Joyful Noise

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

 

Studio:
Warner Bros.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

1 pound fresh fettuccine pasta

5 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 small red onion, chopped

1 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1-2 teaspoons of minced garlic to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

 

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

 

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

The Vow


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

 

Studio: Sony
Pictures

 

Summary:
After a horrific car accident, a young wife (Rachel McAdams) cannot remember
the past few years of her life, or her husband (Channing Tatum). He now must
figure out how to make her fall in love with him all over again.

 

Review: Happy
Mother’s Day weekend, everyone. In honor of that, I decided to break out a
romance for your enjoyment. (Sure, I’d rather watch a horror movie or some
crazy actioner on Mother’s Day, but I know I’m a bit off.) Fans of “The
Notebook” or predictable yet satisfying romance movies featuring
love-conquers-all as the main theme will enjoy “The Vow.” It’s got
some of today’s biggest romance players with McAdams (of “The
Notebook” fame, by the way) and Tatum. To add more fuel to this romantic
fire and cause fans to swoon even more, the film is based on the true-life tale
of a couple that went through this same experience and wrote a book about it,
also titled “The Vow.”

 

The story begins with a wild and endearing courtship of
Paige and Leo, two independent and quirky Chicagoans. All too soon, their
happiness is shattered–literally–when Paige is thrown through the windshield in
the wake of a terrible car accident and falls into a coma. When she awakes
(without looking like she was just thrown through the windshield, of course),
she can’t remember Leo, doesn’t understand why she dresses like such a free
spirit and is basically a totally different person than the one Leo married.
But in true romance fashion, the dashing young hero won’t give up, and despite
many obstacles, he makes it his life’s mission to woo Paige and rekindle their
love.

 

Now this is a romance, so don’t expect any real deviations
from the genre. Without issuing any spoilers, let me tell you that this film
won’t disappoint fans of love stories. McAdams is, as always, adorably charming
in this role, even if at times she seems a bit flat. Tatum, easy on the eyes as
he is, portrays Leo with a quiet strength. Overall, the quality of these two
leads helps push “The Vow” past likeable and into memorable.
“The Vow” does get greedy in the clich category, but fans of the
romance movie will most likely overlook those flaws.

 

Extra highlight:
deleted scenes

 

What to serve for dinner: Let’s go with a pre-coma-Paige meal: waffles. Try
chocolate waffles served with whipped cream and sliced strawberries followed up
with a chocolate mojito.

 

Chocolate Waffles (foodnetwork.com)

 

7 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 1 1/2 cups

    1
3/4 ounces sugar, approximately 3 tablespoons

   
1.5 ounces cocoa powder, approximately 1/2 cup

    1
teaspoon baking powder

    1
teaspoon salt

   
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

    3
whole eggs, beaten

    2
ounces unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

    1
teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    16
ounces buttermilk, room temperature

    4
ounces chocolate chips, approximately 3/4 cup

   
Vegetable spray, for waffle iron

 

 

Preheat waffle iron according to manufacturer’s directions.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder,
salt, and baking soda. In another bowl beat together the eggs and melted butter
and vanilla, and then add the buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry
and stir in the chocolate chips just until combined. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

 

Ladle the recommended amount of waffle batter onto the
center of the iron. Close the iron top and cook until the waffle is crispy on
both sides and is easily removed from iron. Serve immediately or keep warm in a
200 degree F oven until ready to serve.

 

Chocolate Mojito (http://www.hersheysweetrecipes.com)

 

1 lime wedge

3 fresh mint leaves

1/2 ounce Torani White Chocolate Syrup

1 1/2 ounces Gosling’s Black Seal Rum

Club Soda

 

In a highball glass, put lime wedge, mint leaves and syrup.
Muddle together (crush ingredients using a special muddling tool or the back of
a teaspoon) to incorporate all ingredients. Add ice, rum, and top with club
soda. Stir, pulling the muddled ingredients to the top. Garnish with a fresh
sprig of mint.

 

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

 

What to talk about over dinner: What’s the most romantic thing your spouse has ever
done for you? That you’ve done for him or her? What was your favorite part of
this movie? The most “cheesy” part? What’s your favorite romance
ever? Do you like romantic movies or books more? Do you think this or “The
Notebook” was more romantic? Why? What would you do if you had to make
your spouse fall in love with you all over again? Did you think this movie was
more believable because it was based on a true story? Or was it too
“Hollywoodized?” Do you like romances or romantic comedies more? Who
is your favorite lead in a romance? Would this movie have worked with leads
other than McAdams and Tatum? If so, who?

New Year’s Eve


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

 

Studio:
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I digress. 

 

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

 

Extra highlight:
Gag reel, of course.

 

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

 

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

 

Black-Eyed Peas with Collard Greens

 

1/2 pound black-eyed peas, rinsed

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 bay leaf

Salt to taste

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

2 tablespoons tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup water

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

Freshly ground pepper to taste

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Pork Carnitas

 

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

2 oranges, quartered

1 large white onion, quartered

6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1/4 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

 

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

 

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

Chicken Run

Welcome to the new installment of Dinner and a DVD:
Meatless Monday Movies! In addition to our regular Friday feature, we’re going
to also be posting on Mondays. To ease you into the workweek, we’ll feature a
film along with a vegetarian recipe. That way, you can start the week on a high
note, and also do your part to help make the world a bit greener.

 

Film (with rating): Chicken Run (G)

 

Studio: DreamWorks SKG

 

Summary: Rocky the Rooster (voiced by a pre-crazy Mel
Gibson) and Ginger the Hen rebel against the evil Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy in an
attempt to escape the chicken farm and avoid becoming part of a pie.

 

Review: To welcome in Meatless Monday Movies, I’m going with
a modern classic for the family–and a classic that might make you think twice
about eating chicken. The same studio that brought us the loveable
“Wallace & Gromit” claymation shorts created “Chicken
Run.” In fact, “Chicken Run” is the first feature-length
claymation, or clay animation, film. Despite being rated “G,” the
movie is filled with enough humor and layers of comedy to please all viewers.
Loosely based on “The Great Escape,” the witty actioner “Chicken
Run” pairs up the tough-yet-loveable hen Ginger (voiced by
“Absolutely Fabulous’” Julia Sawalha) and cocky rooster Rocky as they
rally the troops to freedom.

 

This film, directed by Britain’s Aardman studios cofounder
Peter Lord and “Wallace & Gromit” creator Nick Park, has just
enough British humor to tickle our ribs, yet plenty of slapstick laughs to
please the kids in attendance. Fans of claymation, escape dramas, WWII films or
maybe just chickens will love “Chicken Run.” Even Mel Gibson’s fall
from grace can’t hurt this film. He was on his game as he voiced the flamboyant
Rocky, as was Miranda Richardson as the frightening and evil Mrs. Tweedy.

 

So enjoy your chicken movie, and chicken-free dinner. Happy
Monday, everyone.

 

Extra highlight: “Hatching of Chicken Run”

 

What to serve for dinner: Let’s try an easy meat-free meal:
vegetarian chili (foodnetwork.com).

 

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions

1 cup chopped red bell peppers

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 to 3 Serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced,
depending upon taste

1 medium zucchini, stem ends trimmed and cut into small dice

2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)

1 1/2 pounds Portobello mushrooms (about 5 large), stemmed,
wiped clean and cubed

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

3 cups cooked black beans, or canned beans, rinsed and
drained

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 cup vegetable stock, or water

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Cooked brown rice, accompaniment

Sour cream or strained plain yogurt, garnish

Diced avocado, garnish

Essence, recipe follows, garnish

Chopped green onions, garnish

 

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic, and Serrano peppers, and cook, stirring,
until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini, corn, and mushrooms, and cook,
stirring, until soft and the vegetables give off their liquid and start to
brown around the edges, about 6 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt and
cayenne, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes
and stir well. Add the beans, tomato sauce, and vegetable stock, stir well, and
bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring
occasionally, for about 20 minutes.

 

Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Adjust the
seasoning, to taste.

 

To serve, place 1/4 cup of brown rice in the bottom of each
bowl. Ladle the chili into the bowls over the rice. Top each serving with a
dollop of sour cream and spoonful of avocado.

 

What to talk about over dinner: Who was your favorite
chicken? What do you think of claymation? Have you ever watched “Wallace
& Gromit?” What other movies did this one remind you of? How did Mel
Gibson fall so far? What is your favorite British film or television show?
Would you ever go meat-free forever and not just on Mondays? What would you
miss most? How do you think the world will benefit by people giving up meat
just one day a week? Have you seen “Food, Inc.?” What did you think
of that?

We Bought A Zoo

** Check back here on Monday for a special announcement!**


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

 

Studio: Fox
Home Entertainment

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

cup plain flour (a little less than cup)

tsp English mustard powder

1 egg

1 1/3 cup milk

3 thyme sprigs, leaves only

8 plain pork sausages

2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 onions, peeled and sliced

1 tsp soft brown sugar

2 cups beef stock

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo


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

 

Studio: Sony
Pictures Home Entertainment

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Extra highlight:
Check out the “Characters” extra

 

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

 

2 slices fresh white bread

1/4 cup milk

3 tablespoons clarified butter, divided

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

A pinch plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 pound ground chuck

3/4 pound ground pork

2 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups beef broth

1/4 cup heavy cream

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Hop

Photo #8

Film (with rating): Hop (PG)

 

Studio: Universal Pictures

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

4 russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices

1 onion, sliced into rings

salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

 

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

Bake 1.5 hours in the preheated oven.

 

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

Leap Year


Film (with rating): Leap Year (PG)

 

Studio: Universal

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

4 to 4 1/2 cups flour

    2
Tbsp sugar

    1
teaspoon salt

    1
teaspoon baking soda

    4
Tbsp butter

    1
cup raisins

    1
large egg, lightly beaten

    1
3/4 cups buttermilk

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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?

 

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

  Photo #1


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

 

Studio: Warner Home Entertainment

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

1 recipe Chicken and White Bean Chili (see below)

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

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup wheat germ

3 large eggs

2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional oil for brushing
waffle iron

 

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

 

Chili:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/3 cups chopped onion

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

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

3 1/2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

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

2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

(sour cream and white cheddar as topping options)

 

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

 

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