Reviews

Three Movies and a Restaurant

Ben got to enjoy (or not) these little treats last week as he took some time off work.

By Ben Bull
Published November 04, 2008

I've been getting a little bored writing about sustainable development so for this issue I've decided to review a couple of movies, and a restaurant.

I got to enjoy (or not) these little treats last week as I took some time off work. While I was surfing on the sofa and generally slobbing around I managed to catch three new flicks:

I also visited an Ethiopian eatery: Ethiopian House, at Irwin and Yonge in Toronto.

Let's kick off with everybody's favourite whipping boy, George Dubya.

W

Oliver Stone's W follows the life journey of America's 43rd president from frat boy hazing to his inglorious 'conquest' of Iraq. Although much of Bush junior's journey is well-known by now, we are able to glean a moderately unique perspective here, thanks to the performance of Josh Brolin as the non-look-a-like president, and Oliver Stone's always insightful lens.

Bush as a frat boy is nothing alarming. Which of us could have difficulty visualizing Dubya as a drunken, impulsive, indecisive charmer? It's what many of us - with the exception of the alcohol and the addition of religion - see him as now.

What is more interesting is the relationship W has with his Dad, George B Senior, played by James Cromwell. The elder Bush is a proud American servant, a man basking in the pride of the family name but also wallowing in the shame and disappointment of his youngest son.

As we watch George W's shoulders sag again, as his Dad tries to wrestle him to the ground after catching him driving home drunk, Brolin achieves something I never thought would be possible - he makes us feel sorry for the president.

The theme of parental pressure and disappointment resurfaces again and again as the Bush saga unfolds, and it always elicits a sympathetic response. But it also forces us to wonder - how much of Bush W's follies are down to his Dad?

The other revelations in the film are the supporting cast - Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris), Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) and Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright ). All receive ample air time.

Rove is the conniving weasel, sidling up and whispering, Shakespeare style, whenever George W has a decision to make. Cheney is the egocentric empire builder we all know him to be. Ingratiating himself when he needs to, and subtly committing his boss and his country's administration to the horrors of waterboarding ("it's not torture," he tells Bush as he slips the memo across the table during lunch) and eventually, on the path to war.

Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Rice work in similar, but less subtle vain, much to the consternation of poor Colin Powell, who is frequently singled out during cabinet discussions, and whose resilience and intuition is eventually worn to the bone.

If you've ever wondered just how - and, as Colin Powell asks so memorably in one later scene, "why?" - the Bush administration could beat the path to war, then W might just help you understand, at least a little. Because if there's one thing we can conclude from this look at George W's life, it's that there are some things we will probably never fully understand.

RocknRoller

My mate Dave asked me to come and see RocknRoller because he told me it would be just like Guy Ritchie's first masterpiece, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

It wasn't, but it was close.

RocknRoller follows the intertwining narratives of London Gangsters Lenny Cole, his son Johnny, and his second in command, Archie. It also features an odd-and-sods assortment of rounders from the broody, moody, One-Two and his just-out-of-the-closet best friend Bob, to Russian mobster Uri and his hilarious, hard-as-nails henchmen. True to Snatch and Lock Stock form, Ritchie weaves his tale through the darkest corners of the nation's capital and captures the hopes, dreams and misguided aspirations of his colourful cockney cast.

Lenny is played with zest, but curiously, no chilling appeal, by Tom Wilkinson. Wilkinson reminded me a little of Jack Nicholson is Scorcese's The Departed. He sneered and he snarled, but he just wasn't frightening.

Lenny is asked to smooth the way for Russian mogul Uri's bylaw busting development plans. 'No problem' says Lenny, from what looks like the Boardroom suite at Arsenals Emirates stadium (Brits will get the obvious Roman Abramovich Russian oligarch comparison) as he admires the Russian's taste in paintings, 'this is my town'.

For this little favour Lenny wants a mere seven mill, a fee which keeps on going missing when Uri's accountant's boy-friend, One-two, keeps popping up and stealing it.

Matters escalate and build to a beautiful Lock Stock style blood splattering conclusion after which we are left to contemplate a revitalized Johnny, fresh from rehab, declaring through a puff of smoke:

"I'm going to be a rock 'n' roller."

Perhaps he'll make a better villain than Lenny? Let's hope so.

RocknRoller is the first of a trilogy. I look forward to the next installment.

High School Musical 3 - Senior Year

Many folks appear to have trouble understanding the popularity of this teen-pop freaky clean musical franchise. The songs are crap, the acting flaky, and the plot predictable. But it is fun.

My generation had Grease, a movie which doesn't bare comparison to this pale imitation, but to be fair, HSM sometimes comes close.

High School Musical 3 follows the class of East High through their end of season basketball final and down the halls for their last few weeks of senior year. Oh, who to take to the prom? What to do after school? Harvard or Yale? UCLA or Princeton? Basketball or dance? I'm amazed anybody cares. In truth none of the kids gets to choose between a Harvard or Yale, but their choices are remarkably precious.

It all makes me wonder how anyone in the audience of 'regular' people, could identify with Troy and Gabriella's supposed 'dilemmas'. It all makes you yearn for another high school loser - whatever happened to Napoleon and Pedro?

But somehow we care, and we get to enjoy another over-the-top foot tapping assortment of outlandish dance routines and vaguely memorable songs.

I would vote this the second best (or worst?) of the musical trilogy - the first movie being my favourite (I'm sorry but, 'Hey batter, hey batter-batter swing' pretty much sunk the second one for me) and well worth the $6 matinee admission. Anything more and I'd opt for the DVD. Assuming you have kids of course. And, if you don't, well - why the hell are you watching?

Ethiopia House

After a long hard weekend of doing nothing, I decided to treat myself to dinner at Toronto's Ethiopian House with a few friends.

Ethiopian Hose was recommended to me by a companion who said he hadn't been there in years and seemed to remember that it was 'pretty good'. As I was looking for something other than the usual Thai or Indian eating out flavour, I thought I'd give it a try.

The Ethiopian dining out experience is all about simplicity. Utensils are not required - you eat with your hands - and no expense is shared on things like post-1970's decor and evidently - staff.

On our visit we found there was only one waitress for each floor. Our second floor table was one of about 10 which meant the level of service was, well, - leisurely.

It took us 15 minutes to get served. When the girl finally arrived one of our party hesitated with the order for a moment, leading the server to immediately interject, 'shall I come back in 5 ?' The resounding 'no!', hollered from every chair around the table, should have given her a clue as to how valued her presence was.

When the food finally arrived it was tepid, mushy and bland. We ordered a vegetarian platter - a selection of all the veggie dishes on the menu, and some beef for the meat eaters. The order was wrong - we'd ordered only one beef dish and been given two - but we were unable to correct it as, no sooner had the server plonked the order down than she was off again, sauntering around the room, avoiding eye contact and generally making herself busy doing nothing.

I can't even remember what we ordered to be honest. All I remember were little piles of mush, one tasting much like the other, and some sorry looking bread.

When the bill came we were shocked to find it was $215 with tip, for six people. We'd had one bottle of wine, six watery beers (there was only one beer 'choice' available), no appetizers and no dessert. We could have got a cracking two-course meal somewhere else for that. And it would have probably been hot too.

Next time I'm sticking with curry.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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