The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

How I Spent My Holiday: Three Short Movie Reviews and a Chili Recipe

Dave and I flew back to rural Illinois to visit my mom and brother for a few days, and that’s how we ended up watching three movies and making chili.

Mom has DISH TV now. She’s always recorded a lot, and with the DISH DVR, she’s in heaven. She’d already recorded Mamma Mia in both English and Spanish. Since none of us speak Spanish and since I really hate ABBA, I lobbied to watch it in Spanish, figuring it couldn’t be any worse than the English version. And since Pierce Brosnan can’t sing at all to save his life, and is possibly the worst singer on the planet — he’d be an American Idol joke contestant if they ever did a 50+ edition — the Spanish version might have been better, because they probably would have dubbed his part. I was outvoted, however, so we watched a competent Meryl Streep, Mr. Worst-Singing-Actor-in-Hollywood Brosnan, an extremely uncomfortable Colin Firth (who had to have been paid an enormous amount of money to do that part, or else has no pride and needs to see a shrink ASAP), and a bunch of other people. They sang (in Brosnan’s case, “sang” — plus Streep really shouted “Winner Takes It All” instead of actually singing it), they did what appeared to be aerobics or Jazzercise but wasn’t really dancing, and put forth something resembling a plot. And now I have ABBA earworms running in my head 24/7. It could be worse — they could have me on film singing almost as badly as Pierce Brosnan. At least I now know there are people who sing a lot worse than me. Grade: D+, and only that good because it had minor snark possibilities.

The next day, we went to the movie theater and saw It’s Complicated, again with Meryl Streep, only this time with Alex Baldwin and a frail-looking Steve Martin. This was a much better movie. In it, Jane (Streep) and Jake (Baldwin) are a divorced couple whose adult children are coming up on major life events that throw their parents together, things like graduations and weddings. Having embraced her new, Jake-less life, Jane is having an addition built onto her home (a mansion, of course, this being a Hollywood movie), and hence needs an architect — Adam. These people are all in their late 50s, but the movie boils down to the age-old dilemma of which boy will the girl choose: the wild one who excites her or the nice one her mother would want her to pick? Only in this case, the girl has the benefit of age. And that makes it complicated. Fine acting by all, interesting plot, fun, and left us talking about it for several days = Grade: A+. That’s a recommendation.

And the next day, lacking yet another Meryl Streep movie, we sought out George Clooney. I am not one of those people who watches everything a particular actor is in, but I have noted that Clooney chooses interesting projects. In Up in the Air, he plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer who prefers a hotel to home. In a way, this was one big product placement for American Airlines, but I didn’t mind for two reasons: Ryan had to take a single airline for the plot to work, and American got Dave and I to and from St. Louis without incident this Christmas. So thanks, American Airlines, and enjoy any additional business you get from the movie. Anyway, Ryan has no emotional attachments and at first glance is a completely shallow corporate drone who happens to be very good at firing people, which is what he does — he’s an “outplacement” specialist. He also likes being on the road, and in time he takes up with a fellow road warrior, Alex (Vera Farmiga). However, as time goes on, we notice that there’s more to Ryan than he would like anyone to think. First, he is alarmed when a bright young thing (aka Natalie, played brilliantly by Anna Kendrick, a young actress to watch) tries to take the human touch out of his job. He sort of surprises us, Natalie, and himself by revealing how much he cares about the people he’s firing. Then the fling with Alex ends up being more complicated than anyone expects. And finally, Ryan reveals a soul. Does he change much? I don’t think so, but I do think he understands himself, his motives, and his actions better by the end of the film. Grade: A

And I made chili for dinner one night. I prefer the Greek-style Cincinnati chili, which is cinnamon- and onion-based, not very hot, and does not have beans (though you can certainly add them). I have been tinkering with this recipe for years and feel I have finally perfected it. So here it is:

Elizabeth’s Cincinnati Chili

   1      pound           ground beef
   1      pound           ground pork
   6                               bay leaves
   2      large               onion — chopped
   6      cloves            garlic — minced
   1      tablespoon   cinnamon
   2      teaspoons     allspice
   4      teaspoons     vinegar
   1      teaspoon        red pepper flakes
   2      teaspoons     salt
   2      teaspoons     chili powder
   1      teaspoon       cumin
   1      teaspoon       oregano
   6      ounces           tomato paste
   5      cups                water

Brown beef in skillet, breaking up into small pieces.  Drain and transfer to Dutch oven.  Brown pork in skillet, breaking up into small pieces. Drain and transfer to Dutch oven. Add remaining ingredients through water to the Dutch oven.  Bring to boil.  Lower heat, simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours, uncovered.  Serve over vermicelli or angel hair pasta.


December 30, 2009 - Posted by | families, films, food, humor, movies, recipes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I guess I should be clear here: “Mamma Mia” is no less than excruciating in many places. I am not merely talking “cringe inducing,” I am describing palpable, gnawing pain. Why did I keep watching? Well, you may ask why I watch the evening news. To borrow a concept from William Styron, sometimes the tawdry, ghastly, and sordid have a mesmerizing fascination . . . but I digress.
    The misuse of talent in this movie is flat-assed sad. The misuse of my time watching it was sadder. To explore the vagaries of “camp” is one thing. To fritter away 109 minutes of one’s life is just . . . sad. Pierce Brosnan (carrying a few extra pounds and sporting a Miami Vice stubble), Colin Firth (at his most British and effete), and Stellan Skarsgård (a good actor obviously in it for the money or the sheer hell of it) constitute the male grotesques. Julie Walters handles the distaff side of the bizarro equation and more than holds her own. Christine Baranski, a real pro when it comes to musical comedy, appears to be in another movie, although she shares the screen with Walter, Meryl Streep, and assorted boy toys. Streep is “competent,” but then if that were all she ever was, she’d be Sally Field. The incredible thing is the business that this film did worldwide. If you still have doubts, check out Wikipedia’s article on the film. It summarizes some of the best quotes from reviews from across the pond. A Grade D+ only means it would have been a great candidate for “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” I say call a skunk a skunk: F.
    As for “It’s Complicated,” I concur that it deserves a high grade, but A+ might be a tad more than I’d give it. As a study in male narcissism gone wild, it is brilliantly crafted and Alec Baldwin’s performance is consistently outstanding. His Jake really hasn’t got a clue until it’s too late. The rest of the movie belongs to Meryl Streep and she carries a challenging role very well. One strange thing about this film is that everyone is living in material splendor, in gorgeous homes (some with substantial grounds) that would require a staff of some small number just to keep the places clean and the grass mowed. Do we see anybody of that ilk? Hell no! No matter; I would say A to A- would be a better grade than A+, but that’s a quibble.
    For me the better choice for a higher grade is “Up in the Air.” We see more male narcissism, with a twist, this time effortlessly portrayed by George Clooney. The rest of the cast is outstanding, as is the script. I would give it a very solid A.

    Comment by The King | January 4, 2010 | Reply

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