Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"The Social Network" of Timberlake, Sorkin and Eisenberg

Amongst greatness, the best and brightest flourish.

Could that be a slogan for an Ivy League enclave? Absolutely, but it’s also what makes The Social Network, set in the hallowed halls of Harvard, one of the best films of this year, if not the decade (though it pains me to side with Peter Travers in such gushing praise).

Consider the films’ pedigree; written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), directed by David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club), starring Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and newly minted megastar Andrew Garfield (aka: Spiderman 2.0), The Social Network, an adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book about the founding of Facebook, The Accidental Billionaires, is a parade of some of Hollywood’s most captivating talent turning in work of the highest caliber.

On a balmy September afternoon in Manhattan, Sorkin, Timberlake and Eisenberg settle into embossed leather chairs at the Harvard Club under oil paintings of white haired men sporting General Custer mustaches and taxidermy, including an elephant head, trunk flaring, to discuss the film which is already considered a sure Oscar contender.

Sorkin has long asserted that his writing is simply people sitting in rooms talking, so how was he able to make mindnumbingly mundane moments, things like blogging and depositions, frenetic, wrought and pulsating in the film?

“Well, they’re not sitting in rooms talking, they’re standing in rooms talking and that’s how I infuse it with a Michael Bay-type energy,” Sorkin deadpans. “My parents took me to plays starting when I was too little to understand what the plays were about, like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf when I was eight years old. Because I didn’t understand the story on onstage, I fell in love with the sound of dialogue, it sounded like music to me, and I wanted to imitate that when I wrote.”

Fans of the writer’s previous work will instantly recognize his hand in The Social Network’s opening scene, a patently Sorkin rapid-fire exchange which finds Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) in the midst of a breakup conversation with Erica Albright (Rooney Mara).

“I wanted to start out at 100 miles an hour, in the middle of a conversation, so that the audience would have to run a little just to keep up with us,” Sorkin explains. “And then sequences like the one that follows where Mark is blogging, drinking and hacking; David shot it and cut it and [Nine Inch Nails frontman] Trent Reznor scored it like it was bank robbery, like an action sequence.”

“We performed that scene 99 times,” Eisenberg points out quickly and without venom. “[Fincher] refused to do it the extra time to make it an even hundred. For an actor, that’s what you want. That’s what’s thrilling.”

“That was David’s process,” Timberlake interjects. “Working digitally with this film,” which was shot on a Red One camera, “it was almost like he would use the first twenty to twenty-five [takes] as a rehearsal and if something good came out of it, it was more of a fluke in his mind that what he was trying to get. You’d get to the 25th or 26th take and he’d say, ‘Great. Print that. Erase everything else.’ And you’d be like, ‘Whoooa! Wait. Really? Oookay, so we’re starting over?’ But while feeling like you were running wind sprints which turned into a marathon, it was freeing to be a part of that process.”

“We’re asked about the great number of takes as if the actors are in opposition to it,” Eisenberg says. “Every actor I know would stay there all day if there was film in the camera. This film was a blessing and we were thrilled for the time we got actually acting and not sitting around waiting to act.”

Sorkin reveals Fincher also vetoed any flouncy, typical Hollywood perks you’d expect to see on a set, like directors’ chairs, big trailers or an overflowing craft service table.

“David didn’t believe in frills or bells and whistles,” Sorkin says. “On this movie you sat on the floor when you weren’t working. David doesn’t like to spend money if it doesn’t go onscreen.”
“The money for this film went to the time to make it,” Timberlake adds. “It’s so amazing for a director to say, I want time for my actors to act and for me to watch them act and direct them. He’s one of the bravest directors you could ever be lucky enough to work with.”

The Social Network opens October 1.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Malkovich, Meeting Secretariat, Mongolian BBQ and Musical Sing-a-Longs

It was 115 degrees in LA yesterday so what better time to move inland. As in, away from the water. As in toward the molten center of the earth where it would be even hotter. Ugh!

Why would anyone make such an insane choice? Well, it wasn't really up to me. I had to go to Santa Anita Park, the oldest horse racetrack in California, for the Secretariat press day.

AC on full blast, my dread quickly gave way to giddiness as I arrived at the glorious art deco park . I felt suddenly, fabulously Great Gasby-esque. Besides, it was a dry heat. So what if the air huffing out of my mouth felt cool, this was mint julep territory and I wasn't going to let the heat bring me down.

The two things I was the most excited about were the possibility of horses and proximity to John Malkovich.

I had the major hots for Malkie back in high school, circa Dangerous Liaisons. My mother was seriously worried about me.
(JM and Nelsan Ellis, aka: True Blood's Lafayette, aka: The Best Character on Television)

During the press conference, Malkovich didn't disappoint, especially when addressing his wardrobe as Secretariat’s trainer, Lucien Laurin, a man who is described as dressing like Super Fly. “1973 is really the nadir of the history of fashion. When you watch [Secretariat’s] races on YouTube, the astonishing ugliness of the clothes just blinds you.”

Oh, John, you slay me.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, lookie what I found.

I was never one of those "horsie" girls growing up. Living in New York, I guess I realized it simply wouldn't be practical as part of apartment living. But getting this close to such a tremendous, haunting animal, I went into Elmira mode. I wanted to hug and squeeze it and love it forever and ever. "A pony" is totally going at to the top of my holiday wish list this year.

After my day at the races, I drove back into the sweltering city for a quickie meal of Mongolian BBQ...
Some light reading...
(How much do I love that Rob Lowe is totally sucking it in?!? Hilar.)

And an evening with friends at the El Capitan for Beauty and the Beast Sing-a-Long.

Disney was on fire when I was in high school, putting out a string of classics in quick succession.

Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King; they all have such sentimental value, but I didn't realize what a grip they had on my heart until Belle came out to introduce the show...

I was literally squealing.

And then then music started. Every lyric, every song, it came flooding back as we sang and clapped and danced in our seats.

Little town, it's a quiet village..."

We've decided every movie should be done as a sing-a-long. It was Ah-may-zing!

Matt Reeves Lets Me In

Remakes are rarely viewed as a good thing by discerning movie-going audiences. Think about it; why suffer through Mark Wahlberg’s Planet of the Apes when you can watch Heston’s? From Will Smith’s son attempting to fill Ralph Macchio’s gi to Gus Van Sant’s totally needless Psycho exercise, remakes are treacherous fare, which explains the immediate fan backlash over the announcement of Let Me In, an American reboot of the stunning, Oscar-nominated Swedish film, Let the Right One In, based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the same name.

This delicate horror film, about an alienated and bullied 12-year-old boy (The Road’s Kodi Smith-McPhee) building a tentative friendship with his mysterious new neighbor (Kick-Ass star Chloe Moretz), was decried from the moment it was announced, with the rally song pointing to the perfection of the first film, making a second movie, especially one coming so closely on the original 2008 film’s heels, needless.

It was a sentiment writer-director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) shared in many ways, he admits. “The one thing that made it easier to say yes is that the [original] movie hadn’t come out yet,” Reeves explains. “I’d fallen in love with it but the world didn’t know about it. They showed me the movie almost a year before it came out in the United States and I went through a long process of grappling with ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’”

Reeves says before making a final decision on whether or not to tackle the remake, he read the novel, spoke with the author and found he couldn’t shake his desire for the project. “It crept under my skin. I couldn’t let it go,” he says. “It’s such a brilliant story about the pain of adolescence and coming of age.”

Able to work in a bubble for about a year and drawing on classic Spielberg films like E.T. and Empire of the Sun for inspiration, Reeves delved into recreating the vampire film, setting it in 1980s New Mexico. “But then the movie came out to tremendous acclaim,” he recalls, “and I thought, ‘Oh no! What are we doing?’ But I’d already written the script and was deeply, deeply connected to it. I knew the best thing I could do was just put my head down and not worry about fan reaction, but just remember that I myself was a fan and to stay true to the things I fell in love with.”

However, he understood concerns fellow fans might have over a retelling of the story. “It had been done so beautifully and the relationship between those two kids was so wonderful,” Reeves muses. “One of the things I love about Lindquist’s story is that is has all of this complexity and ambiguity, there’s light and dark, real tenderness but dark primal stuff. As a fan of [the first] film, if I saw an American remake and it was watered and dumbed down, it would be pointless because what is so special about this story is the complexity and resonance of it.”

The microcosm of Hollywood very often reflects a central theme of Let Me In, a land where the bullied become the mighty. Considering it’s such an important element in the film, I point out to Reeves that he was bullied about his film by fans.

“I guess that’s true,” he laughs. “But we didn’t have any direct encounters in the bathroom.” He says he thinks people’s reticence to embrace the project came from the best intentions. “To be on the outside and know something that you so loved is being remade, you would immediately think the worst. If I’d been on the outside, I would have thought the worst too. If you look at remakes, for the most part, they’re terrible. I get that protective feeling. Lindquist’s story inspires that kind of passion. Those bullies were just trying to protect the story [from] being picked on by Hollywood.”

Unwilling to draw comparisons between his film and the original, even though Let Me In is garnering mighty praise, Reeves simply says, “No matter what anyone thinks of [my] film at the end of the day, that Swedish film will always exist and I hope people will view this film as another expression of Lindquist’s story, one I felt passionate about.”

Let Me In opens October 1.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hollywood Bites Reviews: "You Again"

It's a rare day you find a female-driven comedy that doesn't focus solely on romantic entanglements or who's prettier, because, obviously, that's all women have the mental capacity to bicker and pull hair over, right, Hollywood?

But the prospect of "You Again," about a nerd-girl-made-good (Kristen Bell) confronting the queen bee ("Cloverfield"s Odette Yustman) who made her life miserable in high school before the mean girl marries her brother (sadly under-watched "Lone Star" rising star James Wolk), seemed ready to sidestep all of those banal clichés. Sure, it was still set around a wedding, but that just served as a backdrop, setting the stage for a showdown so many would love to have (Chenoa Thomas, we'll meet you in the parking lot any day, any time). Add to the mix a cast including hotter-than-summer-in-Boca Betty White, Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kristin Chenoweth and "You Again" has all the right ingredients to serve up a comedy soufflé that's airy, sweet and satisfying.

So why does it fall flat and airless?

Is it director Andy Fickman's fault? Fickman's career has been frustratingly mercurial to follow. We loved his early efforts, "Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical" and the vastly underrated but cultishly beloved Shakespearian rewrite, "She's the Man," but "The Game Plan" and "Race to Witch Mountain" left us cold.

Is it the way the film spirals out of control and into Disney Channel sitcom territory by pitting Weaver and Curtis against each other in a sophomoric battle mirroring Bell and Yustman's?

Is it the inexperience of first-time screenwriter Moe Jelline showing in a script of cobbled together sight gags?

Is it the continued curse of female comedies?

The answer: All of the above.

While Bell makes for a charming and skilled lead, the film's credibility is instantly shot when the audience is asked to buy her as a pimply, four-eyed loser. Bell is simply too sunny, golden and glorious to be believably bullied. Meanwhile, Yustman, whose career has been largely based on scream queen roles, lacks the comedy chops to stand out in a crowd with credits ranging from "A Fish Called Wanda" to everyone's favorite Lifetime reruns, "The Golden Girls."

Less a feature film than a series of showy vignettes, "You Again" is familiar in the worst kind of way as it meanders along by rote, leaving behind an awkward afterburn that makes you feel like you're stuck in a "Saved by the Bell" episode that's all Screech and no Kelly or Zach. And no one wants to see Jamie Lee Curtis acting like Screech. A continuous loop of her commercials about yogurt that makes you poop would be more enjoyable.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hollywood Bites Reviews: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Settling in to watch "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole," there are already some pretty glaring clues that this isn't going to be your typical animated children's movie jaunt.
First of all, there's the title, which can be a tongue-twisting challenge for adults, let alone folks who spend their days writing the ABCs in crayon, and then there's the film's director, Zack Snyder, a visionary whose previous work includes the blood bath epic "300" and graphic novel opus "Watchmen." Any man who's willing to include a central character with a bright blue glowing schlong isn't the type of guy who's going to turn in your usual Saturday matinee kiddie fare.

And that's a good thing.

Based on Kathryn Lasky's series of young adult fantasy books, Guardians of Ga'Hoole, Snyder's 3D animated spectacular is about Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), a young Barn Owl who lives in the peaceful forest of Tyto. Kidnapped by the evil Pure Ones, lead by Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and Nyra (Helen Mirren), Soren escapes and finds himself confronted by an onslaught of Harry Potter-esque challenges, like taking his first flight, as he sets off on a dangerous adventure that leads to the mythical Great Ga'Hoole Tree.

Darker and more challenging than most recent offerings by other animation studios, "Legend of the Guardians" has no qualms putting animal kingdom norms unflinchingly front and center. For example, one of the film's first frames is of an owl stealthily swooping in and snatching an unsuspecting mouse in its talons before flying into a hollow and announcing, "Dinner!" Hey kids, who wants to learn about a li'l thing called The Circle of Life? But this ain't "The Lion King."

Mouse meals are nothing compared to the fierce mid-air battles, Snyder, who admits he took a page from his "300" days, strapping his fight choreography team into homemade cardboard owl wings in order to work out a samurai-like battle style he felt was befitting an ancient nation of sky predators, never shies away from the fragility of life in nature. Thoughtful and mature, the director instead created a fantasy realm firmly rooted in reality, even if it does feature talking animals.

From the rich, lush texture of each owl's brilliant and beautiful feathers, a jaw dropping digital process that took two of the film's three years of production to perfect and should surely win them acknowledgement come award season, to the Magic Hour hues which watercolor each Maxfield Parrish backdrop, "Legend of the Guardians" is astonishingly tangible and stunning to behold, though not without some considerable plot holes. Luckily, Snyder has created a visual tapestry so lush, structural hiccups are quickly forgotten in favor of savoring animation that belongs in the Louvre.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dancing with the Stars Elimination Shocker!!!


I can't say I was rooting for him but how the hell did Mr. Big in Germany get Hassel Hoff-ed Dancing with the Stars in the very first week?

That's right, kids; David Hasselhoff was the first contestant ousted from this season of DWTS.

Shocked beyond words.

Maybe if he'd done more slo-mo running in shorty shorts and less bumping and grinding.

As long as Jennifer Grey is still in it to win it, I'm a happy camper.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lucy Punch Meets a Tall Dark Stranger

Lucy Punch is having a TKO year. The 32-year-old British actress has spent the last year working with the likes of Steve Carell, Kate Hudson and Justin Timberlake, is about to start production in Nick Cassavetes’ new film, and stars alongside Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin in Woody Allen’s new film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, stepping into a role at one point occupied by Nicole Kidman. Not bad considering just before she won her part in Allen’s film, she’d been out of work for over a year and was considering a new line of work.

Settling into a suite at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, tall and lean, in a sheer fuchsia blouse and dark trousers, gold bracelets climbing up her arms, Punch explains that getting to be in Allen’s film took a lot of hard work and a little luck, all beginning with an audition on tape because, “Woody didn’t know who I was,” the actress offers good-naturedly. Liking what he saw on the tape, Allen invited Punch to New York for a meeting.

“Usually when you’re close to getting a part, the studio will pay for a [plane] ticket,” Punch says. “But because it’s Woody and [his movies are] always low budget and every actor wants to meet him, you pay for your own ticket. I was completely broke at the time but I was like, ‘Of course!’ The night before I was supposed to go, I found out he’d given the part away and I was devastated.” She jokes that when she found out it was Nicole Kidman who’d been cast in the role, “I was more understanding,” though still heartbroken. “But she dropped out!” Punch grins. Still, the part wasn’t hers that easily. “I really had to prove myself to him,” Punch continues. After another round of auditions, where she was asked to do “a number of scenes from the script,” she had what every actor dreams of; a part in a Woody Allen film, something Punch sums up as, “Insane and very intimidating.”

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger follows what happens to a pair of troubled married couples; Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones), and their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and her husband Roy (Josh Brolin), as their relationships fracture. After Alfie and Helena separate thanks to his growing late-middle life crisis, he takes up with Punch’s character, Charmaine, a call girl from the wrong side of the tracks who’s thrilled to find a sugar daddy. It was a part the required a very particular, and skin-baring, look that Punch describes as, “that kind of really unsubtle sexy that’s vulgar and almost a little repulsive.”

“Woody wanted her to be very sexy, so I went to my last audition really dressed as the character,” Punch recalls, chuckling. “I was getting some serious wolf whistles from construction sites and I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got this down. I’m attracting the right kind of disgusting attention.’”

Even after landing the role, Punch didn’t meet the notoriously retiring director until she walked onto his set the first day. “I’d spoken to some actors who’d worked with him before, so I knew I’d get very little [in direction],” she says. But that didn’t stop her from using her time with Allen to the fullest advantage. “I had a hundred gagillion ideas which I was constantly pestering him with,” Punch admits, “and he was like, ‘Don’t tell me, just do it. I don’t need to hear about it.’ It actually gave me a huge amount of confidence that he put his trust in me.”

Allen doesn’t need to be verbose to get the most out of his actors. For Punch it was three little words that made all the difference in her performance. “One day I was doing a scene and I got a laugh from the crew and I thought, ‘I’m doing a good job.’” That was until she caught the eye of her director. “I looked up and [Woody mouthed], ‘Stop being funny.’ And he was right! This is the sort of part where it would be very easy to go bananas, but the style and tone of his films, the comedy is really grounded. As outrageous as the character is and looks, I was always aware, having Woody’s eyes on me, to be truthful.”

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger opens September 23.

Monday, September 20, 2010

From a Bad Date to Good TV: Dancing with Stars, Hawaii Five-O and Carrot Cake

You see this man hiding his face?

It's in shame.

Let me explain why.

The embarrassing truth is, I don't get asked out on a lot of dates. I'd like to believe it's because I'm "intimidating" or "too good to be true" or all those other things my friends promise me are the reasons I don't have a boyfriend but the cold, hard reality is this: I haven't been asked out on a date since August 2009. That was until now.

I was catering a party last week and the above gentleman was in attendance. He's young, handsome-ish (6.5 if we're being frank...and a little generous), attentive and persistently asked for my number so, despite the fact that he looked about eight years younger than me and was kind of abrasive, I figured, why not? No one else has been asking.

Hopes high, fingers crossed, my date picked me up tonight and took me on the most generic of generic first dates: sushi. A lame choice but forgivable. Until he informed me that the restuarant he'd selected was an old haunt of his and his ex-girlfriends.

Really, buddy? You're busting skeletons out of the closet and we haven't even had a hand roll yet? Awesome. Can we get some hot sake and a Sapporo on table three?

Between tales of his multiple exes and comments about how I "wasn't a cougar quite yet," my escort spent the majority of the night texting and talking on his cell phone while I tried to refrain from rolling my eyes and hailing a cab back to my apartment where I had much more important and alluring things awaiting me. Namely, some of my freshly baked carrot cake and the season premieres of Dancing with the Stars and Hawaii Five-O.

There's no shame in my game. I've been a DWTS fan for a number of years but this season it's all about Jennifer Grey.

I will proudly declare that Dirty Dancing is my favorite movie of all time and Patrick Swayze, one of my deepest loves. When he passed last year, I got condolansce calls from friends because they knew the gravity of the loss to me.

The only time I've ever encountered Jennifer Grey was at a Maya Rudolph/Fred Armisen show two years ago where she gave me a Twizzler and I didn't realize she was JENNIFER FRICKIN' GREY (damn that nose job) but I still feel deeply connected to her. Plus, she's paired with my DWTS boyfriend, Derek Hough. I don't care that he gives crazy Dancer Face. I love me some Hough!

Seeing his tears when Jennifer broke down thinking of Patrick and how much she misses him as she watched Derek choreographing to "These Arms of Mine," aka: the song Baby and Johnny Castle dance to right before they do it for the first time (chills!!!), made me love both of them even more! Heartbreaking and wonderful, all at once. If Jennifer and Derek don't win this season, there is no justice in the universe.

As for her competion, not even the Tea Party will be able to save Bristol Palin from elimination in the coming weeks. That girl dances as well as her mother comprehends geography and grammar. But it was hilarious for the producers to assign her the song, "Mama Told Me Not to Come."

And why was Mike "The Situation" totally charming? I've never had a thing for him but his nerves made him adorable. Way to bring some funky white boy thuggishness to the ballroom, Mike.

Cake eaten, DWTS watched, it's time to take a trip to Oahu for Hawaii Five-O starring good ol' Scottie Caan.

The thought has me flashing back to my trip there last summer to visit Koa. I've got an Aloha craving! But, in the meantime, I guess carrot cake will have to get me through.

Bad Date-Cleansing, Bad Ass Carrot Cake
Makes 1 three-layer cake or 24 cupcakes

3 cups flour, sifted
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups freshly shredded carrots (about 6 carrots)
8 oz. chopped walnuts
1 20 oz. can chopped pineapple
1 cup raisins, plumped in water for 10 minutes
zest and juice of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans or 24 muffin tins.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients and stir well to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 40-45 minutes for cake, 18-24 minutes for cupcakes.

Cool completely and frost.

World's Easiest Cream Cheese Frosting
24 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
8 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
16 oz. powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
zest and juice of 1 orange (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth and well blended.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Afterschool Special Recipe: Cinnamon Toast Crunch Treats

Getting ready to head to JMT's for a "Big Brother" finale viewing party with my own Bra-Gade last night, I decided I needed to whip up a treat befitting one of the most deliciously trashy shows on television. Scoping my cabinets, I found just what I needed:

Sugar cereal: Check.
Butter: Check.
Marshmallows: Check.

Everything I need to make a nouveau rice krispie treat. Perfectamundo!

A few years ago I started experimenting with new versions of the classic lunchbox treat and discovered that Cinnamon Toast Crunch, melted marshmallows and a little extra nutmeg yielded a scrumptious, sugary treat that hints at Egg Nog.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
1 10 oz. package marshmallows
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
6 cups (1 box) Cinnamon Toast Crunch

To make Cinnamon Toast Crunch Treats, start by lightly greasing a 9 by 13 pan. Then, in a large pot, melt one 10 oz. bag of marshmallows and 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter over medium heat. When melted, add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/2 a teaspoon nutmeg. Remove from heat and add 1 box (6 cups) of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Stir until well combined.

Lightly press into your prepared pan and allow to cool before cutting into squares.

Then be prepared for a major sugar rush which can lead to all kinds of shenanigans, i.e. pretending your trapped under a glass table (and she wasn't even drunk).

Another summer of The Chenbot, 3am "Big Brother After Dark" bedtimes and some of the best, mindless entertainment TV has to offer has come to an end. Peace out, Meow Meow. We'll miss you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Best Thing I Ate Today: Doughboy's Pineapple-Coconut-Macadamia Nut Pancakes

Three words:

Off. The. Charts!

Doughboys has long been one of my favorite standbys in LA. When they shut down for a few years, I cried. Literally.

Now that they're back and better than ever, JMT, Jenny and I have made it our business to work out way through their entire tome of a menu rather than clinging to our perennial orders (their Pan Bagnat and I go way back).

To that end, last night we decided to order the Pineapple-Coconut-Macadamia Nut pancakes for dessert and all of a sudden it was like we were acting out a scene from "When Harry Met Sally."

The truth is, the pancakes started out just o-tay. They have a nice tropical flavor, accented by the rich crunch of macadamia nuts and flecks of meaty coconut, but I wouldn't stop traffic for them.

That was until our waitress brought the magical missing ingredient: The sauce. Oh, lord have mercy, the sauce!

You see, these bad boys don't come with syrup. They are served with the thickest, richest, most luscious caramel sauce you can imagine. Stop the presses! Excuse moi! We are talking slap-your-grandma good. All you could hear was us gasping through stuffed mouths, "Oh my GOD! OH MY GOD! That is AMAZING!"

Thick, fluffy and creamy, the "sauce" is almost a caramel pudding and we showed no shame, plunging in for spoon and finger-fulls, as evidenced by our bowl, which we licked clean.

We're already planning to get extra "sauce" on the side the next time we're there. To be honest, I kind of hate the fact that we ordered those damn pancakes. Now, it's all I can think about.

Caramel, you are the siren song.

Catfish: The Best Film You Shouldn't Know About

You know what I love about movies in 2010? For the first time in far too long audiences have the opportunity to walk into a theater for a fresh, unsullied cinematic experience without the pall of tell-all trailers or dozens of behind-the-scenes blog posts muddying their enjoyment. Earlier this summer, Inception director Christopher Nolan caused a raucous and was accused of using secrecy as a form of hype because he—gasp—decided to keep some things about the movie under his hat and now Catfish arrives in theaters riding a wave of Sundance buzz that can be summed up in two words: Spoiler Alert.

If you’ve seen Catfish (I have and promise you it’s fantastic), tell no one what to expect. If you haven’t, the best thing you can do is go into the theater with as little knowledge about the film as possible. Complicated and remarkable, the documentary has been plagued with debate about the validity of the story since it debuted in January. Speaking to the group over the phone as they prepared to screen the documentary in San Francisco, I asked why people were so hung up on the idea that the film isn’t true.

“I guess it’s too good to believe,” Ariel began. “There’s a trend recently of fake documentaries as a genre; Cloverfield—”

“Best in Show,” Joost quips.

“Blair Witch Project,” Ariel replies. “But we were completely surprised the first time, at Sundance, someone said, ‘Hey, that’s a mock-doc.’ We were completely taken aback because we’d experienced this and it had never occurred to us that this was fake, because we were there.”

Perhaps one of the reasons some are dubious is because Catfish seems to document every moment of the tales unraveling, a feat that leads many to believe the situations were staged. However, Ariel explains cameras are constantly rolling in the group. They didn’t set out to make a film, they just happened to be recording what was happening in their daily lives and ended up with over 250 hours of footage to cull from when editing.

“Nev and I don’t have home video from when we were growing up so we’ve kind of been making up for it the last six or seven years,” Ariel offers. “And now he has a document of probably the strangest thing that will ever happen to him.”

Asked if anyone else could have made this film, the group erupts with laughter.

“[No one] would have had the time to stick around so long and let everything percolate,” Ariel contends. “That’s why documentaries end up being in retrospect. This documentary is in real time, while it’s happening, because we were spending so much time together.”

One of the things that makes Catfish so tragically beautiful and tangible is its use of Facebook, Google Earth, email and cell phones to tell that story, making it relatable to everyone’s day to day existence and highlighting the death of true human interaction thanks to our dependence on technological intermediaries. I couldn’t help but wonder what relics of simpler times the filmmakers miss in the information age.

“Hand written letters,” Joost offers. “There’s something nice about knowing someone took the time to write you a letter and take it to the mailbox, that it takes a week to get there and a week for a reply. There’s an elegance to written correspondence that’s been lost with email.”

“I miss landlines because you get to speak to people’s parents and you have to be really polite,” Ariel laughs. “You’re like, ‘Oh, hello, Mister Jenkins,’” his voice feeble and quivering, “‘This is Ariel. Is Lisa there?’ And they’d be like--”

“Ahhh, Ariel,” Joost jumps in with a tone that’s fatherly and commanding. “We’ve heard about you. How are you doing? The basketball team is doing very well. I saw your slam dunk on Sunday.’”

“‘Thank you, Mister Jenkins.’”

“I miss not having a cell phone,” Nev says. “I hate cell phones and take every opportunity I can to not carry it with me. It just destroys intimacy. We all use our cell phone as this crutch to keep us distracted and it gives us the excuse to not try very hard in our real life.”

Catfish opens in Los Angeles and New York September 17

Emma Stone Gets an "Easy A"

That which was old is new again.

Since the mid-1990s, the cinematic trend of updating classic literature into frothy teen romps has, with varying levels of success, launched such camp classics as Clueless (inspired by Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma), Cruel Intentions (Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos), Ten Things I Hate About You (Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew), and She’s the Man (Twelfth Night).

With the much buzzed-about release of Easy A, a re-mastering of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 19th century tale of adultery and pious prudence, The Scarlet Letter, audiences will be treated to the best offering from the genre since Amy Heckerling and Alicia Silverstone went rollin’ with the homies in 1995.

Newly minted It Girl (and Lindsay Lohan thunder-stealer) Emma Stone stars as Olive Penderghast, a high schooler who takes a page from her assigned reading material and uses Hawthorne’s lessons to grease the school’s rumor mill, upping her social and financial standing. Under the sure-handed direction of Will Glick (Fired Up), Stone is a captivating and capable ring master who took great pleasure in sinking her teeth into Bert V. Royal’s bitingly witty script.

“Bert is so fantastic,” Stone gushes in her trademark rasp as she smoothes the layers of her dusty blue floral-printed McQ dress and takes a sip of a freshly filled cup of coffee. “Olive and her perspectives were so fleshed out on the page that my only challenge was trying to do that justice. I loved how clever and witty Bert was about issues that are really important.”

She explains that one of the things that magnetically drew her to the role was the way the script never pandered to the audience but still addressed meaningful topics that anyone could relate to. “[They] just happen to be [seen] through a high school girl’s eyes,” she says. “The subject of gossip, judging a book by its cover without knowing the full story, extremism, technology and they way information travels, the speed of everything. Like when Olive says something and it goes all the way around [the school] and gets back to her and it’s been thirty seconds. What’s messed up is that’s actually the way things happen.”

Stone has equally enthusiastic praise for her director. In fact, the mere mention of Gluck’s name incites her to smack the table and proclaim, “Will, I love him! Don’t tell him I ever said that.” According to both the actress and the director, they share a sibling-like bond that allows for unmitigated ribbing and serious blunt honesty. “He calls me out on everything!” Stone groans, rolling her eyes in mock-annoyance. “He doesn’t let anything slide. If I’m like, ‘Ahhh, that sucked,’” she mopingly sighs, “He’s like, ‘That did suck. Go again.’ That’s what I like! People who are honest with you push you to be better.”

For the 21-year-old starlet, Gluck’s brand of candor was exactly what she needed in her first leading role, one that demanded her constant onscreen presence and would succeed or fail entirely on her performance. “I was a little [anxious] the whole time,” Stone admits, chuckling. “I didn’t know I was such a micro-manager, but I am. I had to be up first and be there last every day. In my spare time, I’d try to sleep, which I wasn’t doing too much of. I think it was less about the size of the role and more about wanting to do the character justice. But that pressure didn’t come from anyone else, it was all self-inflicted.”

That voluntary creative flagellation, mixed with innate, god-given talent and a strong work ethic, created a performance that has everyone in Hollywood sitting up, taking notice and searching for labels to help them define such a remarkable young star. As far as any similarities to Lindsay Lohan (the red hair, the throaty rasp, the high school movie rocketing her into the stratosphere), Stone refuses to comment, instead offering a wry, knowing grin. She is, however, quick to bat away her newfound title as The Next Big Thing. “That’s nice,” Stone shrugs, “but it’s such a fleeting label to put on someone. A week later they say ‘And this girl is the new It Girl…’ I just hope I get to keep working steadily because it’s been nice to call this my only job. My ultimate goal is to not have to go work somewhere else. I’m so lucky and happy to be here, today. It’s amazing now and I’m just trying to appreciate it.”

Easy A opens September 17