Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dinner and a movie

I had dinner last week (and lunch this week!) at a great little Mexican place in Rankin county called Fernando's. I've been to several other Fernando's in the central Mississippi area, but this one is different. First of all, it's in a totally new facility, decorated carefully in an ethnic (but not campy) style. The kitchen is open to the dining room, and you can see the restaurant staff making homemade tortillas and cooking meals to order. The menu has the standard choices for a Mexican restaurant, but it also has some more inventive items that you don't usually see on Mexican menus in the area. (There are some fabulous items listed in the "Nueva Latina" section of the menu.) We were served homemade, seasoned chips with fresh salsa that reminded me of what I ate during my honeymoon in Mexico. Then, I ordered the Tacos Pastor, a tasty blend of beef, homemade salsa, and spices, all wrapped up in a fresh tortilla. It was excellent. I highly recommend Fernando's; they are located at 115 Village Square in Brandon, and their phone number is 601-992-8710.

I also saw Being Julia this week, and I was sorry that I'd waited so long to get around to it. The screenplay for the film is based on "Theatre" by W. Somerset Maugham. No wonder there was so much buzz about Annette Bening in this role; I thought she was superb. (Her Golden Globe was well-deserved.) Bening plays successful but aging stage actress Julia Lambert. Julia is at a point in her life where she feels things are beginning to fall apart. Her son doesn't feel any particular affinity for her, her husband (played by Jeremy Irons) chastises her about her sagging performances on stage, and she worries that she's getting too old. Enter Tom, a very young American who declares his desire for her almost immediately. The two begin a love affair, and Julia feels that she is truly alive again. (Even her husband notices that her performances perk right up!!) However, when Julia learns that Tom is also having an affair with a much younger actress, she begins to suspect (and rightly so) that he may be using her. After her initial despair, the manner in which Julia exacts her revenge is both cunning and delicious.

Bening did such a fabulous job in this film, primarily because she really played Julia as a flawed character. Julia is an overacter, she's terribly vain, and (as her own son points out) she acts her way through her own life. However, the way that Julia finds herself (both by seeing herself, adored, through the eyes of a much younger man and as a skillful queen of her kingdom - the stage) is wonderful to watch. Bening embodied this woman with keen insight. Impressive.

I also loved the use of Julia's "Inner Director" Jimmy Langton (played by Michael Gambon, whose face alone is a story) in the film. It's so true; I DO get the feeling that actors and actresses are always looking at themselves from the outside, as a director does, when they go about their daily life. Self conscious, but in a studied way. It was a nice addition to the film, as was the sweeping, swelling score.

This film is not for families; there are a couple of revealing love scenes. However, it makes for a thrilling evening of entertainment for mature audiences. A must-see.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Soooo much to tell

I haven't written in forever. Mea Culpa. But I've been super-busy watching movies, reading books, and doing other things "about town" that I can now relate to you.

First, I finally saw Million Dollar Baby. I thought it was a fabulous film. Regardless of your stance on euthanasia, living wills and the like, it's worth watching. Hillary Swank plays the role of Maggie Fitzgerald, a female boxer who doesn't have much going for her except heart. She's too old to compete (at 31), she has no training, and she's as poor as a church mouse. BUT she's decided that she wants the grizzled, haunted Frankie Dunn (played by Clint Eastwood) to coach her, so she shows up at his gym and works like a dog to prove herself. Eventually, Frankie and his friend/employee, Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman), are won over by the determined Maggie, and Frankie takes her on as a client. As their professional and emotional bond strengthens, both Maggie and Frankie learn alot from each other.

This is certainly not much of a feel-good movie. However, the performances of the three principals (Eastwood, Freeman, and Swank) are fabulous, and the story certainly takes viewers on an emotional ride. I highly recommend it.

Secondly, I recently finished reading See No Evil, by Robert Baer. This is the book on which the movie Syriana is loosely based. Baer was a CIA field agent for 20 years, and he operated in some of the most dangerous parts of the world as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the United States. While this book is definitely hard to stay with (there were times when I gave up trying to connect the dots myself, and just read as Baer soldiered on), it is a fascinating glimpse into how the United States protects its interests. Baer describes how CIA agents are trained, how they cultivate sources, how they secure information, and how they sometimes throw caution to the wind to do what needs to be done. Baer painstakingly recounts how relationships are forged in the Middle East, and how agents must carefully trace these relationships to discover intelligence that can be confirmed and utilized. The book is also a searing indictment of the agency that the CIA has become. Baer maintains that today's CIA depends more on satellites and electronic spyware than agents on the ground, with far less effective results. All in all, I found this to be an interesting look at the underbelly of the U.S. intelligence machine.

Last week, I also went to see Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, which is playing at New Stage Theatre through February 12. Though it got off to a rocky start, I found it to be an entertaining evening. You can read my review of it in next week's Jackson Free Press. Tickets are still on sale for $22, and you can buy them by calling the theater at 601-948-3533.

And last of all, I attended the opening of the new Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Mississippi Museum of Art. I thought it was wonderful. The exhibit does not consist of too many pieces to be enjoyed in one leisurely pass-through, nor does it feel insignificant. There are a few of O'Keeffe's iconic botanicals on display, and black and white photographs of the artist herself add an interesting dimension to the exhibit. The audio tour was very informative as well. The museum has also put together a fun children's component to the exhibit where kids can match silk flowers with O'Keeffe's representations of them, play in a recreation of her patio, see what she might have eaten for breakfast, and match paint samples.