I am reading a column or blog and feel as though I am falling asleep I can turn the page, click elsewhere or even nod off without feeling guilty. I didn’t have those options with this film. I give it a reluctant 2 binoculars and only because of my preconception that DiCaprio is a fine actor. I think Barbara will probably regale us on the horrors of bad make-up in combination with unnecessary close-ups in high definition, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Puss In Boots

PUSS IN BOOTS—Directed by Chris Miller/Written by Charles Perrault (character), Brian Lynch, and 3 more credits /Staring Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis/PG/90 min.

B) What can I say about Puss in Boots? I just love Puss. He doesn’t have to do anything. I just think he is the cutest, most infectious little creature and when he opens his mouth to speak I am totally hooked. Therefore, I might be might a little bias. I could sit and watch his expressions all day. The other characters were mediocre by comparison, but there were some memorable puns. When Humpty is address by a scornful Puss, Puss uses his middle name, just as a parent might. He calls him Humpty Alexander Dumpty. It gives a whole new meaning to the character and the relationship. Puss's attempted hypnotic spell is also hilarious. Overall though, the story was not all that important. For me, it was all about Puss, played by Antonio Banderas. I don’t usually do this, but I give an animated feature four binoculars.

G) Come on, think about it. A tiny kitten with huge eyes mews through a few scenes then, when he demonstrates he CAN speak English, this baby cat opens his mouth and speaks with the Spanish accent of Antonio Banderas. Every time I think about that, I smile. Whoever thought to have Antonio Banderas as the voice of Puss in Boots is a genius. In fact, I was much more impressed with the whole film than Barbara, even though she already gave it a four. I thought Zach Galifianakis as Humpty Dumpty and Salma Hayek as Kitty Soft Paws were also perfectly cast. As for the story? Well, I think a lot of time was spent on making standard children’s storybook characters interesting to adults and there was enough hidden in the one liners that it worked for me. I also loved, for instance, when a young Puss brings home a unconscious bird to his adopted mother because he cannot express his gratitude in any other way except to be the cat that he is. Now, Barbara is a hard nut to crack. She’s gone out of her way to avoid most animated films except Shrek, and that led her to her affair with Puss. She even waited over sixty years to see The Wizard of Oz because it was “almost animated.” I still believe that the voice of Antonio Banderas (I sometimes go around the house saying out loud, with a Spanish accent...Antonio Bandares, Antonio Banderas, Antonio Banderas) is the key factor for her review, and I have to admit, it’s mine as well. PLEASE don’t let this film compete with a live action movie for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year, but three binoculars is my summation and that gives us an average of three and a half binocs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Ides of March

THE IDES OF MARCH--Directed by George Clooney/Starring Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Evan Rachel Wood/screenplay written by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon/101 min/rated R

Bifocal Review by
Barbara and Gordon Rich


(B) I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I did not take it as seriously as Gordon, however. It just spoke to me as a message from the political arena, that no matter how honest and good your intentions are, you will be corrupted if you enter this arena. Ryan Gosling plays a political wizard in his campaign for George Clooney, but the corrupt reality of politics, forces him to make decisions against his better judgment. Gosling was very convincing as both vulnerable, yet shockingly cold and calculating. Clooney also shows both sides. Kudos to Evan Rachel Wood for her portrayal of the volunteer intern. This character represents those of us who are fascinated by politics, and drawn to it, but who may not fully understand the impact of our interacting with those who strive for power, until after it is too late. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti served very well in their supporting roles, but they always do. In fact, all the performances were great even Marisa Tomei who played the very small role a journalist. It is probably a testament to George Clooney’s ability to make the movies that he wants and cast the great actors of our time in all the roles. I recommend this film with three binoculars.


(G) If I had to pick the one thing that bothered me about most about this film—and I guess I do, since that is the condition that makes a bifocal review—I would have to say that The Ides of March was not so much a story as it was an indictment on politics in general, and that is an easy target to hit these days. On the flip side, what I liked best was watching the talented actors work their magic, without the net of a compelling story. I have to add that usually, a story about the evils of politics would not bother me at all, since I think that the state of politics in this country is every bit as convoluted and self-serving as Clooney makes it out to be, but when you strip away the obvious, there is nothing underneath the hood. “We’ve missed the boat in our political arena in the U.S.”, I think he’s saying. “A good person cannot make it in politics in this country,” I think he’s saying. “There’s a double standard for women, and about a lot of things, especially sex between consenting adults in this country,” I think he’s saying. “Even if you start out with good, altruistic intentions, you are going to get corrupted by the most corrupted aspect of modern life there is,” I think he’s saying. Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these premises. I just don’t agree with his conclusions or like, particularly the path Clooney takes to arrive at them on the screen. I don’t like the idea that we live in a world, for instance, where having sex with an intern is a greater sin than lying, cheating and buying your way to the political top. In the end, all this movie really says to me is that voters are destined to continue to make voting decisions for all the wrong reasons. Syriana did essentially the same thing. In that movie Clooney points out that narrow business interests (even those that most of us have come to depend on, such as oil) or money-grubbing politics (including the justification for war based on disinformation or campaigns of misinformation) have become the norm, rather than the exception. All the actors are excellent as this is one of the strongest overall casts I’ve seen in a long time. Evan Rachel Wood (played the daughter in The Wrestler a few years ago) shows no fear mixing it up with this stellar cast. So, my conclusion is this: If you think this is going to a literary masterpiece because the title borrows a famous warning from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (and if that fact even matters to you) then you are destined for disappointment. I give this one 2 ½ binoculars. With Barbara’s score, and rounding UP we must say this film earns three binoculars.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Garden State Adventure

Bifocal Reviews of New Jersey
by
Barbara and Gordon Rich

We had to do some book signings recently and stayed with Barbara's niece, Nicole in Howell,New Jersey. Barbara was born and raised in New Jersey but I had only a few days relationship to the state. Both of us do enjoy going to New Jersey and on the podcast below, you'll see some of the better and lesser known reasons why a trip to New Jersey is always a good time. At the very bottom of this review, if you're interested in finding out more about The Garden State, or some of the locations we viewed within the state, you can click on the appropriate link.



OFFICIAL STATE SITE NEW JERSEY

Atlantic City Links

Manasquan Reservoir

Monday, September 12, 2011

CONTAGION

CONTAGION--Directed by Steven Soderbergh. With Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle/written by Scott Z. Burns/rated PG-13/1hr45min

Bifocal Review written by Barbara and Gordon Rich

(B) This movie was very informative, at times, somewhat more of a documentary about the intense research and detail that goes on when an epidemic threatens. For me, that made the film compelling and the credit probably goes mostly to the cast and the director for my level of interest. On the other hand, I could not help feeling that something was missing. I don’t know exactly what it was. Perhaps it was that there were no strong starring roles, mostly co-starring ones. Matt Damon and Kate Winslet were more significant than the other co-stars, although they were all good. Maybe it needed a little more emotional content for the viewer. Best scene: Matt Damon’s reaction after learning of his wife’s (Paltrow’s) death. It was so real and it came at a perfect time in the story. I give it three binoculars.

(G) Before I get rolling, I have to say that the most impressive part of this film is the graphic example that is given on how small the world has become. There is an old phrase on synchronicity that goes something like, "A butterfly flapping its wings in the Brazilian Jungle can cause a hurricane in Taiwan." This movie shows how ultimately interconnected all life is on our planet. That was the memorable message for me. Now, I am going to have to do something, that I don’t ordinarily like doing and that is, I have to criticize some of my fellow critics. When Contagion hit the screens this opening weekend, one barb that was thrown was that the story “had no heart.” That’s absurd! In a world that is in the throws of a pandemic virus, how could there not be heart? Within the storyline, many of the main characters make personal sacrifices to alleviate the suffering of others (on small and grand scales). For me, there is nothing that shows heart more than self-sacrifice. The script moved pretty well for me (better than it did for Barbara, apparently) and I always like it when the writer takes the time to tie up any loose ends the viewer might have. During the course of the film (this and others) Barbara was constantly pointing out that certain details hadn’t been explained. Be heartened. The final frame of the film will answer all your plotline questions. Fishburne, whose name doesn’t even appear as a star, was in his element. Damon is perfect and it’s a three way tie for best female performance with Paltrow, Winslet and Cottilard all doing what we've come to expect from them...deliver great performances. Jennifer Ehle, like Fishburne deserves an honorable mention. In the new world of digital reviews, I give this one 3.4 binoculars. Check my math, but I think that makes our Bifocal Average a 3.2.

THE DEBT

THE DEBT--Directed by John Madden/Starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain,Tom Wilkinson/written by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan/rated R/144 mins

Bifocal Review by Barbara and Gordon Rich

(B) I liked this film. I think, I liked it a little more than the film Contagion, which we also viewed this weekend. The Debt, for me was more suspenseful and had fewer lulls than its competitor for box-office bragging rights. However, there was one nagging problem for me with the script. Without giving too much away, it didn’t make sense that all the inner suffering and sacrifice that went on for the characters in the film, didn’t seem to equate with the motivations that were laid out for the viewer. One character’s actions didn’t seem to warrant the decades long lie that was the core of the story. In the end, I give this film 3.1 binoculars, as I am forced to grade it slightly higher than Contagion, if only to make sense of my opening statement.

(G) Once again, Jessica Chastain stole the film for me. She is fast becoming one of my favorite actresses, as she has shot to stardom with two of the most versatile portrayals I’ve seen since…well, Helen Mirren came on the scene. Ironically, Chastain’s character in THE DEBT, is Helen of a younger age. Congratulations to Michelle Guish for the casting of this film. I’m never quite sure how much of that credit is warranted for a casting credit, because I’m not sure what a casting director does really, but in this case I say…perfect choice. For those of you who do not know the name yet (and that would be most people at this point I’d guess) Jessica Chastain also portrayed the white trash, Celia in the movie The Help and even though Sean Penn and Brad Pitt are also in the Tree of Life (which we’ve yet to see) I may now get around to the film merely because Chastain is in it. She’s been called the next Meryl Streep, but with her playing the young Helen Mirren in THE DEBT, I call her the next Helen Mirren instead. As for the other characters, well what praise can we give the actual Helen Mirren that we haven’t already? Tom Wilkinson is no slouch either. However, the story seemed a bit contrived for me and at some points it just didn’t add up at all. As a writer, the script is the most important part of the film and the story must be engaging enough to overshadow the fact that we must, at time “suspend disbelief.” In this film’s case, however I was not compelled to do much in the way of suspending. If it weren’t for the actors I mentioned above, I think the final score would have been much lower. Following Barbara’s decimal diversion from tradition, I give this one a 2.9 Binoculars. Mirren and Chastain get fours.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Catalina Island/Barbara celebrates her 75th birthday

I can speak for both of us when I say that Barbara had a great 75th birthday, thanks to the folks at the Dana Point, Catalina Express. They have a wonderful program that allows people free round trip passage out of three ports, but you must travel ON YOUR BIRTHDAY. We decided to take advantage of this offer and several members of our family joined us. The boat ride over is about one hour and 15 minutes (give or take) and is very comfortable. We saw dolphins along the way and I'm told that this is not a rarity, especially at this time of year. Naturally, FREE is always the right price for Barbara and that cinched the deal for us. Once there we rented a six passenger golf cart to drive around the island. Another freebee comes when you rent this type of transportation for two hours...the third hour is free. In fact, there are a number of special offers for those celebrating just about every kind of event. Call ahead to check what is available once you arrive on the island. Naturally, many people do spend more than one day there, and (especially if you are into any kind of water sports or nature adventure) you can spend a few days here and still not see it all. We went over at about one p.m. and returned at 7 7 p.m. and were very happy, however. There are many things to do, but I'll let the video below speak for us. This is our Catalina Island Birthday Adventure.


For more information about Catalina Island go to the Chamber of Commerce website by clicking HERE.

To take a ride on the Catalina Express or to book online click HERE or call:1800 481 3470 for information or to reservations.

Friday, August 12, 2011

THE HELP

THE HELP--Directed by Tate Taylor/With Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard/ screenplay by Tate Taylor from the novel by Kathryn Stockett/Jessica Chastain/PG-13/2hr17min

A Bifocal Review by Barbara and Gordon Rich

(B) Finally, a film I can give credit to a well performed story, without benefit of special sound effects or visual effects, (not that there is no merit in that). Sometimes I am forced to give reviews on films I’m just not that passionate about. Maybe I’m just nostalgic, but this movie reached me on every level, historically, emotionally and tickled my sense of humor. Octavia Spencer stood out for me in this film. I thought she stole every scene she was in. Believe me, that is some task when you are up against such remarkable performances by Viola Davis and Emma Stone. Two other performances deserve a nod. Those of Bryce Dallas Howard, whose role calls for “beyond bitch,” and Jessica Chastain, who plays the part of a white outcast. It’s hard to give credit to a performance by someone who makes you hate them, but Bryce Dallas Howard delivers just that and Jessica Chastain, is just another worthy performance. I fill remiss in not mentioning more popular actresses in this movie, such as Cycly Tyson, Sissy Spacek and Allison Janney. They lived up to their standard, but I picked out what I thought were standouts. Don’t miss this film. I give it four binoculars!

(G) I know I may be bucking the system, but I am going to start off my review of this star-studded film by tipping my hat to Jessica Chastain for playing Celia Foote (a character of mid-importance in the film). Although her character is not integral to the plot of the film her character is artfully played and is an example of how well every part was cast and portrayed by Chastain’s fellow cast members. To say that I saw real acting talent in one of the minor characters only shows, by comparison that the talent of the major players—also the writing, the directing and the editing—were all top notch. As Barbara points out above, there was a certain amount of nostalgia attached to this film that Baby-Boomers (especially) will find encouraging. After all, the underlying theme that is being laid bare here is how racial prejudice (this ignorance was actually written into the State of Mississippi’s Constitution in the period where this film is supposed to be taking place) was no longer tolerated in our country. The setting of the film is Mississippi only 50 years in our nation’s ago. The audience was filled (in the early afternoon on a weekday) by members of “the older generation” with only a sprinkling of younger folk. Most of those who were in attendance remember standing around a television when President Kennedy was shot or even what they were doing with Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington. However, it’s important to note that the theater was full and the pain of racism was put into a perspective of importance that does not always get noticed. That is the importance of having white supporters in the struggle for African American equality. I liked the movie for all that it accomplished (even for the memories that it stirred in me) whether those accomplishments were intended or not. I too give this one four binoculars and am gearing up for an Oscar Battle Royal in a number of categories.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Taco Tuesday at El Torito

We have been hearing a lot of good things about Taco Tuesdays at El Torito Restaurant in Laguna Hills, California so we dropped by to it a try. We were pleasantly surprised to find that these 99 cent tacos (a bargain unto itself) are made with absolutely fresh tortillas! This is a treat that everyone should try. There is simply no comparison between fresh and even a few hours old when it comes to tortillas.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BEGINNERS

BEGINNERS—Written and Directed by Mike Mills/Starring With Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent , Goran Visnjic/rated R/1hr44min

(B) This was a delightful film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the dialog with inanimate objects and conversations with the dog. Both Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor handled these dialogs so beautifully it almost seemed normal. Although supporting roles were good, this film was about a relationship of a father and son. I was glued to this movie, whenever Plummer and McGregor were on the screen The subject matter was very well portrayed, so that it was not a downer, but more like just a part of life. I recommend it. Three binoculars from me.

(G) We’re only halfway through the year and already I have TWO favorite films for the season. This is one of them. I have to say that I liked pretty much everything about this film. It was well cast and the script was excellent. I’ve always believed that a film that is both written and directed by the same person will have a particular stamp on it that reveals the personality of the filmmaker. I believe that this movie bears me out on this point. There are so many clever devices that are smoothly utilized here (Barbara covers some of them above) that I believe this film is essential for those who call themselves writers and think there are not new ways to tell a story. I will likely be seeing this film again and again, and I think that most everyone will feel the same if they give it a chance. There is something for everyone here. Midnight in Paris…you now have Oscar worthy competition. Four Binoculars .

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mark Gerry Celebrity Roast

(B)I am not a martial artist, but because I'm married to one I have been introduced to a wonderful group of talented and remarkable people. The Mark Gerry Roast was entertaining for me on many levels, but started late and went a little long. It was nice to see our good friend Frank Dux on stage and to get a warm hug from him after the show. It was a doubly pleasant surprise to see my husband get his tribute award for his novel and to see his face on the big screen during the Dux introduction presentation, as Gordon makes a cameo appearance in the recently released "Put Up Your Dux" documentary. The Ernie Reyes Performance group and Team International performances were extraordinary!



(G)Thanks to the World Martial Arts Masters, The Golden State Karate Association and Tiger Claw, Barbara and I were granted VIP access to the Master Mark Gerry Celebrity Roast on June 17th, 2011. As you might suspect, it was as much a party as it was entertainment for the five hundred or so in attendance. Though, I have to say, the entertainment supplied by The USA International Team and Ernie Reyes’ Youth Performers (with a special performance by Ernie Reyes, Sr.) were definitely highlights of the evening, it was great to see the star-studded dais get together for this delightful tribute. Panel members included Cynthia Rothrock, Eric Lee, James Lew, Art Camacho, Ernie Reyes, Frank Dux, Harry Mok, Sonny Sison and Nicole Gerry (Mark’s daughter and Miss California Model of the Year). Comedian jeff Applebaum warmed up the crowd with an excellent set.
Most of the celebrities put some thought and effort into the roasting and the audience was treated to a video introduction for each of the dais members in attendance, as well. However, Team International and the Ernie Reyes performers were awe-inspiring. I wondered how the great stunt and competition champions who were on stage felt about the performances, which were as technically good as any martial arts demonstrations that I’ve ever seen. In the “olden days” when I participated in competitions (or when the on stage stars were performing) some of the things that were being routinely done by these kids were merely fantasy! “Great job,” to all the performers (especially Ernie Reyes, who is still participating with the kids at age 60).

I did not have a chance to speak with any of the celebrity roasters afterward, but the two standing ovations spoke volumes about the level of appreciation by all. The show lasted a little longer than expected, but I did get a chance to accept my Legends of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame Award from Cynthia Rothrock and Eric Kovaleski, for both the Journalism and Book of the Year categories after the event.





Cynthia Rothrock and Eric Kovaleski were kind enough to peel themselves away from the after show flash of cameras to hand me my award that Eric had taken the trouble to carry from Pennsylvania to California for the Gerry Roast and the Syd Campbell Memorial Martial Arts Open Tournament that took place the next day, June 18th. I was humbled that Master Kovaleski wanted to personally hand me this plaque during a weekend of festivities that was really meant to honor a living legend (Mark Gerry) and one who has just passed (Syd Campbell). Thanks again for allowing Barbara and I to attend the show.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bifocal Reviews--Central Park Carriage Ride

Bifocal Review of Central Park Carriage Ride
by
Barbara and Gordon Richiusa


(G) The video that follows is our tribute to the horse and buggy ride through Central Park. This is a romantic adventure that has been featured in scores of novels and in movies. The cost at the time of our ride was $50 for 20 minutes and took us past some beautiful scenery. If you get to New York and are interested in taking a tour (you also have the choice of having a human being on a bicycle wheel you around) you will see a "line up" of buggies at a few locations along on the perimeter and through the center of The Park. Even though the line of carriages seems endless (and horse and carriage color preference notwithstanding), etiquette dictates that you take the first carriage in the line. The horse does the rest.
(B) I was born and raised in New Jersey, so I frequented New York and the sight of a horse-driven carriage through Central Park was a childhood dream. The sound of the hooves on the street invites a romantic picture that cannot be duplicated in print or on video. We hope you enjoy the following.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

BURN THE FLOOR--Sagerstrom Center for the Arts

BURN THE FLOOR—Ballroom. Reinvented/ filed 6-10-2011--Billed as “The New Broadway Production” on a limited run at Segerstrom Center for the Arts (Costa Mesa, CA)—Dancers (in program order): Anya Garnis, Pasha Kovalev, Kevin Clifton, Santo Costa, Igor Dogoter, Sasha Farber, Natalia Gorshkova, Karen Hauer, Faye Huddleston, Ash Leigh Hunter, Robbie Kmetoni, Janette Manrara, Giselle Peacock, Damien Samuel, Aljaz Skorjanec, Emma Slater, Sarah Soriano, and Gary Wright/vocalist(s) Peter Saul, Vonzell Solomon/percussionist(s) Joseph Malone, Henry Soriano/ Director&Choreographer, Jason Gilkison/ Scenic Designer, Ray Klausen/ Lighting Designer, Rick Belzer/ Costume Designer, Janet Hine/Sound Designer, Peter J. Fitzgerald/Production Stage Manager, Bruce Fossey Bolton/1hr.50min with one 15 minute intermission.

Bifocal Review by Barbara Richiusa and Gordon Richiusa

(B) I love dancing! Music and dancing are like a marriage: some are good and some are not. I found this show had more bad marriages. There were too many songs I did not recognize and some songs did not fit the dance. The ones that did work, worked well.
The dancers were non-stop. It was astounding how much energy was put forth in almost two hours. I’m sure a huge amount of practice went into this program that had at least twenty or thirty different numbers. I give them so much credit just to remember the steps of one dance let alone several dance numbers. I have to agree with Gordon as far as not feeling a connection because there was no dialog or a pause to make an announcement of what was to come or even an MC to tell a few jokes and connect the audience with the dancers. Our seats were good but not close enough to see the facial expressions that add meaning to the dance. I have to add that we did take advantage of “rush pricing” by getting our seats at the last minute for a reduced rate, and let’s face it. Sometimes when you roll the dice you miss the point. I also noticed, upon researching the past and Broadway performances, that this performance was somewhat different than previous ones. I'm not sure if EVERY show is different, but I can’t bring myself to give more than two binoculars for the performance that I saw, but I would give three for the dancers alone.

(G) This truly is a dancer’s dream. If you are interested in Ballroom or International Style competition (and according to the latest Neilson rating, and the popularity of Dancing with the Stars, many people ARE) then this show might hold your interest. For me, however, I have to say that while I was not displeased, I did see that having a Celebrity MC, wacky judges or even a loosely connecting storyline are essentials for making a dance into a show. There was absolutely NO dialogue or clearly identifiable, central characters in the nearly two hours of non-stop dancing. At a few points, the dancers came close to acting (as in the Bullfighting scene or during some of the Jive or Tango sequences) and the audience responded with enthusiasm, but a wiggling finger or a scowling look doth not a stage production make (to paraphrase Shakespeare). Don’t get me wrong. There were definitely moments and the vocalists did an adequate job in most cases. I even enjoyed Solomon’s rendition of Knights in White Satin, but I could have closed my eyes and enjoyed the number just as much. Honestly, the few songs that I recognized all seemed out of place for the type of dancing, but that is an observation that Barbara has made to me about DWTS, so now I notice it. I did come away from this with a realization that the male partner, especially in the Latin dances, is really the featured (and more important) member of the team. All in all, I have to give this one two binoculars out of four. I wanted more but was happy to see my lovely wife enjoying herself. In the end, we all gotta “dance with the one who brung us.”


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Who Will Reign Supreme?

Gordon and Barbara lend their voices to the Laguna Woods BATTLE OF THE FITNESS CENTERS' quest to have some fun with the seniors at Laguna Woods Village.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS—Directed and Written by Woody Allen/Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kurt Fuller/rated PG-13/100 minutes

A Bifocal Review by Barbara and Gordon Richiusa

(G) I absolutely LOVED it! To me this was quintessential Woody Allen, in the same way that TETRO epitomized Coppola’s career (for me) and many believe The TEMPEST represents a culmination of Shakespeare’s playwriting…That’s William Shakespeare, or, as the self-possess pseudo intellectual character Paul, played by Michael Sheen in Midnight in Paris would call him…The Bard. This might seem like a needless aside to some of you (that’s a literary term that you’ll have to look up if you don’t understand it), but understanding that what is commonplace today was someone’s insightful observation in the past and, as Midnight In Paris points out: the people who are happiest are those who accept the “now” and make today their favorite time in history...that’s something that ALL of us can benefit from. In the same way, we see in this film that the line between genius and conceit lay pretty much in our ability to relate as an audience. In other words, we are all more apt to enjoy something that we can relate to on a personal level. Indeed, Midnight is Woody Allen’s finest film in years in that HE is relating to the characters and the storyline on every level. It just so happens that most of us can also relate, and that is the genius part.
Woody Allen is in every character (as usual) and his quirky way of thinking is in every line of dialogue, theme and idea without effort. Watching this film we know his likes and dislikes about himself and the world around him as each character and situation plays out like another note of another instrument of a symphony. In other words, it was well orchestrated. I loved it. I give it the highest rating I can give: Four Binoculars!

(B) Being a huge fan of nostalgia (you can take a look at an archived Bifocal Review when we visited Nostalgia-ville, USA: http://youtu.be/NHctHseSvqc) this film took me where I love to go…the past. I would have continued on this journey to more eras gone by if I could, but of course time would not permit. I found myself in awe just as much as Owen Wilson’s character as he spent his midnight escapades with heroes of the past, even though I knew it was just a movie. Marion Cotillard was so convincing in her role (as usual) and of course, Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, could do no harm in my eyes. This film was brilliantly cast and everyone did an excellent job. I loved the music, which was lilting and set the mood perfectly. I was glad to see a Woody Allen film that wasn’t silly, but rather wonderful and amusing. The scenery is Paris, Paris by day, Paris at night, Paris dry and Paris in the rain, Paris in the present and Paris in various bygone eras. Woody Allen makes a point of juxtaposing opinions and perspectives about the city and the level of romanticism that it seems to stir in people. Kudos to you Woody. I'm not as literary as Gordon, but I still give this one a THREE.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

HANGOVER 2

The Hangover Part II: Directed by Todd Phillips. Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis/written by Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, Todd Phillips, from characters by Jon Lucas, Scott Moore/ rated R/1 hr 42 min.

Bifocal Review by Barbara and Gordon Richiusa

(B) I’ve heard of pushing the envelope, but this ripped up the envelope and threw it away. Since the first Hangover was such a success (and very funny), I guess they had to see how far they could go before it was TOO far. In my opinion, they found out. I’m not a fan of this kind of film. I’m not too fond of a movie that has to resort to male, full-frontal nudity (and every joke and comedy situation that goes along with that set-up) over and over again as the main source of humor (although, I have to admit, that this obsession with the penis, does make this a realistic film for most men). My favorite scene in the film was the morning after “the Hangover” and the reaction of Ed Helms to finding out what he had done the night before (you’ll have to see the movie to find out what that is—I’m not fond of spoilers, either). I am also not happy with the development of Galifianakis’ character from the first film as an oddball that I could sympathize with to a guy who is cruel to his parents and has some sort of undefined mental disorder. As a mother, I especially didn’t like the way his character treated his own mother. I give this one a two.

(G) The first thing that came to my mind, as I walked out the theater doors, immediately after seeing THE HANGOVER Part II, was the punch line to one of my own, “reoccurring themed” jokes: “I hate it when that happens.” I give it a THREE BINOCS! With Barbara’s two and some kind of math function, I think that averages out to 2.5 on the binocular scale. I have to add that the scenery was fantastic and a couple of cameos (including a cigarette smoking monkey that we’ve all seen on the internet) made this as much fun (on a different level) as the first Hangover, in my opinion. I know that there is a third offering in the works. So, I have to wonder what new direction the franchise will go since it is obvious that they are trying to outdo themselves while staying true to the basic simple-minded formula of adult, male humor that make the Hangover movies enjoyable.

Monday, May 16, 2011

BRIDESMAIDS

BRIDESMAIDS--Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Kristen Wiig, Terry Crews, Jessica St. Clair,Maya Rudolf,written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo/rated R/2hr5min


Bifocal Review by Barbara and Gordon Richiusa



(B) BRIDESMAIDS gives an all new meaning to “chick flick.” I got a lot of belly laughs out of this film. It was real funny, by that I mean real as in true funny. Ask any girl, stuff like this really happens. The only criticism for me was, I thought the relationship between the character played by Wiig and her male cop should have been strictly comedy with no serious overtones. I also would liked to have seen more comedy situations with the other bridesmaids like the ones on board the flight to Vegas. Let’s hear it for the girls. I recommend this movie and give it 2 and half binocs.


(G) I liked this one, but not as much as the hype that it was given. In the end, I found the script to be shallow. There were too many opportunities that were wasted and some of the subplots were forced and out of place. The story starts off great and the fast pace of the funny situations and dialogue made me feel like I was on may way to a four binocular review. There is an establishing scene where Maya Rudolf and Kristen Wiig discuss the male sexual member that will go down in comedy history along with Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally. That said, however it was slightly disappointing from that point onward for me. I could not but help compare this as the ladies version of The Hangover, but where Wiig and Crews tried to make it different, BRIDESMAIDS comes apart. That’s not to say that Bridesmaids is a waste of time, far from it. I just think that the heavy-handed attempt to write a movie for and about Kristen Wiig’s character prevented some comedic opportunities that were wasted. When I got through, it was as if I was already looking for the sequel so that the “secondary characters” (everyone except Wiig) could be developed and a better story could be told. I have to give this one 2 and ½ binocs.

BLUE VALENTINE

BLUE VALENTINE--Directed by Derek Cianfrance. Starring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka/written by Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne & Joey Curtis/rated R/ 1 hr 54 min


Bifocal Review by Barbara and Gordon Richiusa


(G) I am sorry we didn’t see this film sooner. There really is no excuse for it, but when it finally came to VOD we jumped on it. The story—the part of a film that ultimately seals my opinion—is very real and thought provoking for anyone who is, has been, or wants to be involved in a monogamous relationship. Barbara and I viewed this film together, and interestingly we came away from it with very different views in many regards. I felt that this was more a movie about the male character and she felt it was more about the female…go figure. Originally BLUE VALENTINE was saddled with the threat of a NC-17 or even an X rating because of some realistic sex scenes. However, for the most part these scenes are between married and/or consenting heterosexuals so, in a year of Black Swan and The Kids Are All Right, it was hard to justify this punitive restriction.
Aside from a slightly off-putting tendency to jump from past to present and back again without warning the script is one of those that (when well-acted and this one is) will stick with you for days or even decades afterwards, because it took me a few days to connect all the dots. The basic themes are that men and women are different and that while we are all products of our upbringing to a large degree, we must still take responsibility for the successes and failures of our relationships and our lives.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are perfectly cast and are convincing in their individual (married after love at first sight on the part of the male and slow to develop out of necessity love for the female) character’s development. My hat is off to the small team of writers for great, realistic dialogue and just enough character history to explain the actions of the two main characters. Michelle gets pregnant by someone that treats her poorly and then meets Ryan who falls quickly in love. Gosling is a good person, who grew up without a mother but is willing to support a child that he knows is not his. In fact, the strength of the relationship that he has with his adopted daughter is just one of the many ingredients that are added to a seemingly simple plot to spice up the story into a whole new dish. I give this one 3 and ½ binoculars on the insight into male/female perspectives alone.

(B) I was not all that impressed with this movie. I already knew that men and women are different. The performances were excellent by both lead characters. I felt sad when the movie ended. I wanted more for this couple and some of the stark reality disappointed me. I guess I am a bit of a Pollyanna. It made me think of the many relationships that can’t stay together because of the lack of true communication. I give it 2 binocs. That’s an average of not quite three.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Weighing in On Demand vs Big Screen/Multiple Reviews

There has been a controversy of late because some production companies are threatening to release films to On Demand outlets within weeks of releasing the same films into the theater markets. Those opposed (mainly the theater owners) believe that people won’t go to the movies because they can see the same movie, if they wait a week, for much less. We don’t think this will create a problem—although we both agree that movie tickets are becoming too expensive and that there is room for change in the industry to meet new demands and compete. The fact of the matter is that there is something unique about the theater/big screen experience. Some films will continue to have an audience ON THE BIG SCREEN and there are those that are adequate on a smaller screen. We’re not sure what this particular Bifocal Review means, in terms of this argument, but we felt that we should comment on the films below (for a variety of reasons) even though we were not motivated to catch them while they were exclusively in theaters. All of the films below we have seen within the past month on our television and our impressions are expressed in brief. Movie producers: Take note.


CASINO JACK— Directed by George Hickenlooper/ Starring Kevin Spacey, Ruth Marshall, Graham Greene/written by Norman Snider/ 1hr 48min/R
(B) I like Kevin Spacey. That’s what drew me to this film. In spite of the fact that he has credible work in this film, I felt angry when it was over because of the content and information about how lobbyists are ruining our country. That kind of political behavior is just nuts. How can the average person remain focused on their childrens’ education when we see how education can be manipulated to produce crooked politics? I support education, but we need to find ways to use what we learn wisely.
(G) I always like Kevin Spacey and I enjoy a good historical/political drama. This is one of those times when you finish watching a movie, and you know that it is factual (to some degree) it kind of makes you uncomfortable. The film is about Jack Abramoff, a political lobbyist who epitomizes all that is wrong with our political system. All I went away with, after viewing CASINO JACK, is a reinforced belief that lobbying is bad, it should be illegal and any politician who supports the current practice should be voted out of office. Two out of four binoculars is generous.

COUNTRY STRONG— Directed by Shana Feste/ Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund/written by Shana Feste/PG13/112 min
(B) This movie was very mediocre, in my opinion. I’m glad Gwyneth Paltrow has found her “voice” and is able to cross over to the music industry. That’s all I really have to say.
One and half binoculars from me.
(G) I’m not a big Country Western music fan, but I don’t think I’m really Country-phobic. I liked Crazy Heart…last year. I just don’t want to see a movie about a Country star every year. I know that it Country Strong is based on a true story, but I worked with alcoholics and addicts for 20 years and they all have stories more tragic than this. The music was not that compelling and I think Gwyneth was wasted here. I was impressed with Tim McGraw’s acting as much as anyone else’s, but I couldn’t understand why he was not allowed to sing during the film. Maybe his obvious skill would have detracted from the alleged star qualities of the actors portraying singers. I give this one a two.

DUE DATE— Directed by Todd Phillips/ Starring Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan/story by Alan R. Cohen & Alan Freedland/screenplay by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, Todd Phillips/rated R/ 1hr 35 min
(B) Oh. No. I’m not a good judge of this film because I’m not a big Zack fan. I am a fan of RD Jr. but if I’d missed this film, I would have been O.K. with it. One binocular and one monocle. It was just silly, not funny.
(G) The story and the set-up are immaterial to the minor enjoyment I experienced during this movie. I laughed several times. I liked the dialogue, the characterization and the quick-witted give and take between Downey Jr. and Galifianakis, but the lines could have been delivered in any circumstance, within any plot-lines and I would have enjoyed them as much. I give it a two.

TOY STORY 3—1 hr43min/G/Directed by Lee Unkrich. Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack/Screenplay by Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
(B) I would like to say that I didn’t see this movie, because I don’t want to review it. However, my husband is sitting next to me and forcing me to tell you that I didn’t enjoy this animated feature. Don’t ask me to explain. I just didn’t like it.
(G) I feel a little silly reviewing this film now, knowing that I am doing so because it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year and I didn’t give it the time of day in the Oscars column. This was a cute animated story for kids (I think). Randy Newman’s music was the best part of the film. I give this one a monocle.


TRON LEGACY—Directed by Joseph Kosinski/Starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde/characters by Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird, story by Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal, screenplay by Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz/PG/ 125 mins
(B) I don’t like to limit myself to a certain genre of films, but my heart and my brain tell me that these are not films for me. Any futuristic fantasy, full of fluff and unrelated to the real world—without any green trees or familiar life-forms—doesn’t work in my world. In keeping with the genre…I give this one a microtronic chip…just one. You do the conversion.
(G) Another example of not “leaving well-enough alone.” This script relies too heavily on the original Tron (and the viewers knowledge thereof) and lacks any suspense. Except for the clever CGI of Jeff Bridges face and another chance to see Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde, I can’t think of any reason to see this one. Another monocle.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Phantom(s) of the Dr's Office

Bifocal Reviews—Dr. Mark Jason Concert Procedure


(B) Is there an upside to Osteoporosis? I’ve tried everything, but things happen when you get older and with a sensitive stomach, I’m not a good candidate for some of the oral products. However, I was offerent an opportunity to try Reclast, an infusion that I will get once a year. What could be more pleasant than sitting in a Lazy Boy chair, with your feet up, and an IV drip in your arm, while listening to a private, live concert? Well, that’s exactly what happened. I was pleasantly surprised by the service and the special attention took my mind off of the needle in my arm. The short video below, speaks for itself.

(G) As usual, Barbara and I are sitting next to one another while she is having this experience. Thanks to my new iPhone (that she got me for my birth-month) I was able to capture this unique experience. Dr. Jason began the concert with his own composition and then, another patient came in (Mr. Wilbur) and was asked to play as well. It was the most unique medical experience I’ve ever had, and you can see that Barbara was completely entertained, taking her attention away from the dreaded needle. After all, we know that she is very sensitive and kind of a baby. As for me (the worried spouse), knowing that she was not concentrating on the needle, allowed me to be entertained as well. Dr. Jason and the guest musician were really quite good.



Friday, April 8, 2011

Arthur--2011

Arthur 2011—Directed by Jason Winer/screenwriter: Peter Baynham & Jared Stern/starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner/1hr50min/PG-13

(B) This movie was ten minutes shy of two hours, but it seemed like closer to FOUR hours, by my boredom barometer. It doesn’t really deserve to be compared with the Dudley Moore original, except to say that there is no comparison. The chemistry between Moore and John Gielgud (as the Butler) was pure magic. In spite of the great actress that she is, even Helen Mirren couldn’t save this sinking ship. The star was not convincing beyond the part where he plays the fool. How much of that is acting, I’m not sure. My daughter treated me to this movie, and I felt bad for her having to sit through the entire uninspired 110 minutes. She confided—at the exit doorway--that she would have walked out in the first ½ hour, had I not been her ride home. I’m not commenting on anyone’s performances except for Brand’s, because he was in almost every scene. No other actor had a chance to salvage any credibility for individual performances, or to change my opinion on the film as a whole. I did love the wedding dress that Jennifer Garner wore, but that is a sad commentary in itself. When a pretty piece of cloth can steal a whole show that’s saying something. One Monocular (not a full binocular) is all this stinker warrants.
(G) Herein lay the beauty of the “Bifocal Review.” In fact, in this case we had three different sets of eyes watching the same screen, and each of us came up with similar conclusions, one more dismal than the last. Naturally, Helen Mirren’s scenes made the entire experience LESS of a chore. She is great in everything. Unfortunately, her ability to deliver a line of dialogue was severely compromised by the fact that Russell Brand was completely lifeless and the script was DOA. I have to say that I found it compelling (at first) that Gielgud’s character had been switched to a female actress like Mirren, but she did get dubbed to play Shakespeare’s Prospero as the transgender Prospera in last year’s remake. As for Greta Gerwig or Jennifer Garner, the poor things didn’t have a chance. It’s also a shame that Nick Nolte made a “comeback” in a film so unworthy of his talents. We know that he can play the heavy and the straight man in comedy from award winning films of both genres. Perhaps a new audience will not be able to make the comparison between this and the original version, but I dare say that they will come away thinking what we did here: “This is just not that funny.” I am going to be more generous than Barbara or our daughter, Carla and give this movie one full binocular, but let’s face it…the average is still less than one.
If you laugh at the trailer, then be satisfied that you've seen the funniest part of this movie and save your cash.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

LINCOLN LAWYER

LINCOLN LAWYER—Directed by Brad Furman. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe/scriptwriter: John Romano from a novel by Michael Connelly/1hr59min/rated R

(B) I viewed this film on a cold, rainy day. It was a perfect day for this kind of movie: A compelling drama with just enough suspense to keep you rapt. Finally, a vehicle for Matthew McConaughey to really sink his teeth into, and he really showed off his acting chops as a legal eagle. This was quite a departure from his usual romantic comedies, but his sarcastic wit, fit well with the character as well. In one memorable scene in particular for me, Matthew's stare at his client (and the camera) was a penetrating laser beam that burned right through me. It was sooooo sweet, man. McConaughey’s co-stars were also great in their supporting roles. Bill Macy, as Matthew’s investigative assistant hits the mark as well as Marisa Tomei in the role of Matthew’s ex-wife. Ryan Phillippe takes on the role as the “star” client with a duel personality. Ryan does well at playing the innocent, but leaves a lot to be desired in his representation of his evil-face. He played it a bit too soft for me. Other than that small criticism, I have no objections to this film. I loved it! I give it three and a half binoculars.

(G) This was a good, old-fashioned court room, crime drama in the tradition of L.A. Confidential, or A Few Good Men. In other words, I also loved it. There were just enough twists and turns to keep you guessing and it followed the “old school” scriptwriting style that is required for good story-telling. As a script it was well done and well performed with multiple plot-lines and fulfilled format expectations right down to being almost exactly two hours in length. The beauty of this (an example of a good) mystery thriller was that the audience “knew” some of the details that were not being revealed in the courtroom scenes and were engaged therefore in trying to figure out how this fascinating tale, with great characters was all going to be resolved. As for the details, nothing was wasted. There was no fat, no unnecessary scenes. This becomes apparent the farther one gets into the movie, but each detail is revealed with a casualness that draws you into the web ever further. I have not been this pleasantly surprised for a long time, not as I was with The King’s Speech, but for the simple fact that I love a well-told story. In movies, of course there is more to success than the script (such as the portrayals and the delivery of the dialogue, as Barbara pointed out) but let’s face it. As the writer’s saying goes: You can make a bad movie out of a good script, but you can’t make good movie out of a bad script. I recommend this one on several levels and give it four binoculars. I guess that gives us a Bifocal Review of 3 and ¾.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

French Riviera--Los Cabos

Bon Appetite!

NOTE: This is from our archives when we did bifocal reviews for Destino Los Cabos!
By Gordon Richiusa & Barbara Richiusa
Culinary Profile and Bifocal Review



The beautiful French Riviera has long been viewed as the place for fine dining where great chefs are trained. Now you can experience food in the grand tradition of the great French chefs, right here in the Mexican Riviera of Los Cabos at one of three French Riviera restaurants or Cafes.
If you are looking for something light but delicious The French Riviera Bakery in San Jose or the Boutique in San Lucas are a must!
Each cup of regular or decaf coffee is individually fresh-brewed. Your eyes will light up like a kid in a candy store when you see the magnificent selection of fresh breads and pastries or you can make a selection from a modest menu of breakfast or lunch items. Where else can you be in Mexico and feel you are in a café in Paris? In San Jose you can view the team of pastry chefs as they lovingly prepare the treats for both cafes and many other businesses on the Cape.
The “secret weapon” of the French Riviera armada is the award winning chef, Jacques Chretien. Jacques oversees everything from preparation to presentation in exactly the same way he has astonished royalty and celebrities around the globe.
If your nature makes you want to take it to the limit and savor the ultimate in French cuisine then the French Riviera Restaurant, found on the Transpenisular is sure to satisfy.


Jacques and Sophie Chretien came to Los Cabos by way of Pierre Cardin’s Maxim’s in Mexico City. After fulfilling a two year contract as the executive chef with the exclusive Esperanza Resort, tantalizing the palette’s of the celebrity elite, Sophie “loved the climate” and the two decided to open their first of three eateries in San Jose. “My desire was to have a bakery where people could go and experience something different, but Jacques expertise was in fine dining. He is a member of the Maitres Cuisiners de France (the Master Chefs of France). This is an exclusive, invitation only society, which is an earned privilege. He wanted to open the restaurant where he could offer the high quality and fresh products to his guests, without their having to go to Paris or some of the exclusive resorts.” They now have about forty employees. Some who came all the way from France with them, but the bulk of the remainder are locals. The addition of a third café in Cabo San Lucas now makes these great products available to people at both ends of the corridor as well as both ends of the financial spectrum.
Chef Jacques says of their accomplishment, “ My hope is to make the Bakery and the Boutique similar, eventually. However, if you come to Los Cabos and you don’t go at least once to the French Riviera Restaurant, you don’t know the full experience of Cabo.” When he speaks proudly of his food, he speaks from experience as his biography reads like the who’s who of culinary art. He is a member of the Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs—the cream of the crop of chefs, wine experts and food connoisseurs. He has lived in France and managed some of the best French restaurants impressing this same elite society of food and wine experts. When the movie Troy was shooting along the Corridor, his cafés and restaurant were a constant supplier to the likes of Jennifer, Brad and the rest of the cast and crew. When elite events or weddings are being planned here in Los Cabos, it is Chef Jacques who is trusted with the food and wine selections. It is for reasons such as these that The Baja Traveller named his restaurant, “the best French restaurant in Los Cabos.” And, why in May, Jacques will go to Paramount Studios in Hollywood to participate in the Wine Masters event. Locally, he has also established his expertise with wine, as he helped to make the “Le Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Event a great success.
Jacques, Sophie and their staff contribute in other ways to the local culture and economy by such activities as making a gigantic Strawberry Tart to benefit the Red Cross here in Los Cabos to offering cooking classes for kids.
If you decide to experience the finest dining in the area, look for the French Riviera sign on the highway at km #6 in the Plaza Del Rey. You will have three menus to choose from, with multiple selections in each category. “We offer a good value, good quality three or four course meal for $49 or $59. Then there is the Chef’s Choice, 7 course meal for $150 per person, which includes 6 different wines.” Before you balk at the cost, remember that this is a dining experience not just a meal. This kind of experience is for those who want to take the time to taste their food, fitting into the relaxed pace of the area. You will be served smaller portions, with very distinct flavors and the servers (and perhaps the chef himself) will narrate each setting, selection and service. Our meal lasted for over three hours!


On the night we dined, our menu included a variety of appetizers, a light salad, an asparagus and scallop soup, oyster-stuffed pastries, frog legs, chicken stuffed with caviar, a pre-dessert, a dessert and post dessert! The wine cellar boasts more than 150 varieties of wines from Mexico, California and France to name a few. And, the pre-dinner margarita (made with an aged tequila) was equally impressive.
What is it that makes French food so special? According to Chef Jacques, “It is a more real food. It is very simple like the French people. By that I mean, if you eat Chinese food, or some other kinds of food—which I also love to eat—you get a lot of flavors all mixed together. You don’t really know what is in there. With French food, filet mignon for instance, there is one food that is featured and maybe surrounded by a couple of other things. You know what you are eating with each course. If you are in Paris, or another city in France, it is the same way. There is one central building or landmark, like the Eiffel Tower and everyone congregates around it. Los Cabos is an International town that is very much like a French town, very different from other towns you might find in Mexico. Our guests are about 60% from the U.S. and Canada, 20% from Mexico and 20% from other places, such as Europe. We came here by way of Mexico City, and for one thing there are not as many people here, so you don’t have as many problems. People are very friendly and the Arcos is a landmark just like those you find in France, where people congregate and meet.” The two cultures blend well.
Food and service of this caliber often requires months of advance reservations, and will likely be much more difficult to accomplish in the near future. Our advice is to take advantage of this relatively new opportunity and come to enjoy this experience now.
Barbara summed it up this way, “I’m well traveled and never have I had a dining experience like this. I used to wonder what all the fuss was about, when I saw celebrities and dignitaries praising the dining experience offered by incredible French Cuisine. I wanted to know what could possibly make the food so good. Well, now I know. “

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Harpoon Henry's Restaurant in Dana Point, CA

Harpoon Henry’s by Barbara Richiusa & Gordon Richiusa



Harpoon Henry’s, situated just feet from the water on the dock in Dana Point Harbor is as close as you can get to a maritime meal, without having to board a vessel. This is an establishment with broad appeal, a meal and price for every pocketbook, lots of character along with an “all are welcome” atmosphere.

Opened in 1975 with full lunch and dinner menus seven days a week and a brunch on Sunday. Harpoon Henry’s has become notorious for its happy hour, often with a line out the door and into the parking lot. This popularity is well deserved, since this “hour” takes place Monday through Fridays and lasts from 4pm to 7pm.

This “happy hour” was started in 1993, coincidentally during the last major economic downturn in the U.S., but Harpoon Henry’s has actually seen a slight upturn in their sales for the year, even in the upstairs dining room where the atmosphere is at a premium and the service is a cut above.

Every night of the week, the happy hour packs the lounge, but on certain nights lines are out the door. The reasons for this increased interest might have something to do with their “wine ½ price” by the glass or martinis and mai tais also at half the regular price. Harpoon Henry’s “specialty” martinis are dressed Polynesian style with fresh fruit and juice served in mini-ice-beakers to keep things cool. You can almost feel the cool tropical breeze.

Other Items on the happy hour menu include but are not limited to:
CALAMARI STRIPS 3.95, COCONUT SHRIMP 8.95, BOWL OF CLAM CHOWDER 4.95, HOUSE MARGARITA 4.95, WELL DRINKS 4.95, CHICKEN TACOS 7.95, CALAMARI STEAK 7.95, or DELUXE BURGER 7.95.

As you are able choose your menu, you can also choose your style of dress. Meals can be enjoyed in very or semi casual wear, or a little more formal with fine, private dining upstairs. All three seating areas have great views of the Dana Point Harbor, from which annual boat parades can be observed. There is literally something for everyone. You can even book a catered wedding and other event in advance, by appointment.



Prices range from low to moderately high, but there is a variety of fare from which to choose. With choices ranging from fish and chips to lobster, everyone can find something they will like on a very full menu with items priced from a few dollars to around $30 for lobster or filet for the beef lover.

Chef Lupe Silva has helmed the kitchen for 32 years and has been assisted by Chris Chavarin for the past 19.

General Manager and co-owner Bob Cosgrove is an old football player who likes to run his restaurant “with a heavy team atmosphere.” We’re really very much like a family here, since two of my partners are old fraternity brothers.”

The catch phrase of this establishment is, “Make people want to come back,” says Bob. “We know there are plenty of places to eat and that we cannot survive for long with poor service or bad food. If people don’t want to come back, again and again, then we wouldn’t have lasted as long as we have.”

In fact, Bob admits that in these tough economic times, the lure of a reasonably priced happy hour coupled with a great location and great service seems to have picked up business a little in recent months. Interestingly, dinner sales are substantially up as well over last year, in the same period. “We seemed to have escaped the downturn for now and are up about 4% for January,” Bob confided.

One theory of Harpoon Henry’s staying power may be ecological in nature. Says Bob, “I think it has also been warmer this January than usual and people are still coming to the beach.”

Besides location and warm southern California sunshine, an attempt to cross over economic lines seems also to have aided Harpoon Henry’s success. For instance, even before entering the restaurant the customer is offered a choice between free (4 hour) or valet parking.

Upon entering you will pass an inviting fireplace and lounge as you are greeted by one of two friendly hostesses. The décor is what one might expect in a dockside dining experience with a name beginning with the word, harpoon and there are plenty of the spears around the walls and other touches of beach atmosphere to keep you in the waterside spirit.

A handsome Cheers-like, well stocked bar and lounge area, offer views of the waterway on the far side of the building through floor-to-ceiling windows. In the lounge several large screen TV’s have sports available, when their headline showman is not onstage. We chose to sit in the lounge, since Phil Shane was about to perform. We asked for full dining menus and were happily obliged by our server.

I selected a calamari steak with garlic-mashed potatoes. For an appetizer we tried the shrimp and crab wontons and a pina colada.

The drinks came first, quickly, and were very generously portioned looking and tasting like delicious desserts topped with both pineapple and cherry and doused with a healthy helping of whipped cream where appropriate. The rum part of the Pina Colada blend was not overdone making it possible to drink more than one during a single dining experience, but letting my wife know (I was the designated driver this night) that it was not just fruit juice in her glass. She wanted only one round (price on a Saturday night, $6.95).

The shrimp and crab wontons (price) were plump and tasty and were presented nicely (not piled ala roadside fish and chips van) with a choice of dipping sauces. A lovely orchid was added to the plate and made a great souvenir.

An abundant appetizer menu contained items ranging from just $3.95 for garlilc bread to 14.95 for Crab Cakes.

Calamari steaks are a personal favorite and I was pleasantly surprised to see that mine were properly prepared in two very large portions that overlapped on the place. Calamari steak is “REMINISCENT OF ABALONE – LIGHTLY BREADED AND SAUTÉED GOLDEN BROWN, SERVED WITH FRESH LEMON & TARTAR SAUCE, 16.95”

They were pounded very thin and fried in a satisfying (not greasy) breading that did not overwhelm. The garlic-mashed potatoes were adequate, though did not seem to enjoy as much care as the steaks had. A simple salad garnish of Spring greens, rounded out the serving, which was average at best.

The dessert menu is limited containing just five items: Fudge Brownie, Mud Pie, New York Cheese cake, Lemon or Raspberry sorbet and Ice cream with Berries all ranging in price from $5.95 to $6.95.

Having value-choices is not to say that service is lacking in any part of the restaurant. On the contrary, staff was abundant and attentive and everyone (employee and customers alike) seemed to be enjoying themselves. When Ashley--the outdoor patio bartender--was questioned about her relationship with management she said, “ I’ve been here for three and a half years and they really make each one of us feel like we are the most special employee of all.” Every patron seemed to feel the same personal investment in the total experience.

Our table was one of several loveseats around the perimeter of the lounge and was being attended by Nicole, a waitress who had been employed for six years. Although very busy, she made several stops at our table to check on our well being. When asked, she was happy to tell us about her favorites from the menu, as well as changes that had recently occurred. At her suggestion, the next time I’m at Harpoon Henry’s I am going to try Henry’s special “TUNA STACK. ” This is fresh ahi tuna, seared rare and served on a crab cake, with steamed rice and red pepper aioli and spicy Asian sauce, topped with fried wontons for $24.95.

As I said, we chose to eat in the lounge because this was the first weekend of the month and that meant to the Harpoon Henry’s regulars the appearance of Phil Shane. Phil is a little bit of Vegas in Orange County His is a great audience participation act of a class one might not expect to find in a California eatery. Between a never ending stream of requests he led an occasional cheer of “Hot Damn!”

Our total bill this evening, including alcoholic beverage, a 20% tip and the no cost-no minimum, Phil Shane performance ended up at slightly less than $40. Hot damn!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest—Directed by Daniel Alfredson. Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre/ from a novel by Stieg Larsson/written for the screen by Ulf Ryberg/ rated R/147 mins

(B) This is a very exciting thriller in the classic sense. It was well written and suspenseful…It is a pity that these classic stories must come to an end, because of the death of the author, Stieg Larsson. We watched this last one with English over-dubbing instead of the subtitles and I appreciated this effort, as I don’t think I missed as much of the storyline here as I might have in the first two. Of the trilogy, the weakest was the second offering for me. The series definitely opened and closed with the strongest punches. I will likely go back and see these again when the American versions come to the big screen, but I suspect the originals will be tough acts to follow. There were no weak performances, but I have to say that I got some characters confused, as they looked a lot alike. This film seems to fit in with a recent trend toward darkness, but of those nominated for Best Pictures in 2011, it is better than the two dark nominations for Oscars (I’ll let them remain nameless here) of the long list of ten. If you want to try and figure out which films I’m talking about, then look at the list that appears in our recent post. I give this one THREE BINOCULARS.

(G) The original title, Luftslottet som sprängdes translates to something like The Pipedream That Was Blown Up. How this turned into Hornet’s Nest, I don’t know. However, the new and improved title really does fit better the multi-layered suspense thriller that was presented in the previous two films and culminates here. There are really several villains in this storyline, and several subplots to go along with the classic approach to unraveling this complex mystery. We see, for instance why so many different and diverse groups appear to be conspiring against Lisbeth and all the loose ends are neatly trimmed. After all, having obstacles interfere with a protagonist’s “dramatic need” is the screenwriter’s go-to device. So, from a writer’s perspective, I liked the fact that the story is still the most important part of the final product. I too found it a little bit challenging keeping track of some of the secondary characters without a scorecard. In the first film of the trilogy I commented that I liked the fact that major American stars were not cast in the Laarson opener, and I’m sticking with that, but there were some men and women who resembled one another which made for momentary confusion. After seeing, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the first of the trilogy) I hoped that no one would try to Americanize the cast, but now that I know that an American version is on the way, I’m looking forward to it. Like Barbara, I have to give this one three binoculars as well, and I heartily recommend trying the English dubbed version which lacked only a little bit of emotion in a couple of scenes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Valentine's Day--Guadalajara

Guadalajara,
The ‘Heart’ of Mexico

story and photos
By
Gordon Richiusa
&
Barbara Richiusa



(G) As a hopeless romantic I am always looking for some way to impress Barbara on Valentine’s Day. We both love Mexico and last year, I found the perfect trip to Guadalajara. The second largest city in Mexico offers an unparalleled, totally Mexican experience that, when combined with the calendar date of February 14th, will explain my impression and why I now refer to this city as “the Heart of Mexico.”




(B)Situated about 4 hours east of Puerto Vallarta, this inland metropolis boasts much more consistent weather than the coastal town and is not reliant on tourism as many of the port towns might be. So, if you’ve spent any time in Mexico or if your experience is limited to short excursions from a cruise ship, you’ll likely notice several pleasant things right away. First, the people are generous, happy and most of all extremely proud to be Mexican. Secondly, there are few vendors and those that do exist are available as much for the locals as they are for visitors. You won’t find the frantic hawking of trinkets as one might find in a U.S. border or seaside tourist town. Certainly bargains exist (for instance Tequila, the drink gets that its name from the close by town that uses Guadalajara distilleries to complete the liquor making process). Then there is Lake Chappala, the largest lake in Mexico and home to many rich U.S. expatriates. A short trip to this inland haven and you’ll know why.




(G)Tlaquepaque—a suburb of the city, is a haven for artists. Shopping is a treat in and around massive cobble stone plazas and buildings that are often more than 600 years old.
The architecture is extremely colonial and in many of the shops one will find residences in back of storefronts. Almost every old building has beautiful, serene interior courtyard of some sort.
The Aniversario de la Ciudad (Anniversary of the City) is actually celebrated for a full week. This makes for a double-barreled fiesta, the likes of which can be found in no other City in the world, let alone in Mexico.
The name "Valentine" is derived from Latin valens meaning worthy and was popular prior to Christianity. Not much is known about Saint Valentine whose feast is on February 14, except his name and that he was buried at the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14. It is even uncertain whether the feast of that day celebrates only one saint or several martyred saints of ancient Rome. This is the real reason that the holiday was not kept in the Catholic calendar of saints. However, "Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome" remains on the list of saints proposed for veneration by all Catholics. It is no wonder, then that Guadalajara (supported strongly by the Catholic Church in it infancy as well as today) chose this day to officially found the city in 1542. All of Mexico came under Spanish eventually and by extension Catholic rule. Regardless of why you are in town, February 14th is likely to have perfect weather to enjoy Guadalajara.
The cofounders of the city were, ironically a female, Doña Beátriz de Hernández and a male, governor Cristóbal de Oñate. There are monuments to honor them both in the Plaza de Los Fundadores. Open-air concerts, live music and a marathon race are some of the other attractions offerered around the central plazas. When we visited, a giant mural of John Lennon had been erected in honor of the musician’s song, “All You Need Is Love.”

(B) While visiting the city, be sure to see this colorful history of Guadalajara (and Mexico) as depicted on the walls of the Sistine Chapel of the Americas, where Orozco Clemente’s murals are featured at a former orphanage. The orphanage—now cultural museum-- is an architectural and artistic marvel. There are twenty-three internal courtyards, varying in size and use. The entire structure is a must see and we recommend the guided tour. Known as Hospicio Cabañas, it was founded and financed by Bishop Juan Ruiz de Cabañas (who is featured in the murals) and was a home to shelter orphans, the elderly, the poor and handicapped. It was deemed a World Heritage site in 1997.

Ed Rampell, art-and-entertainment critic based in Los Angeles, CA says this of Orozco Clemente, “Simply put, he is a genius.” The Hospicio Cabañas opened to the first orphans in 1810 while it was still under construction and was named (Casa de Misericordia) House of Charity. That same year the War for Mexican Independence began and construction came to a halt. It was used to house Spanish troops, Independent troops as well as supplies. Rumor has it that secret passages were constructed by workers prior to this occupation and the workers were killed and sealed into the tunnels, to assure their silence. After 1829 the building resumed to house the people it was originally built to serve. The construction was finally finished in 1845 and the name was changed to Hospicio Cabañas in honor of its founder and depicts a deep love of and respect for Mexico and of the city of Guadalajara. Truly, almost every building in this city has this kind of historical significance attached to it, as is often the case in a town of 600 plus years. When you sit down for a meal, or look to buy a keepsake, ask the shop owner about the building. Most of the time, they are happy to oblige.

(B)To guide us through the intricacies of touring the area, especially at this time of year, I was lucky to find a couple that not only love one another, but are intensely fond of the city of Guadalajara and the country of Mexico, as well.

Dr. Armando Hernandez an internationally known surgeon was trained in England, but has chosen to have his central practice in Guadalajara (his hometown). It is a city that he loves and he knows a great deal about the culture and history. Perhaps his most important reason to love Guadalajara is because his lovely wife, Evita is a native. She has lived in the Jalisco state her whole life, except for a short stint in London with her husband. “This is a very rich and unique place, “ she points out. “Many of the things which people around the world associate with Mexico, got their start in the State of Jalisco, where Guadalajara is situated. This area is the cradle of tequila production, the foundation of Mariachi and the birthplace of LaCaheiria or Mexican Cowboys. We have our own unique food, dances and folklore here.”


Amemonos means “let’s love each other,” and more accurately defines the attitude of the Mexican population who celebrate Valentine’s Day. Indeed, it is pure chance that has made the lover’s holiday so important in Guadalajara. “I don’t know any other city in Mexico that celebrates February 14th, especially in the same way, “ said Evita. “And, not everyone in Guadalajara knows the historical significance of the day, either. It is a day of love and friendship not just love of lovers. It’s an important day to show affection to friends, mothers, fathers and other relatives though many, many young ladies get their engagement rings on this day.”
So, how would these two lovebirds suggest one celebrate a romantic version of Valentine’s Day? “Everything is so crowded on Valentine’s Day, you may want to wait until the next day to go out to a restaurant or make your reservations far in advance!”
“If you do go out, two of the best are Santo Coyote and Sacramonte. Both have Mexican food and atmosphere, but Sacramonte is more a Spanish-fusion mixture. Santo
Coyote is very festive in a different way, and is often used for a different kind of celebration. Sacramonte is a little more sophisticated, a smaller restaurant with not too many tables. So, it is a little more intimate.”
(G)Flights are available from every major airport in the U.S. and Canada. So, regardless of which eatery you choose, why you are visiting this wonderful city, or what
time of year it might be, the adventure will be authentically Mexican and in more ways than one, you will experience the true Heart of Mexico!
(B) It was one of the nicest Valentines Day gifts I have ever received.

Monday, January 31, 2011

WINTER'S BONE

WINTER’S BONE--Directed by Debra Granik/Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Shelley Waggener, Garret Dillahunt/screenplay written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini/ from the novel by Daniel Woodrell/1hr40min/R

(B) I just don’t get it. What ever happened to the great romantic comedies like It Happened One Night or drama’s like Casablanca? By the way, what the heck does the title mean? Was I supposed to read the novel before viewing the film? I don’t understand. This doesn’t deserve my effort to review it. The best I can do is give an honorable mention to a seemingly unknown singer, and some backwoods musicians who were in the background. Enough said!

(G) WARNING! Spoiler alert! My next sentence may reveal some facts that you might not want to know, should you decide to see this absolutely stunning, dreadfully depressing film. The “best” thing that happens in this film is that a teenage girl gets to save her family’s home by cutting off her dead father’s hands and delivering them to the Sheriff. Yep, that’s the most uplifting thing in the film, unless you subscribe to the belief that learning to shoot or gut a squirrel at an early age, is an essential survival skill.
Now, I’m a big proponent of judging a film from the “Big Picture” perspective. I know that all parts are important, but I also understand that the “basic story” is the most important factor in the ultimate success or failure of a movie. I also understand that a “happy ending” is not essential to telling a good story, but for goodness sake (besides the fact that I ALSO don’t understand what the title has to do with anything) I just don’t understand what it is that this “story” is trying to say to us. Notice that I say “story” because I want to spread the possibility of blame around, as thinly as possible to be certain that the failure lands, at least partially on the guilty party.
It is also important to note that there are some successes here. The dramatic acting is formidable. Not only did this film earn a nomination for Best Picture, but garnered both a Best Actress and Supporting Actor nod as well. These are well deserved, for honestly, if the portrayals were not top notch, I never would have made it to the finish line on this one.
Let’s take this one aspect of the “story” that I’ve already “leaked,” the fact that a teenage girl must cut off the hands of her father’s corpse with a chainsaw to save her home for her mother and two younger siblings. This big dramatic moment…is completely unnecessary and actually illogical to the storyline or consistent with characterizations that we are being fed throughout this film. In other words, the characters lead us to a conclusion and then they, themselves have to explain “why” they are doing it. Even the characters know there is no reason for us (or the girl) to witness this act! Get it? Even the characters don’t believe it. It doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, I felt about this film similarly to how I felt about The Hurt Locker when I finished watching it. I kept asking myself, “Why was this movie forced upon me? Why, does the Academy feel the need to nominate so many films? Why doesn’t the Academy understand that ALL PARTS of a movie should be judged when nominating for Best Picture? Don’t people realize that every 5 cent idea that comes along does NOT have to be made into a motion picture?”
Let’s just hope that the same mistake is not made this year as last, and we see a boring, poorly told story with pretty good acting earn the Best Picture Oscar. It wasn’t fair in 2010 and it won’t be fair in 2011.