Monday, January 31, 2011
Major buzz has been circulating lately about a new biography based flick about that classic Queen of the Nile,Cleopatra. Thanks to Stacy Schiff's new book about her(which has become a popular nonfiction bestseller),interest has peaked yet again regarding this fabled royal lady.
Schiff's book will be the foundation for the movie's screenplay and talk is that Angelina Jolie has been cast as the lead. There have been numerous debates regarding the true ethnicity of Cleopatra,which caused severe displeasure with the choice of actresses that have played her in the past.
However most historians agree that she was of a biracial heritage,so casting Jolie in this role might pass muster with the majority here. What is just as worthy of discussion here is what depiction of this famed ruler we'll be getting this time around.
Most of the earlier portrayals of Cleopatra,such as the 1934 Cecil B. DeMile epic starring Claudette Colbert,have showcased her in the glamorous femme fatal mode.
By focusing on the costumes and jewelry(the perceived by Hollywood edition of them) along with soap opera style plots,Cleo seemed to be more of a celebrity diva than one of history's movers and shakers.
Not that she didn't have quite the love life there but judging by some of these films,all Cleo seemed to have time for was showing off gowns while making hard romantic choices:
Speaking of bad romance,the love connections between Cleopatra and such influential beaus as Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony have been the drawing point for both stage and screen.
The 1945 film Caesar and Cleopatra was based on George Bernard Shaw's play and even featured highly theatrical actors in the main parts(Claude Rains and Vivian Leigh).
No surprise that the Pygmalion playwright chose to add a student/teacher vibe to the romantic mix between the springtime youth of Cleo and her December aged Roman lover. While there might have been a little of that in real life,something tells me that Cleopatra was savvier on that front than some wanted to believe at the time:
All of these stereotypes came to a head in the infamous flop that was the 1963 Cleopatra film that was basically a star vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor.
From her elaborate wardrobe changes(65 in total,with only Madonna's turn as Evita rivaling that number)to the gargantuan sets and underdone acting,this flick made Cleo to be nothing more than a flimsy excuse for a Halloween costume.
To make matters worse,Richard Burton was cast as Mark Anthony which brought all of Taylor and Burton's own on-again,off-again relationship baggage on board an already crowded big budget media barge. Talk about no way to treat a lady,especially a royal one at that:
Enough time has passed,fortunately,that allows for a bit more breathing room from that limited viewpoint and gives us a sharper appraisal of Cleopatra's place in history. The HBO series Rome,for example, included her in it's plot lines but gave Cleo credit for using her wits as well as her wiles in dealing with her political friends and enemies:
Perhaps we have a better shot at getting a truer look at Cleopatra's legacy from the upcoming adaption of Schiff's book,if too many liberties aren't taken in translation from page to script. It would be nice to see this regal dame get the respect she deserves on screen.
After all,Elizabeth I has gotten plenty of proper pomp and circumstance from both Hollywood and cable biopics within the last decade and surely Cleopatra is due her fair share of the pop culture spotlight. Even Marie Antoinette has had some of the falsehoods about her life and times stripped away from her image in fictional and nonfictional arenas(that whole "let them eat cake" line was a political ploy to blame her for the state of French affairs).
Hopefully,this latest Hollywood take on Cleopatra will give us a real history lesson and an entertaining story for our cinematic delight. Even if the final product is still somewhat lacking,there will be other writers bringing more stories about this ever living legend to life,thanks to the path that Stacy Schiff has marked out for them:
Friday, January 28, 2011
With the excitement of the Academy Awards nominations earlier this week,giving a closer look to not only who made it in but who was left out required a bit of time for reflection.
While most of the talk regarding the non Oscar nominees has been focused on the acting categories(quite a bit of shock over Mila Kunis,Andrew Garfield and Mark Walhberg not being placed in their expected spots),there are a few glaring omissions in other areas that bear more scrutiny. Let's take the top four major snubs of this Oscar season and see what we can make of their being shut out here:
STILL WAITING IN THE WINGS
A real upset occurred in the Best Documentary category as Waiting For Superman,a highly touted film about the failings of our education system wasn't nominated. The movie spurred on quite a bit of talk regarding how truly hard it was for children seeking a shot at higher learning to do so and seemed like a slam dunk to be included in this year's Oscar race.
The film is not without it's equal number of detractors,however,who say that much of what was onscreen was staged and edited with a bias in mind. Funny,that didn't seem to bother some of the same people when similar charges were made against Michael Moore's last several films,not to mention An Inconvenient Truth(which shared the same producers as WFS).
Perhaps,a real nerve was struck by this film,which makes it too threatening to be acknowledged-since I have not seen WFS yet,I can't definitively say. This serious snubbing will most likely spur even those reluctant to buy into the film's message to check it out on video and cable, maybe more so than any of the other films that were nominated. That might be a true blessing in disguise for Waiting For Superman:
NO LOVE FOR NOLAN
Another expected nominee was Christopher Nolan for Best Director,who many thought should have been up for The Dark Knight back in 2009. While Inception did garner a good number of nominations,,which include Best Picture and Original Screenplay,many consider it to be a major piece of visual eye candy at best.
Having seen Inception recently,I do agree with those who found plenty of plot meat on it's cinematic bones but it wasn't a Cliff Notes style of story telling,that's for sure.
The main reasons for Nolan being overlooked here are simple;he works in imaginative genre fare that most people don't want to take seriously come award time and he's super successful to boot. When you make major green at the box office on a consistent basis,others tend to turn a shade of emerald envy when voting for top honors begins:
HAVE WE SEEN THE LAST OF HER?
Even tho Burlesque wasn't a major hit of the fall movie season,it's songs were shoo-ins to be included in the Best Song category. The odds increased when "You Haven't Seen The Last Of Me" won at the Golden Globes and song writer Dianne Warren made a very tearful acceptance speech.
Alas,none of the tunes from this modern musical were nominated at all. The Best Song category has been getting short changed for a long while now(they only bothered to put up four songs this year)and it is a shame that we won't get to see Cher perform this cinematic swan song on Oscar night. It's a classic show stopper that deserves it's day in the award show sun. Guess the Globes will have to do:
Tron Legacy is not a film that even the casual Oscar observer would expect to get any Academy love but it did manage to land a Best Sound Editing nom.
The technical categories tend to honor sci-fi/fantasy fare more than the others at Oscar time yet it is surprising to see that Daft Punk was not put up for Best Score.The music they created for Tron Legacy has earned the admiration of even the critics who find the movie to be another needless sequel.
Maybe the folks who vote for that section felt that nominating Trent Reznor(who co-wrote the soundtrack for The Social Network)was edgy enough. Too bad,since Daft Punk certainly would've liven up the Red Carpet shows considerably:
Well,as the saying goes,you can't please all of the people all of the time. After all,even those folks who were nominated have no iron clad guarantee of winning,particularly if they're up against a crowd pleasing favorite. Making due with what glory you can get appears to be the best coping mechanism:
Thursday, January 27, 2011
With the Top Chef All-Stars taking a break this week,we will start our TV talk with a look at Worst Cooks in America.
After a make your own burger challenge which was judged via blind taste test,Chef Anne had to give up one of her recruits to Robert Irvine. Irvine switched his weakest cook Kat for Kelsey from Chef Anne's team but that change-up didn't benefit him much.
The Main Dish challenge had the recruits prepare two plates;one for their judge and the other for themselves,in order to taste their own merits and failures. Chef Anne taught her crew how to make a duo of lamb chops coated with a pistachio tapenade over a potato cake that needed to be flipped.
Most of her team did well here but dippy Erika once again used the wrong pan and her potato creation wound up stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Thank goodness she went home,her constant goofiness was annoying:
Irvine taught his team to make a pan seared duck breast with a sweet potato puree and an apple pomegranate reduction sauce. He also showed them how to Julienne veggies,which was pretty scary for some of the recruits to even think of trying.
Irvine had high hopes for Kelsey during this round but her final product on the plate landed her in the Bottom Two. Fortunately for her,Kelsey was given another chance but she's going to have to step up her game and grilling skills,big time:
Amongst all of the various goings-on at Downton Abbey this past episode,the antics of Dowager Countess Violet proved to be the most amusing.
Whether she's taking joy in showing up Isobel on the home remedy front or being gracious enough to allow one of the locals to win the annual flower show instead of her(in a very nice tip of the hat to Mrs. Miniver),Lady Violet was a treat to watch.
Of course,she still is determined to have her eldest granddaughter Mary gain her rightful inheritance and even consulted the current heir apparent Matthew for advice on the matter. He was more than happy to help,despite not being able to find a legal loophole that could break the entail. That shouldn't deter the Countess for too long since,as she pointed out to Matthew,Her Ladyship is a good sailor in rocky waters:
The auditions continue on American Idol,bringing the judges to Milwaukee for more musical madness,most of which came from Steven Tyler. I won't be surprised if the show's bleep button is worn out before Hollywood week begins,honestly.
Even more off the wall than Steven are the bad singers in the crowd and this week's hidden gem of horrible is Nathaniel Jones,a young Civil War reenactor who came in full uniform to serenade the panel with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." While another episode(set in Nashville)will be airing tonight,I'm afraid that I will have to miss it so if someone else tops this awkwardly odd audition,so let it be:
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: New episodes are back and hopefully more details about the arrival of ancient vampire Klaus will be revealed,along with other juicy plot points.
Speaking of juicy,the budding romance between newbie vamp Caroline and reluctant werewolf Taylor is rather intriguing and will probably lead to major heartbreaking angst. That doesn't mean you can't wish for some luck in love for these two unlikely lovers:
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
One thing that constant readers always seem to need,despite the status of their current To Be Read lists,are book recommendations.
Whether you are in a reading group or not,having a few titles on the tip of your tongue for just about any subject is handy especially if friends and family are most likely to turn to you first for a good literary suggestion or two.
This season,I've been making my way through Read This Next:500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read,co-written by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman(they both claim to be the pen names of "Barrington Hewcott",a little joke of theirs)and this is not your grandmother's book list book,folks.
While Read This Next does have the standard set of book list book format fare such as dividing their titles up by genre and providing reading group discussion questions,they also slightly subvert the bibliophile status quo by spicing things up with a little wink and nudge.
The questions provided do tend to be seriously tongue in cheek,often asking if any of the obnoxious behavior displayed by the characters from the book under discussion apply to the reader or their fellow book members. Interesting factoids regarding the authors have an extra zing to them,weaving in humorous asides along with knowledge.
Basically,Read This Next is like hanging out with a pair of witty bookoholics who have the flair but none of the snootiness that some offbeat aficionados can give off all too easily. While I've never meet either one of these authors,it's not hard to imagine them as a couple of my favorite online book reviewers,Ron Charles from the Washington Post and Jenny from 60 Second Recap.
While Ron mainly covers the adult book beat and Jenny handles the teen section,they do share a snappy sparkling tone to their video reviews that shows their love of reading and makes contemplating them as a duo not that far fetched. Mittlemark and Newman clearly get on rather well in print and it would be fun to see them make a few book review videos of their own:
JENNY,WE'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER
Also,this book offers up plenty of food for thought as well as playful pokes at the book club mindset,which can take itself too seriously at times.
Additional lists of genre related titles pop up in the midst of a section,to keep things interesting,and the range of subjects goes from time honored classics to contemporary lit and even a few hidden gems that even the most diehard devotee might not be aware of.
Even tho Read This Next has some fun with the book club concept,the love of reading is clearly being celebrated here. This book might even make for an amusing choice for a reading group to tackle. Smart and silly often go hand in hand so why not here?:
I have not yet finished with Read This Next but I do highly recommend for anyone looking to update their reading lists or just have a good giggle while browsing thru the shelves. This crafty collaboration really puts the fun in reading fundamentals as well as provide some much needed relief from the literary demands of the day:
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Well,it's official,folks;the nominations for the 83rd Academy Awards have been announced this morning with plenty of expected and surprising names on the final list.
One of this year's co-hosts ,James Franco, has the dubious honor of being a Best Actor nominee for his performance in 127 Hours which will probably work against his chances of winning.
Also,when it comes to that category there are already two stronger contenders(more about that coming up)and the fact that Franco is still considered a relative newcomer to the field will only serve to make that envelope opening moment slightly pause worthy. Let's take a brief overview of the Oscar landscape and see what treats or tricks are in store for us:
GIVING THE KING SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT
The most nominated film this year is The King's Speech,with 12 under it's royal belt. Those include Best Supporting Actor and Actress(Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter),Best Original Screenplay,Best Director and Picture.
The best bet for a win here is Colin Firth as Best Actor. Much like Sandra Bullock last year,there is a tidal wave of both critical and audience support for him to get the award which should carry him to the stage with acceptance speech on hand next month.
Why this movie is getting the Oscar love can be broken down into at least three good reasons-1)backlash against technology driven films such as The Social Network(which received about 8 noms and will likely wind up with Best Screenplay as it's major prize)and Inception(Director Christopher Nolan was snubbed in the Best Director category and the film has mostly technical noms).
Plus, 2)it's based on a true story with British royals,pure catnip for the Academy and 3)the focus of the plot is a man overcoming a physical setback,something that Oscar folk have as much resistance to as Charlie Sheen does to a brothel with an open bar. Put that all together and you have quite the stylish award winner ready to be set on the movie mantel:
TRUE STAYING POWER
Next in line with the most nominations is True Grit,who earned 10 of them with Best Adapted Screenplay,Best Director(for both Coen brothers)and plum acting nods for Jeff Bridges as Best Actor and Hailee Steinfeld for Best Supporting Actress in her debut role.
Many were concerned about True Grit's chances,given that it received little attention from the Golden Globes and was doing well at the box office(some voters take a dim view towards money makers come award time). However,this film happens to be one of the few remakes that may have actually improved on the original,boosting it up to a higher status amongst it's peers.
While Bridges won Best Actor last time out for Crazy Heart,he's really the only key player up against Firth here. Javier Bardem(nominated for the Spanish language film Bituful) is already an Oscar winner and the other two fellas on the playing field(Franco and Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network)are too green behind the ears,so to speak.
I'm not saying that Bridges will definitely beat Firth,who is on a powerful winning streak,but he is the only real chance for an upset there. Hailee Steinfeld might also be a surprise winner in her category,altho I am rooting for Melissa Leo(who won the Golden Globe for her role as the tough as bails mom in The Fighter). Given the talent assembled here and the positive reaction this movie is still gathering,it is safe to say that True Grit will not walk away empty handed on Oscar Night:
WARM RECEPTION FOR A BONE CHILLING THRILLER
One of the best surprises on this list was the growing number of noms for Winter's Bone,which not only has the anticipated Best Actress spot for Jennifer Laurence but a place for co-star John Hawkes in the Best Supporting Actor section as well.
The movie also is up for Best Adapted Screenplay(based on Daniel Woodrall's excellent novel) and Best Picture,which it truly deserves. This all too real tale of a young woman trapped in a dead end situation who must search for her meth dealing dad in order to save the family home is a small slice of rural Americana and a great display of storytelling prowess to boot. It's available on DVD and if you haven't seen it yet,there is no time like the present to do so:
BEST SONG COMING UP SHORT AGAIN
In the Best Song category,only four nominees were chosen and none of them were from Burlesque,which is stunning considering that one of those tunes won the Golden Globe. The songs that did make it were "Coming Home" from Country Strong,Tangled's "I See the Light" and Toy Story 3's standard Randy Newman tune.
What may probably get the gold here is "If I Rise" by Dido and A.H. Rahman from the soundtrack of 127 Hours. It's oddly melodic with a quiet quirky beat that will catch the ear of those who vote in this category. Best Song tends to be more of a risk taker these days and at least it's an interesting song:
Speculations on who will win,lose or draw are now being made but at the moment,it's too soon to tell how this movie madness will all wash out in the end.Congratulations to the nominees are in order and best wishes in particular to the most deserving.
In the meantime,there are several other film award shows to get through which might also influence the final Oscar tally so stock up on popcorn,folks. A word to the wise for those nominees who are worried about their speeches-just try to keep it simple. If Sandra Bullock can handle being an Oscar winner and a Golden Raspberry recipient within the same year,with plenty to say at each event,you can do it,too and within the allotted time period:
Monday, January 24, 2011
A few weeks,Mr. Oswalt wrote an essay regarding the current state of geek culture and this being a case of some delicacy and in need of early attention,I thought it best to address this situation now.
Granted,Mr. Oswalt is a professional humorist and most of his comments are well seasoned with tongue firmly in cheek. However,a ring of true angst regarding the changes in the pop culture realm can be clearly heard throughout.
Also,he is not alone in his basic annoyance that the internet has made it far too easy for the newer generations of geeks to acquire knowledge that he and his kind labored so mightily to obtain back in the day. Some are even so offended by the commercialization of their once only known to a few interests that they scorn those who seem all too eager to embrace the mainstream marketing of them.
While I have some sympathy and a few complaints of my own about the seemingly endless bout of pointless remakes,sequels and 3D-ing going on in Hollywood,amongst other things,there is something that I really need to tell you and that you really need to hear:
Get over yourselves,guys,seriously!
This self appointed term "otaku" that Oswalt uses to describe those who hunkered down and went out in search of such arcane knowledge and lore regarding foreign and low budget films,comic books and offbeat music is quaintly amusing but a tad pretentious. It's not like you were seeking out the hidden wisdom of the ages or making history making discoveries there.
You were simply finding a niche to fit yourselves in and while there is some relevancy to that,don't make it more than what it is or was. Pop culture is meant to be inclusive not exclusive. This whole "super secret club house" vibe that a lot of you are putting out there is off-putting to say the least.
Plus,treating many of the pop culture touchstones of your time as sacred texts not to be disturbed is beyond going overboard. Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark is a walking talking disaster but that and another Hollywood reboot won't destroy the legacy that Stan Lee wrought(not to mention it has become great punchline material). Even tho those Star Wars prequels were a hot media mess,it's not the herald of the end of all greatness,I promise you:
I know,all of those instant experts out there who sprout quotes and references to things that they don't really know that much about are irritating but that's nothing new. There have always been those who rely on cheat sheets and cheat codes to one-up their info base and they burn out fast and are soon forgotten.
The folks who are honestly interested in learning more will carry forth and you could be of service to them by pointing the right way forward. Instead,many of you are indulging in your self pity party theme of "my specialness is no longer special" and lashing out at those who are or just seem to be more up to date. That Gran Torino approach only works for Clint Eastwood,guys:
What would be of actual help to you as the pop culture playing field widens is rolling with the new while still keeping the best of the old alive in your heart. Part of that switch over involves being more receptive to other and occasionally younger influences,especially from the girls.
Yes,some of you don't mind having the token gal pal on board but guess what,guys? There are legions of female fans out there who have been kicked to the sidelines for far too long and the savvier fellas on the new geek front have enlisted them in their ranks.
It's still a struggle for women to be as respected in certain industries like the comic book/graphic novel realm for one and if you are truly on the side of the outsider,then standing up and supporting them is the right thing to do. Not that they need you to do so,but it would be a strong sign of character on your part:
In conclusion,guys,don't hate on the next generation of Gleeks,neo-nerds or whatever the tagged on name is going to be for them. Embracing all creeds,colors and orientations is what the heroes of most of those sci-fi/fantasy stories you love so much strive to accomplish and if they are really your role models,shouldn't you follow some of their lead?
Railing against the changing of the guard is what many of the villains do in those stories as well and destroying the world in order to save it(as Oswalt mockingly insists on doing)is a major mission statement of theirs.
Ultimately,who do you want to be-the wise old mentor leading the way or the vindictive emperor clinging to those remaining threads of power anyway you can? The choice is yours,friends-choose wisely.
Lady T and the rest of the geek sisterhood
P.S. By the way,Patton,there is no need to speed up the beginning of the end. As with any self sub-staining system, pop culture and creativity will shake off the excess and renew itself again. Wait and see:
UPDATE: I just received this response from Edward Champion(whose Green Hornet review is linked to in this post)and at his request,I am adding it here:
"Actually, I am over myself. And I agree with you about grrl geeks struggling for self-respect (and being shit on by misogynists like Devin Faraci). If you read my essay carefully, you'll see that I'm complaining about the way in which the New Geeks wish to monetize their interests (at the expense of skepticism and anything more dignified than the stance of a rabid and fawning fanboy) and become some baser capitalistic tastemaster that is clearly at odds with the initial passion.
That's alarming on several levels. As I made clear in my piece by referencing a very recent movie (SHOOT EM UP), it's about embracing a culture that is all about integrity rather than the vanity of selling out."
I thank Ed for taking the time to read over this Open Letter and while I am happy to see that we can agree on some things(and possibly agree to disagree on others),he does seem to be taking his pop culture tastes a little too seriously. Maybe it's just me but this does sound a lot like a certain Doors fan's take on allowing new members in:
Friday, January 21, 2011
The biggest buzz on the movie pop culture scene is the announcement that Anne Hathaway has been officially cast as Selina Kyle,aka Catwoman,for the next Batman movie. Hathaway is an unusual choice,to be sure,with plenty of raised eyebrows at this decision amongst comic book fans and casual observers alike.
While on the one hand,Anne Hathaway is a talented actress who may be able to pull this off, on the other it is a tad hard to imagine her being a formidable fighting force there.
Stranger things have happened,especially when it comes to Batman movies. No one thought Michael Keaton would be a great Batman when Tim Burton picked him back in the day but his appearances in those films are in some respects legendary today.
Now,if I was doing the casting here,there are a few other actresses that would be seriously in the running. While these ladies may not possess the superstar status that Hathaway does,each one of them has the credentials to portray the feline princess of crime remarkably well.
First up would be Tabrett Bethell,from the sadly too soon canceled fantasy series Legend of the Seeker. As Mord Sith Cara,Bethell provided a solid supporting character in the second season who proved to be more than just a one note bad girl.
Dark humor and wit evened out her cold natured persona and she had excellent emotion range as Cara went from evil hench woman to reformed villianess and beyond. With LOTS no longer in production,it would be a shame not to give this talented lady another juicy role to strut her stuff in:
Another Catwoman contender on my list would be Kate Beckinsale. Yes,she sounds as odd a selection as Hathaway but consider that while Kate has done her time in period pieces,she's also tried her hand at the action movie game as well.
In both of the Underworld films she appeared in(and even as warrior gypsy princess in Van Helsing),Beckinsale really put pedal to the metal when it came to the fisticuffs and had amazing presence while doing so. Yes,she's a Brit but so is Christian Bale and accents can be overcome,folks. Beckinsale might look like Miss Meek and Mild but there's a real badass diva lurking beneath that calm exterior:
Last in our lineup yet far from least is Summer Glau. She's no stranger to genre work,from her days on the short lived Firefly to a brief stint on The 4400 and most recently as a cyborg protector on the Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Glau might appear to be the youngest one in the group here(she's 29,around the same age as Tabrett Bethell)but she has racked up quite a few rough and tumble acting chops in her career thus far. Another bonus in choosing her is that she does have a strong fanbase who would be seriously motivated to check her out in Gotham City.
One thing that Glau truly has going for her is the unexpected impact of her fury when unleashed. A slow yet steady build-up that leads to a an all-out battle royale is perfect for such a classic comic book role:
Well,the die has been cast and we'll just have to wait and see how Hathaway does as Catwoman. All things considered,this could have been much worse-at least they didn't pick someone quite that far out of left field like Snooki,Paris Hilton or one of those Old Navy mannequins.
Hathaway is a charmer who is more than capable of handling a character with a dark side and perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised. Hey,just finding out how great she could sing was a nice little pop culture pleasure to behold,so keep a good thought in mind as Anne takes her turn on the Catwoman walk:
Thursday, January 20, 2011
TC All-Stars take on Restaurant Wars,Worst Cooks take on TV dinners and American Idol auditions are back in town
Quite the elaborate Quickfire was set up this week on Top Chef All-Stars,as Anthony Bourdain himself took charge and brought the contenders to Le Bernardin,his former culinary stomping grounds. There,the chefs were introduced to Justo Thomas,the lightning fast fish chef who Bourdain devoted a chapter to in his latest book Medium Raw.
After a demo of Justo's fish prep skills(it takes him eight minutes to portion several fish),the chefs had ten minutes to slice up two fish correctly. When time was up,the four best contenders were given forty five minutes to make a tasty dish from the discarded parts(head,tail,etc).
Mikey I,Richard,Marcel and Dale were chosen and the one who won immunity for the Elimination was Dale,who whipped up two different plates. He first made a bacon dashi with a roasted cod collar and then a fluke back fin sashimi with cucumber and liver sauce. Not my kind of food but Bourdain loved it.
Then everyone went back to Padma,who announced that Restaurant Wars was on. The chefs were tasked with creating "pop-up restaurants",sort of a for one night only kind of deal. As part of his reward,Dale was made captain of one team and allowed to choose who would be in charge of the other.
Marcel was his pick,mainly because he didn't want to work with him. This could have been a good opportunity for Marcel to put aside his off-putting egotism and actually win the challenge for himself as well as his fellow chefs,but noooo.....
Before we get to the bad,let's savor the good. Dale's team named their place Bodega and the food was a high end interpretation of what you might find there. One of the most enjoyed entrees was Tre's pork shoulder with cheddar cheese grits and a Corona lime sauce.
Fabio had front of the house duties,which he handled like a pro even after a small flare-up with Dale over the way the servers were being spoken to.
His dessert offering was an amaretto cake with cappuccino mousse that Bourdain adored along with everyone else in the place(some did enjoy Carla's blueberry pie with dry milk ice cream as well).
The diners voted Bodega as the best restaurant but the judges chose the overall winner and that honor went to Richard,along with ten grand.
Not only did he make a couple of odd but delicious dishes,such as a fried chicken skin with tuna belly served in a can,but his other team mates pointed out that he was very helpful in the kitchen to everyone. Nice going,Richard!
The other team's restaurant was named Etch,for some strange reason. It was hard to get them to agree on anything,let alone the name. Tiffany was made front of the house,not by her choice.
She did say that she was more of an in the kitchen type and it showed. The staff was unorganized and Tiffany mostly went around to make small talk with the guests. Her food wasn't up to par either. The shaved asparagus salad with egg and chorizo that she created was watery and flavorless.
Even Antonia,who has doing well on team challenges,came up short here. The ricotta gnudi with braised oxtail ragout she put out was deemed too salty to be eaten.
There was a lot of tension at judges' table,with no one wanting to throw anyone under the bus at first. However,when Marcel started to point fingers after Tiffany reluctantly admitted to some backstage fighting affecting her performance,it became all out war.
Marcel basically was annoyed that his team wasn't willing to blindly follow his lead and got very peevish with them. That lead to constant fighting on the line and poor plate prep.
Granted,Mikey I was already ticked off at him for an earlier dispute during the QF(regarding where cooking equipment was located)but Marcel made things worse by taking a Know It All tone with everyone else's food. His own dishes weren't much better. The roasted monkfish with olives and parsley that he served up was as mushy as baby food.
Worst of all was his dessert;Marcel dove into his usual bag of molecular gastronomy and made his practically patented foam as part of a peach duo. One peach was unripened and the other had coconut powder and foam(why anyone thinks that flavored powder is so great,beyond a Fun Dip packet,is odd to me). Bourdain said that this dessert was like a thumb in the eye to the customer,ouch!
Marcel was sent off to pack his knives and despite my hopes for him this season,this was the right decision. Unlike Tiffani from Season One,Marcel has not learned any life lessons from his past experience and matured in his people skills one bit.
It's a shame but he's not a bad guy at heart(even Mikey I testified to that)and maybe someday Marcel will be less of a wiseacre and more of a serious chef. Time will tell on that,folks.
Moving onward,next week has more heat in the kitchen where it belongs. From risotto to pasta that needs to cook at the last minute,the focus seems to be back on the food.
The recruits on Worst Cooks In America had a real workout this week,starting off with being taught three different sauces to make and replicate. Then,they were shown how to make fish plates that required one of the sauces on it and had to do it on their own.
The Main Dish challenge was yet to come however-as part of a flavor lesson,each team was taught to make an improved version of classic TV dinner fare. Chef Anne's team had a dry rubbed steak with baby carrots(based on salisbury steak)and Robert's bunch had a turkey with creamed peas and cranberries.
It does appear that a few of the recruits are making progress even if ,like Ty,their end results aren't picture perfect yet. Some like Matt and Priscilla are just not getting it still,which is why it was best for them to leave:
The musical madness that is American Idol returned last night and how did our new judges do on their debut outing? Well,Steven Tyler brings his own brand of loopiness(and leering)to the table and JLo is torn between supportive and straight talk but so far,so good.
It does help that there is now a majority of the judges' panel with actual musical performance experience who can give useful advice to the true potentials during the audition rounds. The real appeal of this portion of AI,however,are the hopelessly untalented yet entertaining folk who love to crash this party. With that in mind,I give you Yoji Pop:
THE FASHION SHOW: The second season finale is next week and believe it or not,contentious Calvin Tran is one of the Final Three. Say what you will about this persistently annoying man,he is quite the show stopper when it comes to bad attitudes and the most compelling reason for viewers to tune in this time around. I don't know if he'll win but forgetting his face will not be easy,that's for sure:
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Part of my new year of reading has drawn me to check out the first book in The Hunger Games trilogy(thanks to Booksfree)and see what all of the fuss is about. This futuristic teen series by Suzanne Collins has garnered not only a fervent fan base amongst readers within and over the target age range but numerous critical praise as well.
For those like me who are the last to get in on this literary phenomenon,the story takes place in a futuristic version of America in which the despotic rulers who live in The Capitol demanded that each of their twelve districts offer up two of their young as "tributes" to battle to the death.
This brutal bloodsport is televised throughout the country and with money and glory being the top prize for the winner,encouragement to watch and cheer on is practically mandated.
Our heroine,Katniss Everdeen,is far from inclined to simply follow the program;she volunteered to be her district's female champion in order to protect her younger sister and is more than capable of taking care of herself.
Since the death of her father,Katniss has developed her hunting skills to the point where a bow and arrow is second nature to her. Paired with Peeta,the baker's son who is her emotional opposite,Katniss is determined to go through with this vicious farce yet on her own terms as much as she can:
With the success of the series(including the publication of it's final book Mockingjay this past summer),a film adaption is currently in the works. A PG-13 rating is being sought after here but even if the first Hunger Games film receives that,I have no doubt that an outcry will be heard from those "shocked" at such violence amongst young people being presented for entertainment.
The irony of that is that very concept is one of the underlying themes of the Hunger Games trilogy and not being advocated as a positive at all. Also,the whole TV death match deal is pretty familiar to most mainstream audiences as well. What I suspect will really cause contrary minded folks to raise the roof is Katniss,who is amongst other things,a pretty little killing machine.
The notion of seemingly innocent young girls turning into formidable warrior maidens is a postmodern development that our society both loves and hates at the same time. On one hand,we have the rise of girl power but on the other,some still want girls to just be rescue bait.
Well,as any savvy storyteller can tell you,having a character who appears to be weak become strong is more interesting and engaging to the audience. Girls fighting back in the teen to early twenties area has grown in leaps and bounds,from Buffy to Lisbeth Salander and well featured on film as well.
One of the most memorable predecessors to Katniss is Mathilda(played by a young Natalie Portman) in The Professional,the only survivor of her family's massacre by corrupt cops and criminals who turned to the hitman next door for lessons in assassination. Her fierce determination to avenge her loved ones and find a place in the world made Mathilda both endearing and deadly all at once:
We've also seen the coldblooded charmer version of killer girl as well. During the action packed showdown scenes in Kill Bill,Vol.I was the fight between the Bride and Go-Go Yubari,the schoolgirl bodyguard of the Bride's former friend in arms.
Go-Go was portrayed by actress Chiaki Kuriyama,who starred in a film in her homeland of Japan called Battle Royale,which shares a similar plotline with The Hunger Games.
The ruthlessness of her previous role was carried over here and most likely the reason she was cast in the first place. Despite her brief time on screen,Go-Go is one of the most popular characters from the Kill Bill movies and for damn good reason-she was a tough nut to crack:
The latest little girl to throw down on film is the aptly named Hit Girl from Kick Ass,who became a breakout star both on film and for the actress who played her,Chloe Grace Moretz. Hit Girl upset the sensibilities of many people,some of whom were more offended by her use of profanity than the bloody mayhem left in her wake.
Her popularity amongst fans,however,may be the impetus that gets a sequel made here. There has been talk of casting Moretz as Katniss,which is not a bad idea.
While typecasting is not always best,you can't deny that this young lady certainly has presence and would get to showcase a stronger array of emotions beyond the comic book based persona that made her famous:
With Katniss Everdeen as the next bad ass babe in arms,it looks like this warrior maiden wave is going to keep on rising. In some ways,that's cool since it encourages young women to not be afraid to fight back when the right occasion occurs but one does have to watch out for the cheesy exploitation factor.
Good writing can take of most of those worries but don't despair even if some of the feisty female fighter template gets overexposed there. Even B movies can produce some great gals to emulate and take life lessons from:
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