Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Young Adult": The Problem Play Masquerade

      Young Adult, directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, the same collaborators behind Juno, has been publicized like it’s a quirky, deadpan comedy.  Actually, it’s deeper than that.  It’s really a kitchen sink drama with a sly sense of humor and an almost cruel view of Generation X.  As with Cody’s other work (Juno and the TV series The United States of Tara), it’s all about a simple – almost high-concept – premise, a middle-class milieu, and a mordant tone.  

      I wasn’t a huge fan of Juno, though I’m about the only person I know who wasn’t.  The adult actors (J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner) were spot on, especially in delineating the difference between

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Christmas (War is Over): Where are the Fireworks?

      To paraphrase John Lennon, “so this is Christmas and what have we done?”  Hey, we’re out of Iraq.  Well, our troops are out of there.  Yeah, I know we’ll have some type of ‘presence’ there, whether diplomatic or military or a mix, but we’re officially out.  Getting into the Iraq ‘Mess O’ Potamia’ as Jon Stewart called it was the second biggest

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Enoteca Emilia: Neighborhood Italian Rocks The Near East Side

      Many of us fondly remember Château Pomije in O’Bryonville, which went from being a casual French bistro to a wine shop to kaput, but there’s finally a restaurant that already has better food and that’s Enoteca Emilia (EE).  For visitors to Cincinnati, the city is built on seven mounts and made up of about eighty-eight neighborhoods.  O’Bryonville, which I think of as a made up neighborhood, is a two block strip along Madison that is bounded by west Hyde Park, south Evanston, and East Walnut Hills. 

Enoteca Emilia Bar Area
Dining Room and Stairway

      According to Carole, an enoteca is a more rural wine bar that also serves snacks (ciccetti), salumi (cured cheeses), and formaggi (cheeses).  (Emilia refers to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy where many of the dishes originate).  That’s the central focus of Enoteca Emilia’s main seating area and the menu offers a variety in each of these selections.  Things, however, got a little more complicated for the restaurant when

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Ultimate Birth “Day” Gift

      Birthdays are more of a personal holiday at our house.  Parties are sometimes a part of the festivities, but in recent years the plans for Eric’s birthday have involved a day of cultural activities and dining out.  Starting in 2008, I gave him a celebration that started with lunch at Via Vite, a visit to the China Now exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the movie Happy Go Lucky at the Esquire Theatre, some lite bites at Aqua (now defunct) in Mt. Lookout, and dessert at Hugo in Oakley.  Eric knew he needed to clear the whole day but had no idea until that morning of the day’s agenda when I presented him with his customized card.

      This year we celebrated about a month after his birthday, so I announced the day before that we would be spending the following day out on the town.  We started with lunch at Iris Book Café on Main Street, moving up to Eden Park to the Cincinnati Art Museum where we were greeted with several small to medium sized exhibits.  Our main objective for that day was to see Art Deco: Fashion and Design in the Jazz Age before we missed it.  For a complete shift of pace, we zoomed up I-71 for a matinee of The Muppets at the Kenwood Theatre.  Then we stopped at home to visit Dexter and went on to an early dinner at Enoteca Emilia in O’Bryanville.  It’s not exactly “the gift that keeps on giving” but definitely packed with lasting memories for both of us.

      More on our day in separate reviews of Iris Book Café, the exhibits at the Cincinnati Art Museum (1/1/2012), and Enoteca Emilia (12/28/2011). 

Just as a reminder…my birthday is September 1st.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Thank You TV For Intriguing Recent Movies - Part II: “Weekend”

      Movies on Demand is an aesthetically critical savior for anyone not living in New York or L.A. that wants to stay au courant.  Weekend opened on it in September and it’s the best romantic drama of the year.  It was made with British government grant money (I know it’s too much to ask for such a handout in these grave economic times, but the difference between Europe and the U.S. is that one trumpets art and the other produces it – guess which we are) for about $200,000.  The plot is the “Brief Encounter” trope of two strangers casually connecting and realizing, in a short space of time, that their relationship is more profound than they’d initially anticipate and that they may not be able to immediately stay together.  

Tom Cullen and Chris New
      Andrew Haigh wrote and directed it in a casual way that is vaguely similar to the festival circuit “mumblecore” group.  However, Weekend is committed politically as well as artistically and that’s a big difference.  Tom Cullen, as Russell, has a job, friends, flat, and life of his own.  Although he’s lonely, he’s always been on his own and is only really close to his best, straight friend who

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Europa Bistro & Café Elevates Its Cuisine

The Storefront Area of Europa

      We started visiting Angelina’s at Findlay Market about a year before it closed. After that, the owners began a new venture in Mainstrasse in the form of a breakfast and lunch café.  At first, it had some markings of Angelina’s…especially with the Panini offerings.  Then they started having European afternoon (or lunch) teas.  Angela took Neil there for his birthday one year and they partied all afternoon on the Russian theme.  They found it memorable!  About the same time, they started being open on select nights for dinner focusing at first on Italian dishes. 

      I’ve always liked the food at Europa, though I had an issue with their P.R. abilities.  I tried to take my staff for a tea last year and they canceled the reservation because of

Thursday, December 22, 2011

MAGIC! Stop Reading This Review And Go See The Movie "Hugo"

      Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese and written by John Logan, is an artistic masterwork that should be a box office blockbuster.  We mistakenly thought it was a children’s movie so we skipped it at Thanksgiving and I didn’t connect to the fact that Scorsese had made it until the National Board of Review awarded it best film.  It is breathtaking from its first shots of Paris in the early 1930s that merge miniatures, sets, and actual exteriors that feel as timeless as an urban fairy tale and as current as 3-D technology will take the filmmaker and the audience.

Toy Store in Gare du Montparnasse
      The plot revolves around Hugo, an orphan who lives in the ceilings of a Paris railway station, and his developing relationship with the owner of the toy store in the mall of the station.  I thought the station was the Gare du Nord, but it’s actually supposed to be the Gare du Montparnasse.  Hugo assists his drunken lout of an uncle in maintaining the many clocks in the station behind walls and overhead, while looking to fix a broken automaton that is the only possession he has left of his father.  I’m not sure I want to say much else about the story because I don’t want

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Taste of Belgium: Belgian Bistro…A High Price for Authenticity

      Karen and I decided to spend the afternoon exploring the shops in the Gateway Quarter.  It’s usually not my style to recommend a restaurant before previously dining there, but I felt confident in my suggestion of Taste of Belgium: Belgian Bistro for our lunch.  It was fairly new on the scene yet mature enough to have worked out the kinks, and getting some raves from its patrons.  

      We arrived a little after noon and settled into one of the last remaining tables.  The aromas from the open kitchen were tempting…an inviting mix of sugar and savory.  I could tell our server would be attentive.  He quickly gave us the day’s menu offerings while we focused on the rather extensive list of features and sides, some of which may be a bit unfamiliar to the common Cincinnati diner.  My comment to Karen while perusing was that the prices mostly seemed a bit high with everything à la carte.  Our decisions, however, were made.  Karen would have the Tuna Baguette and I the ‘Nati Crêpe.  We decided to share a side of Stoemp, Belgian mashed potatoes with various additions. They change daily and the day’s ingredients were sage and tarragon.  I asked to see a dinner menu and many of the featured items from lunch were almost doubled in price for the evening and others were still a bit out of line to me for the market.  I was now a little concerned.  Have they priced their way out of the neighborhood and can they sustain longevity and build a repeat clientele?

Tuna Baguette
      Our selections arrived quickly. I did a double take on Karen’s sandwich.  It was embarrassingly petite!  Karen was more gracious.  She rated the tuna

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thank You TV For Intriguing Recent Movies – Part I: "Tiny Furniture"

      Many smaller movies don’t make it to a secondary urban market like Cincinnati (The Esquire and its offspring have pretty much given up on being art houses) and others aren’t released at all.  If it weren’t for IFC or Sundance Channel, I wouldn’t get to see some obscure independents, though they were reviewed in The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, and if it weren’t for Movies on Demand, I’d miss a couple of the best contemporary films around.

Lena Dunham With Her Mother,
Laurie Simmons
      Tiny Furniture has been in rotation on Sundance.  Released last year, it was written, directed, and starred Lena Dunham and co-stars her sister Grace and her mother Laurie Simmons, a noted New York photographer.  It is seemingly autobiographical since

Friday, December 16, 2011

Classic Holiday TV Specials Are Still The Best

Hey, Neil likes the same Christmas specials that I do!

Rudolph Shows Off
a New Animation Form
      I remember watching Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer the first time it was broadcast on Friday, December 6, 1964.  There had not been that many TV Christmas specials up to that point.  They had consisted mostly of weekly variety shows like Red Skelton, Lawrence Welk, or Judy Garland that had their holiday themed family programs.  Not that they weren’t memorable or entertaining, but Rudolph opened up

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Two Films That Take A While To Warm Up But Deliver a Glow

      Alexander Payne’s much-anticipated The Descendants finds paradise after the proverbial down turn – in this case, a power boating accident that leaves the hero’s wife in a coma.  Some critics (The Village Voice for one) have argued that it’s not dark enough and that somehow Payne’s edge has been blunted.   I totally disagree.  George Clooney plays Matt King, a wealthy lawyer descended from Hawaiian royalty, who has to decide when

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mayberry Serves a RFD* Menu at a Downtown Address

      Mayberry has been open for a little over two years now and after hearing all of the accolades, I have been on Eric to go there for lunch for quite some time.  He went shortly after they opened and wasn’t totally pleased.  I kept pressing and he finally agreed to a second visit.   

The Vine Street Entrance
      The outside is inviting…sort of a turn-of-the-last century tearoom.  The inside is more like a small 1980’s Greyhound bus station lunchroom.  Pared down furnishings and communal seating are not my idea of cozy and welcoming and didn’t exactly complement what appeared to be an inspired menu with new takes on old favorites.  It wasn’t a place that I wanted to settle into for a comfortable, conversation-filled dining experience.  But that’s obviously not what they’re going for.  Instead, it’s more of a fast turn over lunch counter space for downtown workers.

       The menu was traditional fare with minor modifications for each offering (i.e. leek fondue and onion jam) that made them sound a little more interesting without being too

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Tomato Basil Soup That Serves Many Occasions

Tomato Basil Bisque
Eric concocted this spur of the moment recipe for a holiday party a few years ago.  The texture and consistency depends upon your taste.  It’s hearty, so you can serve it as the beginning or feature of a meal or at a party.

1 stick of butter or margarine
10 oz can of tomato paste
2-14 oz cans of broth
     (vegetable is best, but chicken or beef
     would work as well)
28 oz can of diced tomatoes
     (or whatever collection of smaller containers
     adds up to about the same)
8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 Tbsp of sugar
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of white pepper
1 Tbsp of oregano
1 – 2 Tbsp of basil
1 tsp of thyme (optional)
1 bay leaf (optional)

Check and adjust:
6 oz can of tomato paste
½ cup of cream or ¾ cup of half and half

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lady Gaga and Abigail Breslin Offer Their Talents

Dexter and Abigail About Town
      Two stars recently made their acting fantasies known on national TV.  Abigail Breslin, starring in New Year's Eve, appeared on Live with Kelly and announced that she is in awe of the entire cast of Glee and would love to have a role on the hit show.  Glee could certainly use her acting talents.  The finalists from The Glee Project have not made much of

British Soldier's Christmas Wish

Camping It Up Aboard the HMS Ocean

      The HMS Ocean is returning to port today, Dec. 9, carrying 400 soldiers from a seven month mission supporting NATO during the war in Libya.  To show their Christmas spirit, they created a video lip-syncing to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas".  (We definitely prefer this version to the one shown last week with Justin Bieber at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting.)

      The video is gaining viral status after being seen on Good Morning America. Carey, upon hearing of the YouTube posting, tweeted a message to the Royal Navy that said: “This is the best thing I've ever seen, you guys just made my day! Happy Happy Christmas!!! x0x0 to the troops.”

      We think you'll enjoy this fun holiday greeting!  Let us know if you have other favorites.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Some Heroes Return

      Joseph-Beth Booksellers, which expanded then compressed in number of stores over the past decade, has opened a new branch in the recently shuttered Borders at Crestview Hills Mall.  (The Borders/Joseph-Beth connection is very interesting in itself since it involves two generations of family members, marriage and divorce, but enough until later).  
      Joseph-Beth has stepped things up lately with some big name talent dropping by the Rookwood Pavilion store.  Gregory Maguire, renowned fantasy author, recently read, signed books, and acted as the emcee for the stars of the Broadway Series tour of Wicked.  Their singing was excellent, but the sound system was intermittently disastrous.  If only they’d put down the microphones and just sung since both the Elphaba and Galinda had strong voices.

Costumes from Wicked
Out of Oz is the fourth in the The Wicked Years tetralogy that chronicles Oz before and after the events of The Wizard of Oz.  So far, it’s running at the level

Monday, December 5, 2011

Movie Wish List

The Descendants Cast

      Right now, there are three movies we really want to see.  The first is Alexander Payne’s The Descendants.  Yep, he’s been compared to just about every serious and seriously funny director in American film history and some comparisons (Owen Gleiberman’s shout out to Preston Sturges, especially) make sense.  Actually, Payne’s intelligence and sense of ambiguity remind me of Paul Mazursky’s work because both of them find the humanity in all of their characters even as they might behave appallingly.  Mazurksy had a great run of films from Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice through Down and Out in Beverly Hills.  He tripped artistically and then commercially and he hasn’t directed a

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas in Rockefeller Center With A Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber Duet

      NBC’s annual salute to a big tree, a tall tower, and itself was its usual mixed bag.  Neil Diamond (never my favorite, though beloved by others) was in great voice, moved well, and struck the right contrast between traditional holiday pop singing and a more contemporary, jazzed rhythm.  Tony Bennett, who seems to be everywhere this season to sell his album, delivered the goods.  Carole King, a great songwriter, is past her prime vocally and was off-key.  I also don’t understand how Jewish performers can’t at least add “Happy Hanukkah” after getting all tearful and joyful over Christmas.  

Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber
The spectacular point had to be Justin Bieber singing a duet with his mother – I mean, Mariah Carey.  Yes, she has a hot body and she had to pay