The Shapiro Files

Thursday, February 15, 2007

This Week in Coffee

Film director David Lynch recently announced the launch of his own “Signature Cup” brand of organic fairly-traded coffee. As a huge Twin Peaks fan (coffee figures heavily throughout the series), I enthusiastically placed an order for a package of Organic House Roast in whole bean form via Lynch’s predictably surreal website. Arriving in a very cool black container imprinted with the director’s signature and a grainy ultra-close-up image of his face, I couldn’t wait to — well — wake up and smell the coffee.

My verdict: Surprisingly flavorful. Very good stuff.

I was expecting something a bit darker (especially given Special Agent Dale Cooper’s proclivity for strong black coffee), but was very impressed with its combination of complementary flavors that made for a most enjoyable and well-balanced cup of joe. If you don’t mind the slightly steep price tag, it’s definitely worth a try.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Netflix Wrap-Up #16

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15

It’s time for a new recap of movies we’ve rented from Netflix since the last wrap-up. So without further ado, here we go:

Cars (2006) - After so many stellar releases, this is the first Pixar movie that’s merely just OK (predictably stunning animation notwithstanding). The characters are bland, the story formulaic, the length longer than necessary, and most surprising of all, the pathos forced. I can’t say it’s not without its entertainment value (the robust audio mix alone is demo material for our home system), but it just lacks that extra specialness that we’ve come to expect from Pixar. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) - Exactly what you’d expect: hilarious performances from Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly and a handful of quotable lines. The premise gets a little tired after an hour, yet I guess there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes. Great art this isn’t, but recommended for Ferrell fans. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

A Prairie Home Companion (2006) - Robert Altman doing what Robert Altman does. As you’d expect, the performances are uniformly excellent. But slightly less expected is a refreshing sweetness that you don’t always find in other Altman projects. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea — especially if you’re looking for something with a strong narrative thread to hang on to. But as an occasional listener of the Garrison Keillor program on which the film is very loosely based, I felt much of the same charm as the radio show and found myself frequently smiling. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

A Devil Wears Prada (2006) - This film had the potential to be a wonderfully scathing look at bad bosses and/or possibly the fashion industry itself. However, it does neither. Yes, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci were great (aren’t they always?), but third act developments felt false and only helped to remind me of what this movie could have been in the hands of more fearless filmmakers. Oh, and don’t get me started on those terribly written supporting characters (boyfriend, best friend, etc.) surrounding the Anne Hathaway character. Talk about arbitrary character actions motivated on nothing more than plot requirements. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

The Last Kiss (2006) - Based on some of the DVD supplementary materials, I have can all but guarantee that the original Italian film (L’ Ultimo bacio) on which this American production was based is a better movie. In particular, screenwriter Paul Haggis tacked on a new ending that subverted the Italian film’s intriguingly dark ending into a Hollywood “Do what it takes to get the girl” cliché sequence that really soured the whole movie for me. But up to that point, at least, I have to give this film some credit for trying to go for something beyond the 20-somethings-in-transition light comedy vibe that you’d otherwise expect. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

21 Up (1977) - The third installment of the acclaimed “Up Series” (see my previous Netflix wrap-up for details on the series). This time around, the 14 featured individuals are on the precipice of full-fledged adulthood. Some are nearing college graduation, while others are recently married and/or have already entered the job force. While most of the subjects continue to prove the validity of William Wordsworth’s famous line “The Child is Father to the Man,” a couple of others prove that life, if anything, is unpredictable. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no haka) (1988) - A gorgeously animated film from director Isao Takahata about post-World War II Japan that proves that animation can be just as powerful as any live action film. In fact, this is simply the most heartbreakingly devastating film I’ve ever seen. There are a handful of films that have left me in tears, but this is the only one that I can say left me sobbing uncontrollably by the end. Even weeks later, I can’t stop thinking about this movie and continue to get choked up when I do. This is absolutely not a film for children and it’s even hard to recommend to adults because of its painful subject matter. Still, if you think you’re up for it, only watch it in the original Japanese language with English subtitles. Under no circumstances ever watch it with the English dub. I can’t imagine seeing this film with anything but the original soundtrack. And if possible, unplug the phone and do whatever you can to not be interrupted while watching (you’ll thank me later). A true masterpiece. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Nacho Libre (2006) - From the sublime (above) to the absurd, Nacho Libre is little more than one joke (Jack Black talking with a funny accent) stretched out to 90 minutes. But if you like Jack Black’s style of comedy, this film certainly has its funny moments. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

28 Up (1985) - The Up series participants are now closer to their 30s than to their teens. Most have settled down by now, while others are still in a state of instability. I don’t really want to say much more out of fear of spoiling any surprises for anyone also new to these films. So I’ll just say it’s another wonderful installment in a terrific documentary series. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Yucky Week

Last week, Melody, Marcie and I were all hit with a pretty massive case of Viral Gastroenteritis (commonly called “stomach flu”). Melody came down with it first, somewhere in the wee hours of the morning between the 27th and 28th. I won’t go into the unpleasant details, but suffice it to say that it was very sad to see Melody go through it. In fact, it wasn’t until today that she finally got back her normal appetite for food. We’re lucky that she’s been mostly cooperative taking fluids, but it looks like she lost a little weight over the past week from the lack of solids — perhaps something that as grown-ups we wouldn’t mind too much if it happened to ourselves, but not exactly something you want to see happen in a toddler.

Marcie and I both got hit with the virus a few days after Melody’s symptoms revealed themselves and it was exactly the type of nightmarishly horrible experience we all know and love when thinking about the stomach flu. And as bad as Melody and I had it, Marcie had it the worst. I feel incredibly bad about what she had to go through for several days.

I guess the only upside to any of this is that anytime you go through an illness as bad as that, you tend to be in an especially good mood afterwards. It’s great to feel like yourself again. Along these lines, we hosted a Super Bowl get-together at our house today for the family (yes, I disinfected everything to eliminate potential exposure to our now-departing viral visitor). All but one of Melody’s Gladfelter/Blaustein cousins came over and it was quite an activity-filled afternoon/evening. Melody was thrilled to have everyone over. It was a great way to celebrate our return to the “living.”

Unfortunately, I failed to take photos. This was a huge oversight, as Melody had on an adorable baby-size 49ers cheerleader outfit and Marcie and I wore 49ers jerseys (a gift from Papa Shapiro). That probably would have made for a funny family portrait. Oh well. And yes, we know San Francisco, wasn’t in the game! But heck, why not support the “home team” anyway? There’s always next year...