Head to San Diego in style with a deal from Uber

I know it’s less expensive than flying, but I absolutely hate driving more than two hours anywhere. Blame it on a rollover car accident I had where I had to be helicoptered to a hospital afterward, but I know firsthand the dangers of long car rides, especially if you’re road tripping with friends and can get distracted by loud music, on-the-road snacking and rowdy conversations.

Enter Uber, my favorite private car service in the Valley that is now offering round-trip SUV transportation to you and three friends to San Diego, for a limited time.

Uber On Demand San Diego

They’re currently running a promotion that will take up to four people to the beachy city out West, where you’ll stay for two nights at the W San Diego in a room with two double beds, as well as score breakfast each day at Kelvin Restaurant,  plus get a W rooftop private cabana and bottle of liquor, and VIP access to a downtown San Diego club of your choice.

The package, valued at up to $1,850 if you were to travel by plane, costs $1,400 through Uber, or $350 per person when four people go. One of the cool things about the ride to SD is you can drink in the SUV and get the party started the minute you depart. Compare that to pricey flight cocktails, and that might make the ride worth it in itself.

You can book Uber San Diego rides this Friday, May 9 and Saturday, May 10, or Friday, May 23 and Saturday, May 24. For more info, go here.

‘Bad Words’ with Jason Bateman C-H-A-R-M-I-N-G

Jason Bateman as a bad guy is always a fun thing to watch. As such, his new movie and directorial debut, Bad Words, provides plenty of laughs. And, like all things Bateman-related, the film has plenty of heart, too.

Bad Words film

Bateman stars as guy, a 40-year-old who enters a state spelling bee after he finds a loophole stipulating entrants must not have graduated the eighth grade. A proofreader with a photographic memory, Guy ticks off parents by getting up on the stage, then beating all their kids, for reasons unknown. Not even the journalist following him around as his sponsor in hopes of a good story can get him to confess his motives.

Bad Words movie

As he prepares for the national contest, he begrudgingly befriends Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), a 10-year-old Guy nicknames every Indian stereotype in the book, who won’t leave Guy alone despite Guy’s resistance.

Bad Words movie

Guy’s treatment of his opponents is hysterically mean, from making it look like a girl starts her period on a chair, to telling a boy he slept with his mother the night before. Relax, these kids are middle schoolers, so they get the venom Guy is spewing, and no matter how mean Guy is, he’s still played by Bateman – a man you can’t help but love.

Chand is equally adorable as Guy’s unlikely new sidekick, and their adventurous night that involves a prostitute will keep you laughing. The movie is simple, yes, but it’s still edgy and consistently funny.

Bateman added nice touches as a director, with a rocking soundtrack, a drab color scheme and slow-motion scenes integrated throughout, all which give the movie a unique feel. The movie is only 88 minutes, too, which will keep even the shortest of attention spans captivated. Learn more here.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is worth a check-in

Ah, Wes Anderson. It’s easy to see why the director/writer has such as cult following – his movies are heartfelt and humor-filled, with wonderful characterization, all set atop dazzling visuals that seem way grander than Anderson’s independent budgets. His latest movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is no exception.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The rated-R flick tells the story of Zero, a former lobby boy-turned-owner of The Grand Budapest Hotel, in a fictional snowy mountain town in Europe. As a lobby boy, his boss, Gustave, played with much humor by Ralph Fiennes, is framed for the murder of one of his beloved clients, Madame D (played by Tilda Swinton in amazing makeup that ages her 20 years.) Zero and Gustave go on wild adventures as Madame D’s horrendous family tries to re-capture the valuable painting she willed to Gustave.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

There are several things that make this a great film. The first obvious one is the stunning visuals. The settings, colors, costumes and integrated animation are all really beautiful and whimsical. There are so many intricate details that really make an artistic masterpiece on screen.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The next is the amazing characterization. Each one is strong and memorable. By far, my favorites were Dmitri and J.G. Jopling, Madame D’s evil sons. They’re played by Adrien Brody, who is delightfully devilish in an extreme black get-up, and Willem Dafoe, a motorcycle-riding murderer who is almost adorable in his mannerisms – seriously. They’re both hysterical characters despite how insidious they are.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

And, like all Anderson movies, it’s fun to watch because you never know which famous actor is going to turn up next. Owen Wilson, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray and more have cameos. The star-studded cast is just yet another way The Grand Budapest Hotel keeps viewers captivated.

Find more information on the film, go here.

‘That Awkward Moment’ good…for teenage girls

It doesn’t matter how good-looking Zac Efron is, I really wish I hadn’t paid $10 to see his mug up on a big screen. Alas, when my friend invited me to see the Efron-starring That Awkward Moment, I agreed, but don’t be fooled by those baby blues.

That Awkward Moment movie

The movie, though it stars three guys, is totally a feminine romantic comedy more intended for the ladies than for guys. I seriously cannot picture the vast majority of guys not wanting to gauge their eyes out when watching this. It’s filled with sap, corny one-liners and barely any nudity, save for some butt shots of the guys. How gals convince their boyfriends to tag along to this, I have no idea.

Efron stars as Jason, an illustrator who makes a pact with his two best guy buddies to not get into a relationship. As all three have hot ladies in their lives, you can guess how this turns out.

I will say there were some smirk-inducing moments, but there wasn’t a groundbreaking thing about the script or the action. While marketing was built to bill this movie as dating from a guy’s point-of-view, I just don’t believe guys would eat ice cream together on a couch – even though it’s a cute idea.

I think the only people who would genuinely enjoy the movie are teenage girls – which is why I think the R rating was a huge mistake. The movie wasn’t edgy enough to go there (just lots of f-words), and if they had edited the script and made it PG-13, maybe the studio would have made more money.

Unless you fall into that high school girl demographic, stay far, far away.

‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ has lots of cocaine, sex and great acting

“Cocaine and sex – that’s The Wolf of Wall Street,” is the gist of the message I heard about the Oscar-nominated movie before I finally saw it this weekend. Yep, there was a ton of both, and like the one-line review implies, the movie was a fast, wild ride that was a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Oscar-nominated Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a real-life swindler who worked his way up the ranks of Wall Street, eventually opening up his own company, Stratton Oakmont, in the 1980s. The business model is selling losing stocks to wealthy people for high commissions – a sort of, “Rob from the rich, give to the stock broker,” model.

Amid all the shady business dealings, Belfort enjoys sleeping with prostitutes and snorting cocaine. He also has a hot wife and a young child, making viewers wonder just how much he values certain things in life and why.

 The Wolf of Wall Stree

Despite its three-hour run time, the movie is fast-paced and exciting throughout. It’s filled with hysterical moments, and no matter how serious his role is, Oscar-nominated supporting actor Jonah Hill brings humor to whatever character he’s playing – even when it’s a married-to-his-cousin dirtbag. The movie has a wonderful ensemble of actors and characters – from the hair piece-wearing broker, to the FBI agent trying to crack the case – which helps it move along quite nicely.

Still, I think it would have been a better movie if it had been only two hours. Oscar-nominated director Martin Scorsese must have really wanted to give audience members a detailed look into what being one of these brokers was like. For example, a scene where a group of them discusses the logistics of throwing a little person at a target for an office party goes on for five minutes. Seriously.

The Wolf of Wall Street

There are other similarly drawn-out scenes that could have been cut immensely – and may have made an even bigger impact if they were.

Even though it was really long, The Wolf of Wall Street was excellent. The cinematography made viewers feel like they were part of the salacious action, and it was an amusing look at a part of recent history. Keep an eye out during the very last scene – the camera zooms in on the real Belfort. Despite his crimes, there’s no doubt Belfort was an amazing salesperson, and the movie just makes me want to read his memoir that inspired it, of the same name.

‘A Bloody Mary Christmas’ sells out Space 55

The 4-year-old A Bloody Mary Christmas at Space 55 got new life breathed into it, as new actresses took on the roles of the three lifelong friends living in Sun City during the holidays.

A Bloody Mary ChristmasWhile I’ve always loved watching the founding members on stage as Blanche, Bertha and Mabel (Shawna Franks, Jacque Arend and Stacey Reed, who also serve as writers), it was neat to see a new cast interpret the ladies. This year’s trio starred Toni Jourdan, Elizabeth Athetis and Leslie Barton, who played the memorable friends who have no problem swearing up a storm or singing about their affection for alcohol.

A Bloody Mary Christmas at Space 55Tonight is the last night for the 2013 season of the play written by Denny Guge and directed by Kevin Flanagan, and the show is already sold out. I love seeing so many senior citizens in the audience for a community theater show in downtown Phoenix — next, they should go see some improv at The Torch Theatre.

Following A Bloody Mary Christmas, which hits the stage at 7 p.m., is 7 Minutes Under the Mistletoe at 9:30 p.m. This is one of the coolest theater productions ever, where anyone who goes on stage gets seven minutes to do whatever they please — no auditions are required. You never know what you’re going to see, and I highly recommend it. Get tickets here.

Jade Bar one of the prettiest Paradise Valley happy hours

You’ll find one of the prettiest views in the Valley at Jade Bar, the recently remodeled lounge at Sanctuary Camelback that overlooks Camelback Mountain. At night, the houses dot the mountain with lights, creating a beautiful backdrop to the chic Jade Bar décor. I can only imagine a sunset view is breathtaking.

Jade Bar exterior

Thanks to Jan Bracamonte of J. Lauren PR for inviting me to try some menu items and some cocktails. There’s always something fun happening at Jade Bar. Every day from 4-6 p.m., it hosts “The Pour” happy hour, with draft beer for $5, wine for $6, and specialty cocktails for $8. There’s live music Friday nights from 7-10 p.m., and Saturday’s at 1 p.m., there’s a Mixology 101 course ($30), limited to 10 people that features how to make some of Jade Bar’s signature cocktails.

Jade Bar cocktails

Considering all the signature cocktails are usually $14 apiece, head to happy hour to try them for nearly half-off. My favorite was the Pepper Smash #2 (center above), with mint, Krogstad Aquavit, fresh lime juice, fresh yellow bell pepper juice, and maple syrup. I don’t think I’ve ever had a drink with fresh yellow bell pepper juice, and this cocktail had a nice spicy kick I loved. Sweet and spicy cocktails are some of my favorites, and this one was garden fresh and tasty.

I also tried the Botticelli (right above), with vodka, bitters, fresh lime juice, fresh grapefruit juice, and champagne. This was light and fruity and refreshing, like a dressed-up version of champagne.

I was lucky enough to try several of the vegetarian food offerings, too, by chef Beau MacMillan, who hosted Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America. Not surprisingly, considering how fancy Jade Bar’s sister restaurant elements is, this was the most upscale bar food I’ve tried – even the chips and onion dip ($8) had a chic twist, with caramelized onions that gave the dip a sweet flavor I’ve never tasted in onion dip.

Jade Bar chips

The black bean and eggplant hummus and pita bread ($9) was great. The pita bread is baked freshly in-house, and the appetizer also came with a veggie “bento box” full of an array of fresh veggies. Some of the veggies didn’t really make sense for hummus dipping to me (an onion, a cabbage leaf), but the veggies were a cute touch that certainly brightened up the plate.

Jade Bar hummus

I also tried the edamame ($5), which, like the chips, was a generous portion. The edamame was as good as any I’ve tried at a sushi restaurant.

Jade Bar edamame

But the biggest draw at Jade Bar is the ambiance and those views. Jade Bar is full of comfortable seating, with cushy chairs and couches anchored by marble, candlelit tables.

Jade Bar interior

The actual bar is huge and also had a big crowd congregating at it. Whether you want to have a romantic date or are in the mood to meet new people, Jade Bar’s warm and bustling atmosphere seemed conducive to either, and the service was outstanding.

Jade Bar interior

On New Year’s Eve, Jade Bar will be bringing regular dining tables into the lounge to serve a four-course dinner. Diners with table reservations also get a bottle of Cristal at midnight, and a DJ spins all night with a dance floor. Table reservations start at $1,000 for four people, but Jade Bar is also open to the public New Year’s Eve, no reservations required, and with no cover charge.

To reserve a spot at Mixology 101, call (480) 607-2300, and for New Year’s Eve reservations, call (480) 948-2100. Head to www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com for more details.

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ a good movie…if you like needles

Watch a trailer for Dallas Buyers Club, and you’ll probably be intrigued. Matthew McConaughey looks super-intense and skinny, Jared Leto is in drag, and a gripping soul song sets the mood in the background. That’s about it — and it might be enough to pique your interest, though I wish I had done my research before I saw it.

Dallas Buyers Club

That’s because the movie featured a ton of needles, as it was about alternative AIDS medications — not great if you’re like me and get queasy from the sight of needles. McConaughey stars as Ron, an AIDS patient who smuggles and disperses anti-viral medication to others with AIDS. He finds an ally in Rayon (Leto), and Jennifer Garner boringly (like always) plays his doctor.

The most remarkable thing about the movie to me was the physical transformations of McConaughey and Leto. I’m a longtime Leto fan (especially of his band 30 Seconds to Mars), so here’s hoping he gets an Oscar nomination for playing a transgendered woman — and losing 30 pounds in the process. McConaughey lost about 40 pounds for his own role, with both actors showing off a ton of dedication for their crafts.

That’s most of what I remember from the movie, though, since it was difficult to watch most of it with the needles and whatnot. I didn’t relate to any of the characters, which made it difficult to empathize and become more invested in the plot. Just don’t do what I did, and go see the movie blindly — get some other opinions before you spend your time and money seeing it. Learn more about the film here.

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ a thought-provoking book and movie

If you thought the first Hunger Games was messed up, you’ll be blown away by the horrors of the sequel, Catching Fire. I read the book right before I saw the movie, and like the first book/movie, the film did a great job at capturing the book’s memorable moments.

The Hunger Games Catching Fire

Heroine Katniss is living life in the Victors’ Village in her home land of District 12, but she’s caused quite a stir with the reigning Capitol for her “defiance” as a participant in the Hunger Games, which ended with two victors because of her and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta’s apparent intent to commit suicide.

In case you actually haven’t read the book and want to be surprised when you see the movie, that’s all I’ll say about the plot, which definitely includes lots of surprising twists. You can for sure expect a lot of action, a lot of relationship-fueled drama, and a lot of sickening murderous moments.

Ultimately, the movie will make you extremely thankful you don’t live in a world as twisted as the one that has the Hunger Games, but you may wonder if we’re that far off from a totalitarian regime ourselves. Learn more about the movie here.

Bootleggers a chic Old Town Scottsdale smokehouse

Old Town Scottsdale doesn’t really scream “smokehouse,” with all its chic nightclubs and modern eateries. But a barbecue restaurant makes perfect sense in the historic area, and if you’re going to do a smokehouse, it may as well be one with flattering lighting, hip décor and an attractive waitstaff – like Bootleggers, which officially opens tonight in Old Town where Praying Monk used to take up residence.

Bootleggers Scottsdale

This is the second Arizona location for the restaurant, which boasts a “sophisticated country-cozy” feel characterized by brick walls and high wood beam ceilings. It definitely felt rustic yet modern, a great barbecue joint that still manages to be classy.

Bootleggers Scottsdale

I went there for a preview dinner this past weekend with some friends, and we were treated to a variety of dishes. Be sure to try some of the house-made apple pie moonshine ($5), which comes in a mason jar and tastes so sweetly like the real stuff, you’ll swear there’s not alcohol in it.

Bootleggers Scottsdale

My pal tried a moonshine flight, which included flavors of strawberry, blueberry and peach, and she said the apple pie was by far her favorite kind.

First, we noshed on brisket-topped nachos ($12), with jalapenos and a fresh avocado relish. My pals liked the appetizer, which seemed to be a hit at other tables, too.

Bootleggers Scottsdale Next up was a chopped brisket sandwich ($12), which was served with potato chips. Be careful if you try cutting the sandwich – it might be easier to eat this bad boy all at once, since slicing it caused the contents to spill out. The brisket on this sandwich was the most impressive offering of the night to my friend.

Bootleggers Scottsdale

We also were served smoked turkey breast ($8) with coleslaw ($4), which also came with some tortillas to build your own wrap. While one of my pals did not like the sweet taste of the turkey sauce, the other thought it was great. If a sweet flavor on meat isn’t your cup of tea, skip this dish. My pal also remarked the coleslaw wasn’t distinguishable from the kind you’d get at a fast food spot.

Bootleggers Scottsdale

I loved the smoked sweet corn ($4), topped with a tabasco-lime butter. Don’t even attempt to eat the corn with a fork and knife – this appetizer is worth getting your hands dirty and tasted super-fresh.

Bootleggers Scottsdale

While I’m not the hugest fan of barbecue (and am vegetarian), I would go back to Bootleggers for some moonshine in the giant bar area, which takes up half the restaurant. There are plenty of TVs to catch a sports game, and their daily happy hour menu from 3-6 p.m. includes $3 Coors Lights. For more information, go here.