Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Only God Forgives, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is a brutal tale of drug dealing, murder, and retribution in the seedy underworld of Bangkok, Thailand.  Starring, Ryan Gosling, this film  envelopes its' audience in sordid and grotesque violence and betrayal as hit after hit is called in the brutal world of drugs, Muy Thai Boxing, prostitution, and revenge.

Only God Forgives is not for the faint at heart.  Where the plot is, as in so many films, the good guy versus the bad guy, in this story it is a very corrupt and egotistical cop caught between his own machismo and how he imagines himself as the hero fighting evil.  Here, he is pitted against foreign drug dealers - two brothers who are ruled by their evil, American mother who seems to have a "far too warm" relationship with her own children.....yes, it goes deep.

This film is sickening.  It may, very well be, the most brutal film I have ever seen.  There are rib cages sawed right down the middle, wrists cut-off, beheadings, slashings and gore at a level I am not able to reach back and find anything more disturbing in my memory. 

Yet, Only God Forgives is a good film.  i enjoyed it, thoroughly.  I was raised on slashers and Michael Meyers and love good shoot outs and, so I have to write, this movie kicks ass.  It is some brutal violence but is so insightful and realistic in all its' horror that it reminded me how good life can be.  Life in this movie is dark and horrible.  I recommend it for any graduating class of high school students around the country for it is a good, thick taste of what can go down when you step away from walking the path of good.

Long takes in the cinematography and very dark brothels with close ups of the stars in long, shadowy halls, seemingly staring into voids of nothingness between each shift in the storyline, aid in presenting the eeriness in the lifestyle that these characters chosen to live.  Once the gates are open, the blood starts flowing and the film delves into the hellish dark and that which is morbid at every turn until its' horrendous ending.  Again, this film is not for the meek.

I pair this film with one of my favorite Rhones I have sampled, this year - 2010 La Tarasque Cotes Du Rhone from the Rhone Valley, France.  This blend is, mostly, grenache with some of what, tastes like to me, syrah blended in.  It is blood-red much like that of what would come out of your chest when you are sprayed with a sub-machine gun.  The name, Tarasque, comes from a monster in medieval times that ravaged the rhone valley with brutality and heartlessness.   This is a perfect fit for watching, Only God Forgives....available, now, on DVD or Pay Per View.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gravity Movie Review And Wine Pairing

Gravity, starring Sandra bullock and George Clooney, is a space-age thriller set in the realms of science labs and space stations orbiting the earth.  Gravity is an incredible introduction into the workings of humans reaching out beyond our own planet, stretching ourselves in expansion into outer space, and the perils that can come with our dreams of worlds beyond our own.

What is so interesting to me is the, very, first three people that came into my wine bar and spoke with me about this film told me, essentially, that it was boring.  They presented the film to me as an outer space love story that was slow and not very good, in general.  So much for listening to the public.  For the past few weeks I have heard from so many other folks how good it was that i just had to give it a try.

Gravity is far from boring.  In fact, it kicks-ass and as much as i am not overwhelmed by anything Sandra Bullock has done, she plays her part just fine in this high speed disaster alongside George Clooney.  Disaster is a word that, only, describes what transpires in this film, in the most mild of terms.  There is prelude and hint of things to go wrong, right from the beginning - perhaps, even, some foreshadowing......and when the bells and whistles blow....the dramatic does stop coming rendering this film nothing short of a nail-biter.

Yet, as we are glued to edge of our seat, there is an ominous beauty in the cinematography....the shots from above looking down on the planet are, simply, dreamy.  It gives the audience some perspective on just how small we angle from God's perspective, perhaps.   However, with the deep hues and wide angle there is something horrible lurking in the background when you hear George Clooney exalt, "the Ganges looks so beautiful in the sunrise," as they spin round and round the planet at high speeds.

How is it they we learned to float this these craft....these high above the earth?  Was it not just 50 something years ago and many people were, essentially, laughing at the guy who said we could land on the moon?  Just 50 something years ago?  Amazing.  Amazing, yes, but with peril.  As we are so new to this age of space, Gravity, presents us with a, both, a world and the outer space around it, fraught with danger.....and I will let you discover why and how and enjoy the ride from here.

For my wine pairing, I was, at first, thinking explosive, powerful....perhaps, a big zinfandel.  But, after the first explosion, there came so much more that made me love this film.   It is intense and nothing short.  Did i say that, already?  Good.  My wine of choice for pairing is the Manzanita Creek 2007 Petite Sirah, Handal Vineyard, Alexander Valley, California.  This wine has incredible structure with delicious, dark berry fruit and is inky, inky, inky......and intense....just like Gravity.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 23, 2013

MUD Movie Review and Wine Pairing

What is MUDMUD is what churns up from the bottom of a hard-flowing river. MUD sticks to the bottom of your boots. It lay, deep down, packed full of dirt and silt and is the remains of a devastating flood, full of waste, debris.  MUD, directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Mathew McConaughey, is a tragic tale set in the deep south that is based on the life and character of a human being who came from nothing - from dirt, or, mud - the very place he was born.

Nichol's ability to show us the deep turmoil in MUD that can fester in human relationships and the dynamics of their evolution in this film is uncanny, unique, clever.  The story goes from past to present, present to past, the history, the future, the new - the old.  He ties MUD together so well in these relationships with his sordid tone it almost felt like a fable or a tragedy, the likes of Shakespeare.

As the film delivers a depth of sadness to its' audience, Nichols is able to portray to us that in all dark, there is light.  One just knows, from the very beginning, this story is going to be a tough one to swallow.  But, in it, relationships are fostered between McConaughey and two young boys that do provide a glimmer of light.  It is through this relationship with these two new friends he seeks to find redemption from past atrocities he has committed.  The bad guy learns something new about himself and the world and he, somewhat, evolves.  All the while, the mud they are stuck in, thickens.

Set in poverty, this struggle of the human condition is laden with human error in bad decisions, all, festering in the dirty world of poverty along the brown and churning Mississippi River.  There is lies, there is deceit, trickery, heartbreak, and there is murder.

But, what does shine in this film are the two little boys who aid this conman in his quest to find his lifelong love who, once, saved his life.  What they, first, begin to do to help him in his dilemma to be with his long lost love evolves into something quite different by the end of film.   They teach him about love, himself, and the bigger picture of life.  We are taken from dark to light and all the while the audience swims in the mud.

Somehow, though, we learn to love our bad guy by the end of the film.  Hell, it's Mathew Mconaughey....chicks dig him.  As this superstar gone bad isn't quite as tough to swallow as Ryan Gosling heading south in, A Place Beyond The Pines, it does end, somewhat tragically. 

For our pain and sorrows, i recommend a profound libation - something deep, heavy, and powerful.  For this, i suggest sipping DOW'S 20 Year Old Tawny Port.  With a light aroma of caramel and a hint of vanilla swirling in deep cherry fruit, this dessert wine is a perfect pairing.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Conjuring Movie Review and Wine Pairing

The Conjuring, directed by James Wan, has hit the big screens and if you haven't had the opportunity to get out and see it, I highly suggest you do.  This, of course, if you like the crap scared out of you.  It has been some time since I have spent $9 on something that really pleased me in this horrific fashion.  A lot of jumping, gasping, and fidgeting around in the audience between moments of silence and suspense.  If you are a horror buff - I.E....The Shining, Silence of the Lambs, The Exorcist, John Carpenter's, The Thing (My four favorites) will be moved to have both hands locked on to each arm of your theater chair.

As there is a great history that lays a foundation for this demonic tale, the time of the movie is set in the late 60's, early 70's.  It is, really, cool to watch an entire production not try and capture a time or age but, actually, present it in a way that is so well-done and convincing that you are there, caught in the period.  The characters and the choice of actors who play them is committed in splendid fashion and accuracy.  Some of them silly, some of them serious.  All of them about to face unimaginable horror.

Two of these characters, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.  In tandem, they work with the Catholic church performing exorcisms and eradicating lost spirits from possessed people or homes.  Most of their investigations lead to the discovery of old pipes in the attic that, when pressurized, bump against wood and make a haunting noise.  That is not the case in this farmhouse.

On the grounds of this farm, unspeakable tragedy has dug itself in, deeply, from a time long ago.  Through what looks to be a very sweet deal with the bank, this young, hard-working couple has found what they see as their paradise of the future, a beautiful, old farmhouse on a pond in the secluded countryside.  Here, they can raise their five girls and their sweet collie and live out the their dreams.  When the audience hears the first clap of two will know that what is coming is far from good.

If I have a criticism, I will say that some of this has been done before - gimmicks and scenarios used in other horror films of past.  However, James Wan ties these tricks of the trade in to his plot so very fluidly that there is no time to sit and make criticism because something else is just about to scare the crap out the audience, again, at every turn.  With this, I say, "ok, James - go ahead and use them again because you have allowed me to find joy, once more, in horror film."

For a wine pairing I will present something powerful and deep - a wine that means business and is built to make an impression on the memory.  My suggestion is the 2007 Two Hands Shiraz from the Barossa Valley, down under.  This wine is deep and dark with serious expression of black and ripe fruit.  Two hands to help you grip your chair in the glass of Two Hands Shiraz when you return home to calm your nerves.  Flat-out, a really well-done ghost story of high-horror caliber. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pacific Rim Film Review And Wine Pairing

Pacific Rim, worked into magic by director, Guillermo Del Torro, is a fantastic piece of science fiction set in the deeper future.  A crack has opened - a portal in the ocean's floor - that serves as a wormhole where giant, alien-engineered creatures (Kaiju) are sent through to destroy humankind.

For any kid or any adult that is feeling that she/he is, still a kid, this movie is a blast.  A full-blown rush of warfare between our own, human capacity to adjust to that age-old battle of (man) vs. nature as we are pitted against an alien force from another world.  This film is fun, scary, and hits on all notes of excitability.

I heard critics of the scenery conveying that it looked phony.  I read critics complaining that the acting was terrible.  None of this is, at all, accurate.  This joy ride was spot-on.  The scenery was amazing....the actors were perfect.....and Guillermo Del Torro adds just enough film-magic and raw horror to put this film in a class of its' own.

How can a movie, you may ask, be so much fun with all this bad criticism?  Del Torro has taken the original, Japanese genre of giant monsters in monster movies and lifted them to the next level - a modern, up to date, current pinnacle that kicks (excuse my French) Godzilla-ass all over the screen. 

Sure, this has been done so many times before.  But, I found myself eating popcorn much faster than I normally do.  Crunching and munching, I had a mess of a sweatshirt by the end of the film - for, as this has been done before, there has been plenty of time since the last Godzilla for us to see some more.  It brought me straight back to my childhood, sitting too close to the television, immersed in an episode of Ultraman and loving it.

The monsters that our heroes face were very original.  Of course, there was the awful, deep footstep sound - much reminiscent of Jurassic Park when the T Rex is approaching and the room vibrates and the items in the room wiggle a little more as each massive, approaching footprint is planted into the pliable earth.  There is bloodshed, there is violence....and it gets scary.

However, both conceptually and visually, it is the Jaegers(our massive human-run robots built to fight the beasts) that are even more impressive.  Think giant Terminators driven by nuclear reactors that know Kung Fu.  They fly, they have blasting lasers, raging fire weapons, switchblade swords.....they come to the rescue and brawl, hard with these evil beasts.  What a blast!

There is one wine and one wine, only, that I can pair with this film.  Very appropriately, I recommend the Zinzilla Zinfandel from Mendocino County.  On the label, a huge caricature of Godzilla to represent this wonderful genre of monster movies.  On the palate, the best zinfandel on the market that is under $10!  Deep and full of dark, berry fruit and spice notes with a touch of forest floor and perfect acidity, this wine stands up to plenty of 'em that are priced much higher!  Enjoy-

Friday, July 5, 2013

Lone Ranger Movie Review and Wine Pairing

The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp and directed by Gore Verbinski, was released into theaters this past weekend.  Although it has taken some harsh criticism, in my eyes it was some good, summer fun that hit on some very high, entertaining notes as a perfect break from, yet more, record-breaking heat across the country.  The Lone Ranger is action-packed and thrilling but, more importantly, told the story of how this land was, truly, conquered - by slaughtering the natives that once graced these grounds.  In this, it is exciting, funny, and thrilling but, beats to the dark drum that Disney can play so very well in the messages it conveys about the reality of humankind.

So, what is my problem with review platforms like, Rotten Tomatoes giving The Lone Ranger bad marks?  Well, they suck.  It's a collaboration of a whole bunch of critics - some of which have no business writing as they have no imagination or personality, whatsoever, and seem too young to even know of the Lone Ranger.  The Lone Ranger was a good, wild ride.  The cinematography was done in most excellent fashion and the cuts and stunts(many of which Johnny Depp did, himself) were brilliant.

Sure, there was some cheesy stuff - they, definitely hammed-it-up but, it's The Lone Ranger, afterall.
Tonto, played by Johnny Depp, makes certain to provide some of the deep cheese that helps this childhood icon to be, exactly, what he is.  He is the very person who makes him wear the mask while, all the while, he makes fun of him for his ego, his character, and the very outfit he wears.  He is a true, American legend and why shouldn't we make a little fun of ourselves.  Think of some of what some of us grew up on - Ultraman, Flash Gordon, Six Million Dollar Man, - we just have to laugh at ourselves, this country, and culture.

With scenery shot in such places as the great, John Wayne's, Monument Valley and Arches National Park, The Lone Ranger draws upon the Spaghetti Western providing its' audience with a thick plot, rich in treachery, heroism, betrayal, and outright brutality.  Yes, this is Disney, folks.  It is heartwarming and endearing but, as it always has for generations, presents itself under the veracity of realism.  It is, somehow, for kids and, yet, somehow not.

For this film, I am going to recommend a wine pairing of a varietal that followed, much, the same path to California as that of the Spaghetti Western- Zinfandel.  Zinfandel is a varietal that, first, came from Croatia to Italy where it became, Primitivo.  It is one of the first varietals brought over by the Italian settlers and planted, here, in our great state. 

One of my favorites and crafted by a good buddy of mine, Doug Hackett - who, truly, lives with an independant spirit - a lone ranger - is Dogwood Cellars.  Receiving double gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, this zinfandel is stellar, by all accounts.  Rich in character and plot like a Spaghetti Western, this dark and sensual wine provides all the allure of an old west brothel with the depth in character of one of our favorite American icons, The Lone Ranger.   Thinking of warriors who earn and deserve a purple heart, enjoy Dogwood Cellars Zinfandel, remembering, as Disney wants us to, who really put up the best fight when their world was taken away - the true spirit of independence - Native Americans.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The East Movie Review

The East, (Sundance Film selection) directed by Zal Batmanglij, is a provocative thriller focused on an anarchist collective/commune that points its' efforts at major corporations that lay waste and ruin to, both, the environment and people's lives.  This movie takes a hard swing at major oil companies that spill and kill, pharmaceuticals that profit on drugs that kill or mame humans, and dumpers who ruin rivers and land as they sit, fat, in their gated communities while people develop cancer downstream. 

I love this film.  Watching it, I was comforted with a sense of hope that there is, still in this corrupt world in which we live, a fighter, some resolve, an underdog that stands up to all that is the antithesis of life and living - corrupt corporations.  It drives hard, is scary, and is very, very intense.  It reminded of a day in 1991 when i lay in bed, shocked, reading an article in the San Francisco Chronicle revealing that a geologic survey team inspecting the ocean floor just outside the Farallon Islands(our fishery) had discovered two fields(40,000 barrels, each) of the highest radioactive waste ever made.  They had found the waste product of the bombs that we made in WW2 and dropped on Japan.  The oil drums they used were rusted and rotting and there was mass leakage and no way to clean it up.  It made me very upset.  I had dreamed of joining some group like Greenpeace that, actually, gave a shit about the world.  Unfortunately, I never became that success.  So very refreshing to see that spirit I once had in this film - even if they do kill people. Those barrels, still, lay leaking in the heart of our fishing you didn't know that..... 

The East takes us, deep, undercover with an ex-FBI agent turned into corporate spy who spies with the purpose, solely, to infiltrate underground groups seeking to expose and punish those very corporations who ruin our world.  As the layers peel away, the plot thickens into blood-deep turmoil.  There is betrayal, some Big Brother, raw sex and all the drama to draw you in to what equates to an "anarchists' breakfast club around a campfire.  Think "V" for Vendetta crossed with a band of Anonymous/GreenPeace, underground rebels.

If I have to have a criticism(s) of this film, I will say, some acting parts were a little drab and the plot could have played out a bit more fluidly.  Regardless, it succeeds in gripping and pulling you in.  In its' layers,  is a story within a story as the main character, played by Brit Marling, finds herself listening, learning, evolving as a human.  Set in the season of fall on the East Coast of the United States, our ex-FBI agent finds herself in a metamorphosis - a butterfly amongst vigilant, intellectual, hippies that have welcomed her right into their home where the browning leaves, outside, fall from the safety of their home in the trees.

After the first "jam" they pull off - their first act of revenge - one where people die.....I found myself asking the age-old question, "do two wrongs make a right?"  At first, I was looking for the right thing in my mind, the Ghandi, the pacifist, the moral.  But, then, I caught on and was absorbed into the horror that this group and its' ideals rain-down upon their targets.  If they kill the CEO of a company that is giving children brain tumors down river, then, it is a RIGHT to kill one bad guy to save multitudes of innocents....especially if this CEO so many of them do....that they were reaping earnings based on the sickness and demise of others that they were causing.  If the law is not doing its' job, then, somebody else should.  Hard swings should be taken when babies are forming brain tumors.  Examples should be made and, then, what is being poured into the river will stop.

Pairing this movie with a fine wine is a no-brainer.  Deep and intense, I would grab a bottle of the 2011 Rock Wall Petite Sirah from Jack's Dry Creek Vineyard.  100% estate fruit, this wine is dark and inky with layers upon layers of blackberry and dark raspberry with violet notes and a silky finish  that makes it, all, balance so well.  Mostly, it is the intensity and dense, dark fruit of this wine that render it a perfect pairing for such a disturbing and moving film as The East.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

World War Z Review

World War Z, starring Brad Pitt is the summer zombie blockbuster that all of us Walking Dead fans were waiting for.  Speeding zombies - ones that run at high speeds and are very alert as they scratch up impenetrable walls - lay the groundwork for some freaky, intense, close calls.   For many, it was received with gusto.  For myself, I found it very fun but lacking in any punch, which,  I so very much love to see Brad Pitt throw.
When Pitt got in this ring, his arms seemed to be tied behind his back.  Pitt acted just fine for his serious role in this horror film with the new and  inventive concept of high-speed, super-freak, zombies.  However, there was no, true, Brad Pitt that showed up to play.  The on-screen champion just wasn't there.  He had no accent like he did in Inglorious Basterds(yes, with an "E").  He had no insanity-mojo as in Twelve Monkeys where he threw his dirty fingers into the air as the disturbed and all-too convincing psychiatric patient.  There was no fight in this, Fight Club.  His role was the hero but he was just a hero with nothing more special than "he who escapes zombies."

Did i enjoy it?  Yes, very much.  I love zombie movies and the pile-ups and the great, narrow escapes were truly a new evolution in zombie films.  No longer do we need to sit in a theater, scared but, yawning, as the evil and undead limp sluggishly along in their attack.  This film was fearsome....people get munched, big-time.

But for any big-time scares this movie throws at you, the end is typical and has, already, been used.  They finish in an underground laboratory - much like the one in Resident Evil - a hive where the cure has to be stolen from under the noses of roomful of hungry zombies so that humanity can be saved.  It has been done, before.  Sorry.

As the concept behind World War Z  was killer- even though Brad Pitt wasn't, I want to pair this film with a good wine - not one that is poured at a first-class gathering under a chandelier where crown roast is served but a wine that is a lot of fun for the summertime.  For this, I present to you the 2010 Sobon Estates Cougar Hill(gold medalist).  This gem of a zinfandel from the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County(Sierra Foothills) springs to life in your mouth with deep, blackberry fruit with hints of cranberry, mint, anise, and chocolate.  Pair this wine with summer BBQ as it is perfect for any grilling you may be doing outdoors.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Iron Man 3 Movie Review and Wine Pairing

In this 3rd episode, we find our hero, Tony Stark( Robert Downey Jr.), in as deep of trouble with the bad guys as he is in sarcasm.  Although slightly faded, he is, still, a smart-ass that we love to watch make fun of people - even when he picks on a young boy who lost his father.  How does he do this?  He is full of love - joyous and bubbling with the dark, sometimes silver tone that he exudes from his true past of sordid follies in his own life.  We love him.  I love him.  He reeks of hero in life and on film and a toast of wine to the superhero who, really, knocked the shit out of himself and came back to produce, yet, another blockbuster that I, thoroughly, enjoyed. 

 Iron man 3 kicks right into gear with his flamboyant gallivanting at some fundraiser...super-hot women trying to get near him as he prances around like some feathered rock star of the 70's.  Here, he meets a another genius - a super dorky one -, mind you - The Mandarin(Guy Pearce) that he doesn't pay much attention to as his priorities are in his suite, upstairs.  The young scientist has this idea....but Tony Stark doesn't listen.

If you love rocket fire and big explosions, well, this one has more than the rest.  Lesson-learned on listening when you didn't.  Dorky guy comes back with a vengeance and down comes the kingdom.  Fortunately, his beautiful savior - Gwenyth Paltrow - comes to his rescue, yet again, and saves his ass.

She saves his ass because he is an ass and, for some reason, beautiful women love confident idiots.  A donkey in every respect of the word, but, it is Downey's humility that keeps him honest and keeps his fans thinking that being a cocky, jackass, is somehow, OK.  After all, he is IronMan.  I forgive him.

 Downey's ego rolls throughout the film. I believe he sneaks in more one liners and smart ass comments than in any of the previous films. They aren't quite as sharp or quick as the last one but they are, still, very funny and the film falls nothing short of great and highly enjoyable.

Left with nothing in the middle of nowhere, Downey rebuilds, again, with all his love and technical know-how of robotics and scheming and comes back swinging.  But, the plot is full of surprises and his mind at work bring out new warfare and technology that has you shaking and laughing at the same time.
 Iron Man 3 is, yet another, wonderful, wild ride and deserves a full glass of well-aged, 2010 7&8 Napa Cabernet.  Like Robert Downey Jr., this wine is big but balanced.  It reaches out to grab with deep, berry flavor and reels you in.  It does so swimmingly on the palette that you think something must be wrong with this, something is going to crash, our hero is going to fail - but Tony Stark doesn't disappoint.  Nor does Robert Downey Jr. and this glass of one of Napa's stars!