Tuesday, February 24, 2009

7th Annual USF Human Rights Film Festival!

Tuesday February 24
1:00pm     Opening Remarks
                 USF Students' shorts

1:45pm FILM: 4 De Julio. La Masacre De San Patricio

4:00pm FILM: Promise to the Dead

6:30pm FILM: Nuevo Dragon City

7:00pm FILM: Sleep Dealer

Wednesday February 25
1:00pm FILM: Freeheld

6:30pm FILM: Trouble the Water

Thursday February 26
1:00pm USF student shorts

2:00pm Alex Gibney: the Role of Documentary in Re-making the News 

A Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Monotony is scary. Stuck in the same pattern, life becomes a dull disease that slowly deteriorates pieces of your former self. In the latest Woody Allen film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen combats monotony with what he knows best, eccentric and twisted relationships of love rooted in sex and a need to escape.

Allen uses Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) to depict his varying vision of love. In the film, the soon to be married Vicky, who is grounded and realistic, has her ideals of what life should be flipped upside down after a night with a mysterious Spanish painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Not knowing of Vicky's misguided feelings of love, Vicky's best friend Cristina, a free loving wanderer that relishes in artistic expression, has an open and drawn out love affair with Antonio. The film is accentuated when the fiery ex-wife of Antonio, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), comes back into his life and joins the passionate relationship between Antonio and Cristina to strike the perfect balance.

The essence of the film is based in the altering views of monotony between the two friends which are punctuated by their interactions with Antonio; Vicky sees her life unraveling into a predictable cookie cutter routine where no true excitement exists, while Cristina becomes restless with even the most erratic of relationships only to suggest that she will never truly be satisfied.

Johansson's portrayal of the neurotic and impulsive Cristina is limited. Allen has an apparent affection for the 24-year-old actress (Johansson also stared in Allen's Match Point), but I find it hard to identify what makes this actress so noteworthy. Her performance is the same in nearly every film, as she heavily relies on her sex appeal and forces the emotion from her character. Unlike Johansson, Cruz plays the crazed Maria Elena effortlessly. The character is dynamic and full of spirit, which Cruz capitalizes on with the right mixture of passion, mystery, and insane behavior. Acknowledged for her brillance in the role, Cruz won for best supporting actress in this year's Oscars.

Last year's Oscar winner for best actor in a supporting role for No Country for Old Men was Bardem, whose performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona revolved around one main stature, to look good. There was no real depth into Bardem's character, Antonio, other than he was an artist, he had had a dysfunctional relationship (Cruz), and he liked to make love to attractive American tourists. Bardem was the man candy of the film and his main role was to appear sexy and secretive as if he always had a hidden agenda. The real roles of the film were given to the ladies, and although she always seems to be forgotten, Hall, who plays Vicky, does her character justice. You don't like Vicky, as she seems pompous and above all things spontaneous and alive with adventure, I found myself wanting to jump through the screen to shake her and say, "live a little!" but nonetheless, her performance is believable and more realistic than the whimsical fantasy that Johansson's character lives by.

Overall, I found the film enjoyable. Although dealing with heavy-hearted themes, the film remained light with a fast rhythm made possible by the music, which varied from the relaxing Spanish guitar to the eerie staple song, "Barcelona." Where the film really hooks you however, is with unexpected instances of humor. Allen's direction for Vicky Cristina Barcelona has been his best work in years, as he tells the story with finesse amongst the beautiful Barcelona background.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Review: Chevys Happy Hour

There is a special time of day when one can relax, let loose, and just enjoy. Escaping the headache hassles of work and school, this time of day unearths the best versions of ourselves. It is the happiest time of day, and for that reason, we know it as happy hour.

This weekend I explored happy hour in all of its glory at Chevys. Now, I know what you're thinking, "shame on me" for going to a cookie cutter national chain like Chevys, a place that squeezes every ounce of originality out of the Tex Mex cuisine and serves it at a discounted rate. But hey, these are tough times. And with an economy that is down in the dumps and a 40,000-dollar yearly tuition to pay, I can't regularly afford to be inspired by the many affluent restaurants that San Francisco has to offer. Rather, I seek refuge in the reliable and the affordable that Chevys always delivers.

El happy hour at Chevys is simple, three-dollar drinks and three-dollar appetizers. The drinks include, original frozen margaritas, domestic draft beers, house wines, and well drinks. The appetizers include, a tamale sample (any two), crispy flautas, nachos grande, original fajitas nachos, and spicy wings. Offered from 4:00pm to 7:00pm Monday through Friday.

My four friends and I went to the Chevys at the Embarcadero Center (one of the four locations in San Francisco) on Friday where we found the fiesta to be in full swing as young professionals from the Financial District came ready to blow off steam and relish in the start to the weekend. With a full house, Chevys atmosphere during happy hour is lively and exciting. The standard decor is reminiscent of a laid-back Mexican cantina that you'd wander into on the streets of Puerto Vallarta - vibrant, eclectic, and fun. The wait staff mimics the crowd with a fun and inviting attitude.

Chevys happy hour offers more than an agreeable ambiance as the food and drink satisfies your hunger and thirst. When other happy hour specials water down their overly sweet and pathetically weak margaritas, Chevys margaritas are made with the top shelf tequila, Don Julio, making them strong enough to num the worries of the day. The appetizers are equally impressive as the portion of one appetizer is large enough to split between two people. The food is good, but not great, simple in its approach and execution. The beauty with Chevys is that they don't try to be something they are not. They don't over extend or reach to unknown culinary creations, they stay safe with food that is filling, fun, and most of all consistent. 

Filling, fun, and consistent was reason enough for me to go to Chevys happy hour, but the price will keep me coming back. As a college student living in an expensive city during a recession it isn't always easy to feel good about eating out as your mind gets boggled down with guilt for spending money, but with Chevys happy hour you can truly enjoy your dinning experience. So head over to Chevys for the happiest hour of all!