We Bought A Zoo

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Film (with rating): We Bought A Zoo (PG)

 

Studio: Fox
Home Entertainment

 

Summary: Cameron
Crowe (“Jerry Maguire,” “Say Anything”) directs this
based-on-a-true story film about a widowed dad (Matt Damon) who quits his job,
sells his house and moves with his two kids to a zoo. Together, with dedicated
staffers, they work to turn the dilapidated facility into something
spectacular.

 

Review:
Despite being a huge dog fan, I’m not a big lover of animal movies. In fact, I
hate them. I blame my elementary school. On the last day of first grade, the
entire school gathered in the cafeteria to watch “Old Yeller.” Sweet
mother of all things holy! I still get a twitch when I recall that film! So all
these years later, I still have trouble settling into a peaceful movie-viewing
Zen state when animals are involved. But being a big fan of Crowe (I mean,
could the boom box scene in “Say Anything” be any more classic and
memorable?) I thought I would give “Zoo” a try. And I’m glad I did.
Crowe, an unlikely romantic in Hollywood, keeps the nitty-gritty of zoo keeping
and grief off the screen. Yes, he also brushes past some details that tripped
me up for a moment (“You’re quitting your job? What about health
insurance? What will you do to feed your kids? What if you’re never hired
again?!”), but I realized the main focus of “Zoo” wasn’t to
provide a how-to map of starting a new life. Instead, it painted a portrait of
moving on and living again, for both two- and four-legged creatures. We saw the
picture; we didn’t have to witness the brush strokes.

 

What kept “Zoo” from being overly schmaltzy was
the acting talent. With each film he does, Damon becomes more and more
brilliant in my eyes. He did not disappoint here. In fact, it was his
believability, liability and rich skills that brought “Zoo” up a
notch in my book. As did the flawless Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays Damon’s
7-year-old daughter Rosie. She somehow managed to come across as adorable,
believable and loveable without marring the image with any saccharine-tinged overacting.

 

Scarlett Johansson, while decent and charming, seemed a bit
miscast as the eclectic zoo employee. But Thomas Haden Church, who plays
Damon’s brother, was a happy surprise. The movie, based on the British novel by
the same name, does take on a slightly British feel to it, especially when you
consider the multiple layers of supporting cast. Overall, though,
“Zoo” is a good movie to watch with your whole family. No, it’s not
going to throw over some of Crowe’s other gems in the popularity race, but
it’ll hold its own. Even if you don’t walk away with a “Show me the
money” phrase that will linger long after the film is collecting dust on
the shelf.

 

Extra highlight:
“We Shot A Zoo: Go Behind the Scenes”

 

What to serve for dinner: Since “Zoo” is based on a British
author’s book, let’s serve up some food from his homeland. Try Toad in the Hole
(www.bbcgoodfood.com).

 

cup plain flour (a little less than cup)

tsp English mustard powder

1 egg

1 1/3 cup milk

3 thyme sprigs, leaves only

8 plain pork sausages

2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 onions, peeled and sliced

1 tsp soft brown sugar

2 cups beef stock

 

Make the batter: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Tip flour into a
large mixing bowl and stir in the mustard powder with a good pinch of salt.
Make a well in the center, crack in the egg, then pour in a dribble of milk.
Stir with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating some of the flour, until you
have a smooth batter in the well. Now add a bit more milk and continue stirring
until all the milk and flour has been mixed together.

 

The batter is ready: You should now have a smooth, lump-free
batter that is the consistency of double cream. Tip it back into the jug you
measured your milk in, for easier pouring later on, then stir in the thyme. Use
scissors to snip the links between your sausages, then drop them into a
9×12-inch roasting tin. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, tossing the sausages in it
to thoroughly coat the base of the tin, then roast in the oven for 15 minutes.

 

Cook the batter. Take the hot tray from the oven, then
quickly pour in the batter – it should sizzle and bubble a little when it first
hits the hot fat. Put it back into the oven, then bake for 40 minutes until the
batter is cooked through, well risen and crisp. Check after 30 minutes. If you
poke the tip of a knife into the batter in the middle of the tray it should be
set, not sticky or runny.

 

Make the gravy. Soften the onions with the remaining oil in
a large nonstick frying pan for about 20 minutes, stirring often, until they
are golden brown. Sprinkle in the sugar for the final 5 minutes. Add the
spoonful of flour, then cook, constantly stirring, for 2 minutes, so it coats
the onions and there is no dry flour left. Gradually pour in the stock,
stirring well to make a smooth sauce. Bubble for 4-5 minutes to thicken, then
season. Cut the toad in the hole into large wedges and serve with the gravy
spooned over.

 

 

What to talk about over dinner: Would you ever buy a zoo? Are zoos inhumane or
necessary to preserve species? What is the best zoo you’ve ever been to? What
is your favorite animal? What zoo-type of attraction would you buy if you
could? If you needed a fresh start in life, what would you do? Who was your
favorite character? What is your favorite Matt Damon movie? What is your
favorite Cameron Crowe film? Catch phrase? I’m sort of partial to “I gave
her my heart, she gave me a pen.”

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo


Film (with rating): The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (R)

 

Studio: Sony
Pictures Home Entertainment

 

Summary: When
a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) investigates the disappearance of a
wealthy patriarch’s niece from 40 years ago, he enlists the help of a pierced
and tattooed computer hacker (Rooney Mara). Together, they uncover a lot more
evil than they ever imagined.

 

Review: I
arrived late to the Stieg Larsson book party. Many people told me to read
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but I could not get past the
initial few pages. Boring! Dry and oh so boring! I was told to persevere
through the first 50 pages, and then “trust me, you won’t be able to put
it down.” Well, 50 pages came and went, and the only reason I kept reading
was because of my stubborn Irish ways. But around page 200, something clicked.
And there I sat, enthralled and literally flipping the pages as quickly as I
could, hungry for the next chapter. I tore through  the next two books in Larsson’s trilogy with remarkable
speed. I was hooked.

 

So when I first saw “Dragon Tattoo’s” trailer, I
knew I had to see the film, despite my usual reservations surrounding beloved
books turned into Hollywood blockbusters. This time around, I was not
disappointed in the least.

 

David Fincher’s movie (which comes rather quickly on the
heels of the Swedish film versions of all three books) was spot-on good. It
cost a slick $90 million to produce, and while it may not have quadrupled that
total in the box office, it is a mesmerizing, cinematic success. And
“Tattoo” is perhaps one of the most amazingly cast movies I’ve ever
seen. I’m putting this one up next to “Harry Potter” for casting
success. Even by just watching the trailer, I could identify every character.
Spot on.

 

But  not only
did they look the part, these actors could deliver. Craig was fantastic as the
brooding and bruised Mikael Blomkvist, but it was Mara’s Lisbeth Salander who
gets the most attention. I am not entirely sure she was selling an Oscar-worthy
performance, but I am sure she did a fantastic job. In the books, Salander is
an extremely complex and multi-faceted character. Mara did a great job trying
to bring those nuances to the big screen.

 

Overall, the movie did not differ significantly from the
book and even accomplished some fat-trimming, which made the story flow even
better. My husband, who has not yet read the books, had no trouble keeping up
with the rapid plot flow or story twists. So while I found it handy to have
previous knowledge of the story, it is not necessary at all.

 

Extra highlight:
Check out the “Characters” extra

 

What to serve for dinner: The film is set in Sweden, so cook up a plate of
Swedish meatballs (foodnetwork.com).

 

2 slices fresh white bread

1/4 cup milk

3 tablespoons clarified butter, divided

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

A pinch plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 pound ground chuck

3/4 pound ground pork

2 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups beef broth

1/4 cup heavy cream

 

Preheat oven to 200 degree. Tear the bread into pieces and
place in a small mixing bowl along with the milk. Set aside. In a 12-inch
straight-sided saute pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add
the onion and a pinch of salt and sweat until the onions are soft. Remove from
the heat and set aside.

 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread and milk
mixture, ground chuck, pork, egg yolks, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, black
pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and onions. Beat on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes.
Using a scale, weigh meatballs into 1-ounce portions and place on a sheet pan.
Using your hands, shape the meatballs into rounds.

 

Heat the remaining butter in the saute pan over medium-low
heat, or in an electric skillet set to 250 degrees. Add the meatballs and saute
until golden brown on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the meatballs to
an ovenproof dish using a slotted spoon and place in the warmed oven.

 

Once all of the meatballs are cooked, decrease the heat to low
and add the flour to the pan or skillet. Whisk until lightly browned,
approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add the beef stock and whisk until
sauce begins to thicken. Add the cream and continue to cook until the gravy
reaches the desired consistency. Remove the meatballs from the oven, cover with
the gravy and serve with boiled egg noodles and a side green salad.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What was different between the book and the movie?
Which did you like more, book or movie? Who was your favorite character? What
do you think of the casting? Which movie has the worst casting? How do you
think the second book in the series will by shaped in Hollywood? What scene was
the most difficult to watch? Did you figure out the ending? Were you rooting for
Salander? What is your favorite book-turned-movie? Have you seen the Swedish
film versions with  Noomi Rapace?
Better than the American version? Who makes the better Salander? What would you
do with Salander’s computer skills?

Hop

Photo #8

Film (with rating): Hop (PG)

 

Studio: Universal Pictures

 

Summary: Fred, an out-of-work slacker, accidentally injures
E.B., the runaway Easter Bunny, and must take him in as he recovers. As Fred
struggles with the world’s worst houseguest, both will learn what it takes to
finally grow up and do their jobs.

 

Review: It’s Easter weekend, folks. While I originally
planned on writing up a piece on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
(look for it next week), I figured it might not be the most appropriate family
film for the holiday. So please to enjoy “Hop.”

This combination
animation/live-action flick is surprisingly charming. Perhaps it’s the British
accents. But more likely it’s the cute storyline and the likeable
characters…and the film’s ability to know it’s just plain silly. James Marsden
plays Fred, a lovable couch potato who accidentally injures a jellybean-pooping
rabbit named E.B. (perfectly voiced by Russell Brand), the future Easter Bunny.
E.B. ran away from his duties and destiny on Easter Island and ran smack into
Fred in Hollywood. What follows is a mix of life lessons learned, holidays that
must be saved, bad guys needing to be taken down a notch.

Despite the clichs
“Hop” is adorable. Both voice talent and live-action actors are
spot-on when it comes to delivering lines. Hank Azaria voices Carlos, a
power-mad chick and the elder Easter Bunny’s right-hand man, with hysterical
skill. The film almost seems to rejoice in its silliness, and for that it
succeeds. I mean, we’ve got David Hasselhoff making an appearance here, folks!
Silliness! Director Tim Hill (“Alvin and the Chipmunks”) somehow
found the sweet spot between stupid and adorable and set up camp. 

As an added perk, Hill included
numerous stages of humor so the whole family can enjoy jokes on multiple
levels. Some of the humor touches on the toilet-humor variety, and yet other
segments reach a bit higher on the hilarity ladder. And it all works.
“Hop” is a great film to enjoy after succumbing to a Peep-induced
sugar coma on Sunday.

 

Extra highlight: You’ll be too wound up on sugar to sit
still for any extras. Go do some pushups or run around the block.

 

What to serve for dinner: Stewed rabbit. Kidding! I’m
kidding! Go with a traditional Easter feast of baked ham and creamy au gratin
potatoes (allrecipes.com).

 

4 russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices

1 onion, sliced into rings

salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 1-quart casserole
dish. Layer half of the potatoes into the bottom of the prepared casserole
dish. Top with the onion slices, and add the remaining potatoes. Season with
salt and pepper to taste. In a medium-size saucepan, melt butter over medium
heat. Mix in the flour and salt, and stir constantly with a whisk for one
minute. Stir in milk. Cook until mixture has thickened. Stir in cheese all at
once, and continue stirring until melted, about 30 to 60 seconds. Pour cheese
over the potatoes, and cover the dish with aluminum foil.

Bake 1.5 hours in the preheated oven.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What is your favorite Easter
memory? What does the holiday mean to you? What are your earliest memories of
the Easter Bunny? What is your favorite Easter candy? What’s your opinion of
Peeps? Do you eat the tail or the ears first when it comes to chocolate
bunnies? When was the last time you went on an Easter egg hunt? What is your
favorite color to dye eggs? What did you think of the animation/live-action mix
of this film? What about the candy factory on Easter Island? Have you ever run
away from your responsibilities? What’s your favorite jellybean flavor?