Thursday, July 2, 2009

Public Enemies is good looking but without much substance.

"Public Enemies," directed by Michael Mann, does a really nice job of visually taking you back to the look of the 1930's era, through great scenery, great rebuilt street sets, old cars, costumes and props.

All of the actors, (and there a lot of recognizable faces popping up in small appearances all over in this film), do a nice job with what they are given to do.

The weakness here for me is that this is a very plot-driven movie, with very little insight into Dillinger, his gang, or even the dogged FBI agent pursuing him. They also barely mention or refer to the ongoing hardships of the Depression of the time, which certainly played a role here in this story. Yet you really don't see it at all in any of these scenes. Everyone we see (except the jailed prisoners) looks like they're having a swell time.

The story basically just goes from one plot point to another until they've run out and the film ends.

I was looking for a chance to see beneath these infamous characters' outer shells who decades later are still almost celebrated with multiple books and movies. Who are these people, I wonder. This movie is not going to tell you.

For die-hard Depp or Bale fans, or fans of the Tommy gun, you'll likely enjoy it anyway.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is there ever a wrong time for Chili?

Okay, okay, so it's not a soup, but if served in a 'soup bowl'....I say it qualifies. That, and because, like a soup...there is simmering involved in the preparation. Hey, my blog, my rules.

So anyway....Mmmm.. Is there ever a wrong time for chili? I'm thinking 'no' I'll tell you why. It's the kind of all weather, all season dish that can be modified to suit your own particular taste. I think those are two big reasons that make the dish such a popular one. That, and of course the delicious and satisfying taste. I see interesting versions of chili on menus in all kinds of different restaurants everywhere I go.

Like I mentioned, it's a dish you can experiment with to suit your taste without losing the flavor. For instance, I've tried meat chili, and then and as I began weaning myself off red meat, I found the substitution of turkey equally satisfying. And once I gave up meat altogether, I still didn't have to give Chili up. There are some really good Vegan Chili recipes to try. As for me? The next creation I plan try is the 'Black Bean Chili over Rice.' Don't worry, I shall be eating it out of a soup bowl.

Enjoy, soupers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

French Onion delight!

“You know how I feel about soup. It’s a side dish” ~ Keith Mars, Veronica Mars

Au contraire mon frére.

Check out this delightful French Onion soup, served up by the fine folks of the Mity Nice Grille. And get a load of the dish they used for presentation. I think a dish served up like this should have a choir singing in the background as the waiter walks it to your table.

French onion soup isn’t for everyone. It’s true that onions provide a great flavor for a variety of cuisine. But as a kid I really didn’t see the point to a soup full of onions. I mean come on. French fries, and French vanilla ice cream I could get behind, but onion soup? Pass.

As an adult I came to try out the soup again, and suddenly it was ‘mmm-mmm good’ to my taste buds.

Now, it could be the fact that as an adult I come to think of cheese as both delicious and deserving of its very own food group that makes me now love it even when it’s crossed with onions and soggy bread.

But my more optimistic self tends think it’s the types of cheese used combined with the type of onion, the dry white wine, and the bread that have won me over.

And I’m not alone in my love of this fine soup. Did you know that there is actually an entire web site devoted to French Onion Soup? Well there is! Check it out.

Bon appetite soupers!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bride Wars ~ Film Review

Director: Gary Winick
Screenwriters: Greg DePaul, Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael
Production Company: Firm Films, New Regency Pictures, Regency Enterprises, Sunrise Entertainment (II)
Studio: Fox 2000 Pictures (USA)
Starring: Ann Hathaway, Kate Hudson, Bryan Greenberg, Steve Howey, Chris Pratt, Kristen Johnston, Candice Bergen, Kelly Coffield

Warning: In my movie reviews I discuss plot pretty openly here, so be warned if you haven’t seen the film yet.

Emma (played by Anne Hathaway) and Liv (played by Kate Hudson) have been best friends since they were children, but that friendship is sorely tested when they both wind up with the same and only wedding date available at their dream ceremony location: New York City's Plaza Hotel. Neither will back down and give the other their special day all to themselves. May the best Bridezilla win.

Most of the laughs of this film are about how each gal tries to sabotage the other gal’s wedding. The film’s underlying message is that you are very lucky indeed if you happen to have a friend to count on, who knows you best, better than even the person you pledge your life to, and this comes across nicely. That’s what I took from it. And I think the message is a smart choice and it elevates this romantic comedy just a bit above the others out there, for that reason.

Yes there is a bit of the ‘do they love each other’, ‘are they right for each other’ bits between Liv and Emma and their men, but the screenwriter picks the Emma/Liv friendship as the main focus here and sticks with it. That’s refreshing in a Rom-Com, and that makes this film a winner for me.

You have to like both of these girls in order to root for the schemes they pull on each other and why they're doing it or none of this part of the plot works. Thankfully, both despite their quirks and their competitiveness are likeable due to nice attention paid to each character’s development. Well done performances by Hathaway and Hudson too (who also produces on this project).The critics and the marketing folks behind this film liken Liv and Emma to Bridezillas, but if you’ve ever seen that Oxygen network show Emma and Liv have nothing on the attitudes of those women. Thank you screenwriters.

Also fun is Emma’s lazy and manipulative school teacher colleague “Deb” played by the always funny Kristen Johnston, (“3rd Rock from the Sun”; “Music and Lyrics”). Here is an actress I would like to see step into her own romantic comedy as a ‘lead.’ She’s already a scene stealer as a supporting actress in Rom-Coms. I’d like to see what she could do in a story of her own.

I was also interested in Emma’s friendship with Liv’s brother Nate (played by Bryan Greenberg), which we get all of two scenes with. We do get an answer to that chemistry between them, but I would have liked even more to have seen that story unfold. But that’s another movie.

Also, an easy fix for the ‘same day’ dilemma Liv and Emma faced, I felt could have been solved with an a.m. and p.m. wedding. But that’s me, trying to apply that real life logic.
And yes, I was looking for soup to critique about in this movie, but apparently women only eat salads, and drink in Rom-coms.

Still, a good film. If you didn’t catch it in theaters, it’s out on DVD in April. Check it out.

Confessions of a Shopaholic ~ Film Review

Directed by: PJ Hogan
Screenwriters: Tracy Jackson, Tim Firth, Kayla Alpert
Production Company: Touchstone Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer films
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture
Starring: Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Kristin Scott Thomas,
John Goodman, Joan Cusack, Leslie Pope.

Warning: In my movie reviews I discuss plot pretty openly here, so be warned if you haven’t seen the film yet.

I didn’t read the popular book series by writer Sophie Kinsella, but I have no doubt that there are at least a few necessary “story chunks,” as I like to call them, missing from this movie, that would have helped flesh out the characters and the plot and subplots here.

We meet Rebecca (played by Isla Fisher), our Shopaholic who says the world gets better each time she shops. Personally, I think my world would get much better if each time I ate chocolate I never gained an ounce. But, that’s me. We all have our dreams though. I get it Rebecca.

When we meet Rebecca she is in debt up to her eyeballs but continues to shop endlessly even after the company she works for folds and she is now flat broke. Through lies and sheer dumb luck she winds up with a new writing gig, this time for a finance magazine. Yep, that is the big joke of the movie. A gal hiding big debt of her own lies her way into writing financial advice from a plain speaking perspective she knows.

Her column comparing making one’s financial investment to ‘the art of shoe buying’ immediately resonates with the magazine’s readers and before she knows it Rebecca is a star employee meeting with the big wigs. She is also simultaneously developing an overnight romance with her handsome editor Luke (played by Hugh Dancy) and secretly trying to out run an overly determined debt collector. So far much of Becca's mess is truly a fairytale we women should all get a crack at. Unfortunately, very little of Becca's problems really endears us to her. She is the cause of all of her problems and yet continues to succeed without a care, even to the friend who tries to help her.

In paging through the book that this movie is based on awhile back, I seem to remember that some of Rebecca’s more creative “excuse letters’ to the debt collector are funny yet none of them make it into this movie. I think that right there is a missed opportunity to soften and perhaps counter the selfish tone of Becca a bit. Instead the screenwriters go with Rebecca’s klutziness and her moments of shopping obsession, which isn’t really enough here despite Fisher’s best comedic efforts.

The overnight romance between Rebecca and Luke (played by Hugh Dancy) is perfunctory at best despite the likeability of both Hugh Dancy and Isla Fisher. For me, a romance can’t work without chemistry. And pretty strong chemistry if you are going to advance the romance this quickly. Also, the audience at some point has to be invested enough that you hope that they’ll get together. I felt none of that here, though I admit I wished that I had. Instead, I kept wondering what Luke sees in Rebecca and why they should get together at all.
Also, the conflicts aren't hard enough to overcome. Becca hiding her debt from Luke as well as her true goal to write for the fashion magazine owned by the same parent company as Luke's magazine isn't that hard to overcome. It's a conversation. Not a life changer.

Several good actors, John Goodman, Joan Cusack (who should get an award for the number of throwaway supporting roles in Rom-Coms she does), Kristen Scott Thomas, Julie Hagerty, and Leslie Pope as the perpetual pretty girl who I know can do more, also gets a few lines but that is about it. Another wasted opportunity.

There is also a subplot with Rebecca and her engaged roommate involving a little test of their friendship, which I can say definitively “Bride Wars” did a better job of.

Despite my criticisms, I don’t think this is in any way an awful film. It’s just not funny enough, or endearing enough of a film.

This film has some good elements here with both the plot idea and certainly the actors, but chances for the bigger laughs aren’t taken.

So how would I fix it? Hmm, good question. I’ll probably need to read the book to figure out what else was left out of the screenplay before I offer any ideas.

In the meantime, if you’re a fan of the book or a fan of the actors, I’d recommend renting it when it comes out on DVD rather than resorting to paying the higher theater admission price just for the chance to see it on the big screen.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Vegetable Soup, Southwestern Style!

Southwestern Vegetable.

Mmm-mmm. Here is another good soup to add to my favorites list. I tried this one at my local Chili’s restaurant one chilly and busy Friday night.

What stood out for me the most was the flavor of those diced green chilies. That helps make this recipe go a long way to separate this soup from the garden variety vegetable soup, which yes, also has those delicious kidney and green beans.

I think the fact that the Southwestern Vegetable soup recipes also include Spanish onion, corn, and a dash of both chili and garlic powders also helps distinguish it a bit more from other vegetable soups.

No more living in the shadows of Garden Vegetable, Southwestern! Be out and proud in your own right. With this soup you also get a nice garnish of thin strips of corn tortilla and cheese, which I loved.

As with a lot of popular soups like this one, you can add or subtract a few things. For instance, add meat, or don’t add meat. You can even try out different peppers if you like. The Food Network has recipes available for this soup. Or you can also try the internet.

If you’re kitchen challenged like this soup blogger, Campbell’s, and Progresso are two of the many soup-makers out there you can try out from your local grocer’s shelves.

A little trivia for you too: My internet searching on this soup turned up an interesting fact which I have not yet confirmed. It’s quite possible that Campbell’s Soup came up with the recipe for Southwestern Vegetable back in 1966.

As to the picture. Not the neatest ladeling into a bowl you ever saw, huh? Yeah, well, on his way to serve it to me, the Chili's bartender whipped around to avoid a collision with another bartender and so it sloshed around the bowl a bit. Hey, it could've been worse. I could've ended up wearing it.

Enjoy Soupers!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ahh, Minestrone...

Doesn't this minestrone soup look delish? Go ahead, put your nose right up to the screen. Mmmmm.

Is there ever a wrong time for Minestrone?
Especially now while having to deal with those frigid winter temperatures, huh. Unh!

During these winter months, if you're looking for cuisine that keeps you warm, satisfies the hunger, and is easy on the pocket book. Look no further. This is truly one of my favorite soups.

Oh and did I mention it's delicious? One big bowl hits a major food group, (if you're keeping track of that sort of thing), and equally important: its hips-friendly folks. You know what I'm talking about. It sticks to the ribs, as my dad would say, but doesn't linger (as I say).

Did I mention that it's also a pretty versatile soup as well? I see it on a lot of menus all around the city. Each restaurant offers it a little differently, which makes it seem like a different adventure each time you try it. Trust me, you never get the same version twice. Some places are all about including the potatoes. Other chefs seem to say "no, we will have no potatoes in our minestrone. It's all about the pasta!" Then there are places like the divine Pompei Bakery. that also offers a baked version with a layer of bread and melted cheese spread out over the top. There are restaurants that play up the lighter broth-based version of the soup which is great in the warmer months. Other places thicken the base. Oh, and we haven't even talked about the fact that you can have it either vegetarian style (v. enjoyable), or with meat, yet without losing its overall flavor. This soup is a "win-win."

If you're looking for a couple of recipe options, you can check out The Food Network website, which has some good versions to try

Now, if you're just not into cooking, or let's say you've got one of those "Euro Kitchens" (translation for non-apartment dwellers: no counter space to chop, cook, and experiment in all fun things cooking, hence "No soup for you! It's nothing but canned soup and microwaving for you"), well, Progresso, and Campbell make mighty fine minestrone available at your local grocer. Not as adventurous as your local restaurant can do it, but they will still do the trick.

Now, as I type this, Chinese muzac is piping through my cafe's speakers. So of course, I must seek out some Won-ton soup to try out.

Enjoy soupers!