Han Solo Weeps

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets  M Valerian 2017

Theaters:  July 2017

Streaming:  November 2017

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  137 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Fantasy – Science Fiction – Space Opera

els:  5.0/10

IMDB:  6.5/10

Amazon:  3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 5.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  51/100

Metacritic User Score:  6.4/10

Awards:  NA

Directed by:  Luc Besson

Written by:  Luc Besson (screenplay), Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières (comic book)

Music by:  Alexandre Desplat

Cast:  Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke,                 Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer

Film Locations:  Studios de Paris, La Cité du Cinéma, Saint-Denis, Seine-Saint-Denis, France

Budget:  $209,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $215,116,000

For centuries the International Space Station has acquired additional modules at a consistent rate and by the 28th century its mass is too much for its low Earth orbit. Consequently the decision is made to move it out of the solar system, into the wild cosmos of open space, acquiring a new name in the process; Alpha. As it travels the galaxy it continues to  grow, both in size and population. Millions of life forms from all corners of the galaxy now inhabit the station necessitating a special police force to maintain peace not only on the station but throughout the galaxy. The two protagonists: Major Valerian (DeHaan) and his side kick Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne) are members of this police force.

Flash back 30 years,  Commander Arün Filitt (Owen) is in a space battle with another space faring species above the planet Mul. In order to win a decisive victory the Commander must destroy the idyllic planet, killing most of the peaceful sentient beings that occupy the surface and their priceless energy pearl replicator.  Flash forward 30 years; one replicator did survive the destruction of the planet, becoming the most sought after object in the Galaxy. Valerian and Laureline are tasked with retrieving the object, initiating a grand adventure through fantastic planets and the mysterious bowels of the quirky Alpha.

The movie is based on the 1967-2010 French comic book series; Valerian and Laureline, created by Pierre Christin (story), Jean-Claude Mézières (art).  The best-selling comic focuses on the pair as they traverse space and time for adventure and good.

Luc Besson, director of imaginative and idiosyncratic films, including the 2014 Lucy and the 1997 The Fifth Element, has created another highly original movie replete with a story containing unique concepts, great cinematography, exceptional special effects, and mostly superb acting. And it all fails to gel into a coherent whole.  The parts are greater than their sum, great scenes producing an indifferent movie.

The movie fails because of the 2 main characters: Valerian and Laureline. Neither one has a screen presence, just reciting lines without bringing the audience along. Harrison Ford would have had you cheering and believing. DeHaan has you wondering when will he start shaving. Delevingne’s “oh please” attitude throughout the movie reminds one of a pretty high school football cheerleader being pursued by the awkward school geek. These two eventually deliver you to a mental stage of not bothering to care what they do. Unfortunately for the movie you reach that stage with these two very early on.  On the flip side, Rihanna and Ethan Hawke are the movies tour de force along with the 3 goofy trumpet nosed, fuzz balls. Without their talents the whole movie would have cratered into a mess of special effects without any pretense of art or style.

I saw this in 2D so the story and acting had to carry the movie where as the 3D version likely overwhelmed the audience with inner-ear confusion and visual exhilaration. Besson personally crowd sourced and financed this big-budget extravaganza. On paper it appears to have grossed a bit more than it cost to make but with all things “Hollywood” it likely lost money. Talk of a sequel is in the air but finding the money may prove insurmountable, especially if they keep DeHaan and Delevingne in the lead roles.  This is a mediocre movie at best. You will be able to carry on with your life if you miss this one.

Into the Woods

Braven M Braven 2018

Theaters:  February 2018

Streaming:  February 2018

Rated:  R

Runtime:  93-94 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Drama – Thriller

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  6.4/10

Amazon:  3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 5.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.0/5

Metacritic Metascore:  60/100

Metacritic User Score:  7.8/10

Awards: NA

Directed by: Lin Oeding

Written by: Mike Nilon, Thomas Pa’a Sibbett

Music by:  NA

Cast: Jason Momoa, Garrett Dillahunt, Stephan Lang, Zahn McClarnon, Jill Wagner, Sasha Rossof

Film Locations: Newfoundland, Canada

Budget: $NA Low-Budget Indie

Worldwide Box Office: $125,000

Joe Braven (Momoa) owns and operates a logging company from a small town in the forests of Canada, living a quiet life with his wife Stephanie (Wagner), their young daughter Charlotte (Rossof), and Joe’s father Linden (Lang), who suffers from dementia. One of Joe’s log haulers, Weston (Brendan Fletcher), agrees to transport drugs hidden in a hollowed out log for a ruthless syndicate of drug dealers.  During transport of the logs, and drugs, on a dark and snowy night, Weston crashes the truck, spilling the logs all over the deserted mountain road.  They move the drugs to Joe’s nearby, empty cabin before the sheriff shows up to assist with the truck accident.

Joe and his wife are having an increasingly difficult time caring for Linden and the doctors suggest they consider alternatives for his care. Stephanie suggests that Joe take Linden up to the cabin for a one-on-one discussion about possible elder-care options.  As they ride up to the cabin, Charlotte sneaks along as a stowaway.  After arriving at the cabin Joe and Linden discover the drugs, and Charlotte, both unexpected.  They immediately realize that whoever planted the drugs will be coming back for them and because of Charlotte they need to urgently leave the area. In the meantime the drug syndicate is rapidly converging on the cabin to retrieve the drugs and eliminate any witnesses. The action quickly escalates to a no-holds-barred display of death and destruction by all means available.

This is Lin Oeding’s first movie directing and he does an admirable job putting together a coherent, compelling story on a limited budget.  He initially takes a long, slow, meandering ride developing the plot that has the audience tapping their toes and checking their watches, waiting for a movie that is billed as an action movie to produce some action. When Oeding finally gets all the preliminaries out-of-the-way, he injects an overdose of adrenaline into the scenes, producing a wild ride of novel, engaging, and thrilling action against a contrasting backdrop of snow-covered mountain beauty. The story is familiar but the execution is pleasantly different.  As a freshman effort, Oeding gets the job done with few complaints from the viewers but it’s his biography that generates as much interest, for me at least, as the movie.  He’s a martial arts fighter with an impressive record of 16-1-2, has performed stunts in the 2010 Inception, was the stunt coordinator for the 2014 The Equalizer, and the 2015 Straight outta Compton, performed fight scenes with just about everyone including Dwayne Johnson, Tom Cruise, and Vin Diesel, competed in bare-knuckle, pay-per-view fighting and is a 1989 Nintendo’s semi-finalist world champion as well as a world-class Tetris player.  What does this guy do to relax?

Mike Nilon and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett have put together a screenplay that has few holes and lots of original action.  My only complaint is when Charlotte is rescued by the local sheriff they immediately drive her back to the very hot kill-zone. This is Nilon’s first attempt at writing and in the past, has used his energy in producing movies such as the 2014 Left Behind fantasy drama. This is also Sibbett’s first writing credit, known previously for consulting on the 2017 short, I am Because You Are.

Joseph Jason Namakaeha Momoa of the 10th season Baywatch fame, provides a believable character in Joe Braven, executing the sparse dialogue but intense action scenes with a smoothness that belies his hulking mass.  With Jason as the proletarian workhorse, Garrett Dillahunt plays the impatient thoroughbred, chomping to complete the task and move on.  He nails the psychopath persona with egotistical aplomb and a general’s overly assured command of his inferiors.

Braven is an easy movie to settle into, once you get past the opening drudgery. It provides entertainment without any preachy philosophy getting in the way.  The movie is well worth the 90 plus minutes.  Grab the popcorn and enjoy.

Million Dollar Kidnapping

Big Jake  M Jake 1971

Theaters:  May 1971

Streaming:  April 2003

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  110 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Classic – Western

els:  7.0/10

IMDB:  7.2/10

Amazon:  4.8/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: NA

Directed by:  George Sherman, John Wayne (uncredited)

Written by:  Harry J. Fink, Rita M. Fink

Music by:  Elmer Bernstein

Cast:  John Wayne, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Hara

Film Locations: Durango, Sonora, Zacatecas, Mexico

Budget: $4,800,000

Worldwide Box Office: $25,350,000

Little Jake (Ethan Wayne), Big Jake’s (John Wayne) grandson, is kidnapped from the family ranch by a ruthless gang of cutthroats who take the boy across the border from Arizona into Mexico. They will not release the boy until the family delivers a $1,000,000 ransom to them in the dusty deserts of Mexico. Martha McCandles (O’Hara), Big Jake’s estranged wife, manages the ranch while her husband, who has deserted her, travels the west with his redundantly named dog; she calls him home to perform the “harsh and unpleasant business” of bringing the boy back to the family.

George Sherman spent his life in film, starting in the mail room of Warner Brothers and eventually working his way up to director of almost exclusively ‘B’ movies, primarily westerns.  He directed John Wayne in a series of low-budget and forgotten westerns in the 1938 and 1939; a period in John Wayne’s career where he was clawing his way back to stardom after a 1931 run-in with Columbia boss Harry Cohn.  John Wayne never forgot. Sherman only danced in the big time twice. He directed Wayne in Big Jake although he fell ill during filming and John Wayne filled in for him but didn’t take any screen credit for it. He also produced Wayne in the 1961 western, Comancheros.  Sherman earned a reputation of making something out of nothing in his low-budget films; creating motion cantatas of cowboys doing what cowboys do, jumping on horses, riding horses, jumping off horses.  In Big Jake he gives his cinematographer, William H. Clothier, free rein to film the majestic Sonoran Desert panoramas along with superbly and convincingly constructing a story that straddles the fading west as it melts into the modern world of 1909.

John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara reprise their, can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em roles, that they so charmingly put together in the 1963 comedy, McLintock!. The charm and laughs are still there but this time Big Jake is a tad meaner.  He is still a gentleman but he can be down right ornery and lethal when needed and in this story, it’s needed.  O’Hara is a true treasure in the Hollywood of days gone by and in this movie she proves why. She is absorbing and natural but there is not enough of her. Her part ends after the opening scenes.  It’s a shame they couldn’t find a way to keep her in through the end. Richard Boone, as bad guy John Fain, upholds his part with a performance that has you believing that he is truly a dastardly beast.

Big Jake is a friends and family affair. Wayne’s friends and family are thick in the making of this movie. They direct, produce and act. Wayne pays his debts and provides avenues for the up and coming just as John Ford and others did for him in the past.  Wayne also makes this a movie of morals and putting the pieces of his broken family back together again.  Another fine, although not great, John Wayne western that you should watch more than once.

Bodegas Castano Hecula 2013

W Hecula 2013Monastrell (Mourvedre) from Yecla, Murcia, Spain

An Eric Solomon Selection

100% mourvedre (monastrell)

14.0% alcohol

Purchased: 12 November 2017  –  $10.99

Opened: 3 March 2018

els:  9.0/10

Wine Advocate:  91

Guia Penin:  88

Cellar Tracker:  87

The Murcia Region of Spain, located in the Segura River basin in the southeastern part of the country with the Beltic Mountains in the central west, the coastal Mediterranean plain to the southwest and the central high plateau to the north and east. Yecla, 45 miles northwest of the Mediterranean coast, is a small Denominación de Origen (DO — Designation of Origin in English) food and wine region in the northeastern corner of the Murcia Region which takes it name from the eponymous small town of 35,000 people. Yecla enjoys a mixed Mediterranean-continental climate; dry with rare freezes and large swings in the daily temperatures. It is mainly noted for its Monastrell wines and is entirely surrounded by the other notable Monastrell regions of Jumilla, Almansa and Alicante.

The DO classification is Spain’s second highest, DOC being the highest, in terms of quality for wines and food. In 2003 Spain added the DO Pago designation applicable only to single estate wines.  A classification that allows wineries some latitude in production and grape usage, slightly mimicking Italy’s Super Tuscan designation.  Currently there are 2 DOCs (Rioja and Priorat), 69 DOs and 14 DO Pagos in the country.

Yecla vineyards, dating back to the seafaring Phoenicians, are mainly planted in red grapes with Mourvedre vines being the most common. Syrah, Grenacha, Merlot, and Petit Verdot are also grown but in lesser amounts. Currently there are about 26,600 acres of vineyards in the Yecla area with approximately 75% of that existing under the DO designation. This constitutes only 1% of the total grape acreage planted in all of Spain. The Yecla wineries produce upwards to 9,000,000 liters of wine per year, of which 95% is exported out of the country.

Mourvedre is the 9th most planted grape in the world, by acreage, and is the 6th most common in Spain. It is one of the primary grapes for GSM blends, Grenacha and Syrah being the other 2, and is only occasionally bottled as a single grape wine. Spanish wine makers also use this grape, along with others, such as Grenacha and Tempranillo, for making sparkling roses or cava roses. It is a black-skinned variety that is believed to have originated in Spain but is now found throughout the world, especially in France, Australia, US, and South Africa. Spain produces the lions share of this grape with France coming in a distant second; all other countries place as a comparative after thought. The grape has bold flavors of blackberries, tobacco and black pepper.  In cool climates the grape takes on notes of red plums.  It is a full-bodied wine with high tannins and medium high acidity allowing for a long shelf life.

The Bodegas Castano is the best known and largest winery in Yecla. The family run operation traces its roots, in the area, back to the 1950s but it wasn’t until the 1980s they started bottling their own wines. Starting in the early 2000s the family steadily upgraded their winery and cellars including temperature controlled fermentation and smaller tanks for selective vinification. Their vineyards and winery occupy about 16,000 acres with Monastrell grapes planted on a little less than 1000 of those acres.

Only 2 of the 8 Castano vineyards grow the grapes for the Hecula wine: the higher altitude Las Gruesas and Pozuelo. The 400 acre Las Gruesas vineyard at roughly 2600-2800′ above sea level has organically poor, clayey to gravelly limestone soils with 35 to 60-year-old vines. In addition to Monastrell grapes, red varieties of Garnacha, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are also grown. The 100 acre Pozuelo vineyard at approximately the same elevation as Las Gruesas has similar soils but not as rocky. Its vines are slightly  older with some in the 80-year range. This vineyard grows, in addition to Monastrell, Garnacha Tintorera, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Macabeo and Tempranillo grapes. The growing season diurnal temperature range in the area is 50-85ºF with rainfall ranging from 0.25-2.0″ per month.

The Monastrell grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, sorted, fermented, and macerated at 77ºF in stainless steel tanks for 10 days. The wine then spends 6 months in half new, French and American oak barrels at approximately 64ºF. Production is limited to approximately 12,000 cases. This is an Eric Solomon Selection, slated mainly for export to the US.

A medium to dark ruby-red wine with a light purple rim. Aromas of black fruits and pepper. Full-bodied and nicely balanced.  The tannins are thick and chewy with a very easy acidity that produces a long-lasting finish.

Enjoy this wine with a Spanish dish of Chicken Paella. You will need a cup of vegetable oil, 1 green and red pepper diced, 3 breasts of de-boned chicken; each breast cut into 4-6 pieces, 3 cups of white rice, 6 cups of chicken broth, 8 ounces of peas; canned or fresh, 1 small onion chopped, 2 tomatoes diced, 1 clove of garlic or 2 teaspoons, salt and pepper to taste,  and parsley.  Heat half the oil and put the chicken into a(n) (iron) skillet. Cook for 15 minuets or until brown and remove to a holding dish. In the same skillet with the hot oil, cook the chopped onion for 5 minutes, add the diced tomatoes, and cook for an additional 5 minutes while mashing the tomatoes. Strain the mixture through a colander and add the solids to a paella cooking pan; woks work great.  Add the rest of the oil, plus the cooked green pepper and chicken. Stir the mixture to avoid further browning of the chicken.  Add salt, pepper and broth.  Keep hot but do not boil.  Add garlic and parsley to the cooked rice.  Add the rice, peas, and red pepper to the paella pan containing the chicken after the broth is reduced by half.  Cook for another 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, cool for 5 minutes, and serve.

An outstanding wine at an unbelievable price. Drink this year but likely good until 2020-2023. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.

$8.95-15.27 wine-searcher.com

A Waste in Time

A Wrinkle in Time   M Wrinkle 2018

Rated:  PG

Runtime:  109 minutes

Genre:  Adventure – Family – Fantasy – Science Fiction

Theaters:  February/March 2018

Streaming:  NA

els:  1.5/10

IMDB:  4.1/10

Amazon:  NA/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  2.5/5

Metacritic Metascore:  52/100

Metacritic User Score:  2.9/10

Awards: NA

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Written by:  Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell (screenplay), Madeleine L’Engle (book)

Music by:  Ramin Djawadi

Cast: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Chris Pine

Film Locations:  Eureka, Los Angeles, Santi Clarita – California – US;  Hunter Valley, Wanaka – Otaga – New Zealand

Budget: $103,000,000

Worldwide Take: $39,000,000 (Opening Weekend)

Dr. Murray (Pine), an astrophysicist, referred to as Mr. Murray for reasons not stated, tells an audience of his peers that he can transverse 93 billion light years in the wink of an eye using a concept called tessering.  He is laughed off the stage. Later he disappears without a trace leaving his wife and two children adrift in the world without him. Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), youngest sibling of the two Dr. Murrays and a child prodigy, discovers the three Ws: Mrs. Which (Oprah), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling); shape shifting, time travelers who are in search of a hero to save the universe. Charles Wallace introduces his socially inept sister, Meg (Storm Reid) to the Ws and they all convince her to be that hero; to search for her father and save the universe before the evil thing, It, destroys all that is light and good.

B Wrinkle 1962The movie is based on the Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book A Wrinkle in Time, a children’s book that was rejected 26 times before eventually finding a publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The book has been  in continuous print ever since.  The book, as with the movie, deals openly with evil while simultaneously equating Jesus with Buddha and other notable humans.  Publishers felt these topics too heavy for children and too anti-Christian for adults.  Later L’Engle hinted, because the hero was female, that misogyny also contributed to its multiple rejections. Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, Scott Finch, Dorothy Gale, Anna Karenina, Joe March, Lady Macbeth, and Natasha Rostova could not be reached for comment.

The director, Ava DuVernay, opened the movie with a brief comment on making the film and thanking the viewers for watching, almost begging them to like it.  This was a tact that I have never experienced before, at least that I can remember (maybe Walt Disney did the same with his movies).  At some level, I suspect, she was warning us that what was to follow was an absolute rotter.  She has managed to make a movie where not one single thing clicks.  It’s all strung together scenes with no audience connection, no avenues provided to bring the viewers into the movie. She gives us no reason to like this movie, just reasons to hope it ends soon.  DuVernay along with the writers Lee and Stockwell seem to have a lot of ideas to make great movies but using them all in one film is probably not wise.  The long drudgery of scene on the planet Uriel comes across as an excuse to film in 3D and imitate the 2009 film Avatar. Sorry, but James Cameron did it better.  For a children’s movie the writing was childish. The Ws tell Meg that her faults are her strengths.  Later Meg tries telling her brother that she is uncoordinated and we are supposed to believe that this is a strength that will conquer the big bad evil thing, It.

This is the first movie that a female director was given a $100 million for a budget.  I’m sure it’s not the last big budget for a woman but hopefully its the last for DuVernay.  As for Jennifer Lee it appears animation is where her talents are best utilized.

There is very little good to say about the acting. Oprah is thoroughly wooden throughout the movie and never quite figures out where to look when using the green screen.  Mindy Kaling reads her lines with no delivery —  sad. Meg has no ability beyond deer in the headlights wonder. Witherspoon was charming and excellent but not enough to cancel out the bad acting going on all around her.  Zach Galifianakis, playing the Happy Medium, was also fun and he had the only line in the movie that made me laugh.  He is lecturing Meg and she tells him he sounds like her mother.  Galifianakis responds in all seriousness, “Why is she a baritone?”.

My family watched this movie together at a theater, which we very seldom do anymore; streaming at home is so much easier.  With my wife and I were our 26 year-old daughter, 15 year-old son, and 3 year-old granddaughter. Not one of us 5 liked the movie.  Not the kid, not the teenager, not the young adult, not us slightly older folks.

The granddaughter didn’t exactly say the movie was bad, she just didn’t watch it.  While the movie was playing she found a better use of her time; passing out popcorn to the rest of us one kernel at a time.  In the end I’m not sure who Disney made this movie for or why they wasted everyone’s time with it.  Save your time and cherish your time, see something else with your precious time.  I haven’t seen a movie this bad in long time.

Cru Food and Wine Bar

Cru Food and Wine Bar, 9595 Six Pines Dr., Suite 650, The Woodlands, TX (Market Street)
Price: $$$ / $$$$$R Cru 2018
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Service: 3.5/5
Food: 4.0/5

Cru, a French term meaning growth but is generally taken to mean terroir or more specifically the quality of a wine grown and produced from a specific terroir. Premier Cru and Grand Cru terms are typically associated with outstanding to excellent quality wines from distinct geographic regions such as a top-level wine labeled Premier Cru from the Medoc region. Cru in Texas appears to be associated with copious choices for savoring tasty whites, bold reds, and all the colors in between; with and without bubbles.

Cru Food and Wine Bar, originally a Texas establishment, is slowly dispersing across the country and currently has 15 locations in the US; 10 in the Texas cities of Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Houston; 2 in Atlanta, Georgia; 2 in Denver, Colorado; and 1 in Lexington, Kentucky. Cru is dedicated to offering superb wines by glass and bottle along with a nice selection of California coastal style entrees and appetizers.

This is our first visit (7 March 2018) to Cru in The Woodlands.  My wife and I stopped in around 8 o’clock in the evening for a glass or two of wine and maybe a small bite of something tempting.  The bar and restaurant occupies a cozy little spot along the North Commons strip, across the street from the diminutive Central Park.  You have three options for seating: a patio for observing the street scene and people watching, an indoor bar and a few small indoor tables that by themselves seat 2-4 comfortably. The interior is tastefully done with blown-up wine labels decorating the back wall.  The interior space was clean and very quiet though there were only 3-4 couples seated around us. A casual and friendly atmosphere.

The waitress was very prompt greeting and seating us, and since it was our first visit, she was very pleasant in explaining the menu, which physically, was a thin wood panel with the food selections on one side and the wine by glass on the other.  I’m not sure who originated this type of menu but it sure is common, albeit nice, for wine bars all across the country.  They had a separate menu for libations and their extensive wine by the bottle offerings. The waitress continued to check in on us for orders and to see if all was well. The only small censure I had with the service was the visits to our table were a tad too spread out; 15-20 minute visit frequency, but I’m likely being overly critical.

W Valdisanti 2012While we studied the food menu we started off with a couple of glasses of a 2012 vintage Tolaini Valdisanti Tenuta S. Giovanni Toscana IGT from Tuscany, Italy at $20 per glass (I’m relying on my memory for the prices so I may be off a bit). A wonderful wine of dark fruits, full-bodied, well structured, with velvety tannins that leave you wanting more.  The wine is a red blend of 75%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Franc that I rate at 90, maybe 92.  The serpent in the wine glass is the universal symbol for St. John the Baptist, “San Giovanni”, and is also the name of the Italian vineyard from which the wine hails. This wine retails, if you can find it, for $22-30 per bottle.

We eventually decided to have a few small morsels of cheese to go with our wine.  They have 4 different “flights” of cheese boards that include 3 samples of various cheeses along with bread, grapes, sliced apple and pear. We chose the Chef’s Pick flight for $16 that consisted of Testun Ciuc, a bold Italian cheese aged in a wine barrel;  a sheep’s milk Pecorino Brillo, aged in Chianti; and a cow’s milk Cashel Blue, an Irish blue-veined cheese.  All were delicious but we really like the Testun Ciuc.  The powerful flavor paired well with the Tuscan wine.

Our visit was delightful and we will be back, especially to sample some of the more interesting items on their menu such as Lamb Lollipops with blue cheese and prosciutto, Salsiccia pizza topped with goat, roasted peppers and Italian sausage, or the Cast Iron Seared Sea Scallops with spinach parmesan risotto.  Their extensive wine offerings we didn’t even begin to scratch.  They offer an ever-changing selection of about 30 wines by the glass and around 10 times that amount by the bottle.  So little time to experience and enjoy, but we will persevere and try.


Bullets from the Past

22 Bullets  (L’immortel, original title — French Audio, English Subtitles)M 22 Bullets 2010

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  115-117 minutes

Genre:  Action  – Crime – Drama – International – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

Theaters:  Europe – March 2010

Streaming:  US – February 2014

els:  5.5/10

IMDB:  6.7/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: NA

Directed by:  Richard Berry

Written by:  Eric Assous and Richard Berry (screenplay), Franz-Olivier Giesbert (book)

Music by:  Klaus Badelt

Cast:  Jean Reno, Kad Merad, Jean-Pierre Darroussin

Film Locations:  Avignon, Marseille, Paris, France

Budget: $20,000,000

Worldwide Take: $21,300,000

Charlie Mattei (Jean Reno) after a career as a gangster wants to retire and spend the rest of his life peacefully with his family; a wife and 2 children.  Well, if wishes were politicians, thieves would rule — oh wait.  Mattei leaves his gangster business to his old criminal friend, Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad), and for 3 years he actually enjoys some peace until someone has 8 mobsters pump Charlie full of chemically accelerated lead. Charlie miraculously survives and recovers from the damage of 22 bullets and sets out to find those responsible; first without bloodshed then when that doesn’t work, firmer measures are employed.

The movie is loosely based on the real life Marseille mobster, Jacques “Jacky Le Mat” Imbert, who in the 1950s specialized in burglaries, hold-ups, and general thuggery.  By 1960s he added extortion, kidnapping and murder to his resume and was, and still is, considered the “Last Godfather” within French crime circles. In the late 1970 Imbert was gunned down by several mobsters associated with his old crime boss, Tony Zampa.  Doctors removed 22 pieces of metal from his body including 7 bullets.  He survived but his right hand was paralyzed.  Later 11 mobsters working for Zampa were gunned down in apparent retaliation for the failed hit. Police suspected and arrested Imbert but released him after 6 months for lack of evidence in the murders.  He reportedly retired when released but continued to associate with gangsters in Paris including the angelic, drug kingpin Francis “The Belgian” Vanverberghe of  The French Connection infamy.

Richard Berry, director, screenwriter and actor, known mainly for his work in French cinema, puts together a glossy gangster movie with great acting talent and replete with all the essential scenes of murder and car chases but little in the way of pizzazz or a hold-onto-your-seat intensity.  The movie at first has visions of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather but quickly degenerates into a story too-many-times told with an uneven delivery of what, in the end, is another pedestrian revenge flick.  The movie keeps your interest but the character development is spotty for the secondary actors, leaving the viewer occasionally lost in the gun-smoke of plot development.  Berry could have also left out the morality lectures from gangsters; way too out-of-place for this genera. Honor among thieves is one thing but mobsters as altar boys is a step too far.

Jean Reno plays Charlie Mattei with his usual aplomb and sophistication which always makes him one of the more, if not the most interesting person in a movie.  Think Leon in The Professional or the inspector Captain Bezu Fache  in Da Vinci Code.

This is an average revenge movie with some interesting and creative scenes of the bad guys delivering justice to the bad guys but it never gets past the formulaic, and thus, predictable plot.  The movie could have been much more with less mobster morality, more with less graphic in your face violence, more with less regularity; a few real plot twists would have taken this movie to another, more interesting level.

%d bloggers like this: