Favorite Films from First Half of 2014

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Compiled below is the list of films I saw between Jan. 1, 2014 and July 31, 2014 that I rated from three and a half to five stars.

These categories are somewhat arbitrary, but generally the five and four and a half star films are pretty close, and I enjoyed those tremendously. The four star ones were all good, but I had some (minor) reservations. The three and half star ones were more problematical films but still worth checking out.

If a film did not make it into one of these categories, I did not write a review.

The ones listed below I recommend for your consideration.

A significant number of these films are either documentary, foreign, or small films, often only in the theaters for a few weeks, usually in one of the independent theaters in the DC area or in our DC Film Club.

If you click on any of the titles below, you will link to my mini-review on MillersTime.

As always, any thoughts, comments, disagreements, agreements, etc. are welcomed.

Five Stars:

Ida

Finding Vivian Maier

Particle Fever

The Square

Four and a Half Stars:

Boyhood

Life Itself

The Case Against 8

The Rocket

The Past

Four Stars:

Chef

Child’s Pose

The Lunchbox

The Immigrant

Words & Pictures

Three and Half Stars:

Korengal

Grand Budapest Hotel

Unknown Knowns

Oscar Nominated Short Action Live Films

Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films

Elsa & Fred

The Mountain

*                    **                    **                    **                    *

Also, if you’re looking for slightly older films to rent, etc., check out these two links from 2013 and 2012.

Favorite Films Seen 2013

My Favorite Films in 2012

BBQ, Thai, Sushi, Bread – DC Updates

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For those of you who live in the DC area, as well as those who come here on occasion, here are mini reviews of three local restaurants and a bakery that might have some interest for you.

Fat Pete’s Barbecue, Est. 2014:

It’s probably an understatement to say that DC is not known for its BBQ. Without getting into a discussion of DC’s deficiency in this food category, suffice it to say we have nothing comparable to other states (‘state’ is another negligence, but I’ll leave that for another time too). Now that I’ve been spending some time in various Midwest locations (Kansas City, Austin, Little Rock, etc.), I’m able to satisfy my interest in good BBQ, which I haven’t had since I left Florida, where, believe it or not, the spareribs at Hilltop BBQ in Ocala were outstanding. (Hilltop, according to a quick check with Google, apparently is no more. Their website states: “HILLTOPBBQ is closed. We sold the property and bought  sailboat. See you in the islands!”).

But I digress.

The other evening Ellen and I, having spotted Fat Pete’s a few days earlier in the Cleveland Park area of DC, tried it and liked it. Know we only tried the Burnt Ends and the St. Louis Cut pork spareribs, two of their homemade sauces and a couple of sides. But that was enough to make us want to return.

You could make an entire meal out of the Starters – Smoked Wings, Burnt Ends (Brisket), Sliders (your choice of three – chopped pork, pulled chicken, chopped brisket or smoked turkey), Rib Tips, ABT’s (‘BBQ Crack’), Pitmaster Chili (sold out the night we were there) and Fried Green Tomatoes.

Fat Pete'sFor me, I almost exclusively stick to ribs, and the ones at Fat Pete’s (mine were Honey BBQ glazed and Ellen’s were dry rubbed), tho a tad dry, were as good as I’ve had in this area. Plus, the portions were more than generous, and I’ve had two more meals from the leftovers we took home.

Note: The restaurant is less than a month old (Est. 2014 they say on the menu) and has had some problems with running out of various items and with long waits for tables. There are only two tables that I saw that can seat more than four (tho there is an upstairs which apparently is going to open next month). Also, Yelp reviews have been mixed at best.

I don’t think Oklahoma Joe’s (Kansas City) or Franklin’s (Austin) is in any jeopardy of falling in rank, but give Fat Pete’s a try if you’re hungry for BBQ, and let MillersTime readers know what you find.

Thai X-ing (“Thai Crossing”):

I’ve looked for this tiny restaurant for more than a year when coming from the north into DC and driving down Florida Ave., but I could never spot it.

I’ve also looked forward to eating there for a couple of years, ever since I learned that there were only a few tables in the basement of a row house and that you didn’t order but were served what chef/owner Taw Vigsittaboot cooked that night. The food comes from recipes passed down from the chef’s mother, aunt and grandmother and has been described as “traditional home style” Thai cooking.

Six of us went last week (515 Florida Ave., NW) and found the ‘restaurant’ had expanded from the basement to include two more floors of eating space.

Whether it was too high expectations or because of the increase in diners (28?), I’m not sure, but aside from one or two tasty dishes, it seemed as if we had been served from a big pot of food that had been sitting on a stove for some time, too much time.

We probably should have gone two or three years ago. Not that the food is bad, it’s just nothing very special (and I have eaten in a home in Thailand where the cooking far surpassed that at Thai X-ing). It is expensive for what you get ($50 per person, $10 more than if we had been in a group of less than five. The prices are less Tuesday and Wednesday nights).

If you go, know that you can and should bring your own beer or wine. Also, Tuesday and Sunday night are vegetarian nights (Tues includes a fish option). Otherwise, as far as I can tell, they are largely serving the same meal every night. So one visit is certainly enough. Also, reservations are generally necessary.

PS – I’ve read that Thai X-ing is supposed to open a new restaurant in the same general area and will close the existing one for a time while they focus on the new one. If they reopen the existing one, I hope they can find a way to make it more special and more satisfying.

 Sushi-Keiko:

 

For those who have lived in DC for a number of decades, Sushi-Ko was always a favorite. Located just north of Georgetown in the Burleith/Glover Park area on Wisconsin Ave., it was one of the first Japanese restaurants to serve “small dishes” and the sushi and sashimi was always first rate. They eventually expanded with a much larger second location in Chevy Chase, MD.

Last summer, a notice appeared on the window of the DC location announcing Shushi-Ko had been closed by DC for violations (not having a business license, i.e., tax issues?). The Maryland location remained open, tho we never seemed to enjoy it as much as the one in DC.

Now the DC location has reopened with different ownership and under the name of Sushi-Keiko. I’ve only been there once, last night. Neither the manager (David Zhang) nor the chef (Koji Terano), both hold overs from Sushi-Ko, were there, and the rest of the staff was new to the restaurant and seemed to be learning the menu and the preparations.

The best part, however, is that the food is good, perhaps as good as it always was, although the menu is currently not as expansive nor as creative as it was. But then Sushi-Ko had 30 years to get to that point.

But now, once again, we have an unpretentious, neighborhood Sushi restaurant, open from 6 PM (5:30 on Sundays) to 10:30 or 11.

Let’s hope this one builds on what was there in the past.

 Bread Furst:

Remember Marvelous Market when it first opened on Connecticut Ave and had the best bread in the city?

Well Mark Furstenberg, the creator and owner of Marvelous Market and Breadline (he sold both) is back with a new neighborhood bakery, and I’m delighted to report that the bread is every bit as good as it was previously.

Bread Furst also serves breakfast items and has ready made sandwiches (try the Ham and Swiss on a baguette, even better than the one he made at Marvelous Market.). Pastries also looked enticing.

The new location is also on Connecticut Ave. just north of the Van Ness metro, next to the car wash (4434 Conn. Ave.). There is parking in the back, and I believe also an entrance in the back.

If bread is one of the things that brightens your life, Bread Furst’s opening is something to celebrate.

Looking for a Summer Read?

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Many of you know that each year readers of MillersTime succumb to my pleading and endless reminders to send in the titles of books they’ve most enjoyed reading in the past year, not necessarily new books, just ones that have been their favorite reads of the year.

If you are looking for something to read as the summer moves into August, click on the link below, and I’ll bet you can find some good reads.

The Books Most Enjoyed by “MillersTime” Readers in 2013

PS – I’m also taking this opportunity to remind you that I will again seek your favorites come December, 2014. So be warned.

Finally, if you have a particular book you have read recently that you would like to suggest now (and not wait until the end of the year), please put the title and perhaps a one or two sentence reason in the Comment section. You could also send me an email with the title, etc., and I can add it to the Comment section.

“Life Itself” – The Documentary and The Memoir

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Life Itself ****1/2

Often, a movie, particularly a documentary, sends me to the book upon which the film is based.

And usually, almost always, I find the written work better than the film version.

In fact, I don’t think I can name more than a handful of films that I found superior to the written ‘version.’

The current documentary, Life Itself, about the life and ultimately the death of Pulitzer Prize (1975) winning film critic (Chicago Sun-Times) Roger Ebert, is one of the instances in which I’d choose the film over the memoir.

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Summer Read(s)

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If you’re looking for a book or two to add to your summer book bag and travels, and if you enjoy thrillers/mysteries/crime/detective/whodunit stories, Robert Galbraith, who is actually J.K. Rowling, has a new one just out.

Yes. That J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter lady.

If you missed it, Rowling has turned her pen (computer?) to detective stories, and The Silkworm is the second in a series (reported to number seven). I reviewed her first one, Cuckoo’s Calling, earlier on MillersTime and wrote:

It’s good.

Maybe not as good as an Agatha Christy mystery, but if you’re looking for something along the line of a Steig Larsson book, you’ll probably like it, tho it’s not quite as good as Larsson’s first one, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo.

The Silkworm is perhaps a bit better than Cuckoo’s Nest, but then when one races through one of these page turners, I’m not sure it’s about good literature, but more about entertainment.

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Why Las Vegas?

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The most frequently asked question of Ellen and myself this wedding weekend: “Why was it happening in Vegas?”

Just as we’ve been clueless about a number of decisions in Beth’s (Elizabeth since ’98) life, we can only surmise.

So, I decided to ask MillersTime readers to use your knowledge of Beth and/or Brandt (as well as your imaginations) to list some possible reasons they chose Las Vegas as the site of their wedding.

To start you off, here are a few possibilities Ellen and I could think might have been in their minds:

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GrandPapa Wants to Know

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Eli arranging1. Grandson Eli starts the Memory game with me. (He likes to go first. And to make up the rules too.)

 

E winning, hands up2. Eli, legitimately, crushes me in the first game.

 

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3. In game two, Eli (barely) loses. Has minor ‘meltdown’ (formerly referred to as a ‘tantrum’).

(OK. The pictures aren’t as good as Ellen takes. But you get the point.)

My question is about winning and losing.

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“The Case Against 8″

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The Case Against 8 ****1/2

We didn’t know much about this documentary when we went to see it last night. We were just looking for a film that we’d enjoy.

When we left the theater, we felt as if we had hit the jackpot.

Not only were we totally absorbed by the almost two hour film, we happened to attend the night the two directors, Ben Cotner and Ryan White, and two of the four plaintiffs, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, were present and answered audience questions about the film and about themselves.

First, the film.

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What the Hell Is Going on in Washington?

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The title of this section of MillersTime is The Outer Loop, referring to the outer loop of the Washington Beltway.

It’s meant to be a forum I use to comment, on occasion, about what is happening in our nation’s capital as well as beyond it. It is also a place where I can link to articles, ideas, and thoughts about issues other than baseball, family and friends, or escapes and pleasures.

Friends often ask Ellen or myself to explain what’s happening in Washington, as if our living inside the Beltway might give us some understanding of just what’s going on here or what is going to happen.

When you’re deeply lost in the trees, it’s certainly hard to know what the forest really looks like.

Note the surprise this week by virtually everyone within the Beltway of the upset of Majority Leader Eric Cantor by a college professor in the VA 7th District primary.

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A Special ‘Voice’ Writes a ‘Memoir’

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What bothers most critics about my work is the goofiness. One reviewer said I need to make up my mind if I want to be funny or serious. My response is that I will make up my mind when God does, because life is a commingling of the sacred and the profane, good and evil. To try and separate them is a fallacy.

-Tom Robbins

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I suspect that not many readers of MillersTime are Tom Robbins’ fans (author of Another Roadside Attraction, 1971, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, 1976, Still Life with Woodpecker, 1980, Jitterbug Perfume, 1984, Skinny Legs and All, 1990, B is for Beer, 2009 and a collection of essays, reviews and short stories, Wild Ducks Flying Backwards, 2005).

And to be truthful, I can’t say as I can recall which of those I read and which ones I read about or never actually read. (My memory, never one of my strengths, is beginning to falter a bit.)

But what I always loved about Robbins’ writing was his voice, a voice so distinctive and so different from most writers that I have trouble naming writers so gifted. Two that do come to mind are Dylan Thomas and Junot Diaz (Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao, 2007 and, particularly, This Is How You Lose Her, 2012).

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“I Am ONE !”

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noname.best cakeOur family tends to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, weddings (one of those coming up soon) and other good occasions for about a week for each one. And so Saturday started the week of celebration for Ryan Orgad’s first birthday. The actual day is Thursday, but we always get these things started early.

Mostly, I’ll let Ellen’s pictures below tell Sunday’s story, but there is one piece I want to add:

Before Annie was born, Ellen and I were talking about what our hopes were for our first born. I remember saying, “I hope he/she has a wonderful smile.” If you’ve followed Annie these three plus decades, you know that indeed happened.

But so did something else. Annie married Edan Orgad who has his own wonderful smile. And then they had three kids in five years, each of them came with a wonderful smile too.

Enjoy the photos:

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