Blu Tuesday: The Gambler, Inherent Vice and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Gambler”

WHAT: After falling into debt with a pair of dangerous men, college English professor and degenerate gambler Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is given seven days to pay or else. When his mother (Jessica Lange) gives him the money to clear his debt, only to blow it at the casino instead, Jim is put in a precarious position when one of the loan sharks (Michael K. Williams) threatens the lives of his two students.

WHY: Rupert Wyatt’s “The Gambler” is a curious beast. It’s based on a film that’s just obscure enough that a remake wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers, yet is well-regarded by those who have seen it. In other words, the 1974 original starring James Caan isn’t exactly holy ground, but there’s not much to improve on either, which makes this Mark Wahlberg vanity project feel every bit as irrelevant as the story it’s trying to tell. Wahlberg’s character is such a miserable asshole that it’s very difficult to identify with him, despite some punchy dialogue from writer William Monahan, and to make matters worse, the actor is terribly miscast in the role. At least the gambling scenes are handled with style and verve, dripping in tension and absolutely painful to watch. But while the movie does a great job of illustrating Jim’s self-destructive nature, it never digs any deeper into the root of the problem, which makes it seem fairly hollow as a result. “The Gambler” had all the right ingredients – a great cast, a talented director and source material that’s already proven to work – but it’s a disappointing misfire that fails to capitalize on its intriguing premise.

EXTRAS: There’s a collection of featurettes covering the production process (including the differences between the 1974 original and Rupert Wyatt’s remake, location shooting and costumes), as well as six deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Inherent Vice”

WHAT: Pothead private investigator Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) investigates the disappearance of his free-spirited ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterson) and her real estate mogul boyfriend, Mickey (Eric Roberts), which may be connected to a series of other cases involving a presumed-dead musician (Owen Wilson), the murder of one of Mickey’s bodyguards and a mysterious Indo-Chinese drug syndicate called the Golden Fang.

WHY: After years of toying with my patience, Paul Thomas Anderson has finally made a movie that’s almost impossible to defend. Fans of the director will make excuses for the film’s myriad problems anyway, but the fact that they find it necessary at all only confirms what a giant mess “Inherent Vice” really is. Based on the 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, the so-called inherent vice of Anderson’s slacker noir is the narrative itself. It’s as if the movie, like many of its characters, is in a constant state of a drug-addled high, unable to remain focused or make sense of anything that’s going on. And while that may be the film’s big joke, it’s not a very funny one. It feels complicated for the sake of being complicated, eventually becoming so mired in all the twists and pointless subplots that it doesn’t even know what it’s about anymore. Even worse than the gaps in logic is the punishingly long runtime, which is filled with dense, drawn-out conversations that go nowhere except lead to another similarly long-winded exchange. Joaquin Phoenix nearly holds the whole thing together with his amusingly daffy performance, but he’s the only bright spot in a movie that really should have been a lot more enjoyable.

EXTRAS: There’s a deleted scene and some fluffy promotional material, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Blu Tuesday: Nightcrawler, Laggies and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Nightcrawler”

WHAT: When he witnesses a freelance cameraman filming a car accident one night, go-getter Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) believes that he’s found his calling. After trading some stolen loot to a pawn shop in exchange for a camcorder and police scanner, Louis hits the ground running, eventually selling his first footage to sleazy news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo). But once Louis gets a taste of success, he’ll do whatever it takes to get the best shot, even if that means crossing lines that aren’t meant to be crossed.

WHY: Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” might just be the most frightening film of the 2014 – not in the scares it delivers (because there are none), but rather the chilling peek that it provides behind the curtain of a completely different kind of horror: local TV news. This isn’t the first time that subject has been satirized before in cinema, but “Nightcrawler” tells its darkly comic tale of immorality in the newsroom through the eyes of a Rupert Pupkin-esque antihero more terrifying than any masked killer. The cinematic influences are boundless in Gilroy’s directorial debut, but that hasn’t stopped him from producing a first-rate thriller highlighted by a career-best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. The actor has been taking bigger risks lately with darker, more mature material, and Louis Bloom is the pinnacle of this career rebirth – a wickedly entrancing and transformative piece of acting that’s fully deserving of an Oscar nomination. Rene Russo is also really good as the Dr. Frankenstein to Gyllenhaal’s monster, feeding into his sociopathic tendencies with an equally amoral disposition, but the movie simply wouldn’t work without Gyllenhaal’s commanding performance, because it’s the quiet intensity he brings to the role that makes Bloom such a fascinating character.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Dan Gilroy, producer Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy, as well as the making-of featurette “If It Bleeds, It Leads.”

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Laggies”

WHAT: After her high school sweetheart (Mark Webber) suddenly proposes after ten years of dating, slacker woman-child Megan (Keira Knightley) panics, running away for the week to collect her thoughts under the guise of a self-improvement seminar. Instead, Megan hides out in the home of her new 16-year-old friend, Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), whose single father, Craig (Sam Rockwell), is more than a little bewildered by the whole situation.

WHY: Lynn Shelton loves a good awkward situation, and though the central plot of her latest movie isn’t as uncomfortable to watch as the ones in past films like “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister,” the idea of a grown woman hanging out with a bunch of teenagers is nothing if not strange. Thankfully, “Laggies” finds the heart and humor in Megan’s newfound friendship instead of making it seem pathetic or creepy, and a large part of that is down to Keira Knightley’s charming performance. After spending nearly a decade starring almost exclusively in stuffy period dramas, it’s nice to see the actress mixing it up with more modern roles, because it gives her the chance to showcase another side of her personality. Knightley brings a childlike energy to Megan that makes her immensely likable, and she’s supported by a pair of solid performances from Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell in good but unremarkable roles. “Laggies” is without a doubt Shelton’s most mainstream movie to date, albeit with a decidedly indie flair, and while it’s almost too sweet and innocent to leave much of a lasting impression, it’s also not a bad way to spend two hours.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Lynn Shelton, a pair of production featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Kill the Messenger”

WHAT: While working as a Senior Investigative Reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) uncovers a story about the CIA permitting the sale of cocaine in the U.S. to fund a rebellion in Nicaragua, unwittingly putting his career and family in danger when he becomes the target of a smear campaign.

WHY: Some actors may be hesitant about “selling out” by doing a big Hollywood blockbuster, but if successful, it can go a long way towards getting smaller, more personal films off the ground. Case in point: “Kill the Messenger,” a passion project for star/producer Jeremy Renner that probably wouldn’t have been made were it not for the actor’s involvement in a certain billion-dollar franchise. But while Gary Webb’s true-life story about the cost of seeking out the truth is certainly interesting enough to warrant the big screen treatment, the film is a pretty conventional political thriller that skates by on Renner’s strong performance. The supporting cast is also stacked with talent, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt and Michael Sheen, but with the exception of Rosemarie DeWitt as Gary’s wife, many of them are glorified cameos. The biggest problem with “Kill the Messenger” is that it’s a tale of two halves – the investigation and the backlash that Gary received as a result of his report – and while the former makes for some engaging viewing, the latter portion seems to poke more holes in the story than support it, despite a convenient piece of text at the end that confirms Gary’s findings were correct. Still, it’s a pretty humdrum ending for a story that so many people were passionate about telling.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director Michael Cuesta, 10 minutes of deleted scenes, and a trio of short featurettes on the cast, filming in Georgia and real-life drug trafficker “Freeway Ricky” Ross, played by Michael K. Williams in the movie.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Drink of the Week: Nolet’s Negroni (modified)

Nolet's Negroni (Modified).Gin gets plenty of respect among cocktail aficionados — certainly more than vodka — but it’s still mainly thought of as a something best enjoyed in some kind of mixed drink, whether it’s as unvarnished as a very dry martini, a bit more gussied up as an Aviation, or in a gin and tonic, the arguable king of highballs. Unlike whiskey, brandy, tequila, and even poor, maligned vodka, almost no one drinks gin by the shot or the snifter and while premium gins abound, super-premium gins are rare birds indeed.

Still, with a price point of about $50.00 for a 750 ml bottle, Nolet’s Dry Gin is staking out a claim at the upper end of the mass gin market with a product that justifies its higher price with a flavor profile you won’t find anywhere else. I know this because I got a free bottle in the mail and I’ve been having a great deal of fun trying out this product in a number of classic drinks. Nolet’s has a fruity, spicy flavor that is noticeably light on juniper — the botanical that pretty much defines the taste and aroma of gin in the minds of most drinkers, whether they know it or not.

I’ve grown to like it in gin, but juniper has always been a fairly tough sell with me. (I still greatly prefer Irish or English Breakfast tea to juniper-heavy Earl Grey.) So, I think Nolet’s is a dandy change of pace, high price point notwithstanding. I’ve found it makes a fascinating martini (use a lemon twist) and a really terrific G&T (3 parts tonic to one part gin). Finally, they have a very nice variation on one of my very favorite gin cocktail classics created by New York bartender John McCarthy, even if I couldn’t resist tweaking it slightly.

Nolet’s Negroni

1 1/2 ounces Nolet’s Dry Gin Silver
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica or Noilly Pratt or…?)
1 dash grapefruit bitters
1-2 ounces soda water (optional addition, see below)
1 orange slice (highly desirable garnish)

Mr. McCarthy’s original recipe calls for simply building this drink in a rocks glass with ice and an orange slice garnish. With plenty of stirring, this is a decent drink, though on the heavy side for my taste. On the other hand, I found myself liking this drink immensely simply by making one of two small adjustments.

First, you can serve it up — i.e., shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass — as I suggested was best with the original Negroni cocktail some time ago. You can also go crazy and simply follow McCarthy’s original recipe augmented with an additional bit of soda water for a boozier Negroni/Americano hybrid. You might want to use a double rocks glass to prevent overflow.

****

The main difference between Nolet’s Negroni and the original is the inclusion of grapefruit bitters. Usually, the inclusion of Campari in any drink is considered bitters enough. Moreover, McCarthy’s original recipe specifies Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, which has a chocolatey, bitter undercurrent. Nevertheless, I think adding the bitters works just fine in a beveridge that can still come off a bit syrupy.

At the same time, I found I actually rather enjoyed my modified versions of this drink even more when I substituted Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth with its simpler, sweeter flavor that actually needs those grapefruit bitters to keep things grown-up. It’s entirely possible Martini or Cinzano would work well, too. Go with your mood, I say.

 

  

Learning to Surf in San Diego

For adventurous guys who enjoy spending quality time in the water, surfing is an ideal sport. A combination of exercise, skill, and excitement, not to mention gains in one’s overall fitness level, ensures a challenging yet rewarding adventure for beginners. San Diego is home to some of the finest surfing spots on the West Coast, including beginner-friendly spots from Ocean Beach Pier to South Mission/Pacific Beach, which has over two miles of consistent yet relatively small waves for surfers of all levels.

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The Most Expensive Rolex Ever Sold

Rolex

In May 2011, the most expensive Rolex sold at the famous Christie’s auction for a cool $1.16 million. Let’s dive into what made this watch sell for the price it did, and look at a few Rolex runner-ups in terms of astronomical sales:

The 1942 Rolex Chronograph

It is the 1942 Chronograph that sold for such a high price at Christie’s, which dubbed that particular auction ‘Christie’s Important Watches.’ The watch was one of 12 pieces ever made by the legendary company, and had an estimated value of $680,000 at the time of the auction. Features include a nickel finish, silver matte dial, lever movement, as well as pink gold Arabic and baton numbers, and an astounding 17 jewels.

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