It’s Complicated

Photo #6


Film (with rating): It’s Complicated (R)

Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Summary: Jane (Meryl Streep) has three grown kids, a
thriving Santa Barbara bakery and an amicable relationship with her ex-husband,
Jake (Alec Baldwin). Now, a decade after their divorce, an innocent dinner
between Jane and the now-remarried Jake turns into the unimaginable–an affair.
Could love be sweeter, or more complicated, the second time around?

Review: This movie isn’t complicated. It’s actually pretty
simple, and it works. “It’s Complicated” is almost a throw-back to
Classic Hollywood, especially with Streep at the helm. Now in her 60s, this
accomplished actor can do just about anything, and do it well–especially classy
comedy. She is most definitely box-office gold.

Producer/writer/director Nancy
Meyers does a good job following up her “Something’s Gotta Give” with
this flick. They both have the same feel, and both are stocked full of
amazingly pedigreed actors who know how to do their jobs well. In
“Complicated,” even the more clichd scenes are pulled off due to the
actors’ talent. Steve Martin also co-stars here, and he never once fails to
impress.

“It’s Complicated” is a nice, entertaining, adult comedy
that lets you think, but not too much. It’s the perfect film for a night when
all you want to do is just be amused without having to put forth too much
effort.

Extra highlight: “The Making Of” featurette.

What to serve for dinner: Brinner! Orange juice, fruit
salad, caf mocha and (of course) chocolate croissants. You can go two ways
with this: visit Starbucks on your way home and pick it all up, or toss
together a fruit salad yourself from this week’s farmers’ market haul and
follow the following recipes.

Chocolate Croissants Option 1 (cooks.com):

1 can refrigerated crescent roll dough

1 stick butter, melted

4 fun size bars of Three Musketeers candy bars

1/4 c. confectioners sugar

Cut the candy bars long ways. Tear crescent dough and put
the Musketeers in middle and roll up. If you can see the chocolate at the ends,
pinch together. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. When done sprinkle with
confectioners sugar.

Chocolate Croissants Option 2 (cooks.com):

1 package refrigerated crescent rolls

1 bag of chocolate chips (mini chips work well)

3 tbs melted butter

1 egg white

confectioners sugar

sliced almonds

Unroll and flatten dough; separate into triangles. Brush
with melted butter. Sprinkle 1-2 tsp. chocolate chips on each triangle. Roll
each triangle into crescent shape and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

In small bowl, add 2 tsp. water to egg white and mix well
with fork or whisk. Brush the top of each croissant with egg wash. Top with
sliced almonds, if desired. Bake in preheated 375 oven for 15 minutes. Let cool
briefly and then remove from cookie sheet. Use a sieve to add a dusting of
confectioner’s sugar on top of each.


Caf Mocha (allrecipes.com)

    *
1 cup hot brewed coffee

    *
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

    *
1 tablespoon white sugar

    *
2 tablespoons milk

Pour hot coffee into a mug. Stir in cocoa, sugar and milk.

 

What to talk about over dinner: Would you ever get back
together with an ex? Have you? How did that work out for you? Who would you
have chosen if you were Jane? What’s the most complicated relationship
situation you’ve ever been in? The most complicated relationship? Have you
heard any of Steve Martin’s songs? That man plays a mean banjo. Is there
anything Meryl Streep cannot do? What’s your favorite movie of hers? Compare
“It’s Complicated” to “Something’s Gotta Give.” Which one
worked better? Why?

Avatar

Photo #15

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

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Summary: A paraplegic former Marine dispatched to Pandora
becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is
his home.

Review: How could I possibly begin to review the sci-fi epic
known as “Avatar?” It’s nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. James
Cameron is most definitely king of the world right now. So far, nearly everyone
I’ve met has seen this movie at least once. It’s raked in more than $26 billion
worldwide since its debut last December, making “Avatar” the
highest-grossing film of all time.

During awards season this year, the film was
nominated for nine Oscars (winning three, all in visual effects-type of
categories) and won two Golden Globes for best picture and best director. The
movie has taken on a life of its own. Viewers are reported to have become
depressed they don’t live in this mythical world portrayed so beautifully by
Cameron.

It’s obvious why the film took a dozen years to birth;
“Avatar” is, simply put, a visual orgasm. One reviewer writes that
the viewing experience is akin to the classical moment in “The Wizard of
Oz” when black and white opens the door to Technicolor. Cameron broke
benchmarks when he created this optic wonderland. There has never been a movie
like this before.

Some have criticized the plot and dialog, noting that the
latter is weak and drawn out. But with all of this beauty to look at and blow
you away, who cares? The seamless production makes any technical flaws dim in
comparison.

In conjunction with “Avatar’s” release on DVD and
Earth Day, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Earth Day Network
partnered together to plant 1 million native trees in 15 countries this year.
To help raise awareness, Fox created “The Avatar Program.” Through a
code found inside the DVD, viewers can register at www.avatarmovie.com and adopt one of the
trees being planted.

So check out “Avatar” again, or for the first
time. Even if sci-fi epics are not your genre of choice, you might as well
watch this one to see what all the fuss is about.

Extra highlight: None. Hmm. Not impressive. There are rumors
a “special edition” will street later this year, but for now, you’ve
got nothing.

What to serve for dinner: Everything blue: Cool Blue Martini
(epicurious.com), green salad with blue cheese dressing, Corny Na’vi Bread
(sparkrecipes.com), Chicken Cordon Bleu (foodnetwork.com) and blueberry pie.

 

Cool Blue Martini:

*  3 oz (about
1/3 cup) gin or vodka

    *
1/2 oz (1 tablespoon) dry vermouth

    *
1 teaspoon blue Curaao

    *
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, strained

    *
Garnish: 2 lemon twists

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

 

Corny Na’vi Bread:

* 1 package Trader Joe’s cornbread mix

* 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt

* 3/4 cup skim milk

* 1 egg white

* Blue food coloring

* 1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350. In a mixing bowl, blend the cornbread
mix, yogurt, milk and egg white. Add blue food coloring a couple of drops at a
time until the mixture is the desired hue of blue. Add blueberries. Pour into a
greased 8×8 pan. Bake for 40 minutes until golden and cooked through. Let cool
for about 10 minutes. Slice into nine evenly sized bars/pieces.

 

Chicken Cordon Bleu

* 4 double chicken breasts (about 7-ounces each), skinless
and boneless

    *
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

    *
8 thin slices deli ham

    * 16
thin slices Gruyere or Swiss cheese

    *
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

    *
1/4 cup flour

    *
1 cup panko bread crumbs

    *
1 teaspoon olive oil

    *
2 eggs

    *
2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay the chicken between two
pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently pound the
chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Take care not to pound too hard because the meat
may tear or create holes. Lay two slices of cheese on each breast, followed by
2 slices of ham, and 2 more of cheese; leaving a 1/2-inch margin on all sides
to help seal the roll. Tuck in the sides of the breast and roll up tight like a
jellyroll. Squeeze the log gently to seal.

Season the flour with salt and pepper; spread out on waxed
paper or in a flat dish. Mix the breadcrumbs with thyme, kosher salt, pepper,
and oil. The oil will help the crust brown. Beat together the eggs and water,
the mixture should be fluid. Lightly dust the chicken with flour, then dip in
the egg mixture. Gently coat in the bread crumbs. Carefully transfer the
roulades to a baking pan and bake for 20 minutes until browned and cooked
through. Cut into pinwheels before serving.

 

What to talk about over dinner: Would you like to live in a
world like this? Why or why not? Were you depressed when the movie was over?
How has “Avatar” changed the way movies will be made? Anyone else
notice the huge onslaught of “In 3-D!” films out there now? Do you
remember the first 3-D movie you’ve ever seen? Do you notice any “Titanic”
hints in “Avatar?” Who was your favorite character? Was the movie too
long? Did it drag? Or did you want more? What’s next for Cameron? Did he get
robbed at the Oscars? Or was “Avatar” so lauded because it was so
popular? What about “Avatar 2?” 

New Moon

Photo #4

Film (with rating): New Moon (PG-13)
 

Studio: Summit Entertainment

Summary: In the second chapter of Stephenie Meyer’s
“Twilight” saga, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire love
Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) fight to keep their relationship growing, all
while battling ancient secrets that threaten to destroy them. Things get even
more confusing when Bella’s friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) uncovers his
own supernatural powers, and his feelings for Bella.

Review: I confess–I read all of the “Twilight”
books, and relatively enjoyed them. But I’m a sucker (no pun intended) for
vampire stories. The writer in me saw the flaws in the books, but I read them
for entertainment, and found myself properly entertained. As for the movies,
well, that’s a different story. “New Moon” is, of course, hated by
some uber-fans of the novels, as well as is adored by aficionados of Edward and
Jacob (Team Edward t-shirts are all over my local Target). I’m neither, so I
approached the film from a middle-of-the-road point of view.

And I found some flaws. Unfortunately, director Chris Weitz could have done so much
more with the material. Bella’s constant obsession with brooding and staring
out the window made for boring cinema, as did Edward’s one expression: staring
out from beneath his eyelashes. Weitz seemed to dwell too much on all of this
moody rumination, which was only broken up with footage of shirtless
werewolves. As much as my vampire-loving self hates to admit it, the werewolves
were the best part of “New Moon.”  It proved hard to care about Edward and Bella when all they
seemed to do was walk through the woods and moan about true love. It got old.
So old. I wanted to scream at them to just knock it off, get over themselves
and stop whimpering about everything. Weitz redeemed himself slightly with the
action-packed werewolf scenes, but not completely.

All that being said, “New Moon” will be a decent
DVD to those who walk the middle ground in this “Twilight”
phenomenon. As long as you’re not distracted by whining, bad makeup or erratic
plot jumps, “New Moon” isn’t so bad. As an added treat, you’ve got
lots of pumped-up werewolves who adore running around half naked for your
viewing pleasure. You may just squeal just like the half-zillion preteen girls
(and their moms) who saw this film a dozen times in theaters.

Extra highlight: The six-part documentary

What to serve for dinner: Hey, it’s Stewart’s birthday
today, so let’s settle in for a night of vampire-themed food: everything red.
Serve up some red lentil soup (NewYorkTimes.com) with tomato swirl bread
(blisstree.com). End the evening with some red velvet cake or sliced
strawberries and cream.

Red Lentil Soup

2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil

1 medium or large onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

Salt to taste

2 teaspoons cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground

2 teaspoons coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground

2 teaspoons hot curry powder

1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juice

1 pound red lentils (about 2 1/8 cups), washed and picked
over

2 quarts water or chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (more to taste)

Cayenne to taste (optional)

Juice of 1/2 lime

For garnish:

Chopped fresh cilantro

Thickened yogurt

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat
and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes, and add the
garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the cumin, coriander, and curry powder. Stir
together for about a minute, until the garlic is fragrant, and stir in the
tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes,
until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly. Add salt to taste.

2. Stir in the lentils and water or chicken stock. Bring to
a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add salt to taste and
continue to simmer for 15 to 30 minutes, until the lentils have fallen apart
and thickened the soup. Using the back of your spoon, mash the lentils against
the side of the pot to thicken the soup further. Add the pepper, taste, and add
cayenne if you want more spice. Taste and adjust salt. Stir in the lime juice.

3. If you wish, puree with an immersion blender or in
batches in a blender, holding a towel over the lid to prevent hot soup from
splashing out, and return to the pot. Heat through and serve, topping each bowl
with a dollop of yogurt and a generous sprinkling of chopped cilantro.

Tomato Swirl Bread

1 tomato

1 cup tomato sauce

2 tbs butter

2 tbs brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cloves

2 tbs ketchup

1 package of dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp)

1/4 cup warm water

4 cups or so of whole wheat flour

Soften yeast in water. Heat tomato sauce, butter and ketchup
and let cool to lukewarm. Add sugar, cloves, salt and yeast mixture to tomato
mixture and mix in enough flour to make a soft but kneadable dough (or mix
according to mixer directions). Turn out and knead until smooth and elastic.
Oil and set aside to rise.

Next, take:

1 1/2 c warm water

2 tbs butter

2 tbs brown sugar

1 tsp salt

1 pack dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp)

4 cups or so whole wheat flour

Soften yeast in 1/4 c water with sugar. To other 1 1/4 cup water,
add butter until butter melts (you may need to microwave it and let cool to
lukewarm). Add salt and yeast mixture…then add flour until you get a soft,
kneadable dough…proceed as above.

Let balls of dough rise until double, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down and knead lightly. Cut each ball of dough into two equal pieces. Let
rest 10 minutes. Roll each ball out into a rectangle of equal sizes. Place a
tomato dough rectangle on top of a whole wheat rectangle and roll up tightly
pinching dough together at bottom to seal. Repeat with other loaf. Let rise in
greased bread pans for 1 hour or until double.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when
tapped. Let cool.

What to talk about over dinner: How do you think the movie
compared to the book? How could it have been better? Where did it do the book
justice? How did you behave with your first love? Who should Bella be with: the
vampire or the werewolf? Any desire to go to Washington now? Do you think there
are such things as werewolves and vampires? Why is Bella so constantly moody
and brooding? What was your favorite book in the “Twilight” series?
Anyone even remember Pattinson from his “Harry Potter” days? Was it
anything other than supernatural forces that helped turn Lautner from a geeky youngster
in the first film into a chiseled god in this one? What’s the fascination with
vampires anyway? What’s your favorite werewolf film? “I Was a Teenage
Werewolf?” “The Howling?” “An American Werewolf in
London?” “Teen Wolf?”

The Blind Side

Photo #22


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

Studio: Warner Home Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fried Chicken

*  Salt and
pepper, for seasoning chicken

    *
Crisco shortening, for frying

    *
3 eggs

    *
1/3 cup water

    *
2 cups self-rising flour

    *
1 teaspoon black pepper

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

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

 

Cheesy Squash Casserole

    *
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

    *
6 medium yellow summer squash, thinly sliced

    *
1 large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced

    *
1 tablespoon butter

    *
1/2 cup grated parmesan

    *
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar

    *
1/2 cup sour cream

    *
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

 

Peanut Butter Cake

Cake:

    *
1 cup all-purpose flour

    *
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

    *
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

    *
1 teaspoon salt

    *
2 cups graham cracker crumbs

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

    *
3/4 cup shortening

    *
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

    *
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    *
3 eggs

Frosting:

    *
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

    *
2 tablespoons cocoa

    *
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

    *
1/3 cup heavy cream

    *
1/2 cup peanuts, salted

    *
2 capfuls of vanilla extract

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

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

 

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

2012

Photo #12

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

 

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

Extra highlight: “Mysteries of the Mayan Calendar”
featurette

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

    * Flying Burrito Black Beans (see below)

    *
Flying Burrito Mashed Sweet Potatoes (see below)

    *
6 (12-inch) flour tortillas

    *
1 1/2 cups salsa

    *
1 1/2 cups guacamole

    *
3/4 cup sour cream

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

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

 

Flying Burrito Black Beans

1 pound dry black beans

2 onions, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

4 cups water

4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup red wine

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

 

Flying Burrito Mashed Sweet Potatoes

2 to 3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 large)

Olive oil, as needed

4 ounces roasted green chiles

4 ounces (1/2 stick) sweet butter

1 ounce tequila

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

Oscars 2010: Inglourious Basterds

Photo #23

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


Film (with rating):
Inglourious Basterds (R)


Studio: Universal Home Entertainment

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Extra highlight: “The
Original Inglorious Bastards”

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

1. Cool Blue
Martini

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

    * 1/2 oz (1 tablespoon) dry
vermouth

    * 1 teaspoon blue Curaao

    * 1 teaspoon fresh lemon
juice, strained

    * Garnish: 2 lemon twists

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

2. French Onion
Soup

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

    * 3 sprigs fresh thyme

    * 2 Turkish bay leaves or 1
California

    * 3/4 teaspoon salt

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

    * 2 teaspoons all-purpose
flour

    * 3/4 cup dry white wine

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

    * 1 1/2 cups water

    * 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

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

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

    * 2 tablespoons finely
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

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

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

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

3. Prawns Peri-Peri

   *  18-24 large prawns (large shrimp)

    * 200 g (3/4 cup) butter

    * 10 ml (2 teaspoons)
crushed garlic

    * 30 ml (2 tablespoons) lemon
juice

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

    * salt, milled black pepper

Peri-Peri Sauce

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

    * 5 cloves garlic, crushed

    * 500 ml (2 cups) olive oil

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

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

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

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


 
 

   *  4 strips thick-sliced smoked bacon 

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

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

    * 1 teaspoon kosher salt

    * 4 scallions, finely
chopped

    * 2 celery stalks, finely
chopped

    * 2 Serrano chilies,
stemmed, seeded, and minced

    * 1/2 cup plus 2
tablespoons mayonnaise

    * 2 tablespoons Creole
mustard (see note)

    * 1 tablespoon finely
chopped fresh tarragon leaves

    * Freshly ground black
pepper

    * 6 ounces arugula

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

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

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


5. Red Velvet Cupcakes with Coconut and Cream Cheese
Frosting


  *  1 3/4 cups self-rising flour

    * 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

    * 1 1/2 cups sugar

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

    * 2 large eggs

    * 1 tablespoon red food coloring

    * 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

    * 1 cup buttermilk, divided

    * 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

    * 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

 

    * 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

    * 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

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

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

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

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

 

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

Zombieland

Photo #34

Film (with rating): Zombieland (R)

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Summary: Nerdy college student Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg)
survived the apocalyptic plague that turned people into flesh-devouring zombies
because he’s scared of just about everything. Gun-toting, Twinkie-loving
Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) has no fears. Together, they are about to stare
down their most horrifying challenge yet: each other’s company.

Review: Don’t ask me exactly how a film about the undead can
come across as a feel-good film, but it does. It’s simply terrific. And I loved it.
“Zombieland” combines some of my favorite genres and film flavors:
horror, gore, dark comedy, action, camp. Spectacular. Eisenberg and Harrelson
have incredible on-screen chemistry, and their banter–from one-liners to entire conversations–elevates the film way
above a simple gorefest. Add to that all of Columbus’ rules (my favorite: the double tap), and you’ve got a winner.

Don’t get me wrong: “Zombieland” is full of
disgusting scenes, especially the opener. But soon, the layers of this movie
are peeled back, exposing a multi-faceted feast. Unfortunately, under one of those layers, is a freaky, undead clown. That hit my weak spot. I detest clowns as much as does Eisenberg’s character, so to see a creepy zombie clown just about did me in (I couldn’t even use a photo from the movie depicting this Bozo from Hell). Even though I had to watch the scene through splayed fingers, I watched it. And I realized that if I chose to “nut up,” the payoff in the end would be worth it.

Director Ruben Fleischer
expertly mixes horror and comedy in one bloody mix. The film, campy as it may
be, is carefully directed, so even if the scenes are surreal, viewers buy them.
I mean, we’re sort of talking about a road trip with the walking dead. But in
“Zombieland,” it works.

Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin co-star, and
they both add even more to the rich character cast. It is a bit strange to see
“Little Miss Sunshine” kick zombie butt, but strange in a good way.
We cheer for these flawed and real heroes fighting against the spooky-looking
undead as they search for something more than just a zombie-free zone. 

“Zombieland” is not going to teach viewers any
soul-shattering life lessons, but it does have a thing or two to say about relationships and family. On any account, the film will give people some guilty-pleasure
downtime as they watch it.

Extra highlight:  “Zombieland is Your Land” featurette

What to serve for dinner: Go with Tallahassee’s fave food:
Twinkies. Try some Twinkie Tacos (www.hostesscakes.com).

    *
2 Hostess Twinkies (mashed)

    *
2 flour tortillas

    *
Ground cinnamon

    *
Sugar

    *
Marshmallow whip

    *
Maraschino cherries

Fry tortilla in a buttered frying pan until crispy. Sprinkle
with cinnamon and sugar. Spread mashed Twinkies on tortilla and top with warmed
marshmallow whip and cherries.

What to talk about over dinner: What is the best zombie film
you’ve ever seen? The worst? What other films combine this dark comedy/gorefest
genre? What is family to you? What is your favorite Woody Harrelson movie? What was your favorite
“Cheers” episode? Which zombie movie has the scariest undead? Which
“Zombieland” character do you identify with? What rule was your favorite? Could you guess the rule before it was shown? Is it true Twinkies can
survive for years on the shelf? What’s your opinion on coconut?

Valentine’s Special Part 2–For Haters

Photo #1


Film (with rating): War of the Roses (R)
 

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Summary: Barbara and Oliver Rose, once madly in love, fall
apart, get divorced and wind up doing everything and anything to get each other
to leave their dream home.

Review: Feeling anti-Valentine’s Day? Here’s a movie for
you. This film is one of my favorites, and not just because it has a
spectacular cast– Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner have rarely been better
together, and they’ve been pretty fantastic in the past. No, I love this film
because it is both funny and tragic all at the same time. It also makes any
argument I have with my own husband pure playground shenanigans by comparison.

In “Roses,” Danny DeVito portrays Oliver Rose’s divorce lawyer (and
the movie’s onscreen narrator), giving us his skewed and bitter interpretation
of marriage, using the Roses as proof. Viewers see Barbara and Oliver start off
strong and in love, then get wrapped up in their lives, then get wrapped up  in killing each other–all in the name
of divorce.

It’s tragic.

We see the power of love and the euphoria behind it,
and we witness the lunacy and hate sparked by the end of said love. Despite the
depressing subject matter, both Douglas and Turner spin their comedy wheels
with perfection. Even when they are literally trying to beat the other’s head
in, the pair still weaves in some sharp comedy. It’s rare that this
combination–macabre mixed with mirthful–works this spectacularly.

All in all,
there’s not a better movie for those anti-Valentine’s folks out there to watch
than this blackest of black comedies. I mean, the tag line of the film says it
all: “Once in a lifetime comes a motion picture that makes you feel like
falling in love again. This is not that movie.”

Extra highlight: Who cares? Go drown your bitterness in some
chocolate.

What to serve for dinner: This movie makes cooking–and other
domestic chores–seem downright unappealing. And, dear God, don’t even think
about eating pate! Instead, call up your favorite Chinese food restaurant and
order a bunch of take-out. Try to weave in some chocolate with these great drink
recipes: Dark Chocolate Martinis and White Chocolate Martinis. I have no idea
how well they’ll go with Chinese food, but they’re chocolate, so that trumps
all. (www.melindalee.com)

 

DARK CHOCOLATE MARTINI

2 to 2 1/2 ounces, Stoli Vanil (vanilla infused vodka, made
by Stolichnaya)

2 teaspoons (or to taste) Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur

3-4 ice cubes – cracked

chocolate shavings or curls for garnish

(shave the edge of a chocolate bar using a vegetable peeler)

In a pitcher or cocktail shaker, measure the vodka and
chocolate liqueur. Add the cracked ice and shake vigorously or stir
energetically. Strain into (preferably chilled) martini glass. Add a few curls
of chocolate.

[NOTE: an easy way to mix this for a group, is to measure
the vodka into a martini glass - pour one glassful for each serving over
cracked ice in a pitcher or cocktail shaker, then add the desired amount of
chocolate liqueur, shake or stir - then strain into individual glasses, garnish
and serve.]

WHITE CHOCOLATE MARTINI

2 to 2 1/2 ounces, smooth (high quality) vodka

(may be Stoli Vanil, or other, unflavored vodka as
preferred)

2 teaspoons (or to taste), Godiva white chocolate liqueur

about one teaspoon, heavy or whipping cream

3-4 ice cubes – cracked

a stemmed maraschino cherry for garnish

n a pitcher or cocktail shaker, measure the vodka, liqueur
and cream over cracked ice. Shake or stir vigorously, then strain into
(preferably chilled) martini glass. Add cherry for garnish.

What to talk about over dinner: What’s the worst break-up
you’ve ever experienced? The worst partner you’ve ever dated or married? The
worst things you’ve ever done to a partner or had done to you? How would you
get revenge against someone you once loved but now hate? What is your favorite
line in the movie? Do you think it’s too easy to get divorced? Why are divorces
so common these days? Do people take marriage as seriously as they did in the
past? How can a once-loving couple turn into bitter enemies? Would you ever
love a house that much? Should cat people marry cat people and dog people marry
dog people?

Valentine’s Special Part 1–For Lovers

Photo #18

Film (with rating): The Time Traveler’s Wife (PG-13)

Studio: Warner Home Entertainment

Summary: Henry and Clare fight to be together, despite
Henry’s genetic anomaly that causes him to skip back and forth through time.

Review: It’s never a good thing when I’m confused during a
movie. “The Time Traveler’s Wife” does have its perks, but too often,
those perks are swallowed in the confusing, detail-heavy, sci-fi, time-travel
explanations. Which, by the way, are very weak when seen through a science
fiction lens.

OK, since this is a pro-Valentine’s Day column, let’s look at the
movie’s highlights. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams have great chemistry and
portray their characters, based on those in the bestselling 2003 novel by Audrey
Niffenegger, beautifully. There are genuinely touching scenes that anyone who
has had to endure a long-distance relationship will identify with. Bana, in
particular, does a supreme job, showcasing his acting chops a lot more than he
got to do in “Hulk.” He can really get under his character’s skin and
master the more difficult emotions. Plus, he’s not too tough to look at.

Now
for the flip side. The movie’s plot just doesn’t work. And it tries too hard to
be a “Ghost” or “Somewhere in Time.” Doesn’t work. I won’t
even get into a discussion about the potential freak-out factor that crops up
during scenes when the adult Henry transports through time–naked–and visits
Clare as a child. It was really tough to keep the romance aspect of the movie
alive when my brain kept screaming, “Creep alert! Creep alert!”

All
in all, “Time” is a traditional romance in that it does its very best
to tug at your heartstrings and make you believe in the love-conquers-all
thing. Just don’t look too closely at the plot. Or the naked man in the bushes.

Extra highlight: “Love Beyond Words”

What to serve for dinner: A romantic dinner for two–Easy-Creamy Linguini with Shrimp followed by Sexy Strawberry
Tiramisu (www.divinedinnerparty.com). 

Easy-Creamy Linguini with Shrimp

6 oz. linguine (fresh is best)

1 tbsp. butter

1/4 lb. fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced

1/4 C. butter

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

3 oz. cream cheese (low-fat works fine)

2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced

3/4 tsp dried basil

salt, to taste

1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1/2 C. chicken broth, boiling

1/2 lb cooked shrimp

1/4 C. Parmesan cheese, grated

Boil linguini in lightly salted water. Drain. For sauce:
Heat one tablespoon of butter in skillet over med-high heat. Add mushrooms.
Saut until tender. Transfer mushrooms to a small plate and set aside. Heat the
1/4 cup butter in skillet. Add the minced garlic, then stir in the cream
cheese. Allow cheese to melt, then add the parsley and basil. Let simmer five
minutes.

Add boiling (or very hot) chicken broth until sauce is
smooth . Add shrimp and mushrooms and heat through, about two minutes.

Toss cooked pasta with sauce, sprinkle with Parmesan, and
serve.

Note: Using pre-cleaned, pre-cooked shrimp makes this easy
romantic dinner recipe even easier. But if you have uncooked shrimp, simply
clean them and toss them in with the mushrooms to cook.

Sexy Strawberry Tiramisu

2 eggs, room temp, whites and yolks separated

1/4 C. caster sugar (superfine sugar– you can use powdered)

10.5 oz. mascarpone cheese

1/2 C. whipped cream

15 strawberries, hulled, cleaned, and quartered

1/3 C. strong coffee (espresso is best)

2 tbsp. rum

14 ladyfingers

unsweetened cocoa, to garnish

Beat egg yolks with sugar with electric mixer on med-high
until yolks are pale and thick. Add mascarpone, beat until incorporated.  In separate bowl, beat egg whites until
soft peaks form. Fold cream into cheese mixture, then fold in egg whites. Fold
in the strawberries. In a small bowl, combine rum and espresso. Dip seven of
the ladyfingers into the coffee/rum mixture (don’t dip the entire ladyfinger,
or it may fall apart), then place them in the bottom of a serving dish. Spread
half the cheese/strawberry mixture over the ladyfingers.

Dip remaining seven ladyfingers in coffee/rum, then place
over cheese. Spread remaining cheese over. Refrigerate four hours (or more),
then sift cocoa over and serve. If desired, garnish each piece with half a
strawberry.

What to talk about over dinner: What is the most romantic
movie you’ve ever seen? What made it so? What is the most romantic thing you’ve
ever seen? That you’ve ever done? What would you do for the one you love? What
is the biggest road block you and your loved one have had to conquer? What is
your best Valentine’s Day memory ever? When did you know you and your partner
were meant to be together? What one romantic gesture would you love?

Surrogates

Photo #1

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

Studio: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Summary: In the not-too-distant future, people are living
their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic,
perfect-looking surrogates. Crime, pain, fear and consequences don’t exist,
until FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) discovers a conspiracy behind the
surrogate phenomenon that may cost him his life.

Review: The idea of having an entire world of people sitting
around in their sweatpants with controls stuck to their heads as they mentally
power gorgeous robots to perform everyday duties and routines is a bit creepy.
Heck, it’s really creepy. I kept thinking I’d rather have a clone so I could be
two places at once, not just reclining in my La-Z Boy with unwashed hair while
my “pretty self” went out and had all the fun.

I couldn’t really tell
if “Surrogates” was more of a thriller or a commentary about how
useless our superficial priorities have become. Director Jonathan Mostow
(“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”) does a good job keeping the
film from getting too sarcastic or too serious, but he does miss out by not
diving deeper into the emotional issues. For example, there’s a great scene
where Greer is begging his wife’s surrogate to just leave her robot behind and
reconnect with him like they used to, before their son died. The surrogate
literally shuts off, and the scene, even without words, says so much. I wanted
to see more like it.

The supporting cast holds its own, with heavyweights like
James Cromwell and Ving Rhames in the mix. At times Mostow seemed to fall too
deeply into the conspiracy/thriller sector, which propelled
“Surrogates” into the more confusing camp. But overall, the film
holds its own and is memorable after the credits wrap. Willis actually plays
the lead character with an understated strength, which really bumps
“Surrogates” up a notch.

The ending is a bit too
“ta-da-the-end!” for my taste, but it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen
(uh, thanks “The Mist” for claiming that title forever. Worst ending
EVER!). Overall, “Surrogates” is a good rainy-night DVD choice when
the latest blockbuster is checked out.

Extra highlight: “A More Perfect You: The Science of
‘Surrogates’”

What to serve for dinner: Supposedly, Bruce Willis’ favorite
food is bacon, so let’s serve up some BLTs (allrecipes.com).

*   2
slices bacon

* 1 teaspoon mustard powder

* 1 teaspoon curry powder

* 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

* 2 slices bread, toasted

* 2 lettuce leaves

* 3 slices tomato

* 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise

Place bacon in a skillet over medium heat. Mix together the
mustard powder, curry powder and red pepper flakes. As soon as you turn the
bacon over, sprinkle the spice mixture onto the cooked side of the bacon. Place
the lettuce and tomato onto one slice of toasted bread, then top with the
seasoned cooked bacon. Top with the other slice of toasted bread, spread with
mayo. Serves one. You can also add fresh avocado slices if you’d like. Serve
the sandwiches with chips, pickle slices or French fries, and a cold beer.

What to talk about over dinner: If available, would you take
on a surrogate to live your life? Why or why not? What would you use a
surrogate for? Would you rather have a surrogate or be cloned? What did you
like better, the more emotional scenes or the action-packed ones? Which did you
like: Bruce older and scruffy or Bruce with the Ken-doll blond wave and the
pretty skin? What does “Surrogates” say about prioritizing beauty and
perfection? What direction would you have liked the movie to go? Did you like
the ending?