City Of Gold

You’ve tasted Korean, Thai and Mexican food. You may have tasted Burmese, Ethiopian and Iranian food. You may know that Los Angeles is a city with a diverse population. In City of Gold, you learn that Jonathan Gold often begins his reviews with writing in the second person. Hence, my opening paragraph.

Food critic Jonathan Gold wraps his arms around Los Angeles and its diversity. He loves L.A., his hometown. City of Gold explores the food of Los Angeles and the people who cook and serve it. The film also provides insight into Gold the person and his writing.

Gold says, “You’re not going to find food like this anywhere but L.A.” I’d suggest that many cities in the U.S., including St. Louis, offer a wide range of ethnic cuisines prepared with skill and passion.

But this film is about Los Angeles. The sheer enormity of the L.A. metro area and its population from across the world make it possible for Gold to experience meal after excellent meal at favorite dining spots. Gold revels in the smaller establishments, often in the less celebrated corners of town. (He once wrote a series of articles about what’s on every block on Pico Boulevard, which runs from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica.)

Among the spots I like best in the film are taco stand King Taco, which also has a taco truck permanently parked outside, and downtown’s Grand Central Market.

City of Gold has appearances from noted food personalities Andrew Zimmern, David Chang, Ruth Reichl and Calvin Trillin talking about or with Gold. (He and Reichl commiserate over fried grasshoppers.) Gold’s wife Laura Ochoa, who, like Gold, works for the Los Angeles Times, adds her takes about her husband and his work.

Gold, the first food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize (2007), writes colorfully. Of a spicy dish, he compares it to “a mysteriously pleasurable punch in the mouth.” In an Op-Ed regarding preservation of over-harvested seafood animals, he writes of the “bitter taste of extinction.”

Jonathan Gold the man is a cello player who grew up listening to classical music but later wrote about Gangsta rap. He doesn’t seem like he’d be a truck guy, but he proudly drives a Dodge pickup.

Laura Gabbert directed City of Gold. Her shots of Los Angeles at the end of the day give the city an appealing look that contrast with the gritty look of much of her street level filming.

City of Gold provides a glimpse of the many food choices L.A. brings to the table. Gold is a man who loves his work as much as he loves his city. His passion is obvious. You will enjoy meeting him and, especially, checking out the food he eats.

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10 Cloverfield Lane

Creepy, frightening and suspenseful. Imagine being held prisoner in an underground bunker by a doomsday prepper who tells you that you should be grateful because he saved your life! 10 Cloverfield Lane provides thrills and chills and keeps you wondering.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is driving on a lonely road on a dark Louisiana night, having left the city and her boyfriend. Suddenly her car is hit. When she awakens, she finds herself in a room with concrete block walls. She is receiving an IV drip and she is handcuffed to the wall.

Soon she meets her rescuer/captor Howard (John Goodman) who tells her that she was lucky to have been brought to the shelter because everyone else is dead. Well, except Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a good ol’ boy who doesn’t seem quite as panicked about being underground as Michelle is.

What’s the story? Has there been a nuclear attack? Chemical weapons? Aliens? Or… does Howard just have an active, paranoid imagination? Is he a protector? Is he to be feared? Or is he a guy whose military training has prepared him for fateful, factual end times? And what exactly happened to his daughter Megan? Lots of questions!

10 Cloverfield Lane is a suspense thriller. Like some of Hitchcock’s best works it presents an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation, one where things are not what they seem to be. First time feature director Dan Trachtenberg has delivered an efficient movie that doesn’t waste a frame.

The setting inside the underground bunker recalls the shed in last year’s Room where a young woman and her son went imprisoned. But the abode in Cloverfield has several rooms. Claustrophobia is an issue but the real concern for Michelle and Emmett is Howard and his unpredictability.

Winstead (best known, to me at least, as Ramona Flowers in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim Versus The World) is perfect as a woman whose survival depends on quick thinking while constantly reevaluating her situation. Goodman as the alternately threatening and comforting Howard is an enigma whose ultimate playbook can only be guessed at until the film’s climax. Gallagher (who looks like the guy who played Chuck on TV but isn’t) has little opportunity to shine.

FYI—10 Cloverfield Lane has nothing to do with the 2008 film Cloverfield except for the fact that J.J. Abrams served as a producer for both.

If you’re up for some creepy fun, 10 Cloverfield Lane brings it. But remember, when you’re telling your friends about it, no spoilers!

 

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

What The F is this movie supposed to be? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has a little bit of everything: action, comedy, romance and political intrigue. It is the story of a woman’s three-year adventure as a TV reporter based in Kabul, Afghanistan from ’03 to ’06.

Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is not unlike 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon. She’s a 40-something network employee whose professional and personal lives are not quite satisfying. Lemon was a show producer; Baker is a lowly news writer. When the opportunity to cover the allied peacekeeping effort in Afghanistan—with a chance to do on-camera reports—is offered, she jumps.

One of the first members of the media she encounters in Kabul is competing TV reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) who introduces herself by asking, “Can I [have sex with] your bodyguard?” Vanderpoel explains (and a Marine general played by Billy Bob Thornton later reiterates) that Baker may be a “6” or a “7” back home, but is a “10” to men in this foreign land. Baker replies to Vanderpoel, “What are you then, like a ‘15?’”

Despite the creature discomforts, Baker comes to enjoy the rush of being in a hot spot. She skypes with boyfriend Chris (Josh Charles) back home until she sees another woman in his bedroom. She hooks up with Scottish journalist Iain (Martin Freeman). She looks to get information from an Afghanistan cabinet member (Alfred Molina) who hits on her every time she calls on him.

A handful of chuckles and a few solid laughs make WTF a bit of a comedy. It’s also a bit of a buddy movie as Baker and Vanderpoel become chums. It’s a war movie, though the peril level varies throughout the film. The romance between Baker and Iain forms the crux of the third act. WTF covers a lot of category bases.

Co-directors are Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who scored big a few years ago with Crazy, Stupid Love. Robert Carlock who wrote and produced for 30 Rock wrote WTF. On the heavy to light spectrum, the script is on the light side, but not by much.

Last fall, another movie set in Afghanistan, Rock The Casbah starring Bill Murray, bombed badly. Can Tina Fey and Margot Robbie pull people into the theater to see a movie that sells itself as a comedy, but isn’t exactly a comedy? I think yes.

Most importantly (not really): Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has caused me to forgive Tina Fey for last year’s misfire, Sisters. You’re back in my good graces, TF!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zootopia

Zootopia looks great and has spectacular voice work, but it lacks the magic that would elevate it to the top rung of Disney animation work. Zootopia’s plot exposition and message causes it to fall short in the pure fun and laughter departments. But don’t let those slight qualms stop you from seeing it.

Judy Hopps (Gennifer Goodwin) is a bunny whose farmer parents (Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake) encourage her to set her personal ambition bar low and settle. Judy, however, wants to move to the city of Zootopia and join the police force.

Zootopia looks like a cross between Shanghai and the Capitol in The Hunger Games. This fauna universe is divided into zones that include a rain forest, a desert and a wintry world, as well as the downtown area. It’s a city where all the animals coexist peacefully because the predators have somehow mellowed out.

After Judy becomes an officer, her boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) limits her work to issuing parking citations. She does her best, writing hundreds of tickets each day. On the street, she encounters a nemesis, soon to become an ally, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox.

Zootopia has two main messages. #1. Don’t get in a hurry when you visit the license office—especially in Zootopia where the DMV is staffed by sloths. (See trailer at top of this post.) #2. You can overcome stereotypes and be who you want to be. Judy, a bunny, is typically too small to be a cop. And Nick, a fox, turns to a life of deception because, well, foxes are scheming hustlers.

The film’s story centers around a group of predators who have reverted to their violent ways and are being caged on the edge of town. What’s causing them to go back to their instinctive states? Judy goes to work to solve the mystery and Nick pitches in.

Since this animal world is a metaphor for our human society, I wonder who the suddenly-wild-and-dangerous-again predators are supposed to represent. I don’t dare speculate here for fear of offending a particular race or ethnic group.

A few more of the talented voice cast members who populate Zootopia are Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Alan Tudyk, Octavia Spencer and, as a singing Gazelle called Gazelle, Shakira.

Zootopia, like the best animation efforts of the past few decades, has fun stuff for adults as well as kids. I suggest you view the film as a light amusement and don’t worry about messages or metaphors. Zootopia is not an all-time great, but it’s pretty good!