Magic Mike

“Magic Mike”

By Kyra Kirkwood

Film (with rating): Magic Mike (R)

Studio: Warner Home Entertainment Group

Summary: A popular male stripper takes a young dancer under his wing and schools him in the fine art of partying, picking up women and taking off his clothes for money.

Review: Director Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) created a surprisingly sassy, spicy and slightly moralistic tale involving male exotic dancers. Don’t get confused; this is no “Traffic,” and when Soderbergh tries to venture into that arena, “Mike” falters. But luckily, the movie doesn’t toe that line very often. Instead, we’ve got a handful of young, talented dancers who spend their lives partying and living the fantasy life coveted by most young men. But Mike (Channing Tatum, who was a real-life stripper in his teen years) wants more, and it’s going to take a virtuous woman to help him get a more grounded, real life.

But who am I kidding? This film, while it does have a surprisingly rich plot peppered with likeable characters, is pretty much a 110-minute drool fest featuring some of the snappiest dancing, gorgeous glutes and yummy eye candy of any film since….I’m not really sure. “Mike” is like “Showgirls” and “Flashdance,” but for girls, and with some brains. It’s this strange hybrid of bachelorette party and cozy romantic dinner. And it works. Well, I think it works. I’m still a bit flustered by all those gleaming pecs and crazy dance moves (thank you, Channing!). The movie is full of clich├ęs, but somehow, it all works out.

I think it’s the magic of the pecs.

Extra highlight: The extended dance scenes “too hot for theaters.”

What to serve for dinner: A bottle of merlot and your kids’ Halloween candy.

What to talk about over dinner: Would you ever date a stripper? Would you ever be a stripper? Who was your favorite character? Have you ever been to a strip club? Ever had a stripper at one of your parties? What’s up with Matthew McConaughey and his crazy weight loss for a new film?

Five Year Engagement


Film (with rating): The Five Year Engagement (R)

 

Studio:
Universal Studios Home Entertainment

 

Summary: When
Tom (Jason Segal) and Violet (Emily Blunt) get engaged, life looks perfect. But
when one delay follows another, everyone begins to wonder if this wedding will
ever really happen.

 

Review: I
love Jason Segal. He’s this big, oafy, sarcastic teddy bear. Sure, he may be
slightly typecast in his cinematic roles, but it works. And Emily Blunt is a
spot-on rom-com goddess, with an accent I wish I had. With this movie’s
hard-hitting star power (not even mentioning the supporting cast of Chris
Pratt, Alison Brie and Rhys Ifans), I hoped for a “Forgetting Sarah
Marshall”-type hit. Maybe even something with a flair of
“Bridesmaids.” After all, we’ve got Judd Apatow from
“Bridesmaids” in the producer role, and “Nicholas Stoller from
“Sarah Marshall” in the director’s chair. Chances were good. Well,
“Five Year” isn’t like either of those hits, but it’s not totally off
the mark, either. There are scores of memorable moments (crossbow, anyone?)
that keep the movie above the line. But I was hoping for more. It’s a bit
predictable in terms of plot, and Segal and Blunt don’t really have the kind of
chemistry a movie like this needs. I almost feel sorry for the folks of
Michigan, since Stoller made the “locals” look like a bunch of
deer-hunting, backwoods hicks. Overall, “Five Year” stumbles and
sometimes feels too disjointed, but in the end, it is worth watching.
  It does deal
with a lot of the issues many of us face. Such as, what do we prioritize?

At the
very least, Blunt’s accent is just too cool, and seeing “How I Met Your
Mother’s” Segal in mutton chops is classic.

 

Extra highlight:
Gag reel.

 

What to serve for dinner: I’m sorry, Bambi. Venison stew (from Emeril Lagasse
on www.foodnetwork.com).

  • 3 tablespoons olive
    oil
  • 2 pounds venison stew meat
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • Essence, recipe follows
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes,
    peeled and seeded
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh
    basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh
    thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 4 cups brown
    stock
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Crusty bread

In a large pot over high
heat, add the olive oil. In a mixing bowl, toss the venison
with flour and Essence. When the oil is hot, sear the meat for 2 to 3 minutes,
stirring occasionally. Add the onions and
saute for 2 minutes. Add the celery and carrots. Season with salt and pepper.
Saute for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes, basil, thyme, and bay leaves
to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the
pan with the red wine. Add the brown stock. Bring the liquid up to a boil, cover
and reduce to a simmer.
Simmer the stew for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the meat is very tender. If
the liquid evaporates too much add a little more stock. Remove the stew from the
oven and serve in shallow bowls with crusty bread.

Essence (Emeril’s Creole Seasoning):

    2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

    2 tablespoons salt

    2 tablespoons garlic powder

    1 tablespoon black pepper

    1 tablespoon onion powder

    1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

    1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano

    1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store
in an airtight jar or container. Yield: about 2/3 cup.

 

What to talk about over dinner: How long were you engaged? Too long, too short,
just right? How long would you have waited to get married if life got in the
way? How long is too long? Is this movie a commentary about how today’s young
adults would rather live together than get married? Was Violet too selfish? Was
Tom directionless? What was up with the fur-covered steins? Why does everything
said with a British accent sound so charming? What do you think will happen in
the next season of “How I Met Your Mother?” Who would have been
better as the two lead characters in “Five Year?”

American Reunion


Film (with rating): American Reunion (R)

 

Studio:
Universal Studios Home Entertainment

 

Summary: All
the original “American Pie” characters return to East Great Falls for
their 13th high-school reunion, spending the weekend reconnecting,
drinking, pooping in coolers and talking about sex.

 

Review: I
admit it. I really loved the first “American Pie.” It was just
brainless, crude, funny and likeable enough to make its mark on cinema culture.
Who can forget that it spawned the “MILF” saying? For this fourth installment
in the franchise, all of the same actors return to reprise their roles. This is
a huge strength. I mean, most of us who like the “American Pie”
movies do so not just because they are crude and center around tube socks and
ways to violate baked goods. At the core, we like these movies because the
characters, as lame and gross and just downright stupid as they can be at
times, are rather endearing. So bringing everyone back to the table is
brilliant. And I mean everyone. We’ve got Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann
William Scott, Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Shannon Elizabeth, Tara Reid, Jennifer
Coolidge, Eugene Levy (Jim’s dad!) and Natasha Lyonne.

 

The movie revolves around everyone gathering together at the
high school reunion. Of course, life has changed. Jim (Biggs) is married to
Michelle (Hannigan), as we saw in the third “American Pie.” But now,
they have no sex life and a toddler. Kevin is married, but not to Vicky (Reid),
and Finch still longs for Stifler’s mom. Speaking of Stifler (Scott), he is the
one who has not changed; he’s still the horndog juvenile.

 

There are plenty of laughs, usually surrounding some sort of
immature sexual subject. But really, are you surprised? Lots of flashbacks
paying homage to previous films in the franchise will delight fans, but you
don’t have to have even seen the first three to enjoy this one. Despite some of
the jokes being overdone and some of the plot running thin, “American
Reunion” holds its own. I credit this, again, to the likeable characters.
Despite how embarrassingly lame they may be at times, we root for them. This
movie doesn’t have that same youthful flair that attracted us to “American
Pie,” but hey, we all get older and saggier and lose some of our spunk as
the years pass. Doesn’t mean we can’t still rock it every so often, right?
Well, at least we can try.

 

Extra highlight:
Alternate takes

 

What to serve for dinner: How about a chicken and apple pot pie? (Too much?
Well, what did you expect?) Courtesy of www.rachaelrayshow.com.

 

2 tablespoons EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, white or dark meat,
diced into bite-sized pieces

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons butter

3 Empire, Gala or Honey Crisp apples, peeled and chopped

3-4 small ribs celery, chopped

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup apple cider

1 cup chicken stock

1 sheet store-bought puff pastry dough, defrosted if frozen

1 egg, beaten with water

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat EVOO in a large skillet
over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown 7-8 minutes then remove to plate.

 

Add butter and melt. Add apples, celery, onion, bay, thyme,
salt and pepper, and cook to soften, 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle with flour, stir 1
minute then whisk in cider and stock. Slide chicken back into pan and simmer a
few minutes to thicken sauce.

 

Place in casserole dish or individual casserole dishes
arranged on baking sheet to catch drips. Cover with pastry, brush with egg wash
and bake until golden. Serves four.

 

What to talk about over dinner: Do you still hang out with your high school
friends? Did you go to your reunion? How was it? Any surprises? Who is your
favorite character in this film franchise and why? Anyone else loving “How
I Met Your Mother?” What made 
“American Pie” such a hit? Which sequel did you like the best?
Was it hard to watch supposedly “grown up” people act like stupid
high schoolers? What was your favorite blast from the past in this movie?

Project X


Film (with rating): Project X (R)

 

Studio:
Warner Bros.

 

Summary: Three
high school seniors on the low end of the popularity chart throw a birthday
party to make a name for themselves, but things quickly get out of control.

 

Review: I
know I’m getting old. While watching this hand-held cam-style/”found
footage” movie of a party gone wild, my brain went in two directions: 1.)
How much money is this going to cost his parents to fix? 2.) I am never, ever,
ever leaving my children home alone. Even when they are 30.

 

Thomas (Thomas Mann) hopes to celebrate his birthday in
style when his folks leave for the weekend. But best buddy Costa (Oliver Cooper)
wants that celebration to include a few thousand of their “closest
friends” in an attempt to push them to the top of the social food chain.
Nice Guy Thomas doesn’t want his folks’ house to get trashed, but when you add
alcohol, sex, more alcohol, some Ecstasy, a couple of DJs, alcohol, a dog
strapped to a bunch of balloons, a psycho with a flame thrower and a little
person in an oven (yes, I can now finally say I saw a movie that used the
phrase “midget in the oven.” I am now a fulfilled woman. Enter
sarcastic smirk here.), you know that’s exactly what’s going to happen. 

 

To start, this movie isn’t really a movie. It’s footage of a
party. There’s no plot. I made the mistake of trying to follow some sort of
storyline, and I wound up really confused. It’s not a comedy (unless you find
people throwing up on car windows funny), nor is it really a drama, because while
a lot of bad things happen, there are no real consequences (again, no plot
here, folks). The characters are beyond flat and stereotypical. The buddy Costa
is so annoying, I wanted to throw him in
the oven. “Project X” is beyond misogynistic, with so many gratuitous
boob shots you would think you were at a strip club. (Because flopping around
topless in a bounce house looks like a righteous good time, doesn’t it,
ladies?)

 

But.

 

Once I got past the two parts of my brain that were
screaming in fear as they contemplated raising our own teens someday, I could
sort of appreciate “Project X” as a brainless romp. Sure, my high
school parties equated to a warm keg in the backyard and a boom box, maybe a
few Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers and a couple of kids smoking cigarettes
while listening to Depeche Mode. But the film made me remember what it was like
to be young and out for a Friday night party at someone’s house.

 

Will I watch this movie again? No. It was entirely
unbelievable, with 90 percent of the action happening for shock value alone. It
could have been much better if plot replaced vomit and real characters stood in
for all of the naked, faceless hedonists. At the very least, “Project
X” made me feel my age, but it also made me very grateful I’m not 17, trying
to explain to my parents why there are footprints inside the oven.

 

Extra highlight: Project X: Declassified

 

What to serve for dinner: Since this film will turn you into
a teenage boy, eat what a teen boy would eat: Order an extra-large pizza, have
it delivered, open up some beer and eat right in front of the TV. Don’t even
bother with plates.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What was the wildest party
you attended in high school? College? Ever? Did you throw crazy parties when
your folks were away? What happened? What was the craziest thing you ever did
in high school? Did you have a bully friend like Costa? Did you buy the ending
at all? What was your favorite part of the movie? Least? How could the movie
have been better? Did “Project X” make you fear for your kids, or
your house? What’s your favorite party movie?

This Means War


Film (with rating):  This Means War (PG-13)

 

Studio: Fox

 

Summary: Two
CIA operatives (Chris Pine, Tom Hardy) who are partners and best friends
accidentally fall for the same girl (Reese Witherspoon). They use their skills
and an endless array of high-tech gadgetry against each other in a battle for
love.

 

Review: It’s
Monday, we’re entering into our first full week after the long holiday weekend,
and we may just be in the need for the mindless, unrealistic eye candy known as
“This Means War.” This is not a great movie. It’s actually not even
that good. But it is just what the tired and Monday-weary brain needs. Director
McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) tries to appeal to both sexes with this one;
it’s a romantic comedy filled with car chases, explosions, beat downs and guns.

 

Witherspoon is typecast as the adorable girl-next-door
Lauren who is just gosh-darn unlucky in love. Her bestie (a not-very-enjoyable
Chelsea Handler) encourages her to try out online dating, and in steps Suitor
No. 1. Then, in a video store, Lauren’s stars cross with those of Suitor No. 2.
Who just so happens to be CIA partners and besties with Suitor No. 1. See where
this is going?

 

So No. 1 and No. 2 decide to wage war on each other to see
who is the best man. And by war, I mean using all sorts of high-level CIA
techno tools, as well as their old-school fists, to come out ahead. It’s
spy-vs-spy, 21st Century Style. Or is it Really Stupid Style? I’m
still deciding. Sure, we throw in a Russian bad guy just for fun, but the main
battle is between these two guys (with ridiculous names) and their love
interest.

 

Overall, the cast is very talented. Pine and Hardy are
actually fun to watch in “War,” even though the script is far beneath
their skills. Same with Witherspoon. She’s just so sweet, you almost have to
like her in anything she does. Everyone in the film struggles to keep up with
the over-the-top action sequences, though.

 

“War” is not believable in the least. Even some of
the action scenes will leave you scratching your head with a “what
the…” expression on your face. But don’t let this stop you. Just zone out,
check your reality meter at the door with your briefcase, and relax. We’ve got
plenty of other days left this week to use our noggin. Let’s give it a rest
tonight, shall we?  

 

Extra highlight:
The alternate endings

 

What to serve for dinner: For this Meatless Monday, let’s serve up some Sweet
Potato Burritos (Penzeys.com. BEST spices in the world, by the way. Check them
out.).

 

2 sweet potatoes (11/2 lb. or so total)

3/4 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. granulated garlic powder

1/4 tsp. black pepper (optional)

2 TB.
lime juice (juice of 1 lime)

1 15-oz.
can black beans

1   cup
corn kernels

1/4-1/2  tsp.
salt (optional)

6 whole wheat tortillas

 

Optional Fillings:

1/2 cup
chopped olives

  cup
chopped tomatoes

1/4 cup
chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup
shredded sharp cheddar cheese

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce the sweet potatoes with
a fork, place on a baking sheet and bake for 40-60 minutes, depending on the size
of the sweet potatoes. Or, if you’re in a hurry, microwave the sweet potatoes
for about 15 minutes.

 

Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and let cool. Reduce
oven heat to 350 degrees. Scoop the insides out of the potatoes into a bowl and
mash with the spices and lime juice. Stir in the beans and corn. Add salt to
taste if using. Spoon the mixture in the tortillas along with any optional
fillings you desire. Roll up and bake for 10 minutes until heated through.

 

 

What to talk about over dinner: Do you think this rom-com/actioner worked? Why or
why not? What was the most unbelievable part? Or parts? What scenes worked? Do
you think Reese will have a baby boy or girl? Have you ever battled a friend
for someone’s affections? What would you do if you and your best friend liked
the same person? What was up with how extravagant that apartment was? I mean,
aren’t these guys on a government salary?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

http://captainsdead.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/ferris.jpgFilm (with rating): Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (PG-13)

Studio:
Paramount

 

Summary: A
high school slickster is determined to take a day off of school and have some
fun.

 

Review:  Maybe it’s spring fever, or perhaps a
yearning to be back in high school (I tell you, that “Glee” kick has
really messed with my head!). Or maybe it’s just a deep desire to take a day
off. Whatever the reason, I went vintage this weekend and pulled a classic out
of the vault. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is one of my favorite John Hughes
films. It’s got romance, adventure, the Chicago skyline, comedy and Charlie
Sheen, all wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket of teen angst and emotion. Matthew
Broderick stars as the title character in this 26-year-old (good Lord! It’s
that old?!) film, and despite all he’s done in his very accomplished career, he
can’t outrun “Bueller….Bueller.”

 

For those of you not familiar with this movie, it’s about
Ferris, a savvy teen who decides the day is too beautiful to be spent in
school. So he gets his girlfriend and best friend to take a day off with him
and enjoy the sights, sounds and escapades this day holds for them. We’ve got
baseball, a parade, museums, fancy cars, swanky restaurants. Ferris does more
in one day than I’ve done in the past year, I think.

 

One thing that makes “Ferris” such an all-star
movie is the all-star cast. Jennifer Grey plays Ferris’ angry sister (who tries
to pick up Charlie Sheen in the police station. Classic scene!) and Jeffrey
Jones is the unforgettable Ed Rooney, who makes it his mission to destroy
Ferris and keep him in high school another year. The comedy is beyond classic.
One-liners and laugh-out-loud scenes are the norm here. Hughes, the master of
the teen comedy and teen angst, knew just what he was doing with “Ferris.”
He not only captured the essence of the teenager, but he encapsulated the
spirit of Chicago. Classic. I saw the movie for the first time all those years
ago, and to this day I still recite the lines. And I still want a Ferris
Bueller-style day off.

 

Perhaps the Ferris-ism I took most to heart was the main one
from the movie: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around
once in a while, you could miss it.” So true, Ferris. So true. After
enjoying a trip back in time to the 1980s this weekend, take a note from
Ferris. Stop and look around a bit. Life does move pretty fast, you know. Don’t
miss it.

 

Extra highlight:
Skip it. Call in sick to work and go visit the museum or catch a baseball game.

 

What to serve for dinner: In honor of one of my most-favorite cities, serve
up some deep-dish Chicago-style pizza (foodnetwork.com). To pay homage to
“Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago,” add some sausage to this pizza
pie. Follow it up with a handful of gummi bears for dessert. Preferably warm
and soft.

 

Pizza Dough:

16 ounces water

1/8-ounce yeast

1/2-ounce salt

2 pounds bread flour

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup cornmeal

 

Toppings:

2 cups tomato sauce, jar or homemade

2 cups shredded mozzarella

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup spinach, shredded

1/2 cup grated Romano

1/2 cup sliced pepperoni

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Sausage, cooked and sliced

 

In a mixer combine the water and the yeast and allow the
yeast to dissolve. Add the remaining ingredients except for the cornmeal and
begin to mix the dough using a dough hook on low speed. Once a ball is formed
mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes until the dough becomes elastic and
smooth. Remove from the mixer and place in a bowl coated with olive oil. Allow
the dough to rest for approximately 4 hours. Once the dough is rested, place on
flat surface and dust with some flour.

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a deep baking dish or
deep-dish pizza pan, spread the dough using your fingers at the bottom of the
pan and make sure to have enough dough to come up the sides of the pan
approximately 1/2-inch high.

 

Begin by placing a layer of the mozzarella cheese on the
bottom of the crust. Add the tomato sauce and all of the toppings. Place in the
oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden and crispy.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite scene? Favorite adventure?
Did you have a friend like Ferris in high school? Were you Ferris? Are
you still that guy? What would you do if you could take a Ferris-style day off
tomorrow? What was your favorite line from the film? Why was John Hughes such a
genius when it came to the teen-angst drama/comedy? What was your favorite one?
Don’t even get me started on “Sixteen Candles.” I could talk about
that all night. What were the best parts of the 1980s? Where was the best place
you went to when you ditched high school? I think mine was the Oscars. Or
should I say, the parking lot near the Shrine Auditorium as we stood so far
back from the red carpet we could only manage a tiny glimpse of some actors’
heads as they rushed inside. But hey, I’d say that counts as a quasi-Ferris
moment. It would only be a true Ferris-style adventure, though, if I had
managed to walk down the red carpet myself, get inside the ceremony and finish
the evening dancing with Tom Cruise at the Governors Ball. 

Joyful Noise

Film (with rating): Joyful Noise (PG-13)

 

Studio:
Warner Bros.

 

Summary: A
small-town choir and its feuding choir leaders (Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton)
set out to win a national competition despite overwhelming odds and obstacles.

 

Review:
Perhaps it’s because I’m addicted to “Glee” episodes streaming
online. Or maybe because I have watched “9 to 5″ three dozen times.
Or that I was one of the 19 people who loved “Beauty Shop.” Whatever
the reason, I found “Joyful Noise” surprisingly enjoyable. At first
blush, the film looked to be at risk for major clichs, canned lines and syrupy
song numbers. But in reality, the Todd Graff-directed piece turned out to be
rather charming. The insane musical talents–not just of Parton and Latifah, but
of the entire cast– greased the wheels of “Noise” so that it sailed
right past most of the sticky parts. It’s like “Glee” and
“Footloose” and “Sister Act” with a sprinkle of “Steel
Magnolias” for good measure. Parton showcased her trademark feistiness,
portraying G.G. with enough Southern spunk and fire to please her fans. And
really, who doesn’t like Dolly Parton? The woman is an icon.

 

As is Latifah. With her character bent on keeping the church
choir as traditional as possible, she clashes with G.G., who feels a more modern
twist is needed. The two dish out some campy lines, but also some hysterical
ones. A great scene is where G.G. pokes fun of her “facial
enhancements” during a food fight with Vi Rose (Latifah), who tells G.G.
she may have lost herself in the world of cosmetic alterations.

 

“God didn’t make plastic surgeons so they could
starve,” snapped G.G.

 

The movie features things fans of “Glee” or big
booming voices will love: strong characters, predictable plot twists, romance
and lots and lots of singing. The singing, in fact, stole the show.
“Noise” is not going to win any Oscars for Best Screenplay, but it
will entertain you and make you tap your toe to the beat. Or belt out a diva
song in the shower.

 

Extra highlight:
“Make Some Noise” or, for the Blu-Ray, “Spotlight on a Song:
Dolly Parton’s ‘From Here to the Moon’”

 

What to serve for dinner: In the snappy food-fight scene, G.G. tosses a
handful of spaghetti at Vi Rose. So serve up a plate full of Fettuccini with
Salsa Cruda and Feta (allrecipes.com). Happy Meatless Monday, everyone!

 

1 pound fresh fettuccine pasta

5 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 small red onion, chopped

1 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1-2 teaspoons of minced garlic to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

 

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add
fettuccini and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain. In a medium
bowl combine tomatoes, onion, basil, olives, garlic and black pepper. Toss the
fettuccini with olive oil. Serve pasta topped with tomato mixture and feta
cheese.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite song? Who else could have
played G.G. and Vi Rose? What is your favorite Dolly Parton song? How has she
lasted this long in the spotlight? Was the movie too predictable, or
comfortably so? If you could sing like that, what would you do with that
talent? Why do so many great singers get self-destructive? What song do you
sing in the shower? What song do you think you know the words to, but really
just make up the lyrics as you go along? What was your favorite scene from
“9 to 5?” How much work has Dolly done on her face? Is she different
than the average Hollywood star because she’s so open about the plastic
surgery? Who has the worst plastic surgery in Hollywood?

New Year’s Eve


Film (with rating): New Year’s Eve (PG-13)

 

Studio:
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

 

Summary: As
the old year comes to a close and the new year is born, people from all over
New York look for love, hope and happiness.

 

Review:
Katherine Heigl’s character said it best: “There are going be more
celebrities here than at rehab.” So very, very true. “New Year’s
Eve” is packed with more stars than a moonless sky in the desert. We’ve
got an eclectic bunch of actors, such as Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Josh Duhamel,
Zac Efron, Jon Bon Jovi (*sigh*), Lea Michele, Hilary Swank, Ashton Kutcher,
Abigail Breslin, Robert De Niro, 
and Sarah Jessica Parker. (I kept looking around for Jennifer Aniston. You just know she was contacted about this movie. It has her name written all over it.) Each one stars in a little vignette about
hope, love and forgiveness on New Year’s Eve. It’s a lot like 2010′s “Valentine’s
Day.”

 

So really, folks, we’re not seeing anything new. In fact,
some reviewers have compared watching this movie to sitting through an
impressive party filled with beautiful people who have nothing to say. I
wouldn’t go that far. Yes, “New Year’s Eve” juggles more than its
fair share of clichs, and some of the storylines are downright cheesy. But the
acting isn’t half bad, and with such a huge stage of talent, there’s bound to
be someone in there who resonates with you. Heck, I’d watch it just to see Bon
Jovi. Did anyone else have a poster of him and the rest of the posse tacked to
her ceiling back in the 1990s? Or was that just me?

 

I digress. 

 

Garry Marshall, the genius behind many classics like
“Pretty Woman,” tackles “New Year’s Eve” and his stamp is
evident. It’s not one of his better films, but he does his best to keep it from
sinking during the low parts. The film does have some touching moments and some
funny ones (Biel is a hoot). Not quite enough of these to totally overlook the
more unbelievable plot lines, but enough to keep us entertained and interested.
And for those of us who embrace the symbolism of New Year’s Eve instead of the
party-fueled hype, “New Year’s Eve” offers some rays of optimism. Not
many, but enough to keep us satisfied until that first resolution breaks. And
it can’t hurt to watch it in honor of Dick Clark, America’s Oldest Teen, who
gave us many, many years of amazing New Year’s Eves. Thanks, Dick. We’ll
miss  you.

 

Extra highlight:
Gag reel, of course.

 

What to serve for dinner: The ringing in of a new year is filled with
tradition. Let’s celebrate that by serving up some symbolic New Year’s food for
dinner.

 

Start with grapes. In Spain, revelers dine on 12 grapes at
the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day to ring in the new year–one grape for
each clang of the clock. Then dish up some black-eyed peas with collard greens
for luck (www.nytimes.com). Finish the
meal with pork carnitas (allrecipes.com), since pork is viewed by many the
world over as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.

 

Black-Eyed Peas with Collard Greens

 

1/2 pound black-eyed peas, rinsed

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 bay leaf

Salt to taste

1 large bunch collard greens (1 1/2 to 2 pounds), stemmed,
washed well and chopped or cut in ribbons

2 tablespoons tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup water

1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill (to taste)

Freshly ground pepper to taste

For topping (optional): crumbled feta or fresh lemon juice

 

Place the black-eyed peas in a large saucepan, cover with
water by two inches, bring to a boil and then drain. Combine with half the
onion and one of the garlic cloves in the saucepan. Add water to cover by two
inches, and bring back to a simmer. Add the bay leaf, and reduce the heat. Add
salt to taste, cover and simmer 30 minutes, until the beans are just tender.
Drain through a strainer set over a bowl.

 

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large,
ovenproof lidded skillet or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil
over medium heat and add the remaining onion. Cook, stirring, until tender,
about five minutes, and add the remaining garlic. Stir together for 30 seconds
to a minute, until fragrant. A handful at a time, stir in the greens. As the
greens wilt, stir in another handful, until all the greens have been added and
have collapsed in the pan. Add the dissolved tomato paste and stir together.
Add salt to taste. Add the beans and enough cooking liquid to barely cover
everything, cover and place in the oven for 30 minutes, until the collards are
tender and the beans very soft.

 

Uncover the pot, and add a bit of liquid if the beans are
dry. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the dill, cover and continue
to simmer for another 10 minutes. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Serve warm or hot. If you wish, top with crumbled feta or a squeeze of lemon.

 

Pork Carnitas

 

1 (3 1/2) pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into
2 inch chunks

2 oranges, quartered

1 large white onion, quartered

6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1/4 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

 

Place the pork shoulder, oranges, onion, garlic, kosher
salt, cumin, black peppercorns, and bay leaves into a large Dutch oven. Add
water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to
medium-low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Skim off any foam that rises to the top.
Cover loosely, and simmer until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Allow
the pork to cool, covered, in the broth for 1 hour. Shred the meat with two
forks. Can combine with BBQ sauce for a pulled-pork sandwich, or roll up the
meat in some tortillas with salsa.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite story in the movie? Favorite
character? What was your best New Year’s resolution ever? Worst? How many
resolutions have you kept? Do you even make resolutions? Why are they so hard
to keep? Know any secrets to keeping resolutions? Who has kept her 2012
resolutions? What was the funniest scene in the movie? The most touching? What
was your best New Year’s Eve? Worst? Do you like the holiday, or do you feel
it’s more of a letdown? What would be your dream New Year’s Eve? Have you ever
been to Times Square on New Year’s Eve? Would you want to? Who else could
listen to Bon Jovi sing until next New Year’s Eve?

Leap Year


Film (with rating): Leap Year (PG)

 

Studio: Universal

 

Summary: Anna Brady (Amy Adams) plans to travel to Ireland
to propose to her boyfriend on Feb. 29 because, according to Irish tradition, a
man who receives a marriage proposal on a leap day must accept it. But getting
there is filled with obstacles, issues and a stubborn, yet handsome, Irishman
named Declan (Matthew Goode).

 

Review: In light of both Feb. 29, 2012, and St. Patrick’s
Day, I figured I’d dig one out of the vault for this column. “Leap Year”
fit the bill. While this film isn’t an award-winning romance nor is it an
unforgettable comedy, it is a pleasant stroll in the Irish countryside with
some likeable characters thrown in for good measure. This rom-com is
predicable, but really, what romantic comedy is not? It is also hobbled a bit
by some one-dimensional and rather stereotypical Irish characters (sorry, about
that ire!). But all of that can be overlooked because of the charming
performances by Adams and Goode, and the spectacular eye candy known as the
Irish landscape.

 

In “Leap Year,” Adams plays a high-maintenance
career gal with a plan to finally get her stick-in-the-mud boyfriend to marry
her–by popping the question herself. But as she heads out to Ireland from the
East Coast in order to meet up with said boyfriend at a conference, she’s
sidelined by one travel problem after another. When she finally arrives on
Irish soil, she must find a way to Dublin. Enter Declan, who of course hates
Anna and the feeling is mutual. But remember, this is a romantic comedy. The
hate won’t last forever.

 

So while "Leap Year" isn't going to shock anyone, it is a worth a watch just for the likeable Adams and the sensational Irish setting. So on this St. Patrick's Day weekend, enjoy some food and scenery from the homeland. And to all my readers, saol fada chugat. 

 

What to serve for dinner: Corned beef sandwiches with spicy
mustard, green beer and Irish soda bread (simplyrecipes.com). Finish up with a
scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

 

4 to 4 1/2 cups flour

    2
Tbsp sugar

    1
teaspoon salt

    1
teaspoon baking soda

    4
Tbsp butter

    1
cup raisins

    1
large egg, lightly beaten

    1
3/4 cups buttermilk

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together 4 cups of flour,
the sugar, salt, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. Using two knives or
a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles
coarse meal, then add in the raisins.

 

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add beaten
egg and buttermilk to well and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too
stiff to stir. Dust hands with a little flour, then gently knead dough in the
bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. If the dough is too sticky to work
with, add in a little more flour. Do not over-knead! Transfer dough to a
lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf. Note that the dough will
be a little sticky, and quite shaggy (a little like a shortcake biscuit dough).
You want to work it just enough so that the flour is just moistened and the
dough just barely comes together. Shaggy is good. If you over-knead, the bread
will end up tough.

 

Transfer dough to a large, lightly greased cast-iron skillet
or a baking sheet (it will flatten out a bit in the pan or on the baking sheet).
Using a serrated knife, score top of dough about an inch and a half deep in an
“X” shape. The purpose of the scoring is to help heat get into the
center of the dough while it cooks. Transfer to oven and bake until bread is
golden and bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 35-45 minutes. Check for
doneness by inserting a long, thin skewer into the center. If it comes out
clean, it’s done.

 

If the top is getting too dark while baking, tent the bread
with some aluminum foil.

 

Remove pan or sheet from oven, let bread sit in the pan or
on the sheet for 5-10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool briefly. Serve
bread warm, at room temperature, or sliced and toasted. Best when eaten warm
with butter and honey.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What is your most memorable
St. Patrick’s Day? What is the history behind this holiday? Do you have any
roots in Ireland? Have you ever been to Ireland? What’s your favorite spot in
that country? What was your favorite scene in the movie? Your favorite movie
location? Ever kissed the Blarney Stone? Did you find the movie unbearably
predictable, or comfortably predictable? Do you enjoy romances, or romantic
comedies more? What’s your favorite Amy Adams movie? Why is she so likeable?
She named her daughter Aviana Olea. Like, or no?

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

  Photo #1


Film (with rating): A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
(R)

 

Studio: Warner Home Entertainment

 

Summary: It’s been six years since Harold and Kumar escaped Guantanamo
Bay, and now they’re estranged, living totally different lives. Harold is a
straight-laced banker with a beautiful wife he’s trying to impregnate, and
Kumar is still stoned out of his mind and living like a college frat boy. But
when holiday circumstances get these two back together again, hilarity–and some
pretty illegal activity–ensues.

 

Review: Ever seen “Bad Santa?” Did you enjoy it?
Then “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” is right up your
chimney. Nothing and no one is spared in this third “Harold &
Kumar” film, not religion, not Jesus, not Santa (who gets shot in the
head, for crying out loud), not even babies. The entire film is not to be taken
seriously, but really, what did you expect? Being an older, rather boring,
suburbanite mother, I find it rather wickedly enjoyable to watch these guys
(played hysterically again by John Cho and Kal Penn, who wasn’t nearly as good
in his recent guest run on “How I Met Your Mother”) do all sorts of
stupid and stoned things. Such as play beer pong at a mobster’s party, all for
a Christmas tree. I did not watch the film in 3D, which I’m sure added to the
appeal in theaters (that, and a little help from some non-medicinal Mary Jane,
perhaps). But even without those effects, the film can still be enjoyed.

 

Thomas Lennon, who plays Harold’s new BFF Todd, is a
delight. It’s his poor baby who becomes perhaps the youngest crackhead in
history. While absolutely not politically correct, the joke stream involving
sky-high tykes is obscenely funny. The stint in the mobster’s closet is just
hysterical.

 

Another perk: Neil Patrick Harris. His bit in the film is fantastic,
but pretty much everything he does rocks. Do not miss him.

 

All in all, this is a good film to watch any time of the
year if you’re craving some absolutely stupid, no-thinking-required,
offensive-to-all comedy. But even with that said, “A Very Harold &
Kumar 3D Christmas” does have a decent message or two. Such as some
friendships are worth fighting for. And waffles rock. Two things anyone can
enjoy, even without the help of Kumar’s stash. 

 

Extra highlight: Bringing Harold & Kumar Claymation to
Life (Blu-Ray)

 

What to serve for dinner: Do as WaffleBot says, and eat some
waffles. Try Savory Cornmeal Waffle & White Bean Chicken Chili (from
achowlife.com).

 

1 recipe Chicken and White Bean Chili (see below)

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup wheat germ

3 large eggs

2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional oil for brushing
waffle iron

 

Into a large bowl sift together flour, cornmeal, baking
powder, baking soda, and salt. Repeat sifting two more times and stir in wheat
germ. In another large bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk and oil. Add flour
mixture all at once and whisk just until combined. Preheat a waffle iron and
brush lightly with additional oil. Spoon batter into waffle iron, using 1/4 cup
batter for each 4-inch-square standard waffle and spreading batter evenly, and
cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer waffle to a baking sheet
and keep warm, uncovered, in middle of oven. Make more waffles with remaining
batter in same manner, brushing waffle iron with oil before adding each batch.
Serve waffles topped with hot chili.

 

Chili:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/3 cups chopped onion

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

2 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into
1/2-inch cubes

3 1/2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 15- to 16-ounce cans white beans, drained, juices reserved

2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

(sour cream and white cheddar as topping options)

 

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell
pepper, and garlic; saut until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add chicken; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saut until chicken is no longer
pink outside, about 5 minutes. Mix in chili powder, tomato paste, cumin, and
oregano. Add beans, 1 cup reserved bean juices, and canned tomatoes. Simmer
until chicken is cooked through and chili is thickened, about 25 minutes. If
chili is too thick, add more bean juices by tablespoonfuls to thin. Season
chili to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in cilantro and serve with your choice
of additional toppings including sour cream and white cheddar cheese.

 

What to talk about over dinner: I’m not really sure there’s
much to talk about. I mean, you may have lost numerous brain cells just from
watching that movie. So why don’t you just keep calling each other
“dude” and eat more waffles? WaffleBot would be proud.