Film and food reviews

Rozanne reviews films and food for Some of her articles and reviews are below. Please check that site for updated content.

Rozanne is also active in social media—on twitter as @PRlady007. Her Twitter feed, which runs through this site, touches upon marketing communications, trends, social media, films, food, theater, other activities, and, of course, live tweeting with photos or otherwise highlighting the work of her clients. Occasionally, she will also cover problems with companies because most respond quicker and more effectively to tweets than to calls or emails. Follow her and try it yourself.

Multiple Film Reviews

I’ve seen some 30 film screenings since my last DCdigest reviews. These are the films I recommend seeing:

LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER. The film arose from a Washington Post story about a black butler who served eight Presidents of the United States – from Eisenhower through Reagan administrations. Forest Whitaker stars as Cecil Gaines (the real butler was named Eugene Allen) who rose from a Georgia sharecropper to a White House butler. Oprah Winfrey plays his alcoholic wife. Both performances are excellent.

Gaines’ apolitical, hard-working, keep-your-head-down tenure is interspersed and contrasted with his oldest son Louis’ (David Oyelowo) civil rights activism. At college he joined the Freedom Riders and then Black Panthers. The film spans some of the most important, turbulent, historical civil rights actions of our lives, including the aftermath of Emmett Till’s murder, the Woolworth’s sit in, and enactment of Voting Rights legislation. It brought back so many memories of this nation’s prejudice and inhumanity and what it took to start turning it around – also depicted in the PBS series “Eyes on the Prize.” The Vietnam War is also part of the backdrop – Gaines’ youngest son goes there to fight.

There are some powerful early scenes of the young Gaines watching the boss shoot his father and taking his mother to be raped. She never recovered mentally from these experiences. And the ending was touching – I cried.

Some casting missteps created unfortunate distractions for me. Since filmmakers already had big draws of Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey and others, heaven knows why they resorted to recruiting and miscasting well-known stars in cameo roles as US Presidents – can you imagine Robin Williams as President Dwight Eisenhower? John Cusack as Richard Nixon? The much younger Liev Schreiber playing the much older Lyndon Baines Johnson infamously ordering folks around while he was on the toilet? Neither could I. However, Jane Fonda as First Lady Nancy Reagan was quite good. Word is that well-known white stars were cast because Hollywood doesn’t believe that black travels well in the lucrative foreign market. It’s about time that more films like this demonstrate that it can.

JOBS. Prejudices upfront: I’m a big fan of Apple and Steve Jobs (my first computer was a Mac, and my iPhone5 and I are joined at the hand) and was looking forward to learning more about Jobs’ earlier years from dropping out of college through his return to Apple years after being unceremoniously dumped as CEO by Apple’s board– the timeframe covered by JOBS. It shows Jobs warts and all – driven, dismissive, transformative, combative, and an utter cad when it came to a pregnant girlfriend. The film takes us back to a world without computers at every desktop – those long-ago days when I started working on typewriters and even teletypes.

Biggest drawback: I always felt like I was watching Ashton Kutcher PLAY Steve Jobs. When I watch a really good actor/actress in the role of someone well known, they seem to “channel” the person – get inside of them and BECOME THEM for a while. Think Daniel Day-Lewis as LINCOLN, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. Recently attending Broadway-bound “One Night with Janis Joplin” with NEARO member Ann Kurzius, I found it uncanny how Mary Bridget Davies brought Joplin back to life down to her unique singing and speaking voice. Ashton Kutcher may have tried to adopt Jobs’ mannerisms and even became a fruitarian, but he just doesn’t have the acting chops to play this role.

In the Q&A following the screening with director Joshua Michael Stern and star Josh Gad (who played Steve Wozniak), the most interesting thing I learned was that Steve Jobs childhood home where he created the first motherboard in its garage was actually in the film. The calendar with President Jimmy Carter was still on the wall. They revealed, “Ashton was obsessed with Jobs – even went on a fruit diet. Jobs was always about what was next. He showed love through his products.”

The JOBS film serves as a prequel of what most of us know of Steve Jobs. Frankly, I can’t wait to see the upcoming Sony Pictures untitled Jobs’ film by Aaron Sorkin based on the Walter Isaacson book. It has the support of Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak – which this film didn’t.

FRUITVALE STATION. The timing could not have been better to draw attention to this true film. In a criminal trial that captivated nationwide attention, the Florida jury had just found white, self-styled neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman not guilty in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old black youth Trayvon Martin. Similarly, the subject of FRUITVALE STATION., Oscar Grant, an unarmed young black man of 22, was shot and killed on New Year’s Day 2009 by a white transit policeman in Oakland, California. In this case, however, the murder was captured by horrified passengers on their smart phones so there is little question of what really happened.

FRUITVALE STATION has deservedly walked off with awards at Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals for first-time film director Ryan Coogler, just 27, who doesn’t sugarcoat Oscar’s story. He lets the day before the shooting unfold as we bear witness to Oscar’s troubled life, turnaround, and needless death.

In a finely nuanced performance, Michael B Jordan (HBO’s “The Wire”) plays Oscar in all his contradictory human complexities – impulsive, angry, flawed yet helpful, caring, and loving. Struggling with his past as a drug dealer that landed him in prison, Oscar attempts to break old habits and turn his life around leading into his short-lived new year. We see him as adoring father to his daughter Tatiana (Arianna Neil) and loving son to his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer) – both extremely well acted. Sadly and tragically, his mother blames herself for encouraging him to take the BART train on New Year’s Eve because it’s “safer” than being on the roads.

THE HUNT is a gripping Danish drama about a kindergarten teacher accused of pedophilia. Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) lost his job as a teacher as he was also dealing with a difficult divorce. Forced to start over and be separated from his beloved son, he becomes a kindergarten teacher who has a wonderful relationship with his students and with residents of his new small Danish hunting town. His life is shattered by a child’s lie which spreads and turns a community against him in a virtual mob mentality. The child is the daughter of his best friend. Mikkelsen’s deft portrayal of Lucas is outstanding. It’s no wonder he won the Best Actor Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This is a terrific film.

THE ATTACK. In Hebrew and Arabic and moving between Tel Aviv, Nazareth, and Nablus, the film seems to start as a marital love story between a prominent Palestinian assimilated surgeon who lives in Tel Aviv, Amin (Ali Sulimon), and his stunning wife, Silham (Reymond Amsalem), originally from Nazareth. They make a dashing couple. The film moves swiftly from lovemaking and establishing scenes to a 3 AM call to the surgeon to identify his wife’s body – or what’s left of it, only the upper part. Silham is accused of being a Palestinian terrorist, of strapping explosives to herself and blowing up 11 children celebrating a birthday in a restaurant along with other patrons and herself.
Despite the evidence, Amin believes there must be some mistake and goes to Nazareth and Nablus on a search for answers. There, Silham’s image is everywhere; she is revered as a terrorist martyr. THE ATTACK raises a profound question: Do we really know another person, no matter how close we think we are? The film is compelling, well acted, and worth seeing.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM. The music and soundtrack are great. The story is fascinating. Award-winning director Morgan Neville shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the diverse backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. The backup singers cover a range of styles, genres, and eras of popular music. Each backup singer has an interesting personal story to share – the conflicts, heartbreaks, sacrifices, and rewards of a career spent harmonizing with others in the shadows of superstardom. In this film, aided by rare archival footage, the gifted backup singers take center stage to intimate interviews with superstars – Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Sting, and Mick Jagger.

STILL MINE. As we NEARO members have watched our parents’ age and are aging ourselves, STILL MINE is an especially endearing film. It’s a Canadian love story about a couple in their 80s who still enjoy a lovely bond and making love. In a true story about building a new home and an old relationship, Craig (James Cromwell) tries to build a more manageable home for his most likely early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia-plagued wife Irene (Genevieve Bujold). Both actors are outstanding. Craig, a farmer, runs into continuous bureaucratic hurdles on code violations. They get pushback from their grown children and support from an engineer grandson and lawyer. It’s a touching and wonderful film.

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

I thoroughly enjoyed STARBUCK, a French Canadian comedy that’s a runaway hit in Québec. A crowd pleaser written and directed by Ken Scott, it also won the audience award at the Palm Springs international film Festival. Please, please, please see this French Canadian film set in Montréal and not the (most likely) dumbed down Americanized version of Starbuck without French subtitles being made by DreamWorks starring Vince Vaughn. There’s no way it will be as good; chances are great that it will be sappier.

David Wosniak (Patrick Huard), 42, an immature, under-achieving but kindhearted meat delivery man for his family’s butcher shop, discovers that his stint in the 80s as a sperm donor for money somehow resulted in a whopping 533 successful pregnancies. The “frequent donor” (I wonder if there were an “awards” program) is code-named Starbuck. Now in their 20s, more than 100 adoptees learned that they share the same biological father and are suing the errant fertility clinic to obtain the real identity of Starbuck.

The story headlines in all media and is the subject of both laughter and derision. In an effort to keep David’s anonymity, his friend Paul (Antoine Bertrand), an actual dad who lives with his kids, becomes his attorney.

The film gets more amusing as David, curious about his progeny, spies on the youths and surreptitiously not only enters but also changes some of their lives for the better. And, then, he even joins the group of his offspring, pretending with a prefabricated story to be one of them.

And, did I mention there’s also a girlfriend (Julie le Breton) with a little surprise? Must end here to avoid the need for spoiler alerts.

SYNOPSIS: Patrick Huard stars as David Wozniak, a 42-year old lovable but perpetual screw up who finally decides to take control of his life. A habitual sperm donor in his youth, he discovers that he’s the biological father of 533 children, 142 of whom are trying to force the fertility clinic to reveal the true identity of the prolific donor code-name Starbuck.

A runaway box office success in Quebec, STARBUCK premiered at the Toronto Film Festival as a Gala Presentation. (English language remake rights for this all too human comedy were sold to Dreamworks. Starring Vince Vaughn, the American remake is currently set to be released under the title THE DELIVERY MAN on October 4.

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La Bottega, a Hilltop Jewel in Tuscany
Restaurant Review by Rozanne Weissman

tuscany rainbowTraveling up and down a narrow, winding, twisting, dark country road that leads to the medieval fortified village of Volpaia, I couldn’t wait to get to La Bottega, our restaurant destination in Tuscany, the mecca of wonderful Italian food. After having seen a “lucky” rainbow over the hills of Tuscany the day I arrived from Siena, I had great hopes for this dinner.

La Bottega di Volpaia, in recent reviews, is ranked #4 on trip of 23 restaurants in Radda in Chianti, Tuscany. The beautiful view from the outdoor dining terrace of the hilltop restaurant is mentioned almost as much as the food.

A family-owned restaurant, La Bottega provides a sense of an Italian family through its warm atmosphere, Barucci family photos—including the dogs Ombra e Pallina—going back to the ‘40s, its brochure, and its poorly translated but charming online profile.

Carla cooks and runs the restaurant, Mother Gina lends her considerable talents to making pasta and some desserts, Father Oriano tends to the vegetable garden and make salami, and little sister Paola runs the separate renovated wine bar—once a cattle shed where horses were given shelter and sheep, goats, and poultry occupied smaller rooms. In a play on the family name, the wine bar is appropriately named Bar-Ucci.

Though not part of the Barucci family, even the young Romanian servers charm and flirt like Italians.

The menu revolves around simplicity and tradition. The emphasis in their materials: Living simple moments in full consciousness.

Mama GinaAfter finishing the fabulous first courses of homemade ravioli with sage and butter and tagliatelle with truffles, I asked to meet the maker of the handmade pasta. Mother Gina was so delighted about my praise and request for a photo that she smiled warmly, opened her arms and hugged me, and then posed for the photo. Her warm smile and big hug reminded me of my own departed mother who also loved to cook and bake.

Real Tuscan cuisine is “better than the best sex you’ve ever had,” The Washington Post travel section article quotes Antoinette “Toni” Mazzaglia, founder of the gastronomic excursion Taste Florence. I wouldn’t go that far. The pasta and desserts (I had a wonderful panna cotta), are the standouts at La Bottega di Volpaia. The chicken “cipollata” style was good, but, frankly, a veal entrée that was supposed to be veal roulade, but wasn’t when the menu changed, left something to be desired on both taste and presentation.

And of course, there’s the wine. I sat with a great view of the restaurant’s wine cellar. No surprise that both the restaurant and wine bar favors “Chianti classico” wines of the region. It’s traditionally aged in big oak barrels. There is also a selection of white and red wines that come from outside Chianti and different areas of Tuscany, but blend well with dishes on the menu.

Paola Barucci even presents the wine as part of the “family.” She says, “I know all the wine producers and their wine-making methods personally.” Here is how she describes some of them:

  • CASTELLO DI BROLIO. Mr. Ferrini is the oenologist who makes a traditional wine, though a very round one, which always suits my customers’ taste.
  • PRUNETO. Riccardo is a lifelong friend, and a crazy vine-dresser, whose expert hands can both make a good product and respect Chianti typology.
  • QUERCIABELLA. Dales the agronomist follows the biodynamic method, which made me appreciate his product even more.
  • ANTICO BORGO DI SUGAME. A Geonese in Chiantiland! A kind of wine I really like, made in one of the highest places in Chiantiland.
  • GIOIA. My friend Gioia is a great oenologist and she makes a woman’s wine: a great wine, as “only” women can do!
  • MONTEMAGGIO. Ilaria is the agronomist who runs her wine factory with the energy of a man. A great wine with intense flavors.
  • VAL DELLE CORTI. Roberto is a farmer and in his small wine factory he only produces Chianti and Chianti riserva.
  • VILLA SANT’ANNA. A women-run wine factory (and what women!). A great noble wine, with the typical fruity notes of this vine.
  • SAN DONATINO. Leo Ferré had once bought this wine factory, which is run today by his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law.
  • CASTELLO D’ALBOLA. My hill neighbors. They make traditional Chianti in their amazing estate.

Bar-Ucci, the totally separate wine bar with its own terrace and various rooms, also serves various types of salami, cheeses, La Panzanella, the popular bread salad, crostini and bruschetta, and ricciarelli and cantucci Italian biscuits. If you’re in Tuscany, enjoy lunch or dinner with the Barucci family or wine tasting with their “extended family” of wines from the region.

As you can see, DCdigest’s Rozanne Weissman had a great time with the flirtatious waiters in Tuscany!