Revolutionary Road

Film (with rating): Revolutionary Road (R)

Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment

Summary: April and Frank Wheeler seem to be living the American Dream in 1955 Connecticut, but in reality, they merely trudge from day to day, encountering one hopeless circumstance after another.  

Review: This is. One. Fantastic. Film. It’s devastatingly poignant and heartbreakingly sad, most likely because on some level, most of us can relate. Who hasn’t felt trapped by life, misled by hopes and dreams, suffocated by careers, in need of finding that Something Better Out There? All while maintaining the perfect faade and social charade for the outside world to see? Especially in these times, filled with uncertainty and unhappiness, “Revolutionary Road” strikes a chord, in spite of it taking place more than 50 years ago.  Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio reunite once more, and as they did in “Titanic,” their on-screen chemistry is impeccable. It’s a completely different chemistry in this film versus “Titanic,” but it’s still incredibly powerful and moving. In fact, the acting is so superb, it becomes entirely possible to wholeheartedly see these two as Alice and Frank. They become real. The film is adapted from the novel by Richard Yates, and it holds much of the book’s beauty and depth–no small feat. The Master of Suburban Angst, Sam Mendes of “American Beauty” fame, directs “Revolutionary Road.” He’s also Winslet’s husband, and the workings of these two on the film helped further create magic. Nominated for three Academy Awards and four Golden Globes, “Revolutionary Road” is richly deserving of even more. Winslet brought home the Golden Globe for her acting chops, which definitely define her as one of the best actors of our generation. She’s a rare breed of young actors who actually seem to have immense substance beneath all that Hollywood gleam and glam. I could go on and on about this film, but I fear I’ve already said too much. Just watch it, and prepare to be devastated.

Extra highlight: Lives of Quite Desperation: The Making of “Revolutionary Road”

What to serve for dinner: Dish up some 1950s favorites: tuna casserole (cooks.com) with broiled grapefruit for dessert (recipezaar.com).

Tuna casserole

1 (10 1/2 oz.) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
3/4 c. milk
2 tsp. finely minced onion
1/2 c. peas (cooked or canned)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 c. coarsely crushed potato chips
1 (6 oz.) can tuna

Blend mushroom soup and milk; add onion. Bring slowly to boiling point, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add peas. Arrange half of the potato chips in bottom of casserole dish. Top with half of tuna. Repeat layers. Pour soup mixture over all and garnish top with whole potato chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Broiled grapefruit

1 pink grapefruit
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Cut grapefruit in half (midway between the stem-end and the dot on the opposite end). Sprinkle brown sugar over grapefruit sections, using more or less as desired. Put halves sugar-side up on a cookie sheet in the oven and set oven on broil for a few minutes, or until the sugar melts and gets crispy. Serves two. Garnish in the center with a maraschino cherry, if desired.

What to talk about over dinner: What dreams do you have? What secrets do you keep from the world? From your spouse? What is your bliss? How do you try to maintain the social charade? Compare this film to “American Beauty.” What is your favorite Kate Winslet film? Compare the chemistry between Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in this film and “Titanic.” How could this story have changed trajectory to avoid heartbreak? Do we all enter marriage and adulthood with high expectations that set us up to fail? Is young adulthood in the 1950s that different from young adulthood today? How so, or how not?

Friday the 13th

Film (with rating): Friday the 13th (R)

Studio: Warner Home Video

Summary: In search of his missing sister, Clay (Jared Padalecki) heads out to Crystal Lake where he and a group of college kids on a getaway weekend become prey for the infamous killer, Jason Voorhees.

Review: Ah, horror movies. My favorite. I adore this genre, despite the rarity of modern classic gems. Too often, movie directors toss in some stupid, sex-crazed teens and lots of blood and label it a “horror” movie. And that’s OK if what you’re hankering for is mindless television. But when I’m really in the mood for a real scary movie, I flip back to the classics. “Halloween.” “Carrie.” “Friday the 13th.” The latter was campy, predictable and downright awesome. The zillion (okay, 10) sequels (including the disastrous “Freddy vs. Jason”) never lived up to their original.

This latest chapter in the franchise is billed as a remake of the 1980 classic. Sad to say, it’s not. But then again, how can you remake a classic, anyway? I was quite skeptical when I heard someone was going to mess with the original, yet when I finally saw it, I wasn’t totally appalled. It could have been a lot better, but it also could have been horrid.

The new “Friday the 13th” is littered with 21st century details (iPod, anyone?) and technology, but director Marcus Nispel (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) doesn’t really add anything of quality to the story. There are plenty of stereotypical characters (but no camp counselors? What?), requisite nudity and predictable slashings, which don’t help the film stand out. Nispel throws in a selection of frightening moments and some true surprises, but the movie really doesn’t enhance the genre at all.

Yet at the end of the day, this is a horror film. A slasher flick. Who expects it to be high drama and clever twists? We know how they all end. We don’t watch horror films to learn about life lessons or to fall in love with characters, or even to enjoy the plot. We watch scary movies like “Friday the 13th” for cheap thrills, easy scares, gory moments and maybe, a chance to realize, hey, our lives aren’t so bad. There’s no hockey-mask wearing psycho chasing us through the woods. When that’s the bar you measure horror films by, “Friday the 13th” is a keeper.

Extra highlight: “Hacking Back/Slashing Forward” featurette

What to serve for dinner: This is a movie geared toward the teen crowd, so eat like a teen: take-out pizza and soda. For dessert, make yourself a camp favorite–s’mores (recipezaar.com)–in honor of those camp counselors Mrs. Voorhees chopped up in the original version.

*   2 graham cracker squares
 * 1/2 plain chocolate bar
* 1 large marshmallow

On a paper towel, place one cracker square. Top with chocolate and marshmallow. Microwave on high for 15 seconds or until marshmallow puffs. Remove from microwave and cover with other cracker. Eat like a sandwich. Serves one.
 

What to talk about over dinner: What is your favorite horror film and why? What is the lamest horror sequel and why? Who is a better villain, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger? Why do you think horror movies are popular? What are some of the best 21st century horror films? “Saw” perhaps?  Did you know Kevin Bacon was in the original “Friday the 13th?” Go ahead and bust out a few rounds of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Don’t know how to play? Try linking any actor, dead or alive, with Kevin Bacon in six steps or less. For example, Bruce Willis. He starred in “Mortal Thoughts” with Demi Moore, who starred with Kevin Bacon in “A Few Good Men.” Two steps. Got it? Now you try. Start with Danny DeVito.

 

Gran Torino

Film (with rating): Gran Torino (R)

Studio: Warner Home Video
 

Summary: Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War vet and Detroit autoworker. He is a grumpy, bitter racist who hates just about everything, especially his Hmong neighbors from Southeast Asia. But when events collide and Walt is forced to open his eyes, he sees that life and people aren’t what he thought.

Review: I can’t stand early Clint Eastwood films (“Hang ‘Em High?” No thanks), but his newer stuff just gets better and better. Eastwood is like a fine wine, improving with age. Who else in the industry could act, produce and direct himself in a film as brilliantly and non-self-servingly as does Eastwood? Especially in “Gran Torino,” a truly great film? He carves out Kowalski to be this nasty, cantankerous old coot with a permanent scowl and nothing to do, sort of like Dirty Harry on Social Security. He’s so bitter, you can taste it. No one likes him, and he likes everyone even less. But when some local thugs start to mess around with Kowalski’s Hmong neighbors and his beloved 1972 Gran Torino car, things change. Kowalski gets involved, as is his nature not his desire. In doing so, he finds out that life is much more textured than he thought, and people are not just the color of their skin or land of origin–or even who they seem to be at first blush. While that sounds trite, the move is not. It doesn’t come across as this moralistic love-one-another sermon, or even a parable about becoming a better person. And that’s thanks to Eastwood’s character development as well as his prowess as a gifted director. The film is not subtle, and it’s almost uncomfortably littered with racial slurs, but it’s not overly done, either. In fact, it’s brilliant. If this is Eastwood’s farewell to face time in front of the camera, he couldn’t have picked a better swan song.

Extra highlight: “Manning the Wheel” featurette

What to serve for dinner: Broaden your culinary horizons with a Hmong recipe–stir-fried baby bok choy with pork (http://www.hmongcooking.com)–and banana fritters (numkitchen.com) for dessert.  

Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Pork

    * 1/2 pound pork belly
    * 1 bunch of baby bok choy (about 10 small heads)
    * 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    * 1 teaspoon salt
    * 1 chicken bouillon cube (Asian-style, or regular)

Cut the pork belly slab into 1 x 1/8-inch pieces and set aside. Carefully wash the bok choy,  pulling each leaf off of the head. Cut each leaf in two, from tip to stem. Drain on paper towels. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the pork, salt and the bouillon cube. Stir-fry about 10 minutes. Add the bok choy and stir-fry about five more minutes. The dish is done when the meat is cooked, the bok choy leaves are limp, the stems are still a little crispy and a glossy glaze covers it all. Serve hot accompanied by fluffy jasmine rice.  From “Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America” (University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

Banana Fritters

1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. water
4 firm bananas
3 c. canola (or other vegetable) oil
Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Combine 1 cup of the flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Gradually blend in water, beating with a whisk until smooth. Peel bananas. Cut each banana crosswise into three pieces, making a total of 12 pieces. Coat bananas lightly with remaining 1/2 cup of flour.

Heat oil in wok over medium high heat until oil reaches 375 degrees. Dip banana pieces in batter, coating completely. Cook four to six banana pieces at a time in the oil until goldens, three to five minutes. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve with ice cream, if desired.

What to talk about over dinner: Who is the least politically correct person you know? How are you not politically correct? How have you overcome your previous beliefs like Walt did? What was one experience in your life that turned your beliefs–any beliefs–around? What is your favorite Clint Eastwood movie, both acting and directing? Did you like the ending of “Gran Torino?” Do you know any cranky, narrow-minded people like Walt? What is the best lesson you took from this film? What is your favorite car? What is your most prized possession and why?


Valkyrie

Film (with rating): Valkyrie (PG-13)

Studio: MGM Home Entertainment

Summary: A true and suspenseful tale about the German Resistance’s attempted coup and assassination of Adolf Hitler before the end of World War II.

Review: I’m not a huge fan of Tom Cruise the person. But I can tolerate Tom Cruse the Actor. Most of the time. In “Valkyrie,” I’m still on the fence–did Cruise the person damage the film, or was he just miscast?

In the movie, Cruise is the central persona, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the mastermind behind the plot to kill Hitler and overthrow his fascist regime. Yet Cruise comes across as the same intense character he’s played in just about every blockbuster so far–”War of the Worlds,” “The Last Samuri”–except this time, he’s boasting an eyepatch.

While Cruise’s above-the-bar acting talents did buff the rough edges, I still couldn’t except him as the stoic and aristocratic von Stauffenberg. And the American accent didn’t help matters at all. I just kept seeing him as Tom Cruise, not von Stauffenberg. I couldn’t help think that another actor would have been less distracting.

Aside from Cruise, the rest of the cast actually was a pleasant, yet underplayed, treat. Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard all added to the historical drama with their supburb performances, even if they were mostly underutilized.

“Valkyrie” in and of itself was quite watchable, even if it was a bit slow on the uptake. The settings are extraordinarily true to history, and the details are perfect. In fact, the story itself, the true-life tale of the Hitler assassination plot, is what’s notable here. Don’t worry if you know little of WWII history; in fact, the movie is better viewed if you’re not exactly sure how things unfold. Focus on the story, and you’ll enjoy the ride. While “Valkyrie” is no History Channel documentary, it’s no “All the President’s Men” either, unfortunately. It may not be the epic film I’m sure director Bryan Singer hoped it would be, but “Valkyrie” is definitely worth a view on DVD.

Extra highlight: “The Valkyrie Legacy”

What to serve for dinner: It’s a WWII flick about German Resistance. Let’s dish up a culinary classic of the region: bratwurst. For tonight, cook Bratwurst with Apples, Onion, and Sauerkraut (“Bon Apptit,” October 2007).

*  1 teaspoon caraway seeds
* 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
* 1 tablespoon Wondra flour
* 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 4 cups sauerkraut (preferably fresh), rinsed, drained, squeezed dry (from one 32-ounce jar)
* 1 large onion (about 1 pound), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
* 4 large Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
* 6 whole smoked bratwurst (about 1 pound), pierced all over with skewer
* 4 bay leaves
* 1 cup beef broth
* 2 tablespoons dry vermouth
* 2 tablespoons ketchup
* 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
* Pumpernickel bread or whole grain

Position rack in center of oven preheated to 400 degrees. Place caraway seeds and fennel seeds in small resealable plastic bag. Crush seeds with mallet. Add flour and pepper to bag and shake to blend. Spread sauerkraut over bottom of 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle 1/3 of flour mixture over. Arrange onion slices over; sprinkle with half of remaining flour mixture, then lightly with salt. Spread half of apple slices over, then sprinkle with remaining flour mixture. Place bratwurst over apples, then arrange remaining apple slices around bratwurst. Tuck in bay leaves. Mix broth, vermouth, and ketchup in measuring cup. Pour broth mixture evenly over. Cover tightly with foil. Roast bratwurst 45 minutes. Uncover; brush with melted butter. Roast uncovered until edges of apples and sausages begin to brown, about 25 minutes longer. Serve with bread and a green salad.

What to talk about over dinner: What do you think of Tom Cruise the Man? What’s your favorite Tom Cruise film? What’s your favorite historical drama? How would our history and the world be different if von Stauffenberg’s plan succeeded? Could there ever be another Adolf Hitler today? Why or why not? Could there ever be another war like that one? Why or why not? Who would have been a better von Stauffenberg?

Welcome, Foodies and Film Fans!

Welcome, everyone, to my blog, “Dinner and a DVD,” where film meets food. Yes, there’s a recession and yes, we’re all facing some sort of financial issue. But why should that stop us from having some fun in life? Let’s just tailor that fun to fit our budgets.

Hence, “Dinner and a DVD.”

Each week, I’ll review a newly released movie, pairing it with a themed meal recipe. I will also include conversation starters so you’ll have something to discuss over dessert. So while evenings at the multiplex followed by four-course meals at a popular restaurant may be on hold for now, enjoying good flicks, good food and good conversation need not be. Email me here at Dinner and a DVD@gmail.com.

In the words of Roman Polanski, “Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater.” Or in our case, on a couch in the family room. Bon appetit!