This is a collection of stories and articles created by writer / artist Holly Dare. All materials, including photographs, on this blog are copyright protected and are the sole property of the writer or original publisher. Do not steal intellectual material!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Seven Pounds of Doubt on Ben Button's Revolutionary Road

I got a cold Christmas Day. And I was lucky enough to get my mitts on dvds for some just released movies.

Seven Pounds (HUGE SPOILER ALERT HERE!): I actually saw this in the theatre last week with a buddy from film school. I've always been one of those annoying people that can spot holes in a plot a mile off. I'm known to lean over to my movie going partner and whisper, "The butler did it."

I was looking forward to this because there was supposedly some big surprise that would keep me riveted to my seat. There was no surprise; it was not riveting. Maybe if they hadn't told us in the first two minutes that Will Smith's character would commit suicide before the end of the movie, I could have gotten into it. But they did and I didn't.

Within twenty minutes, I was squirming in my seat and had to ask my friend, "You know where this is going?" "Yep." "Bored?" "Yep."

Once there was no mystery, there was nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the acting. Will Smith is tortured in his roll of a man who killed seven people texting while driving...including his beloved wife. Is it his best roll? Not by a mile.

Rosario Dawson was heartbreaking as a heart patient and this the only performance of Woody Harrelson's that I've ever enjoyed.

Smith's character proceeds through the movie checking out the seven people he will leave his organs to - making sure they are "good people." And midway through, you easily figure out how he's going to off himself. But the other huge plot hole for me is - I think they reject organs from a poisoned patient...

Wait for video on this one but, if you are jonesing for a good Will Smith flick, see Six Degrees of Separation. I first saw this movie because I loved the play and adore Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland. I thought Smith was surely miscast in his first film role. He stole the show and I came away a die hard fan.

If you would rather see a movie with a less transparent plot and you are one of the seven people on the planet who hasn't seen it, rent The Sixth Sense.

is the star of all the movies I've seen. The actors are spot on, the scenery is perfect as are the costumes. There is nothing bad to say here. I probably wouldn't have seen this in the theatre - the subject matter of a priest sexually abusing a child is disturbing to me. And yet it is wonderful and definitely worth seeing on the big screen. I usually hate stories with vague endings that let the viewer make up their own mind but this film is just beautiful.

Meryl Streep is simply on fire and certainly deserves another Oscar for this one.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was annoyingly long at almost three hours! Thank goodness I watched in stages from the comfort of my sofa! I can't imagine being in an uncomfortable theatre for that long!

The story is about a baby born an old man who ages backwards, getting younger as time marches on. While Cate Blanchett always brings wonder and depth and honesty to any performance, Brad Pitt's performance was flat. I tried to chalk it up to being born with wisdom - no need to calm down as you age. But there was never any passion or fire in him even when he won his long lost love nor when he had to leave her.

New Orleans serves as a backdrop and it was lovely to see the Old Gal in her glory. But the whole movie feels like some kind of would-be Forrest Gump. I can actually envision the studio pitch session with the lame ass studio executive listening intently: "Yeah man, it's the new Gump, only instead of Alabama, he's from New Orleans. Instead of running across the country and meeting presidents, he'll be a sailor traveling the world meeting interesting people. Instead of being an army hero, his tug boat will get commissioned into the war... Instead of 'life is like a box of chocolates' we've got......" OK, here is where I get lost! The catch phrase we're supposed to take away is COMPLETELY FORGETTABLE! It's along the lines of "You never know what's comin'" I didn't think the end of this movie was comin'.

Button is a CGI (computer generated imagery) wonder and will certainly win awards for that but it is long and tedious and despite the promised tear jerker, I only teared up a bit when he was speaking about what he wanted for his daughter. My advice: wait for video.

Revolutionary Road celebrates the first pairing of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio since Titanic. They do have a chemistry about them. Winslet's character mourns her once hoped for life as an actress, dreams cast aside when she got pregnant. DiCaprio's character is a guy just doing the right thing, working at a job he hates to take care of the family.

The movie rarely shows them in happy times so we have no idea what really binds them together. We just see the ugly, nasty fights which are really sad and mean. And the make-ups are even stranger. After a horrible fight, he will return home or wake up and she's in the kitchen and dressed and cooking and forcing happiness. "Hello dear, how would you like your eggs?"

It's an astounding juxtaposition and made me wonder if she was bi-polar or just one of those many 1950's housewives who "needed" barbiturates.

The couple comes up with a plan to recapture some of the glory of their youth, before the kids and the house in the burbs. Then an unexpected pregnancy derails it. I found myself wondering about how many people must have their lives, hopes and dreams dashed in this way.

The movie is a sad commentary on marriage but all of the performances were wonderful. The most annoying part, aside from the downer of a plot, was Winslet's wardrobe. While the other women were dressed in the 1950's, Winslet's character didn't seem to know from whence decade she came. It made me wonder if the wardrobe department or director Sam Mendes (Winslet's real life hubby) gave the actress a little too much say in the costumes.

If you can handle a depressing plot during the most depressing time of the year, this movie is worth a trip to the mega-plex for the acting alone. Kathy Bates is also terrific in her role as a neighbor and realtor.

First published on Creekhiker 12/28/08

Thursday, June 4, 2009


By Holly Dare/ Special to the Star

Reality TV makes for great watching. It's so popular that Fox network will be launching an all-reality-all-the-time network next month.

To the networks, reality shows are a great investment with low production costs and a potentially big payoff. Network programmers love making cheap shows. Reality shows require little in terms of actual production. No high-priced sets, no over-priced stars, no make-up or wardrobe people. They often don't even require much in the way of a shooting crew: a few cameramen and a sound guy are really all that are needed. And, they are shot on videotape unlike most one-hour dramas or quality sitcoms which are shot on costly film.

There are no writers to pay either. Most writers probably couldn't dream this stuff up, with truth being stranger than fiction.

Because the 'bottom line' is God in Hollywood, these shows are relatively low-risk. If it doesn't work, the networks haven't invested much. They simply walk away and create a new reality.

Reality shows allow viewers to face their fears vicariously. Some see this as a bonus. Afraid of bugs crawling over your body or eating animal brains? Watch "Fear Factor." Ever wonder what it's like to live with your total opposite? Watch "Strange Love." Want to know what it's like to do stupid stunts? Try "Jackass" or "Knievel's Wild Ride." Have a fantasy of living life as a bounty hunter? "Dog the Bounty Hunter" is for you.

And if you want to figure out if you can be lost and actually survive on a desert island, there is the granddaddy of them all - still going strong - "Survivor."

By watching others in seemingly life-threatening situations, the viewer imagines himself in the driver's seat. He faces his fear, gets an exhilarating high from watching and tunes in week after week, guaranteeing that the network profits.

Viewers that don't identify with that philosophy will take comfort in knowing that there's always someone out there with worse problems. Just take a look at "Dr. Phil" and all the sad, pathetic people who confess their sins and plead for help. Like a proverbial train wreck, we can't help but watch.

Networks will keep producing such shows and they should. After all, no one's getting hurt.

First published on 4/20/05 in the Opinion Section of the L.A. Valley Star.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dining in Buenos Aires

Restaurant review / travel log written from memory with a little research many years after I lived there.

After a few meals out in Buenos Aires, it becomes apparent that, succulent Argentine beef aside, all restaurants are the same. I find the food is adequate, even tasty, but it’s mundane and forgettable. From corner café to grand parilla, the menus are as predictable as the sunrise.

In every dining establishment, I find the obligatory steak, fantastic hamburgers, the egg dish, the fish dish and always, the Argentine version of French fries. It is as if by trying to please everyone, they fail to please anyone. Those humdrum pappas fritas are a good example. They are perfectly fried golden potatoes with dressed up with garlic and parsley – it really makes you homesick for just plain old French fries. And while salt is readily available, don’t dare make the mistake of asking for pepper – a mistake I’ve made in far too many restaurants.

No matter what type of establishment I’m in, the scene is always the same: The waiter will stare at me, dumbstruck and then utters in a high pitched voice, “Pimenta?” Wearing disgust on his face, he marches off to the kitchen, informing everyone along the way that some American idiot wants to ruin her food with pimenta. He eventually returns with pepper- the fries are now cold – and gathers the other waiters around to watch how this strange ingredient is used. Pack your own pepper; it’ll save lots of embarrassment.

The other phrase to be aware of is “con jamòn” or with ham. Everything comes with ham. No kidding. Apparently, this is where the ham in hamburger originated. Order a steak, it comes with ham. Melon? Yep. Ham. If you don’t love ham, learn this phrase and utter it every time you order: sin (seen) jamòn (without ham).

While thousands visit Buenos Aires every year and seem perfectly happy to partake of gastronomic predictability, to find an interesting meal – with or without ham- throw away the tour book and talk to some locals. If your Spanish is rusty, try British tourists as they seem to have better guidebooks.

It was a Brit that led me to Brocolino’s, clearly the best Italian restaurant in
Argentina – and probably even the world. It’s that good. It is a noisy, family joint down a dark street. It’s easy to hurry past Esmerelda, as it intersects with the busy Florida shopping district. It seems like a good place to get mugged. Yet, there’s always people, huddling in the dark, headed somewhere…Brocolino’s.

It’s a really ugly restaurant. Most Argentine buildings are brown or tan and it’s shocking to walk into the most hideous bright green room off the darkened street. But the waiter’s greet you in Spanish and make you feel like an old friend. If you’re not sure what to order, they just start bringing you food.

The pasta is perfect al dente; the sauce robust with lots of garlic. Angel hair with garlic and oil (Aglio e olio) is a stinking rose lover’s delight. Be prepared to smell garlic coming out of your pores for at least 24 hours. By then, you’ll be craving more.

El Teatro should be on every tourist list – it’s located right next to the world famous Teatro Colòn opera house, a popular destination. Yet the large parilla is filled with animated and loud locals. Ah, but this grill is different. Because of the locality to the opera, El Teatro doesn’t feel like the average barbeque place. The patrons are nicely dressed and the décor is rich with green plants and lots of velvet. I was extra lucky on my visit as I was traveling with well-known actors. We were seated in the lush balcony overlooking the main dining area.

The menu has the usual assortment of grilled meats but there is lighter fare here. The salad is made from variety of greens instead of the usual hunk of iceberg. The house dressing is rich with tarragon. The grilled chicken has been marinated in a salt bath and then buttermilk before grilling. El Teatro also serves a dish that is more common at home barbeques: provoleta. A nice sized chunk of provolone, dipped in oil and herbs, grilled until the inside melts and the outside is crispy, is brought on a steaming plate with a basket of soft bread. I am certain this dish caused me to gain at least ten pounds during my extended stay, and worth every ounce.

For Sunday morning breakfast, try the Florida Café. Omelets abound at every restaurant, but the Florida makes pancakes. While they are not fluffy – more likely close cousins with a crepe –they are a wonderful remedy for the homesick. Having been in B’aires for weeks and missing my Sunday ritual of pancakes, this was a welcome find. Syrup is not to be found but the panqueques are served with a thinned dulce de leche. “Milk jam” is made from sugar and milk, cooked to a milk chocolate brown and appears in almost every sweet Argentinean dish, usually in a thick and chewy mass. At Florida, the thin caramel is a refreshing accompaniment to breakfast fare, served on toast and muffins as well as pancakes.

It is at the Florida where I notice another commonality with all Argentinean restaurants: a waiter will never pour cold milk into coffee. It must be scalding hot before being decanted from three feet above the table into a coffee cup.

In the quest for unusual fare in B’Aires led me to several Chinese restaurants, only to be disappointed with the greasy, over-cooked food. Then we heard of Mongolian Barbeque. The cab dropped us off on a wet winter eve in front of what looked like a house in a non-commercial neighborhood. Our ride was out of sight as our group discovered the door was locked. Realizing we were a good two miles off any major thoroughfare and possible taxi stand, we bundled up for a long walk in the rain. We didn’t make it very far when we heard a woman call to us in Spanish with Chinese accent.

She let us in and explained in English that 7:30 very early for dinner in Argentina. She sat us at a fireside table and brought a fine red wine from the San Juan region while we waited for the cooks to finish setting up. There was a cold bar of meat: beef, pork, chicken and shrimp, as well as an assortment of vegetables and sauces. Simply fill a bowl, hand it to the cook and a waiter brings it to the table. The chicken was moist and tender, the vegetables crisp and perfect. By 9 p.m. the tiny restaurant was filled with the laughter of neighborhood locals and our gracious hostess called us a cab. If trying Mongolian Barbeque, plan on dining late and knock on the window if the door is locked.

If you are willing to travel a little for a great meal, Gato–Blanco (White Cat) is a destination dining experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect when a friend suggested we go to a restaurant that required traveling by boat. Located a couple hours from downtown Buenos Aires by both bus and boat, this restaurant, in Tigre, is on an island on the Rio Capitán, one of the many rivers and inlets off the Rio Paraña.

Gato-Blanco reminds me of one of the many restaurants my family used to visit by boat on lazy Sunday afternoons in the Louisianabayous, band blaring and smells of something good coming from the kitchen. Sure, you could get there by car, but why would you want to?

The trip to Gato-Blanco is the beginning of a fun, relaxing day. The boat hums through the wide river delta and gives an up-close view of how the elite of South America live. I really loved looking at the breathtaking houses with expansive lawns that butt up to the river. Every house has a “boat elevator” that lifts a boat high into the air so that another may dock beneath it.

The restaurant also has a large dock and lawn chairs right on the river. There are interior and exterior dining areas as well as a bar and tea room. The front yard is a large, park-like garden with playground equipment for the kids. And yes, there is a white cat hiding in the foliage.

The food is filling and needed after the boat ride. Grilled shrimp with garlic is a house specialty as is a flat fish served with lemon and champagne. Red meat lovers will go for the sirloin stuffed with mushrooms, ham, cheese, potatoes and cream.

After dining on such rich food, a walk along the riverbank is needed. Or hang near the band; strangers will ask you to dance. By late afternoon, it is time to board the boat back to the bus depot. The chill coming off the water on a June winter night makes it possible to sit in the waning sun while wearing my thick coat. The warm sun, the great meal digesting and the gentle rocking of the boat make it impossible for me to stay awake. A long nap ends a terrific day and I’m ready for the more populated destinations in Buenos Aires.

Esmerlda 776
Buenos Aires (Florida District)

El Teatro
Toscanini 1288
Buenos Aires (Recoleta District)

Café Florida
Cordoba 399
Buenos Aires (Florida District)

Mongolian Barbeque
Avenida Las Heras 3357
Buenos Aires (Palermo District)

Río Capitán nº 80 Delta del Paraná CP (1648)
Tigre - Buenos Aires – Argentina