Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dinner, Dinner, Movie, Movie

Hot tip: Happy hour at Applebees is from 2-6 p.m. every day. They have half-price appetizers and markdowns on their pints of beer. Though their beer selection could stand some improvement (haven't these folks heard of ale?), the appetizers are a really good deal. Generous portions, good quality stuff. I've enjoyed their sliders - miniature cheeseburgers served with a tangy sauce, soft rolls and a serving with a side of fries. Their boneless Buffalo wings are interesting, with breading on the crunchier side. Other options include fried shrimp covered in a zesty sauce and "wonton tacos" stuffed with pulled pork and cole slaw. I've enjoyed all of these and, at half price, they're an affordable way to unwind after work.

On Valentine's Day Eve I went back to Favazza's. Ever since the night I ordered cavatelli melanzane and got served cavatelli shrimp Mario instead, I've been jonesing for the baked pasta dish with fried slices of eggplant. Seeing it on a busy night made a big difference. The place was packed. Mind you, it's got a huge dining room, lots of servers, and a bar, but there were so many people standing in the foyer by the time I finished eating that I had a hard time getting out of the place. The reason isn't mysterious. The food is great and the service is very good.

For dessert I tried something called tartufo, which is like a fancy scoop of spumoni coated in a chocolate shell. It was tricky to eat, though, because it was so hard that I had trouble pushing a spoon into it. I kept picturing a ball of chocolate ice cream ricocheting off the wall. If you try tartufo, handle with care.

And this weekend I have indulged myself in two new movies. It just happened to be one of those weeks when great movies happen. First I saw Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, based on the first "Camp Halfblood" novel by Rick Riordan. Click that link to see my review of the book. Directed by Chris Columbus, late of the first two Harry Potter movies, Bicentennial Man, Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, etc., etc., etc., and based on a book I enjoyed, it showed every sign of being a fun movie. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised. The kid who plays Percy, the modern-day teenager who finds out that he's a demigod, is actually watchable.

There's always a risk, when you see movies starring kids, that the actors are going to suck. I mean look at Harry Potter. Dan Radcliffe wasn't exactly a young Olivier when Columbus found him, was he? Looked cute with round glasses and a lightning scar on his head, but really, you could have gotten almost as much out of a block of wood. Logan Lerman, on the other hand, really has the stuff. Teen heartthrob potential, absolutely. But he's also fun to watch because every twitch of his eyebrows, or quirk of the corner of his mouth, tells you that he's a real character - a clever, interesting personality with a lively sense of humor and a light touch of irony. Lerman never puts one foot wrong in his first starring performance.

I'm not so thrilled by the casting of Percy's satyr pal Grover, who is not nearly as nebbishy as I would have pictured him; I would have gone for somebody more along the Maynard G. Krebs / Shaggy from "Scooby-Doo" line. The rest of the cast is very satisfying, from Alexandra Daddano as Percy's romantic interest, Pierce Brosnan as the centaur Chiron, Sean Bean as Zeus, Kevin McKidd as Poseidon (Percy's dad), Uma Thurman as Medusa (ha!), and many other familiar faces I don't have time, space, or patience to add to this list. WTS for more info. For now, let's just say it's a fast-paced adventure full of weird imagery, mythological monsters, and sometimes gruesome action, served up with plenty of wit and charm.

Saturday night's movie, for me, was The Wolfman, an update of the 1941 Lon Chaney horror classic, this time starring Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and Benicio del Toro. The words "thrills and chills" have orbited the cybersphere too many times to have much meaning, but if they did, I would say this movie was full of them. Director Joe Johnston (Jumanji, October Sky, Jurassic Park III, Hidalgo) knows how to use editing, special effects, production design, and all the elements of photography to create convincing fantasy, suspense, shock, and an atmosphere of looming tragedy. The best special effect in his arsenal turns out to tbe Benicio del Toro's face. The Oscar-winning actor has unusual looks and an emotive range that runs the gamut from "brooding" to "tortured." Throw in fangs and inappropriate facial hair, and he can really be quite scary - yet in such a way that you hope he can be saved somehow. Emily Blunt plays the beautiful woman who deals him what bittersweet type of salvation a werewolf can hope for.

Don't watch this movie on an empty stomach. Expect to be scared - and to be horrified in ways that go beyond fear. Scenes involving a lunatic asylum, and a depiction of a family so dysfunctional that it can only be British, may make your flesh crawl and bring the gorge to your throat. But while these may be the parts that stay with you after the movie is over, the mayhem and violence, the alarming hallucinations and gory imagery, will keep your pulse elevated throughout most of this film.

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