Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Bucket List

The Bucket List was finally available at the Red Box in our Vons store, so we picked it up. I am a fan of both Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, so I had some pretty high hopes. While I don't think this is anywhere near one of my favorite movies, it didn't disappoint.

The movie starts out with a brief introduction of the characters. Morgan Freeman is Carter Chambers, a lifelong auto mechanic with a fairly solid family structure, a love of trivia (Jeopardy in particular), and is an all-around good guy. Edward Cole, played by Jack Nicholson, is introduced in the monologue as a man full of life, who died with a smile on his face. When you meet Edward Cole for the first time, you can tell where the movie is going to go. He is a very worldly man, out only for himself. You know he is bound to meet Carter, and you don't have to wait long.

Both characters end up in the hospital fairly quickly. Through an interesting turn of events, Cole ends up a patient in his own hospital, one that he proudly advertises has "two beds to a room, no exceptions." He runs "hospitals, not health spas". This is the reason he doesn't have his own room. His assistant insists that it will be bad PR to break the rule for himself.

Eventually both men get the prognosis of less than one year to live. Just before learning this news, Carter begins reconstructing something he wrote without taking seriously some time before. It is called the "bucket list". What things do you want to accomplish before you "kick the bucket"? Once he finds out the news of his impending death, he decides it is worthless and trashes it. Cole finds the list and convinces Carter to go on a trip. This is where the fun begins.

As they travel from place to place, you see the friendship developing between these two strangers. They start opening up about their lives, and then both contribute to a rift by trying to fix the other one. I will leave the details and the ending for you to watch for yourself.

This movie is directed by Rob Reiner. I didn't know this until the closing credits. I am not a fan of Reiner by any stretch of the word. I think he is a liberal political crony, who is usually on the wrong side of any issue. It appears that his directing is somewhat detached from his personality, though. I don't think his left-wing agenda played too big a part in this movie, and for that I am glad. I will probably watch this movie again, but I don't think it is one for my personal collection.

I recommend this one for a rental.

RATING: (3.5 out of 5)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Peking Chinese Restaurant- An Updated Review

Peking Chinese Restaurant
5960 Telegraph Rd, Ventura
Phone: 805-644-7777
Cuisine: Chinese

I first reviewed this restaurant a couple months ago. You can read that review here. I went with my wife and son last night, and felt I needed to review it again. I did not have the same pleasant experience this time around.

To be fair, most of what I am about to write about may be partially explained by the knowledge that there was only one cook there. I don't know how many cooks are normally there, but presumably it is more than one.

The waiter tonight seemed very sure of himself, but wasn't terribly helpful. He was not overly friendly either. The busboy did a much better job. The restaurant felt a lot dirtier as well. I visited the restroom for the first (and hopefully last) time. That was an experience.

Picture a 1970s style mobile home or church building, and you will get an idea of what greeted me there. The bathroom smelled pretty awful. Being near the back of the restaurant, it probably doesn't get the attention it requires. The urinal was set pretty high on the wall. So high in fact that there is a step that you must use to reach it. I found that entertaining. That is all I will say about the bathroom. Let's move on.

We ordered the cheaper of the three meal choices this time, both preferring the options in that price range. Roughly $12 a person gets you (per person) a spring roll, a piece of paper-wrapped (really aluminum foil) chicken, Egg Drop soup, a cream cheese wonton, and an entre. I went with the Kung Pao again, though I forgot to read my earlier post about how mild it was. My wife ordered the Beef and Broccoli, as she was sharing with my son who is a broccoli lover. I should have asked for more peppers. Next time I will remember to read my own reviews.

The paper-wrapped chicken was by far the best item of the night's fare. It tastes like the fillings of potstickers, which my wife and I both enjoy. The spring rolls are good, but not anything to really write about. The won ton tasted great as well. This Egg Drop soup comes with a bit of a twist. Chopped nuts are added. This soup was good too, but not as good as others.

The Beef and Broccoli tasted pretty good. I normally don't like this dish, but it was not too bad. It had a lot of garlic, which always is a good thing. My Kung Pao Chicken only had two peppers. This was really mild. I still enjoyed the lack of water chestnuts and celery. This is all chicken, peppers and peanuts. Just the way I like it.

One positive note was the Pepsi. I prefer restaurants who serve Pepsi, and I rate the quality of Pepsi wherever I go. This was not the greatest, but it was still really good. Much better than many other small restaurants.

Overall, last night's service was nowhere near the level it was during our first visit. The last experience, plus the Pepsi bring the rating up quite a bit. I am hoping that on my next visit they have recovered from whatever happened in between visits.

RATING: (3 out of 5)

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

The first thing I can say about The Dark Knight is, WOW! This is one intense movie. I have not been so exhausted after a movie since The Passion of the Christ. I am surprised this movie got away with a PG-13 rating. Sure there was no sex or nudity, no language that I remember, and while there was some gore there wasn't too much blood if any. I think this movie is way too intense for children however. On that note, let's get into this.

I have been a fan of Heath Ledger for years. I haven't been terribly fond of his last couple of movies, so I had high hopes for this one. He certainly delivered. It was not just Heath Ledger though. Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Aaron Eckhart, and Gary Oldman all did a terrific job.

I am attempting to stay away from spoilers here, so you should be safe in reading this if you don't like surprises. That being said, I will cover some of the basic scenes of interest.

The movie begins with a bank heist, as super hero movies often can. Unlike most super hero movies though, the action only accelerates from there. From the moment the Joker is introduced, there is a heavy psychological element. Think along the lines of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. This guy is crazy in a scary way.

Batman himself is no saint in this movie. He reveals the darker side that Michael Keaton only hinted at. This Batman is grittier than the first version Bale played. He still learns through the school of hard knocks, which is part of why we like Batman. He is a regular guy, with regular weaknesses. Sure he is really smart, but he has no super powers.

The action sequences are really intense. You get to see how crazy the Joker really is. He has no goal but pure mayhem. He wants to watch everything burn. How do you stop someone who has no goal but chaos? Batman must answer this question. He has to decide how far he is willing to go to stop this guy. For those of you afraid I will give something away, I will leave the point here.

As I said before, this movie isn't terribly gory. There are some murders here and there, but those aren't nearly as scary as the scenes where someone isn't killed. Watching the Joker go on a rant, and wondering where he will stop is pretty intense. It is the potential for violence and not the violence itself that is so staggering. Will he or won't he? Will he really follow through on his threat, or is he bluffing? Every scene with the Joker will keep you glued to your seat.

As great as the acting is, and as intense and thrilling this movie is, I am not sure how to rank it. I plan on owning this movie, just as I own the previous versions of Batman. This will be more of a once or twice a year viewing for me though. I don't know if I can watch this as often as Spider-Man or X-Men. I think this is definitely a movie worth seeing in the theater. I reiterate the point that this movie is not for kids. I am sure the headlines are coming about how many nightmares this movie has caused.

The Dark Knight is an incredible roller coaster. It grabs hold of you and jerks you all over the place. If you are a fan of the real Batman, not the 60's spoof Batman, then you want to see this movie. Be prepared for the ride of your life.

RATING: (4.5 out of 5)