The Artist


Film (with rating): The Artist (PG-13)

 

Studio: Sony
Pictures Home Entertainment

 

Summary: Silent
movie star, and appropriately named, George Valentin (Oscar-winner Jean
Dujardin) is afraid that the coming era of talking pictures will cause him to
fade into oblivion.

 

Review: When
“The Artist” swept this year’s Academy Awards, I wasn’t surprised.
Take a silent, black-and-white film with a mainly foreign cast and it spells
Oscar gold. For better or for worse. Yes, I was a bit cynical, but that’s
usually how these things go.

 

But now that “The Artist” is out on DVD and I’ve
had time to figure it out, I have to agree that this film by director/writer Michel
Hazanavicius is well deserving of its praise. For one, it is pretty
revolutionary when compared to today’s “normal” cinema fare. There
was not a single word spoken in this movie; instead, title cards, fantastic
acting and a magnificent soundtrack served as dialog. No giant explosions, 14
subplots, government conspiracies, vampires, evil demons, web-slinging
superheroes or partying/pooping bridesmaids made an appearance.

 

Yet even so, “The Artist” could hold the
audience’s attention, evoke emotion and tell an unforgettable story.

 

While I at first scoffed at the Best Actor Oscar for
Dujardin, I later ate my words. It takes a very talented actor to pull off an
entire movie without the help of dialog. He couldn’t just talk–he had to act.
And charmingly so. So yes, I agree, his Academy Award was well deserved.

 

“The Artist” touches on fears we all have, be this
2012 or 1927. Becoming unneeded and obsolete, losing our touch, being
forgotten. Dujardin and his leading lady, the adorable Brnice Bejo, conveyed
so much emotion into their roles. The audience didn’t need words to know what
they were thinking and feeling.

Some reviewers have commented that “The Artist” is too simple, that the storyline really doesn’t allow for much thought because it is so basic in nature. But let’s be fair. This is a silent movie. How complicated can the plot be without any dialog to develop it?

 

Truth be told, people who really dislike black-and-white
films and silent films in particular will have a hard time with “The
Artist.” It is a tribute to this style of filmmaking, so if you hate that,
you’ll hate this movie. With all the hype it received during awards season
(five Oscars, seven BAFTA awards, three Golden Globes, etc.), “The
Artist” also falls into the trap of looking like the best film ever
created. So much hype preceding any movie viewing is bound to equal
disappointed viewers.

 

My advice? Give it a shot. Go in with an open mind. Block
out preconceived notions of silent movies as well as excessive accolades from
reviewers across the globe. Just give “The Artist” a try.

 

Besides, the dog, played by Uggie von Muller, is worth
watching the film for all by himself. That little dude is remarkable! He’s a
rescued dog who really wasn’t an enormous big-time Hollywood star before this
movie. Gotta love those canine stars who really light up the film. Who needs
words when you’ve got a wagging tail, anyway?

 

Extra highlight:
Q&A with Filmmakers and Cast. Or read my story about Uggie here.

 

What to serve for dinner: For tonight’s Meatless Monday Movie entre, let’s
honor Dujardin’s homeland of France with some crepes.

 

Cheesy Vegetable Crepes (www.bettycrocker.com).

 

Vegetable Filling

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped (3 to 4 cups)

cup chopped green bell pepper

4 medium green onions, sliced (1/4 cup)

teaspoon instant minced garlic

2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped (1 1/2 cups)

teaspoon salt

 

Crepes

1 cup Original Bisquick mix

cup milk

2 eggs

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

In 10-inch skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add zucchini,
bell pepper, onions and garlic; cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally,
until vegetables are crisp-tender. Remove from heat; stir in tomatoes. Sprinkle
with salt. Cover; let stand 2 to 3 minutes.

 

Lightly grease a 6- or 7-inch skillet; heat over medium-high
heat. In a medium bowl, stir Bisquick mix, milk and eggs with wire whisk or
fork until blended. Heat oven to 350 degrees. For each crepe, pour 2
tablespoons batter into hot skillet; rotate skillet until batter covers bottom.
Cook until golden brown. Gently loosen edge with metal spatula; turn and cook
other side until golden brown. Stack crepes, placing waxed paper between, as
you remove them from skillet. Keep crepes covered to prevent them from drying
out.

 

Spoon filling onto crepes. Sprinkle half of cheese over
filling on crepes; roll up crepes. Place seam sides down in an ungreased
11×7-inch (2-quart) glass baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake
uncovered 10 to 12 minutes or until hot.

 

What to talk about over dinner: Did this movie work, or was it just an overdone
effort to get Oscar attention? Did you agree with all of the awards it won? Who
was your favorite character? Could you get into the movie, or was it difficult?
Were you bored? Did this change your mind about silent films or black-and-white
movies? Did you just love the dog? Do you think we’ll be seeing more of
Dujardin on this side of the Atlantic? What is your favorite black-and-white
movie? Would you have liked to live in the 1920s? How are things today like
they were back then?

Saving Private Ryan


Film (with rating): Saving Private Ryan (R)

 

Studio:
Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment

 

Summary: Following
the Allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, a few United States soldiers
go behind enemy lines to retrieve a private whose three brothers have been
killed in action.

 

Review: In
honor of Memorial Day, let’s haul out a classic war film. Steven Spielberg’s
“Saving Private Ryan” is perhaps the most powerful war film of modern
time. Maybe ever. The opening half-hour scene depicting the landing in
Normandy from a soldier’s point of view is unquestionably the most raw, harsh,
violent, visceral depiction of war ever filmed. Spielberg created an utterly
unforgettable cinematic masterpiece that’s both beautiful and absolutely
horrifying.

 

For a long time, I avoided watching this film, since my
grandfather was one of those men storming the beaches. He escaped, barely. Extensively wounded, sent home with the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, he again never talked
about his time on that foreign shore. But according to many World War II vets
who were also there, Spielberg’s depiction of the event was spot-on. It’s
almost too much to watch. Knowing that more than 400,000 Americans were killed
in WWII made “Saving Private Ryan” almost too painful
to see, especially knowing that my grandfather was nearly one of those 400,000.

 

The casting for “Saving Private Ryan” couldn’t
have been better. While not Tom Hanks’ biggest role, it is one of his finest.
He played Capt. John Miller, the man chosen to lead a team of eight soldiers
ordered to locate and rescue Pvt. James Ryan (Matt Damon). His three brothers
died in the war and his mother is scheduled to receive the telegrams all on the
same day. The powers-that-be, in a goodwill stunt tinged with a P.R. campaign, order
that the surviving Ryan son be sent home safely. Capt. Miller is called to
duty to fulfill the mission. 

 

The acting of the entire cast–including Tom Sizemore, Ted
Danson, Paul Giamatti, Vin Diesel, Edward Burns, Giovanni Ribisi–is beyond
compare, which is saying something, since the film leans heavily on action
sequences. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who also shot “Schindler’s
List,” brings his talent to the table, as well.

 

But here’s where “Saving Private Ryan” really
shines: Spielberg and his screenwriter, Robert Rodat, created a riveting action
film, an unforgettable human-interest tale, and a philosophical stance on war itself. But since it’s Sir Steven here,
he does all of this in such a way that the messages and images morph together
into a piece of art. He says what he does about war without preaching, without
pulling the viewer from the story. Somehow, in the midst of this action-packed
movie, Spielberg found a way for his characters, and his script, to speak
volumes.

 

Extra highlight:
Check out the director’s message.
Or just find a soldier and tell him or her thanks. 

 

What to serve for dinner: It’s Meatless Monday again!  Now I know many of us will be
barbequing this holiday, but just because we’re forgoing the meat doesn’t mean
we need to shut down the grill, too. Let’s try vegetable skewers and black bean
veggie burgers (allrecipes.com).

 

Skewers

2 medium zucchini, cut into 1 inch slices

2 yellow summer squash, cut into 1 inch slices

1/2 pound whole fresh mushrooms

1/3 cup olive or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

3/4 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

 

On metal or soaked bamboo skewers, alternately thread
zucchini, yellow squash and mushrooms. In a bowl, combine the remaining
ingredients. Brush some of the mixture over vegetables. Grill, uncovered, over
medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender, turning and
basting occasionally with herb mixture.

 

Burgers

1 (16 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 2 inch pieces

1/2 onion, cut into wedges

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 egg

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon Thai chili sauce or hot sauce

1/2 cup bread crumbs

 

If grilling, preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly
oil a sheet of aluminum foil. If baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees and
lightly oil a baking sheet. In a medium bowl, mash black beans with a fork
until thick and pasty. In a food processor, finely chop bell pepper, onion, and
garlic. Then stir into mashed beans. In a small bowl, stir together egg, chili
powder, cumin, and chili sauce. Stir the egg mixture into the mashed beans. Mix
in bread crumbs until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Divide mixture
into four patties. If grilling, place patties on foil, and grill about 8
minutes on each side. If baking, place patties on baking sheet, and bake about
10 minutes on each side.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What did you think of the opening scene? Did this
film deserve all five Oscars (including Best Director and Best Cinematography)?
Who was your favorite character? What would it be like if we lost 400,000
Americans in the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? What was it like to
live through WWII? How did that experience change our country? What is the most
powerful war story you’ve ever heard? What’s next for Matt Damon? What is your
favorite Tom Hanks film? Why is he the most likeable guy in Hollywood? What’s
your favorite Steven Spielberg movie? If you could spend one day with him, what
would you ask him? What do you think “Saving Private Ryan” says about
war? Do you agree? 

So for all those serving our country now or in the past, we salute you. Happy Memorial Day.

The Help


Film (with rating): The Help (PG-13)

 

Studio: DreamWorks Studios

 

Summary: This film, based on the best-selling novel by
Kathryn Stockett, is about very different women in 1960s Mississippi who build
an unlikely friendship when one of them attempts to write a book detailing the
African-American maids’ point of view on the white families they work for.

 

Review: Sometimes, beloved books made into big-screen
Hollywood flicks often fall flat simply because the film world cannot become as
multi-textured and amazing as the written word. But in the case of “The
Help,” director Tate Taylor did Stockett justice, big time. The film is
just as powerful and rich as is the novel. In fact, it is a bit richer, thanks
to the amazing performances by the leading ladies.

The confident and spunky
Emma Stone rocks the role of Skeeter, the college grad determined to uncover
the story of these African-American maids who have endured and witnessed much
in the homes of their employers. Then there are Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.
Their much-heralded talent is not overstated in the least, and both are highly
deserving of the Academy Award nods they’ve been given. As is Jessica Chastain,
the young wife with a secret. Her Oscar nomination was also spot-on.

These
actors brought the rich and real characters birthed by Stockett to life in a
way that fans of the novel will celebrate; even those who are not familiar with
the book will appreciate the phenomenal casting and acting. Davis and Spencer
steal the show, and it’s thanks to their deep characters and engaging storyline
that we are drawn into the heart of this film, which has been
nominated for the best picture Oscar.

Here’s a nifty bit of trivia: Stockett
was rejected 60 (60!!!) times during the course of writing “The Help.”
Her novel was literally tossed away by dozens upon dozens of powerhouses in the
publishing world, until an agent named Susan Ramer,  No. 61, took a chance on her.

But even before that, Stockett
took a chance on herself, escaping for an afternoon to a motel so she could
write in peace, carving out bits of time to further develop her characters. She
never gave up. Her soul and determination leak beautifully into each of her
characters. And for once, Hollywood didn’t blot it dry.

 

Extra highlight: “In their Own Words: A Tribute to the
Maids of Mississippi.”

 

What to serve for dinner: Black-Eyed Pea Gumbo
(allrecipes.com) and Mississippi Mud Cake (Paula Deen/foodnetwork.com).

 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

5 stalks celery, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup brown rice

4 (15 ounce) cans black-eyed peas with liquid

1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

 

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and
cook the onion, pepper, and celery until tender. Pour in the chicken broth, and
mix in rice, black-eyed peas with liquid, diced tomatoes and green chiles,
diced tomatoes, and garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45
minutes, or until rice is tender. Add water if soup is too thick. Also sprinkle
with additional Cajun seasonings and hot sauce if more heat is desired.

 

Mississippi Mud Cake

 

2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup cocoa

1/4 cup water

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 bag miniature marshmallows

 

Icing:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons cocoa

6 tablespoons milk

1 (1-pound) box confectioners’ sugar

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 by
9-inch baking pan. Combine the sugar, salt, and flour in a large mixing bowl.
Bring the butter, oil, cocoa, and 1/4 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Add to
the flour mixture.

 

Beat together the eggs, baking soda, buttermilk, and
vanilla. Add to the chocolate mixture, mix well, and pour into the prepared
pan. Bake for 25 minutes.

 

While the cake is baking, make the icing by melting the
butter in the cocoa and milk over low heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then
remove from the heat. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Slowly mix in the nuts
and the vanilla. Take the cake from the oven, and when it cools a bit cover it
with miniature marshmallows. Pour the warm icing over the cake and the
marshmallows. Cool the cake before serving.

 

What to talk about over dinner: How have things changed from
the 1960s until now? Can you imagine living in a time like that? How are race
relations different? Did you read the book? How do you feel the movie differs
from the book? Does it? What is your favorite book-turned-movie? The worst one?
Who was your favorite character in “The Help?” How do you think it
will score at the Academy Awards this Sunday? Who is going to wear the tackiest
dress? The best? Which film will win best movie? Rumor has it the Oscar is
Viola’s to lose. Agree or not? Or do you think Michelle Williams will go home
with the award? What was the part of the film that resonated most deeply with
you? What have you done that has gone against the grain of societal norms? When
have you bucked the system for what you believed in? Would you have given up on
“The Help” after 10 rejections? Thirty? What do you think made
Stockett keep going? What are you that passionate about?

 

Contagion


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

 

Studio:
Warner Home Video

 

Summary:  A world-wide pandemic erupts when a new
and deadly form of the flu infects people across the globe.

 

Review: Being
a card-carrying hypochondriac, I also must be a bit of a masochist to have
actually wanted to see this film. And yet, there I was, begging my husband to
take me to the theater on “Contagion’s” opening night. I have a
weakness for end-of-the-world infection stories.


While “Contagion”
was riveting, it was not the film I anticipated. But that turned out to be just
fine. It was more of a character- and dialog-driven drama than an actioner with
a main, heroic figure who battles both flu bugs and bad guys, winning the war.
In fact, there were no battles requiring any CG-prowess, nor was there even a
main character.


The cast was star-studded: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude
Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet (who did an awesome job). Each of these
characters carried nearly equal weight in the film. And it worked. Of course, I
had to fight the urge to floss Jude Law’s horrific fake teeth every single time
the man was on screen. Those things grossed me out more than the dead bodies.


But I digress.


“Contagion” did spark fear, but it also uncovered
answers and more questions. It explored the nature of what a real-life pandemic
might look like, both from the human side and the scientific one. Truth and
fiction blended together in this film, making it an entertaining,
quasi-educational experience. I found it fascinating. Especially the part where
it was revealed we touch our face a bazillion times every day. Ew.

 

Extra highlight:
“The Contagion Detectives”

 

What to serve for dinner: Cook up something soothing and nourishing, like
what Mama would make when you were home sick from school. Chicken noodle soup
with soft garlic breadsticks.

 

Soup (allrecipes.com)

 

2 1/2 cups wide egg noodles

    1
teaspoon vegetable oil

    12
cups chicken broth

    1
1/2 tablespoons salt

    1
teaspoon poultry seasoning

    1
cup chopped celery

    1
cup chopped onion

   
1/3 cup cornstarch

   
1/4 cup water

    3
cups diced, cooked chicken meat

 

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add egg
noodles and oil, and boil for 8 minutes, or until tender. Drain, and rinse
under cool running water. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine broth,
salt, and poultry seasoning. Bring to a boil. Stir in celery and onion. Reduce
heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and water
together until cornstarch is completely dissolved. Gradually add to soup,
stirring constantly. Stir in noodles and chicken, and heat through.

 

Breadsticks (allrecipes.com)

 

1 1/8 cups water (70 to 80 degrees F)

    2
tablespoons olive or canola oil

    3
tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

    2
tablespoons sugar

    3
teaspoons garlic powder

    1
1/2 teaspoons salt

   
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh basil

    3
cups bread flour

    2
teaspoons active dry yeast

    1
tablespoon butter or stick margarine, melted

 

In bread machine pan, place the first nine ingredients in
order suggested by manufacturer. Select dough setting (check dough after 5
minutes of mixing; add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or flour if needed). When
cycle is completed, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 20
portions. Shape each into a ball; roll each into a 9-inch rope. Place on
greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes or
until doubled. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove to wire racks. Brush warm breadsticks with butter.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What do you fear most? Nuclear attack or biological
warfare? Are you afraid of getting sick? What’s the sickest you’ve ever been?
How can we stay healthy? Do you believe in vaccines, or homeopathic remedies?
Who was your favorite character and why? What would you have done if you were
in the middle of a pandemic? Do we over-vaccinate? Is the flu shot worth it?
How many times a day do you touch your face?

Black Swan

Photo #3


Film (with rating): Black Swan (R)

 

Studio: Fox
Searchlight Pictures

 

Summary: In
this psychological thriller set in the world of New York City ballet dancers, a
nave, fragile ballerina (Natalie Portman) earns the coveted lead in Swan Lake,
only to slowly lose her mind as she struggles to embody both the
“good” White Swan and the more sensual, edgy Black Swan.

 

Review: This
is the first movie I’ve reviewed that has stumped me. I don’t mean the subject
matter left me confused. What I mean is that I don’t have the foggiest idea
whether I loved or hated this film. I think I feel both extremes. Hence,
stumped.

 

I admit, I felt very excited to finally see “Black
Swan” because of the endless critical acclaim and reviewer hype it
received since it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.
When it scored big at the Golden Globes and Portman walked away with
best-actress wins everywhere from the Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards to
the Academy Awards, I was even more determined to see it. Toss in a bit of real
life drama (Portman falls in love on the set! She’s carrying her fianc’s love
child! She lost a ton of weight and became a pseudo-ballerina for this role!),
well, call me hooked.

 

Billed as a horror movie and psychological thriller,
“Black Swan” appeared to take all I love about the cinema–scary
scenes, deep character development, rich storyline, strong themes, beautiful
music–and turn out an unforgettable piece of art. Yet as I sat in my family
room after watching said piece of art, I could only agree on one previously
held notion: it was unforgettable.

 

Honestly, as the credits rolled, I sat stunned: It’s over?
What happened? I expected so much more. Granted, the film really climbed high
on my expectation meter. But even with that acknowledged, I still felt shafted.
Was I missing something? I didn’t expect to be spoon-fed the entire story, but
a trail of breadcrumbs every now and they would be nice. At the risk of
sounding like a complete philistine, I didn’t get it.

 

I sat, trying to digest and make sense of the mess I watched
and decide if it indeed was the most amazing film of the century, or a piece of
self-indulgent and clich-filled garbage. I’m not alone. On IMDB.com, about
half of the nearly 900 reviewers hated it. The other half wanted to marry it,
so in love they were with it.

 

Days later, I realized the strength of the film: It refuses
to go away in the viewer’s head. Good or bad, it set up shop in my head and
wouldn’t go away. Layers peeled and I began to see things differently.

 

Let’s start with me “loving” this film.

 

“Black Swan” is a film student’s wet dream. It has
a zillion small and large, overt and subtle jewels that embody the art of
cinema. Directed by the acclaimed Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler”),
“Black Swan” plays off the good/bad themes in numerous ways. Shadows
illustrate the darkness of the mind. The contrast of black and white, light and
dark is done well at times. Unfortunately, Aronofsky takes it over the top
(here, good Nina, put on bad Lilly’s black tank top and go wild!), but more
about that later. The lighting and visual effects added to the film, as did
Aronofsky’s brilliant camera angles. The makeup and special effects (I’m
talking about those black wings!) took my breath away.

 

Casting was phenomenal. In fact, the supporting cast equaled
brilliance. Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder positively glowed in
their performances. Hershey in particular resonated with creepy brilliance, and
Kunis was undeniably talented and mesmerizing. Portman’s portrayal of the Black
Swan definitely earned her the Oscar.

 

A few scenes definitely blew me away. The one with Ryder and
a nail file in the hospital, as well as the webbed toes and the gritty subway
scene with the old man. Brilliant and unforgettable. Then you’ve got the final
45 minutes of the movie (which, by the way, is not too long, unlike many other
critically acclaimed flicks). These final frames are intense, beautiful,
anxious, dark and ugly, all at once. They make the movie.

 

The musical score by Clint Mansell  is haunting and delicious. Made me want to download the
soundtrack.

 

The themes revolving around obsession, perfection and
impeding your own path to greatness–and the consequences of all–dominated
“Black Swan” and helped shape the plot. Aronofsky made some brilliant
directorial moves to make sure those themes resonated with not just his
characters, but with the audience.

 

Now let’s flip sides and hate the movie.

 

Portman. I’m not disputing her talent. But her character was
so weak, so fragile, I doubted she’d ever make it to the rank of lead ballerina
in a prestigious dance company. Hearing all of the hype about her role, I
expected more development, more depth. Instead, the richness came too close to
the end of the film for me to appreciate it. Sure, she worked hard to learn
dance skills and whittle her tiny frame down to microscopic proportions (which
actually was a distraction to me–I expected her to snap in half if she bumped
into a table). But so what? Portman’s portrayal of Nina’s constant doe-eyed
weepiness didn’t scream “OSCAR WORTHY!” to me at all. I’d go so far
as to say it was flat. Toward the end, sure, things got a lot better. But I
found it really hard to even care about Nina at all because she was so void. I
won’t even talk about Aronofsky’s constant, and I do mean constant,
close ups of Portman’s one-expression face. Again, that did nothing to add to
Nina’s character arc.

 

The clichs. Black wings tattooed on Kunis’ Lilly. Uh, yeah,
we get it. She’s the picture of the Black Swan Nina is trying to achieve. Got
that one, Darren. No need to beat me over the head with it. Lilly wears black all
the time
and she’s naughty. Nina wears
white
all the time and she’s
good. Yeah, yeah, I get it once again. Good vs. bad. Then you’ve got the
lecherous head honcho at the ballet company, the bad-stage-mommy character
(“I gave up my career for you!”), the mirrors, talking pictures and
in fact Portman’s whole character. Clich city!

 

Sex. I’m not even going to pick apart the girl-on-girl sex scene
(obviously written by a 15-year-old boy and totally gratuitous) because it just
flows right along with the other clichs this film is so riddled with. These
are not art-house fare, but been-there-done-that pieces of the past. You can’t
toss in some lesbian action, or some clever twists of color and lighting, and
call a film an art-house masterpiece.

 

The ending. What the hell? Real or imaginary? In fact, what
was real and what wasn’t? Theories abound. Nina imagined Lilly in some female
“Fight Club”-esque plot twist. She was molested by her  controlling mother. She was dreaming
the entire thing and woke up at the end of the movie. Lilly really did want
Nina’s job and gladly pushed her to the brink. What was real and what wasn’t?

 

The dancing. If you’re a dancer, you’ll hate this film for
its inconsistencies and flat-out errors relating to the world of the dance. I
used to dance a hundred years ago, and even with my very limited experience, I
know that no prestigious dance troupe would ever hire a ballerina covered in
body ink. Many of the dance scenes are filmed close up, so we see a lot of hand
movement, but not a lot of dance. It’s obvious a body double was used for
Portman’s scenes, which is fine, but let the viewer see some beautiful dancing,
not just more of Portman’s flat expressions and skeletal arms. Please.

 

The plot. It’s slow. Then confusing. Then beautiful. Then a
mess. Mix in some “artsy” camera angles, and the end result is
cluttered and frustrated. To term it a horror film just because of a few bloody
scenes and some red eyes is a disservice to the horror genre. It’s possibly a
dramatic thriller, not a horror flick.

 

Okay. So is “Black Swan” amazing, or crap?

 

Both.

 

And here lies the major strength in this film. As you’re
sitting there digesting it and trying to figure it out, you realize that
Aronofsky was a bit brilliant. The movie is left up to the viewer to interpret.
This is not a flick you can sit back and enjoy. Nothing is served up to you.
You have to work at it, think about it, figure it out. No one–and certainly not
me–is going to tell you what this movie is really about because I believe it’s
up to the viewer. There are some theories that don’t hold water (um, if Lilly
does not exist, why does the guy in the bar order four drinks?), but that’s
part of “Black Swan’s” beauty. You get to think about it, do some
mental plies and jets, if you will.

 

OK, I’m now exhausted. To sum it up, “Black Swan”
is not the best movie I’ve ever seen. It may be one of my least favorites. It
did not match the hype. But it’s also unforgettable, thought-promoting,
haunting and dark. Watch it, if for nothing else to have something to talk
about. And don’t be afraid to admit you hated it. That doesn’t mean you’re a
Neanderthal unable to appreciate art. It just means you’re like a large, large
percentage of viewers who would like to see this swan cooked.

 

Extra highlight:
Metamorphosis : A behind-the-scenes documentary with Darren Aronofsky

 

What to serve for dinner: Lilly’s character orders a burger in the pivotal
bar scene. And Nina is so damned skinny, I want to force feed
her a burger. So let’s whip up a Triple Smoke Burger (http://www.epicurious.com/).

 

   
1/2 cup mayonnaise

    1
1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

    2
tablespoons minced chipotle in adobo, including some sauce, divided

    8
bacon slices

    1
1/2 pounds ground beef chuck (not lean)

    2
teaspoons sweet smoked paprika

    1
large red onion, cut into 4 (1/2-inch) thick rounds, each stuck with a wooden
pick to keep it together

    1
firm-ripe avocado, quartered lengthwise, peeled, and cut lengthwise into
1/3-inch thick slices

   
Olive oil for brushing on onion and avocado

    4
hamburger buns, grilled or toasted

 

 

Accompaniment: 
lettuce; cilantro sprigs

 

In a food processor or blender, pure mayonnaise, mustard,
and 1 tablespoon chipotle; transfer to a bowl. Cook bacon in batches in a
skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp; transfer to paper
towels to drain.

 

Gently mix beef with 1 tablespoon chipotle, paprika, and 1
teaspoon salt until combined. Form into 4 (4-inch) patties. Prepare a grill for
direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium heat for gas).

 

Meanwhile, brush both sides of onion rounds and avocado slices
with olive oil. Oil grill rack then grill onion rounds, turning over once,
until slightly charred, 2 to 3 minutes total. Discard wooden picks.

 

Grill avocado slices, turning once, until grill marks
appear, about 30 seconds on each side. Grill patties, covered only if using a
gas grill, until they reach 160F on an instant-read thermometer, approximately
5 to 6 minutes on each side.

 

Put sauce on buns and make burgers with lettuce, avocado,
bacon, onion, and cilantro.

 

What to talk about over dinner: Where do I start? Just check out my review above
and see if you agree or not with my points. Which camp do you subscribe to,
love it or hate it? Why? What theory do you believe? Was the ending real, or
metaphorical? Was Lilly real, or in Nina’s head? Was the mother abusing Nina?
Who was the most clichd character? The most well-rounded character? Did this
movie honestly deserve all those accolades and critical acclaim? Why? Did
Portman deserve a best actress honor? What was your favorite scene? Did this
film make you love ballet more? Did it really showcase the lives of ballerinas?
What did you think of the supporting cast?. Dissect the film as if you were a
film student. What do some of the more subtle scenes mean? Did Aronofsky do a
good job portraying the mental demise of Nina? Or was she already broken before
the opening scene? What finally broke her? What life moral did you take from
the film?

Lincoln Lawyer

Photo #8

Film: Lincoln Lawyer (R)


Studio: Lionsgate

 

Summary: A less-than-moral defense attorney (Matthew
McConaughey) working out of his chauffeured Lincoln automobile realizes his
slightly shifty life has come to a crossroads when he represents a wealthy
client who is either being set up, or is one evil scoundrel.

 

Review: Having a legal thriller with McConaughey at the helm
does sound a bit oxymoronic, doesn’t it? I mean, this is the guy who almost
always refuses to wear a shirt. But “Lincoln Lawyer” is a pleasant
surprise, thanks in large part to Mr. McC. Granted, I wanted to see the film
because it’s based on the book written by fellow journalist and ex-L.A. Times
crime reporter Michael Connelly. I don’t either love or hate McConaughey’s
work, mainly because for every stinker he’s in (“Failure to Launch”),
there’s a winner (“We Are Marshall.” ) I hoped “Lincoln”
would fall into the second camp, and it did.

This shirtless, pot-smoking bongo
player (I wonder if he’ll ever live that down) fell right into the role of Mick
Haller, a Southern drawling, cocky, smooth-as-baby-skin defense attorney who is
not always concerned with the moral ramifications of getting his clients
acquitted. But when he represents a seemingly innocent man with enough wealth to
buy Los Angeles, Haller is shocked to learn that this case and another one from
his past may be linked in ways he never even imagined. McConaughey pulls off
all of these emotional twists and turns with believability and likeability.
Even though Haller, at first blush, isn’t someone you’d want your daughter or
sister to date, McConaughey quickly molds him into a deeper, more respectful
character than I thought possible.

The film plumps up with strong supporting
roles by Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy. Unfortunately, Ryan Phillippe once
again gets an acting job despite his lack of talent. I didn’t for one second
buy him in his role of Louis Roulet, the one Haller is hired to defend. He’s
too robotic for the big screen. Also, the latter scenes leading up to the end
seem a bit forced and rough, but they work so long as you don’t probe too
deeply.

All in all, the film is definitely worth watching, even if you’re not a
fan of. And if you’re a fan of Mr. McC? Rejoice–He does show some skin.

 

Extra highlight: “Michael Connelly: At Home On The
Road”

 

What to serve for dinner: Since McConaughey is a
spokesperson with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s “Beef: It’s
What’s For Dinner” radio ads, let’s listen to the man and serve up some Teriyaki-Marinated
Beef Steak (www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com).

 

1 thick-cut beef bottom round (Western griller) steak, cut
1-1/4 inches thick (1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds)

3/4 cup prepared teriyaki marinade and sauce

 2 tablespoons dry
sherry

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

 

Combine marinade ingredients in small bowl. Place beef steak and
marinade in food-safe plastic bag; turn steak to coat. Close bag securely and
marinate in refrigerator 6 hours or as long as overnight, turning occasionally.

 

Remove steak from marinade; discard marinade. Place steak on
grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, 18 to 20 minutes (over
medium heat on preheated gas grill, covered, timings remain the same) for
medium rare doneness, turning occasionally. (Do not overcook.) Carve steak into
thin slices. Serve with roasted corn on the cob, garden salad and a crusty loaf
of bread.

 

What to talk about over dinner: Did you see the plot taking
the direction it did? Who was your favorite character? Do you enjoy Connelly’s
books? Which one is your favorite and why? Did you buy McConaughey in this
role? Who would have been better? What about the role of Roulet? I’m thinking
Ben Affleck. What would it take to get Phillippe to show some emotion on his
face? We all know McC sports a smoking body, but is there any other reason he
goes sans clothing most of the time? A way to commune with nature perhaps? What
is your favorite McC film? Least favorite? Anyone remember him in
“U-571?

Eat Pray Love

Photo #5


Film (with rating):  Eat Pray Love (PG-13)

 

Studio: Sony
Pictures Home Entertainment

 

Summary: A
writer, unhappy in her marriage and feeling lost in life, divorces and launches
herself on an around-the-world journey of self-discovery.

 

Review:
Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of finding herself after divorcing her husband is a
well-written (yet a bit narcissistic) bestseller that captivated millions of
readers well before it landed on the big screen starring Julia Roberts. Gilbert
travels to Italy to nourish her soul through food, India to nourish her mind
and spirit, Indonesia to nourish her heart. What woman hasn’t daydreamed about
leaving it all behind and just setting forth on some grand adventure?

 

“Eat Pray Love” is basically that daydream lived
out loud by Gilbert. Unfortunately, it is hard to write an entire book or film
a whole movie about self-discovery without coming across as shallow,
self-absorbed and a bit me-me-me.

 

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie; I did. It is
beautifully filmed and the travel locations did nothing but made me salivate
over my expired passport. Roberts, in her usual way, was appealing, satisfying
and well cast as the lead role. Viewers believe her portrayal of Gilbert, and
she is completely in her element in this role. Javier Bardem and James Franco
were surprisingly terrific as supporting characters, as well. The landscape is
a character itself, with gorgeous scenery upstaging the actors many times.

 

But due to the navel-gazing nature of the film, the plot
movement itself seemed a bit forced. I mean, there’s only so much contemplation
we as viewers want to watch the main characters do. Sometimes, we need some
action, not just more footage of the folks on screen meditating or talking
about themselves. Reviewers have either loved or hated the film, but I’m right
in the middle. I enjoyed it and yearned for a vacation because of it, but
“Eat” was not the best movie I’ve ever seen.

 

Extra highlight: Don’t worry about it. Check out some old
episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” on The Travel
Channel and eat more pasta.

 

What to serve for dinner: Follow Gilbert’s path and cook up some Italian
cuisine to feed the soul: rigatoni Bolognese and tiramisu (womansday.com).

 

Rigatoni Bolognese

 

1 box (1 lb) rigatoni pasta

2 medium carrots (4 oz), halved

1 medium onion (6 oz), quartered

1 package (8 or 10 oz) whole mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tsp olive oil

3 links Italian turkey sausage (about 10 oz), casings
removed

12 tsp crushed rosemary

14 tsp each salt and pepper

12 cup white wine (optional)

1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes in thick pure

 

    
1. Cook pasta in large pot of salted boiling water as box directs.
Meanwhile, put carrots, onion, mushrooms and garlic in a food processor; pulse
until finely chopped.

 

      2. Heat oil in large nonstick
skillet over medium-high heat. Saut chopped vegetables six minutes.

 

      3. Add turkey sausage and cook,
breaking up clumps, four minutes or until no longer pink. Stir in rosemary,
salt, pepper and wine, if using; boil one minute.

 

      4. Stir in crushed tomatoes, reduce
heat and simmer, covered, five minutes. Spoon over drained pasta.

 

 

Tiramisu

 

2 packages (3 oz each) soft ladyfingers

3/4 cup coffee-flavored liqueur (such as Kahlua) or coffee
syrup + 3/4 cup water

1 tub (1 lb 8.3 oz) ready-to-eat cheesecake filling (Kraft
Philadelphia)

 

      1. Separate and arrange 1 package of
the ladyfingers on the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish, overlapping slightly.

 

      2. Mix liqueur and water in small
bowl; brush ladyfingers with half the mixture. Stir cheesecake filling in tub
until spreadable. Spoon half over ladyfingers, spreading evenly. Repeat layers.

 

      3. Garnish top with sifted
unsweetened cocoa powder, if desired. Cover and refrigerate two hours.

 

      * Different Takes: Sprinkle grated
bittersweet chocolate between ladyfinger and filling layers. Substitute
hazelnut-flavored liqueur for the coffee-flavored liqueur. Make a tiramisu cake
by layering in an 8-in. springform pan.

 

What to talk about over dinner: Have you ever daydreamed about leaving it all
behind and going on some huge adventure? What does your journey look like? Do
you think Elizabeth Gilbert discovered anything about herself through traveling
that she could not do without having embarked on a grand trip? Was she brave,
or self-absorbed? Do you have to be female to enjoy “Eat?” What is
your favorite Julia Roberts’ movie? Why are 40-something women in Hollywood not
offered that many satisfying roles, especially when there are lots of
40-something viewers out there who would love to see them on screen? How could
this movie been better? What’s your favorite travel destination? Your dream
destination? One place you never want to visit? One place you’d live if you
could? Quick: What’s your favorite quote from “Pretty Woman?”

Crazy Heart

Photo #1Film (with rating): Crazy Heart (R)

 

Studio: Fox Home Entertainment

Summary: An aging country legend on a broken-down path of
self destruction finds redemption and love in the arms of a journalist.

 

Review: I know this is not a new release this week, but with
nothing out there tickling my fancy, I decided to pull a former Oscar winner
out of the pile. I’ll be honest: “Crazy Heart” almost got shut off
half an hour in. And again at 45 minutes. The movie is slow. Beyond slow at
times. And who cares about this burned-out drunk playing and puking in bowling
alley after bowling alley? Eventually, I did. The only thing keeping my
attention was Jeff Bridges’ amazing performance. Understated, raw, real and
surprising, Bridges nailed this movie. He saved it and brought together every
last string, making it sing.

It took some time for me to really care about his character,
Bad Blake, but that was by first-time director Scott Cooper’s design. Bad is a
tough guy to know and like, but once you do, you do. Bad, who has been demoted
to playing in bowling alleys and barfing in trash cans out back in the middle
of his set, is obviously a train wreck. His one-time backup singer Tommy (Colin
Farrell, in a surprising, touching and fantastic unnamed cameo) is a thorn in
Bad’s side, as are the dive owners who won’t let him run up a bar tab.

But then Bad meets Jean, played competently yet
unimpressively by Maggie Gyllenhaal. This single mother to a sweet
four-year-old boy touches something in Bad that makes him want to be better.
The movie gripped me and didn’t let go when Jean flew out to meet Bad at his
home, and events transpired that changed everyone’s lives. I found myself
cheering on this guy, who in the beginning of the film, seemed like a total
burnout waste. I wanted him to succeed, and my heart went out to him. Bridges
absolutely deserved his Oscar for his performance, as did Ryan Bingham T-Bone
Burnett for the song “The Weary Kind.” 

Speaking of that, another huge perk for this film is the
awesome score. Much of it is sung by both Bridges and Farrell–a huge surprise,
but a good one. In fact, I’m tempted to download the entire soundtrack
featuring both actors.

On the negative side, I disliked the ending, I wasn’t a big
fan of Gyllenhaal’s character (and I don’t think she really deserved an Oscar
nod for this performance at all), and I didn’t buy the chemistry between Jean
and Bad. Yet Bridges’ strength overshadowed the film’s flaws.

 

Extra highlight: Don’t bother. Go to iTunes and listen to
the soundtrack instead.

 

What to serve for dinner: Go with a Bad specialty: biscuits
(allrecipes.com). Serve them with sausage gravy for a real Southern treat, or
just use them as dinner rolls alongside baked chicken and steamed broccoli.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon white sugar

1/3 cup shortening

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together
the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in the shortening until the
mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually stir in milk until dough pulls away
from the side of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured surface, and knead 15 to 20
times. Pat or roll dough out to 1-inch thick. Cut biscuits with a large cutter
or juice glass dipped in flour. Repeat until all dough is used. Brush off the
excess flour, and place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 13 to
15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges begin to brown.

Sausage Gravy (cooks.com)



1/2 lb. bulk sausage

4 tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 1/2 c. milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook sausage, crumbling well. Pour off all but 2-3
tablespoons of grease. Sprinkle flour on top. Increase heat to high and cook,
stirring, until flour starts to brown. Add milk, stirring constantly and
continue cooking until gravy thickens. Add salt and pepper. Serve over hot
biscuits or toast.

What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite song
in the film? What was the moment you began to like Bad? How would you have
written the ending? Or did it have to end like this? What did you think of the
scene at the mall? Who knew Jeff and Colin could sing like that? Who do you
think in today’s music world compares to Bad? When did the movie begin to pick
up for you? Compare this to Bridge’s other performances. Were you as shocked by
Farrell’s appearance as was I? What did you think of it

The Book of Eli







Photo #5


Film (with rating): The Book of Eli (R)

 

Studio:
Warner Home Video                                   

 

Summary: In
this post-apocalyptic action/adventure drama, a lone man on a divine mission
fights his way across America headed “west” in order to protect a
sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind.

 

Review: There
was nothing good out this week, so I decided to watch and review a slightly
older title, and I’m glad I did. “The Book of Eli” proved to be a
thought-provoking and enjoyable film. It is a bit hard to get into its rhythm
at first, partly because the post-war landscape is so drab and brown, and
partly because the actors mumble a lot. But hang in there–things pick up.
Denzel Washington is once again fantastic, this time as the title character
Eli.

 

A few flaws: he mumbles (didn’t I mention that?) and he
seems a bit one-dimensional for too long into the movie. I don’t fault him as
an actor for this, but rather the Hughes brothers, who directed it.

 

The film centers on Eli as he treks west with his sacred
treasure: the last known Bible. He said he received divine guidance to deliver
this book safely. Where to? He’s not sure. But for the past 30 years since the
war ended the world as we all know it, Eli has been on this quest, walking and
searching. Along the way, he battled countless thugs, thieves and other
unsavory creatures with a fighting skill that sets Eli up there with ninjas and
terminators.

 

Gary Oldman, who plays the town villain, does his role
justice, but he seems to be overacting throughout the movie, trying a bit too
hard to sell the evil gene. Mila Kunis, as the feisty stepdaughter of Oldman,
and Washington have great chemistry together, even if Kunis appears way too
beautiful and poised to be a post-apocalypse child.

 

All in all, “Eli” builds steam as it goes along,
and the ending is satisfying and thought-provoking. The film’s juxtaposition
between religion and war, violence and God, mercy and justice are also very
well played.

 

Extra highlight:
“Starting Over”

 

What to serve for dinner: Since the movie deals with cannibals, let’s skip
any meat-based dish and instead pay homage to a traditional “west”
meal: San Francisco-style Cioppino (Best of Sunset
Magazine/homecooking.about.com).

 

    *
1/4 cup olive oil or salad oil

    *
1 large onion, chopped

    * 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

    *
1 large green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped

    *
2/3 cup chopped parsley

    *
1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce

    *
1 can (28 ounces) tomatoes

    *
1 cup dry red or white wine

    *
1 bay leaf

    * 1
teaspoon dry basil

    *
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano leaves

    *
12 clams in shell, suitable for steaming, scrubbed

    *
1 pound large shrimp, (30 per pound), shelled and deveined

    *
2 live or cooked large Dungeness crab (about 2 pounds each), cleaned and
cracked

 

In 6-8 quart pan over medium heat, combine oil, onion,
garlic, bell pepper and parsley. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft.
Stir in tomato sauce, tomatoes (break up with spoon) and their liquid, wine,
bay leaf, basil and oregano. Cover and simmer until slightly thickened, about
20 minutes.

 

To broth, add clams, shrimp, and crab. Cover and simmer
gently until clams pop open and shrimp turn pink, about 20 minutes. Ladle hot
broth and some of each shellfish into large bowls. Serve with warm sourdough
bread.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What would a post-apocalyptic world look like? How
would humanity survive? Would it? What would a world without books–or
literacy–look like? Could you ever dedicate your life so single-mindedly to a
pursuit? Have you? Who would have been better cast in the Solara role? What is
your favorite Denzel movie? What is your favorite end-of-the-world movie? How
do you think the war in “Eli” started and ended? What did you think
about the cannibals? How do you think Eli got those razor-sharp fighting
skills? What about the ending–your thoughts?