National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation


Film (with rating): National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Studio: Warner Home Video


Summary:  All
Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase ) wants for Christmas is an old-fashioned family
holiday, complete with all the Rockwellian trimmings. Instead, in true Griswold
fashion, what he gets is gift-wrapped chaos and enough hilarity to fill a dozen
stockings as everyone invades the Griswold home for the holidays.


Review: Every year on Thanksgiving night, my family has a
tradition. Overstuffed to the point of discomfort, we collapse on the couch and
muster up just enough energy to flip on the DVD player. And what waits for us
there is the start of the holiday season.

Yes, I know KOST 103.5 FM and other
radio stations began playing Christmas carols two weeks ago. And I understand
that Disneyland decked itself out into a winter wonderland on Nov. 13. But for
me, Christmas doesn’t start until the first showing of “Christmas

In the past 20 years, this film has taken on cult status.
Written by none other than the genius known as John Hughes, “Christmas
Vacation” is one of the best holiday films around. It’s actually better on
the 37th viewing than it is on the first, thanks to the scores of
slight jokes, visual gags and puns that pepper the film. No, this is not in the
same league as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but who ever thought it would
be? It’s still a classic in its own right.

This movie is actually a lot like
reality. You’ve got the dad who just wants things to be nice for his family,
and instead screws everything up. Then there are the kids, sullen and sick of
their family’s craziness. Let’s not forget the in-laws, each one crazier than
the last. It’s sort of like a dysfunctional Rockwellian portrait.

Chase, as he
was for the prior two “Vacation” films, is perfect as the lead
character. His comedic timing and physical comedy never fail. Beverly D’Angelo
is flawless as wife Ellen, but it’s Randy Quaid as redneck cousin Eddie who
really adds unforgettable punch to the movie. He delivers some of the best
lines throughout the entire thing. I mean, the whole part with the chemical
toilet? Priceless.

Every year, my family and I watch this film, laugh ourselves
silly and realize that for all the chaos and commercialism the holiday season
brings, we still have each other. And we’re not nearly as screwed up as the Griswolds.
For that, we’re grateful.  So ring
in the holiday season with this classic, my friends. Happy Thanksgiving everybody.


Extra highlight: Create your own. Reenact the “Where’s
the Tylenol” scene.  Or create
a list of great quotes and take turns reading them. Here’s one to get you going:

Clark: Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?
Eddie: Naw, I’m doing just fine, Clark.


What to serve for dinner: Nothing. You just ate your weight in
turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. But if you’re viewing this on another day
this weekend, serve up Thanksgiving Dinner Redux, or take those leftovers and
spin them into a new dish, such as turkey hash (

2 tablespoons margarine or butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

2 cups leftover stuffing

2 cups leftover cooked turkey, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 cups leftover cooked vegetables, coarsely chopped

1/4 cups (loosely packed) fresh parsley leaves, chopped

1/2 cups leftover cranberry sauce

In 12-inch nonstick skillet, melt margarine on medium. Add
onion and cook eight to 10 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Stir
in mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and vegetables. Cook 20 minutes, turning
occasionally and pressing with spatula, until browned. Sprinkle with parsley.
Serve with cranberry sauce.

What to talk about over dinner: How is your family like the
Griswolds during the holidays? What are your favorite lines from the movie?
Your favorite scenes? Favorite characters? Come on–how many of you loved kooky
Aunt Bethany? What is your favorite “Vacation” film? What are some of
your holiday traditions? If you could have an old-fashioned Christmas, what would
it be like? As a kid, did you have to give up your bedroom when family invaded
your home during the holidays? Who was your favorite relative growing up? Who
was the craziest? What is Chevy Chase’s best movie ever? Worst? See who can
figure this out: What was Mae Questel (Aunt Bethany) first famous for? What’s
your favorite holiday dish? What was the best Christmas gift you ever received?
The best Christmas ever?

My Sister’s Keeper

Film (with rating): My Sister’s Keeper (PG-13)


Studio: Warner Home Video


Summary: A young girl (Abigail Breslin) who was created with
the sole purpose of saving her older sister (Sofia Vassilieva) from cancer,
gets fed up with the process and hires an attorney to become medically
emancipated.What results is an emotional roller coaster of a court battle as everyone fights to do what they think is right.


Review: Being a parent, I feel an incredible sense of sorrow
whenever I see a child ill or hurt. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. So it was
with difficulty I watched “My Sister’s Keeper.” I couldn’t even
finish the book by Jodi Picoult, on which the movie is based.

Director Nick
Cassavetes (alumnus of the heartwrenching and tear-squeezing “The
Notebook”) does his best to place viewers in front of this emotional train
wreck. At times, he plays it too heavily and manipulatively, but at other
times, the drama is just right and heartfelt. There’s no way around it:
“Sister’s” is good, but it’s a weepie, mainly because of the
amazingly touching and real performance by Vassilieva (from the television show
“Medium”). Cassavetes pulls no punches when documenting what an
illness like cancer can do physically to a person, and Vassilieva rises to that
challenge. She even shaved her head to play Kate.

Cameron Diaz also shines in
her role as the uber-strong lawyer-turned-crusader mom. It’s hard to turn her
into a monster when we see that she’s doing what she does out of love. The
film, as was the book, is filled with numerous ethical minefields.
Unfortunately, Cassavetes sidesteps some of them. It would have enhanced the
film if he faced them as squarely as he did the emotional aspects.

Aside from
the director heavily pulling our emotional heartstrings, “Sister’s”
is a good film filled with amazing performances. It brings up difficult
subjects and even more difficult “what-if” scenarios. The movie is a
tough view, but one that’s worth seeing.


Extra highlight: Additional scenes


What to serve for dinner: Let’s honor Vassilieva,  the major star of this film and a
vegetarian since 2004, by serving up a vegetarian dish like  Garlic-Ginger Tofu Stir-Fry


      1 small Thai pepper, minced

      1 tsp. minced ginger

      1 garlic clove, minced

      1 Tbsp. olive oil

      3 Tbsp. soy sauce

      1/4 cup water

      1 Tbsp. arrowroot powder or

      2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

      1 16-oz. pkg. firm tofu, drained and
cut into 1×1/2-inch pieces

      1 tsp. soy sauce

      2 carrots, cut into 2-inch strips

      1 red pepper, sliced

      1 large bok choy (or 4-5 baby bok
choy), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

      1/2 medium onion, sliced

      1/2 cup yellow squash, sliced into
1/2-inch-thick pieces

      Cooked lo mein or soba noodles


Saut the minced pepper, ginger, and garlic in the olive oil
for two to three minutes over medium heat. Add the soy sauce and water,
stirring until well combined. Stir in the cornstarch and simmer over low heat
until the tofu and vegetables are ready. Heat the vegetable oil over
medium-high heat in a nonstick 12-inch skillet. Add the tofu and cook, stirring
frequently (stir-frying), until heated through and browned on all sides, about
10 to 15 minutes. Add the soy sauce and stir-fry for 1 minute. Transfer to a
bowl. Add the carrots, red pepper, bok choy, onions, and squash to the skillet
and stir-fry until the vegetables are tender but crisp, about 3 minutes. Add
the prepared sauce and tofu and stir-fry until all the ingredients are coated
and heated, about two minutes. Serve immediately over the lo mein or soba


What to talk about over dinner: What lengths would you take
to save your child? Would you create another life just for that purpose? Why or
why not? Is it right to have a baby just to save another? Could you love that
child as much as you do your other children, namely the one you’re trying to
save? Do you think medical technology has outpaced ethical safeguards and legal
boundaries? Do you think young Anna was correct in finally saying no to her
family’s request at her body? Would you be able to make that kind of decision,
knowing that the person your marrow/blood/kidney could help might die without
you? What was the hardest part of the film for you to watch? Have you ever
watched a loved one’s health deteriorate? What would you have done to ease the



Film (with rating): Up (PG)

Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment


Summary: A cantankerous, 78-year-old balloon salesman
fulfills his lifelong dream of embarking on a grand adventure to South America,
but he unknowingly takes a stowaway along for the ride when balloons carry his
house up, up and away. What results is a journey in life, emotion and


Review: Once again, Pixar hits a homerun–for the tenth
straight time. “Up” is fantastic, not just visually, but poetically
as well. The animated film is beautifully done (which is why you shouldn’t
regret not seeing this theatrically in 3D. It’s gorgeous just as it is, in 2D.)
Academy Award nominee Pete Docter directs this newest installment in the Pixar
Hall of Fame; he’s best know for his absolutely brilliant “WALL*E”
screenplay as well as his writing and directing abilities in one of my all-time
faves, “Monsters, Inc.” “Up” lives up to the high
expectations set by its predecessors. It’s fantasy (a house being lifted by
thousands of balloons? Huh? It totally works) mixed with reality mixed with
adventure mixed with frivolity.


Carl the balloon salesman (voiced to perfection by Ed Asner)
is one of the main characters, and it’s lovely to see a grumpy old man featured
as a film’s hero. While the movie is animated, the subject is not. There are no
sugar-coated morals or sticky-sweet characters in “Up.” Everything
rings true, and is relatable. The beginning montage of Carl and his wife is one
of the best in ANY film ever. The depth of emotions in “Up” is what
sets this film apart from even its successful brethren. While some of the
subject matter is rough (for example, Carl’s loss), the humorous scenes are
plenty. The ones involving dogs (yeah! Dogs!) are nothing shy of hysterical. So
go out and buy–yes, buy–this film. It’s sure to be a family classic, watched
over and over again. It’s simply perfect. It’s a tonic for what ails your soul.


Extra highlight: “Dug’s Special Mission” short and
the “Partly Cloudy” short

What to serve for dinner: Serve up South American cuisine
tonight. Try Ecuadorian Potato Soup 


4 tablespoons butter

3 medium onion — finely chopped

2 tablespoons flour

3 cups chicken broth

4 medium potatoes — peeled and diced

1/8 teaspoon saffron

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon aji chile powder (or cayenne)

3 cups milk

1/2 cup green peas

3 medium eggs

1/4 pound cream cheese

1 medium avocado, peeled and sliced

Heat butter in large saucepan. Add onions and saut for 10
minutes. Add flour and mix until smooth. Add chicken broth gradually, stirring
constantly until boiling. Add potatoes, saffron, salt and chile powder. Simmer
for 20 minutes. Add milk and peas and continue to cook for five minutes. Beat
the eggs and cream cheese together in a bowl and gradually add two cups of the
hot soup. Beat constantly to avoid curdling. Return the contents ob the bowl to
the saucepan and heat but do not boil. Place a few thin slices of avocado in
each soup bowl and pour soup over them. Serve with a side green salad.

What to talk about over dinner: Have you ever felt like
turning your back on the world after a loss? What is your biggest dream? What
are some favorite hobbies you and your spouse enjoy doing together? Who in your
life has been married the longest? Where is your favorite travel destination?
Where do you dream of going? What are the other movies with grumpy old men as
endearing characters? Ever been up in a hot air balloon? Why does Pixar know
the recipe for success, and how does it do it so well? What is your favorite
Pixar film? How cool are these characters in “Up?” Who was your
favorite? If anyone brings up “Balloon Boy” in connection with
“Up,” her or she automatically has to do the dishes. For a week. 


Film (with rating): Orphan (R)

Studio: Warner Home Video

Summary: The loving Coleman family (Vera Farmiga, Peter
Sarsgaard) adopts young Esther, the Russian-born orphan with the tragic past,
and all seems perfect. Until circumstances start unfolding and the Colemans
wonder if “sweet” Esther is all she pretends to be. 

Review:  I guess
I didn’t get enough of my scary-movie fix last week, because here I am,
reviewing yet another gem in the genre. 
“Orphan” is impressive in that it plays upon the whole evil-child
plot like in “Omen” while having plenty of its own unique twists to
keep the audience shrouded in suspense. It’s not a brilliant psychological
thriller, but it isn’t a remake of “Children of the Corn,” either.
“Orphan” may not be a horror film or a true thriller; it falls
somewhere in between, and director Juame Collet-Serra makes it work. The film’s
climax is commendable, and somewhat shocking. I did enjoy the film for the most
part, even though I have problems with scenes involving children and violence
of any kind. But man! Is this kid one bad seed! Newcomer Isabelle Fuhrman
portrays Esther with amazing creepiness. This is one “Dinner and a
DVD” you’ll want to watch when the kids are at Grandma’s. Definitely.


Extra highlight: The alternate ending.


What to serve for dinner: A Russian recipe–Chicken Kiev
( Serves six.

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. granulated garlic powder

1 large egg

2 Tbsp. cold water

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. granulated garlic powder

3/4 tsp. dried dill weed

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup fine dried breadcrumbs or saltine crackers

2 cups of olive oil or cooking oil for frying chicken

1/2 medium sliced fresh lemon

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley


Remove all fat from chicken breasts and discard. Carefully
cut chicken breast in half with a sharp knife, but do not cut right through
(leaving a hinge on one side.) Place open chicken breasts between two sheets of
wax paper and, using a mallet or the flat of a cleaver, pound the chicken
carefully until about 1/4 inch thickness or less. Set prepared chicken on a
plate separated by wax paper and place in the refrigerator.

In a small bowl, combine softened butter, 1/2 teaspoon of
black pepper, 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic powder, mix well to blend. Spread
butter mixture on a piece of aluminum foil into a rectangular shape, about two
inches by three inches and place in freezer for about 1/2 hour or until frozen.
When butter is firm, remove from freezer and cut into six equal pieces. Place
one piece of butter on each chicken breast at one end. Start to roll chicken
over butter, then fold in both sides and continue rolling to encase the butter
completely. Secure chicken rolls with skewers or round toothpicks.

In a bowl, beat egg with water until fluffy. In a separate
bowl, mix together 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2
teaspoon dried dill weed and 1/2 cup flour.

In another bowl, add the dried bread crumbs. Coat chicken
rolls with seasoned flour. Now dip chicken rolls in egg mixture, then dip and
coat with bread crumbs. Place coated chicken in a shallow dish and refrigerate
for at least 30 minutes to chill or longer if desired.

Add two cups of vegetable oil or olive oil into a frying pan
and heat to medium-high heat.

Carefully place chicken rolls into heated oil and fry for
about five minutes on each side or until done and golden brown. To test for
doneness, cut into 1 rolled chicken to make sure there is no pink showing. Serve
immediately, garnished with lemon twists and parsley.


What to talk about over dinner: Do you believe there can be
bad seeds? What is your favorite evil-child film? What do you think adoption
proponents have to say about this movie? Why do you think more and more
celebrities are adopting overseas? If you did adopt, what country would you
choose? Why? Are orphans in other countries in more danger than American
orphans? Why or why not? Which ending of the movie did you prefer? Would you
rather adopt an infant, or an older child? Why?