The Blind Side

Photo #22


Film (with rating): The Blind Side (PG-13)
 

Studio: Warner Home Video

Summary: Based on the true story of a young man, virtually
homeless, who is taken in by a well-to-do Southern family and raised as their
own, helping him become a football star. The film has origins in Michael Lewis’
2006 book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.

Review: If I had one thing to say about “The Blind
Side,” it would be that this is Sandra Bullock’s movie. The story is
fantastic, the acting is great, but Bullock outshines everything. She’s starred
in many enjoyable (and not so enjoyable. Gads, “All About Steve?”)
films, but this is the one she was born to do. She still has possesses
girl-next-door charm when portraying the formidable Leigh Anne Tuohy, but
Bullock adds a depth and fierceness that propelled her straight to Oscar
status. She is fantastic. From her perfectly shellacked hair to her manicured
hands to her designer duds to her Southern rapid-fire accent, Bullock is
amazing. Her character may look like a Southern Belle, but she blows through
any room with the force of a tropic storm.

At times, director John Lee
Hancock (“The Rookie”) lays this on a bit thick (like when Tuohy
confronts a bunch of drug dealers), but Bullock’s talent manages to turn an otherwise
hoaky scene into a powerful one.

Sports movies often have a powerful affect on viewers. Take
“Invincible,” “Rudy,” “Field of Dreams.” We root
for the good guys, we cheer on the team. These films evoke emotions in us not
always seen–or felt–in a movie theater. The fact that “The Blind
Side” is based on a true story makes it even more intense.

Baltimore
Ravens tackle Michael Oher (played beautifully by newcomer Quinton Aaron)
really was once a homeless Memphis teenager saved from a life on the streets by
a rich blonde woman with a big heart. What was once a bleak outlook is now a
success story. Even though we know this going in, director Hancock makes it
seem fresh and not clichd.

The heart-touching way the film rolls out makes
viewers cheer for everyone: Michael, the team, Leigh Anne. We want this to end
well. We want a happily ever after. We know it does; Oher went on to have a
stellar career at the University of Mississippi and became the 23rd pick in the
first round of the 2009 NFL draft. Even knowing the true-life story didn’t keep
me from wanting to see how (well, a Hollywoodized how) it all came to be.

“The Blind Side” isn’t really a film to watch if
you want action, or something unpredictable. Or even more of an in-depth
discussion about bi-racial families or the issues faced between the haves and
the have-nots. Yes, some of the scenes are a bit over-dramatic and
heavy-handed. But even through the rough points, the heart of the film shines
through.  “The Blind
Side” is definitely one to see if you need a lift, if your soul needs some
refreshing, or if you just need reminding that good things do happen in this
world. 

Extra highlight: “Sidelines: Conversations on ‘The
Blind Side’–Sandra Bullock and Leigh Anne Tuohy

What to serve for dinner: A Southern feast, from famous
Southern cook Paula Deen: Grandmother Paul’s Fried Chicken, Cheesy Squash
Casserole and Peanut Butter Cake (www.foodnetwork.com).
Just make sure to workout tomorrow after eating such a spread tonight.

Fried Chicken

*  Salt and
pepper, for seasoning chicken

    *
Crisco shortening, for frying

    *
3 eggs

    *
1/3 cup water

    *
2 cups self-rising flour

    *
1 teaspoon black pepper

    *
1 (2 1/2 pound) chicken, cut into pieces

Heat shortening in a cast iron skillet to 350 degrees. Beat
eggs with water in a small bowl. In a shallow bowl, season flour with pepper.
Dip chicken pieces in egg mixture and then coat well in flour mixture.
Carefully add to hot shortening, in batches if necessary, place lid on top of
skillet, and fry until brown and crisp. Remember that dark meat requires a
longer cooking time (about 13 to 14 minutes, compared to 8 to 10 minutes for
white meat.)

 

Cheesy Squash Casserole

    *
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

    *
6 medium yellow summer squash, thinly sliced

    *
1 large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced

    *
1 tablespoon butter

    *
1/2 cup grated parmesan

    *
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar

    *
1/2 cup sour cream

    *
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    *
1 sleeve crackers, crushed medium to fine (recommended: Ritz)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2-quart casserole
dish. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the squash, onion
and butter until soft. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the parmesan, cheddar,
and sour cream. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Place in the prepared casserole
dish and sprinkle the cracker crumbs evenly over the top. Bake for 20 minutes
or until the top is golden and bubbly.

 

Peanut Butter Cake

Cake:

    *
1 cup all-purpose flour

    *
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

    *
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

    *
1 teaspoon salt

    *
2 cups graham cracker crumbs

    *
Peanut butter (at least 1/2 cup; if using more, decrease shortening by an equal
amount)

    *
3/4 cup shortening

    *
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

    *
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    *
3 eggs

Frosting:

    *
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

    *
2 tablespoons cocoa

    *
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

    *
1/3 cup heavy cream

    *
1/2 cup peanuts, salted

    *
2 capfuls of vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees if baking with a metal dish; 325
degrees if using a glass dish. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt
together. Add graham cracker crumbs, peanut butter, shortening, milk, and
vanilla. Beat mixture with electric mixer on low until moistened, and then beat
on medium for 2 minutes. Add eggs and beat for 1 minute. Bake in greased 9-inch
by 13-inch pan for 30 to 35 minutes. Do not remove from pan to cool.

For the frosting: mix all of the ingredients together. Pour
into a saucepan and bring mixture to a boil. Boil for one minute. Cool
slightly. With a wooden spoon handle, poke a few holes in the cake, and then
pour the warm frosting over it.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What is your favorite sports-themed
movie? Would you ever open your heart and home to a child in need? What about a
teen from the “wrong side of the tracks?” Did you believe Sandra
Bullock’s character? Do you think the real Leigh Anne Tuohy was that much of a
spitfire? How did Sandra keep her portrayal classy instead of a clich? What
obstacles have you overcome in your life to get where you are today? Who helped
you? Did Bullock earn her Oscar award this year? Does this story touch you more
because it’s based on reality?  Do
you believe in the Best Actress curse that ends relationships? How stupid is
Jesse James? Really, I mean, how stupid is this man? For more on the real
Michael Oher, check out this USA Today article.

2012

Photo #12

Film (with rating): 2012 (PG-13)

 

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Summary: People struggle to survive when a series of
circumstances bring about the end of the world. 

Review: I’m a sucker for end-of-days fare. Movies or
documentaries, I’m there. The subject both terrifies and fascinates me. While
“2012″ is not the most gripping, apocalyptic film I’ve ever seen,
it’s high on the list. Yes, I pushed aside the fact that the science of the
film is pretty flawed (okay, extremely flawed), as I did most of the
emotionless characters like Amanda Peet’s Kate Curtis. I kept waiting for a
decent emotion out of that woman. Heck, any emotion!

John Cusack who played
struggling-novelist-turned-hero Jackson Curtis, was an exception. As always, he
impressively played the intense guy next door mixed with a good dose of wit to
create a likeable, believable, multi-faceted character. As a quirky surprise,
Woody Harrelson showed up in “2012,” and while his character was a
total stereotype, he still played it well, smoothing over the rough edges.

On
the plus side, “2012″ boasts of the most incredible special effects.
It’s reported to have cost a mind-boggling $260 million or so to create these
scenes of global destruction, and it shows. The movie runs a bit long (2.5 hours),
and the end feels stretched.

But despite all of it, “2012″ is a good
choice. Just watch the film for the high-impact images and adrenalin-pumping
rescue scenes, and try to forget about the flat characters, implausible story
foundation, drawn-out subplots…But hey! We’ve got explosions! The pancaking of
the Los Angeles freeways system! The melting of national parks! Nothing like
some good explosion-and-destruction cinema to take your mind off of your day.

Extra highlight: “Mysteries of the Mayan Calendar”
featurette

What to serve for dinner: Try out a Mayan dish, like the Flying
Mayan Burrito
(Foodnetwork.com). 

    * Flying Burrito Black Beans (see below)

    *
Flying Burrito Mashed Sweet Potatoes (see below)

    *
6 (12-inch) flour tortillas

    *
1 1/2 cups salsa

    *
1 1/2 cups guacamole

    *
3/4 cup sour cream

Warm the black bean and sweet potato mixtures in separate
saucepans. Wrap tortillas in foil and warm in a 300 degree oven, or heat each
tortilla on both sides quickly in a heavy skillet over medium heat. In each
tortilla, place about 1/2 cup black beans and 1/2 cup sweet potatoes. Fold one
side of the tortilla over the filling and then fold in both sides, and roll up
into a burrito. Place on a plate and top with generous spoonfuls of salsa, guacamole
and sour cream.

Variation: You may fold grilled chicken, steak or any other
grilled meat into the burrito as well.

 

Flying Burrito Black Beans

1 pound dry black beans

2 onions, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

4 cups water

4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup red wine

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy saucepan, combine beans, onions, garlic, olive
oil and water. Bring to a boil and simmer approximately 1 1/2 hours. Add the
tomatoes and wine and season with salt and pepper. Simmer another 30 minutes or
until beans are very tender. Using a wooden spoon or potato masher, mash the
beans slightly. Leave some beans whole. This mixture should mound softly and be
moist but not watery. Adjust by cooking longer or by adding water. Yield: 6
cups

 

Flying Burrito Mashed Sweet Potatoes

2 to 3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 large)

Olive oil, as needed

4 ounces roasted green chiles

4 ounces (1/2 stick) sweet butter

1 ounce tequila

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash the sweet potatoes but
leave the skins on. Rub with olive oil and bake until very tender, about 45
minutes. Cool the potatoes until they can be handled and remove skins. Place in
a heavy saucepan and add the remaining ingredients. Mash the mixture well,
taste for seasoning, reheat, and serve. Yield: 5 cups

What to talk about over dinner: Do you fear the end of the
world? Do you think it will happen in 2012? If not, when? How? Do you think it
will look like it did in the film? What would you do if you knew the end was
near? Where would you go? Who was your favorite character in “2012?”
Why? What was your favorite scene? Do you have an urge to learn any disaster
training now? What is one skill you have that will help out in an end-of-days
type of situation? Recite one line from John Cusack’s “Say Anything.”
What is your favorite end-of-the-world movie? “Armageddon?”
“Independence Day?” “End of Days?” “Freddy Got
Fingered?”(Oh, sorry. Watching that just felt like the end of the world.)

Oscars 2010: Inglourious Basterds

Photo #23

Happy Oscar Weekend
everyone! We’ve got 10 movies fighting for Best Picture nods this year, and all
have something special that sets them apart from the rest. For tonight, let’s
watch a very lauded film, ” Inglourious Basterds,” with eight Oscar
nods, including Best Picture and Best Director. Check out my past reviews for
other films up for Academy Awards: “Up,” “Julie &
Julia,” “Coraline” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood
Prince.”


Film (with rating):
Inglourious Basterds (R)


Studio: Universal Home Entertainment

Summary: As WWII rages in
Europe, a Nazi-hunting (and scalping) squad of American soldiers known as the
“Basterds” is on a daring mission to take down the leaders of the Third
Reich, but others have their own plans for revenge as well.


Review: I’m always up for a
Quentin Tarantino film. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “Kill
Bill.” But when I first heard the description for “Basterds,” I
wasn’t sold. I love a good WWII movie, but I couldn’t figure this one out at
first blush. Was it a comedy? A drama? A dramady? I skipped seeing it in
theaters, but I did check it out on DVD. And I was disappointed–that I didn’t
see it in theaters first on the big screen. “Basterds” is highly
deserving of its Oscar nominations. It’s not a comedy (except when Pitt tries
to speak Italian), nor is it a dramady. It’s a multi-layered Tarantino, and
that’s description enough. 

As a true Tarantino film,
this one is ridiculously violent and bloody, but with a purpose and plot. In
fact, “Basterds” is almost entirely conversation- and
character-driven.  The violence is
there, but Tarantino knows how to space it out for maximum impact. The ending
is explosively classic Tarantino. If viewers don’t know by now that Tarantino
has a thing for revenge and vengeance, they will after watching
“Basterds.” 

Brad Pitt, the biggest
“name” of the bunch, does play an important character, but not
“the” main character, and I loved that. I wasn’t in the mood for some
Tom Cruise-ish film where the story revolves around the main guy. The title is
actually a bit misleading–the Basterds are not the central force of this film,
but actually a supporting player. 

In “Basterds,”
Pitt is the leader of the Nazi-scalping Basterds, but there are so many, many
other players involved who also take top billing and who actually move the
story forward much more. Such as Nazi Col. Hans Landa, played beyond perfectly
by an amazing Christoph Waltz. He is almost a sure thing to walk away with the
golden statue for supporting actor. His smarmy, charming, frightening
performance was a highlight of the film.

Other actors, such as Mlanie Laurent
as the fireball Shosanna and Diane Kruger portraying a double-agent German
actress, move the film seamlessly from scene to scene. Pitt’s drawling Basterd
could have come across as ridiculous, but he pulls it off with believability
and even likeability. 

My only complaint is that at
times, the abundant subtitles were broadcast against something white in the
background, making it hard to read. But those hiccups were few and far between.
“Basterds” builds up and continues at breakneck speed to a
satisfying, exhausting conclusion.

Extra highlight: “The
Original Inglorious Bastards”

What to serve for dinner:
Tonight, we’re honoring a host of Best Picture nominees with our menu. We’ll
start off with French Onion Soup (“Inglorious Basterds“) and a Cool
Blue Martini (“Avatar“), then serve some Prawns Peri-Peri
(“District 9“) and Two-Potato Salad with Creole Mustard, Bacon and
Arugula (“The Blind Side“). For dessert, let’s whip up Red Velvet
Cupcakes with Coconut and Cream Cheese Frosting (“Precious“). Recipes
from http://www.epicurious.com.

1. Cool Blue
Martini

     * 3 oz (about 1/3 cup) gin
or vodka

    * 1/2 oz (1 tablespoon) dry
vermouth

    * 1 teaspoon blue Curaao

    * 1 teaspoon fresh lemon
juice, strained

    * Garnish: 2 lemon twists

Shake together
all ingredients except twists in a cocktail shaker with ice, then strain into
two martini glasses and garnish with twists.

2. French Onion
Soup

    *  2 lb medium onions, halved lengthwise,
then thinly sliced lengthwise

    * 3 sprigs fresh thyme

    * 2 Turkish bay leaves or 1
California

    * 3/4 teaspoon salt

    * 1/2 stick (1/4 cup)
unsalted butter

    * 2 teaspoons all-purpose
flour

    * 3/4 cup dry white wine

    * 4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth (32 fl oz)

    * 1 1/2 cups water

    * 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

    * 6 (1/2-inch-thick)
diagonal slices of baguette

    * 1 (1/2-lb) piece Gruyre,
Comte or Emmental

    * 2 tablespoons finely
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

    * Special equipment: 6 (8-
to 10-oz) flameproof soup crocks or ramekins; a cheese plane

Cook onions,
thyme, bay leaves, and salt in butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over
moderate heat, uncovered, stirring frequently, until onions are very soft and
deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Stir in wine and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in broth, water, and pepper
and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. While soup simmers,
put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange bread
in one layer on a large baking sheet and toast, turning over once, until
completely dry, about 15 minutes.

Remove crotes
from oven and preheat broiler. Put crocks in a shallow baking pan. Discard bay
leaves and thyme from soup and divide soup among crocks, then float a crote in
each. Slice enough Gruyre (about 6 ounces total) with cheese plane to cover
tops of crocks, allowing ends of cheese to hang over rims of crocks, then
sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until cheese
is melted and bubbly, 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Prawns Peri-Peri

   *  18-24 large prawns (large shrimp)

    * 200 g (3/4 cup) butter

    * 10 ml (2 teaspoons)
crushed garlic

    * 30 ml (2 tablespoons) lemon
juice

    * 30 ml (2 tablespoons)
Peri-Peri sauce (recipe below)

    * salt, milled black pepper

Peri-Peri Sauce

     * 50 g (1 1/2 ounces) red
chilies, very finely chopped

    * 5 cloves garlic, crushed

    * 500 ml (2 cups) olive oil

    * pared rind of 1 small
lemon (use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin in thin strips)

Mix the
ingredients for the sauce together in a bottle and shake well. You can make the
sauce ahead and store it in the fridge; the flavor improves with age, reaching
its peak at two weeks.

Slit prawns down
their backs and de-vein. Leave heads on, or remove them if you prefer.
Depending on the size of your frying pan, cook them in one or two batches. Heat
the butter gently and add the garlic and lemon juice. Don’t let the garlic
burn. Add prawns and Peri-Peri sauce. (Shake first to make sure you get some of
the chili and garlic as well.) Sizzle for 4-5 minutes, turning frequently,
until cooked. Season with salt and pepper and tip into a warm serving bowl.
Garnish, if you wish, with chopped fresh parsley. Serve with rice or bread and
butter.

4. Two-Potato Salad with Creole Mustard, Bacon and
Arugula


 
 

   *  4 strips thick-sliced smoked bacon 

    * 1 pound sweet potatoes,
peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

    * 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes,
peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

    * 1 teaspoon kosher salt

    * 4 scallions, finely
chopped

    * 2 celery stalks, finely
chopped

    * 2 Serrano chilies,
stemmed, seeded, and minced

    * 1/2 cup plus 2
tablespoons mayonnaise

    * 2 tablespoons Creole
mustard (see note)

    * 1 tablespoon finely
chopped fresh tarragon leaves

    * Freshly ground black
pepper

    * 6 ounces arugula

Fry the bacon in
a large skillet over medium heat until crisp and browned. Transfer the bacon to
a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.

Place the sweet
potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes in two separate saucepans. Cover the potatoes
with water (by 2 inches), add 1/2 teaspoon salt to each pot, and bring the pots
to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, and simmer the potatoes until
they are just cooked through and tender. The sweet potatoes will cook in about
15 minutes, and the Yukon Gold potatoes should be finished in about 12 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool.

Combine the
potatoes, scallions, celery, and Serrano chilies in a large bowl. Add the
mayonnaise, mustard, tarragon, salt, and pepper, and combine. Taste for
seasoning, and add more salt or pepper, as desired. Toss the potato salad with
the arugula, and serve on a large platter, garnished with the crumbled bacon.


5. Red Velvet Cupcakes with Coconut and Cream Cheese
Frosting


  *  1 3/4 cups self-rising flour

    * 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

    * 1 1/2 cups sugar

    * 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room
temperature, divided

    * 2 large eggs

    * 1 tablespoon red food coloring

    * 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

    * 1 cup buttermilk, divided

    * 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

    * 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

 

    * 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

    * 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

    * 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (about 6
ounces), divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners. Sift flour and cocoa into small bowl.
Using electric mixer, beat 1 1/2 cups sugar and 3/4 cup butter in large bowl
until smooth. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then red food coloring and 1 teaspoon
vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with 2/3 cup
buttermilk in 2 additions. Make well in center; pour in remaining 1/3 cup
buttermilk, vinegar and baking soda. When bubbles form, stir into batter.

Divide batter equally among
paper liners. Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean,
about 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; transfer to rack and cool completely.

Beat cream cheese, 1/4 cup
butter, and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla in medium bowl until smooth. Beat in
powdered sugar; fold in 1 cup flaked coconut. Spread frosting on cupcakes,
leaving 1/2-inch plain border; sprinkle with remaining cup of coconut.

 

What to talk about over
dinner:
Who was your favorite character? What is your favorite WWII movie? What
would our world be like if Tarantino’s fictitious tale were true? Would you
have ended the movie this way? What would cause you to enact revenge? What is
your favorite Tarantino movie? Favorite Tarantino character? What movie do you
hope runs away with the Oscar statues this year? Your nod for Best Picture?
What do you think of having 10 movies in the running? Is it Sandra Bullock’s
year, or Meryl’s? Or will those two split the votes and enable a newcomer to
walk away victorious? Perhaps “Precious’” Gabourey Sidibe? What about
Best Supporting actor? Do you think Waltz will “waltz” away a winner?
What has been your favorite Best Film winner ever? Best Oscar speech? Best
Oscar host? Do you think Steve and Alec can cut it?  Do you prefer comedians for hosts, or more serious
performers? Anyone want to act like Joan Rivers and “critique” the
red-carpet attire?