A short list of movie recommendations, in no particular order

woodland wanderings

Here’s a very short list of some of the films I enjoyed in 2014 and early 2015, with notes/subjective descriptions. If you have comments or suggestions, please do share.

Science Fiction
Snowpiercer This has a Gilliam-at-his-best vibe. Set entirely on a train, in the future, and touches on many social issues. Based on a French graphic novel, with an amazingly choreographed action sequence and stunning cinematography. Oh, and Tilda.
Under the Skin Impossible (for me) to describe, you just need to experience it. You’ll know within ten minutes if it’s to your liking. Johansson at her very most absolute best. Glazer, too, for that matter.
Predestination Based on a short story by Heinlein. Shades of Minority Report, but that doesn’t do it justice. Sarah Snook, whom I’d never heard of, was one of the best performances I saw all year.
Edge of Tomorrow Based no the novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. One of the smartest time-loop action/sci-fi films out there. Great acting all around. A lot of fun to watch, and a big budget popcorn flick in the best sense.

Suspense
Take Shelter Michael Shannon absolutely blew me away with his portrayal of a man who is having apocalyptic visions. Scary, heartbreaking, beautiful, powerful, really gets in your head. Chastain was quite good in this, too.
The Fifth Estate Interesting character study of Assange. Many creative liberties taken, I am sure, in the telling of this story. Daniel Brühl was fantastic. (So was Cumberbatch, but that goes without saying.)

Ghost Story
The Awakening Atmoshpheric period piece. Some would categorize this as a horror film, but to me it’s just a fantastic ghost story. Imelda Staunton and Rebecca Hall. Gorgeous cinematography. One of my favorite movie endings, regardless of genre.

Vampire Story
Only Lovers Left Alive The vampire genre, and Detroit, through the lens of Jarmush. Swinton and Hiddleston in a beautiful centuries-long romance would be enough, but small parts by Wasikowska, Wright, Yelchin and Hurt made me adore this film.

Horror
The Conjuring Creepy, intense, old school horror that utilizes camera angles, sound, and tension build-ups to scare you. I wasn’t fond of where the movie went, stylistically, near the end – but it’s still one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a good long while.
The Cabin in the Woods Equal parts love letter and poison pen letter to 1980s horror.
Troll Hunter A fantastic addition to the found-footage and mockumentary genres. A lot of fun to watch. Slyly amusing. I am very sad there is going to be an American remake.

Drama
What Maisie Knew Julianne Moore’s unflinching portrayal of a really dispicable person. Steve Coogan probably at his best – at least in a drama. Heartbreaking story of two really selfish people who don’t know fuck-all about being parents. Told from their daughter Maisie’s point of view.
Locke Dialogue-driven personal crisis drama. Tom Hardy, as well as every actor who is just a disembodied voice, were sensational.
Nebraska Humble slice-of-life film about a father-son roadtrip. The cinematography reminded me that there is beauty in the decay of the rural Midwest.
Boyhood No words. Snippets of life’s ordinary moments, filmed over twelve years and pieced back together by Linklater. Such beauty in the ordinary and mundane.
Chef If you’re offended by seeing someone work with meat – this is not for you. This film captures the passion and elegance of a chef’s relationship with food, wrapped up in a sweet father-son story, with a clichéd happy ending that still feels right. I’m guessing the R rating is for language? I’m excited to watch this with Nina. The language is pretty realistic and nothing she hasn’t heard before, but may be an issue for other parents.
All is Lost Robert Redford took my breath away. Little to no backgroud info on the sole character of this film, just a man on a boat by himself out at sea; it’s all about what’s happening in the moment. Inevitable conclusion, but impossible not to watch through to the very end.
Japanese Story Quiet little love story set in Australia.

Animated
The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child BBC animated shorts based on a children’s picture book. Pretty much the best voice casting ever, except maybe Batman from the Lego Movie.

Dark Comedy
Frank Quiet, quirky, bittersweet ensemble piece about a band. Fassbender’s best performance to date. The one movie I want to quote constantly, all the time, in a sing-song voice.

Foreign Language
Ida Beautiful, sad film set in 1962 postwar Poland.

Goblin, searching for woodland trolls

weekend {film} playlist

I’m watching three films this weekend, sandwiched between (a second attempt at) a Firefly marathon.
All three of these star a favorite actress of mine.
The lead character in my favorite of these films is also the name of one of my cats.
It’s a sculpture, not a flesh-and-blood cat.
One of the quotes is a poem, and sounds best recited in a mid-Atlantic brogue.
Another is a song.
All three of these films make me want to have a drink (or ten).

And now, my film playlist by way of quotes from my favorite scenes, in no particular order.

§ § §

Razors pain you, rivers are damp, acids stain you, drugs cause cramp. Guns aren’t lawful, nooses give, gas smells awful; you might as well live.

§ § §

Have you ever seen love like this?
Ever witnessed marital bliss?
There it is right in front of you.
Don’t you wish you could have it too?

Sally! Sally and Joe! Going six years strong.
Oh yeah.

What’s the secret to your success?
Does it happen when you undress?
Get it on in a major way.
Makin’ babies the natural way.
Baby, do it today.

Make one, make one, make one, make one
do it, do it, do it, do it
Sally! and Joe!
going six years strong

Feels too good, it can’t be wrong.
do it, do it, do it
It can’t be wrong.
wear a thong
Light up the bong.
bang a gong

Do whatever it takes.
get it on

§ § §

No one does that song better than my sister. Who? Thank you, comrade.

Second breakfast / late night snacks / movie+book notes

I’m not a straightaway breakfast person, whether I’m up for work before dawn or a bit later on the weekend. Years and years of running first thing in the morning reinforced this behavior, but I also think it’s because I can’t fall asleep with an empty stomach. Which means I wake up with a semi-full stomach, I guess? Or at the very least, no rumbling hunger pangs.

My first breakfast is usually a smoothie with espresso blended in, or if I’m in a really big hurry (or feeling really full), I fill a jam jar with a scoop of chocolate Vega protein powder, a couple ounces of espresso, top it off with almond milk, give it a shake and bam! first breakfast.

banana pudding overnight oatssecond breakfast, in a jar: banana pudding overnight oats // a tester recipe for Kathy Hester’s current cookbook-in-progress

Jump ahead a couple of hours and I’m ready for second breakfast. On work days, it’s fresh fruit + either chia pudding or a jar of overnight oats. On weekends it’s always something broiled on toast.

a classicsecond breakfast, on toast: this classic never lets me down

I could do an entire blog devoted to things on toast, because it’s also what I have every night right before popping in a movie or cracking open a book.

Speaking of which, I cannot help but share a few titles of things I’ve recently devoured.

Film (first time viewing):
We Need to Talk About Kevin: This movie is not for everyone, but if you can handle it, you should watch it. It’s extremely uncomfortable to watch, but handles the subject matter in an entirely new (to me) way. Most reviews don’t do this movie justice; they seem to imply it’s a shock-seeking amalgam of horror and drama, which is true of many films in this newly emerging genre. Yes, the subject matter is horrifying – but the director’s approach to this topic, the editing, cinematography, set and costume design, and acting make it difficult to label as any one type of film. If you read the novel, forget everything from that experience. (But you don’t need me to tell you that, because we all know that cinematography and the written word are two entirely different media, and a director and an author convey their own interpretations of material. Ahem.) If you didn’t read the novel, here’s my attempt at a synopsis: this film is about a family – a mother and son, mostly – and a patchwork of present day events, real flashbacks, and recollections filtered through the mother’s point of view, all swirling around and leading up to a specific event. It’s a study of nature vs. nurture, exposing many questions without offering any definitive answers. I watched this without knowledge of what the event was (although you have a pretty good idea early on), and had read the novel so long ago that by the time I realized it, I was able to ignore anything book-related and immerse myself in the film. Almost no violence is actually shown on screen, but the tension and dread leading up to a few scenes and played out through the actors’ body language and facial expressions revealed more than a thousand audible or visual shocks could.  Oh yes, and it stars Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller and John C. Reilly.

Films (repeat viewings):
Fright Night (2011): Colin Farrell, an actor I’ve grudgingly come to appreciate, gives this remake an equally campy and creepy turn. I first watched this to see David Tennant in leather pants; I rewatch it because Farrell’s vampire scared the shit out of me. In an otherwise campy-in-all-the-right-places movie, he’s quite good.

Super 8: So my personal opinion is that everything in this film after the alien is revealed and starts snatching people up is totally overblown, typical J.J. Abrams Spielberg worship schtick, but up until that point? One of my favorite movies ever. The dialogue and behavior of the kids is straight out of It or Stand by Me – one of the coming-of-age friendship scenes not involving murderous demon clowns or dead bodies near railroad tracks. (The real hallmark of King’s writing.) I really, really wanted to watch this with Nina, but my husband reminded me that not only does she already know enough curse words without seeing a pack of tweens saying ‘shit’ in every other sentence (although their dialogue is pretty fucking funny, and realistic from what I remember of my childhood), but also that the alien might give her a bit of a scare.

Books (first time readings):
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler: I think this novel is better the less you know (sort of like Little Bee). If you really want to read a review, though, the one from the NYT Sunday Book Review is quite good.

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn: Dark and disturbing (think V.C. Andrews crossed with Jodi Picoult); very predictable but in the most delicious, disaster-rubbernecking sort of way.

spin dip (not) on toastdestined to be a second breakfast on toast

Oh, and I was going to share one of my favorite things to eat on toast. There is a baking dish of this particular spinach artichoke dip in my refrigerator at least once a month. It works as a quesadilla filling, as a stand alone appetizer with chips, and most importantly, broiled atop a slice of sourdough with a healthy dusting of smoked paprika.

spin dip on toastthe ultimate second breakfast, even better as a midnight or movie snack

Spinach artichoke dip

§ § §

I tested this dip a couple of years ago for Allyson Kramer’s first cookbook, Great Gluten Free Vegan Eats, and it quickly became the dish I bring to every party. The original has a cashew cream base, which unfortunately a friend of mine can’t eat. Instead of looking for a new recipe, I came up with this.

§ § §

2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
1 6-ounce container plain Greek vegan yogurt
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt
2 cups of packed chopped spinach leaves
1 can of large artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
additional salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Stir together everything except the spinach and artichoke hearts. Fold these last two ingredients in, and add additional salt if needed. Transfer to a small baking dish (no larger than 9″ square) and bake for 25 minutes, or until bubbly and starting to brown. Allow to set at least five minutes before serving.

Yield: 1 pan

Prep time: 15 minutes | Bake time: 25 minutes

These muffins keep stealing my pear butter

You know that pear butter I made a week or two ago? It’s gone, baby, gone.

{Film note/Aside: We had an Affleck mini film festival over the weekend. It’s Southie accents run amok at our place right now. You’re so, so lucky I don’t have the patience to type things the way I’ve been pronouncing them. And I’m so, so lucky my husband puts up with my attempt to work ‘cah’ or ‘Hahvuhd’ into every other sentence. Even though the word Harvard probably isn’t spoken once in either Gone Baby Gone or The Town. Also, every time I say ‘cah’ we get off on a “Stop the cah, Cole. Stop the cah!” tangent. If my daughter doesn’t turn out schizophrenic, it will be a small miracle.}

Where were we?

muffins.meet.ganacheSpeckled muffins, about to receive a crumb coating of bittersweet ganache/mousse/whatever.

My favorite thing about being gluten free is the inherent multi-graininess of it all. As I’ve become familiar with different grains, I’ve learned which ones pair best with each other, with stone fruits, with chocolate, or with absolutely nothing at all. Kamut, I’m talking to you. 

multigraininessKamut free.

These muffins are the perfect blend of almond and corn and sorghum and oats, rounded out with turbinado sugar, dark chocolate and sage-infused pear butter.

gf.multigrain.perfection.muffins

appeasing.the.gargoyleWe always offer this fella a bite. He’s super impressed with the crumb of these muffins.

Multi-grain pear & chocolate chunk muffins

§ § §

Any fruit purée or butter will work for these, but in my house it’s almost always pear butter. Pumpkin is a very close second. Adapted a zillion times over from this recipe, which Celine adapted from here after I sent her some pear butter.

§ § §

2/3 Cup sweet sorghum flour
2/3 Cup almond meal
2/3 Cup potato starch
1/3 Cup steel cut oats
1/2 Cup cornmeal
1 Cup almond milk
1/4 Cup sunflower oil
1/2 Cup turbinado sugar
1 Cup pear butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 small (1.5-2 oz) dark chocolate bar, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 F / 190 C with a rack positioned in the center. Line 16 standard muffin cups with paper liners, or lightly coat with non-stick cooking spray without paper liners, for 14 standard muffins.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sorghum flour, almond meal, potato starch, steel cut oats and cornmeal.

In a medium bowl, combine milk, oil, sugar, pear butter, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, salt and apple cider vinegar.

Stir wet ingredients into dry. Fold in chocolate.

Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer onto a wire rack to cool.

Yield: 14 muffins

Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 22-24 minutes

Nina randomness + film notes

Pic-08222013-002Someone just found out her kindergarten boyfriend is going to be in her first grade classroom.
9164385124_bc8ce93f71_b 9162162705_43a4cd0e9d_b 9162162747_62f3dce48b_bShe loves chia pudding so much that she made a series of video tutorials for her cousins this summer while we were camping.
    Also:

  • When something looks/sounds/appears scary and she wants to avoid it, she labels it as being “too Voldemorty.”
  • When she pretends something looks/sounds/appears scary and she’s really just trying to put off going to bed, she labels it “inappropriate for children.” It is her Malkovitch-oreo-cookie tell.

Film notes:

This summer our movie viewing has been hijacked by re-watching every episode of Breaking Bad, but we’ve managed to also watch a few movies here and there. (When we’re not sucked into episodic television, we average five films a week.) I track most of them online but I’m horrible at reviewing them in a timely manner; and when someone asks me what I thought about a film I’d like to be able to say more than “meh” or “avoid it like the plague” or “watch it or I’ll never talk to you again!” So, a few film notes.

The standouts:
Martha Marcy May Marlene // Mary Last Seen Haunting; made me feel emotionally claustrophobic. Sarah Paulson was every bit as amazing as Elizabeth Olsen. The short film Mary Last Seen (made before the full length feature, and exploring the same themes) affected me even more.
Haywire Hard to describe because I don’t want to pigeonhole it, but you’ll know within 15 minutes if this is for you or not. One of my favorites by Soderbergh.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Carell : this movie as Carrey : Man on the Moon. Kiera Knightley, you’re off my shit list. The words “bucket list” used to make me twitchy; thank you, Rob Corddry, for changing that.
Upstream Color No, it’s not like Primer. Yes, it’s disorienting. And beautiful and confusing and moving and if you don’t pay 100% attention to this it will make your brain hurt. If you do pay full attention it will still make your brain hurt, but in a good way.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga Who am I kidding – I cannot give an objective review of anything Herzog, because my husband took me to a Herzog film on our first date.

Films I didn’t care for upon viewing but have grown on me since:
Midnight in Paris Rachel McAdams made me want to turn this off a thousand times; Michael Sheen made me want to replay all of his scenes over and over again. I try so hard to see Owen Wilson as anyone other than a person who wanted to off themselves over Kate Hudson. To Woody Allen’s credit, this movie almost accomplished that.
Zero Dark Thirty Glad I stuck it out to the end, although I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Guilty pleasure films I enjoyed for reasons other than plot, good acting or directing:
The Cabin in the Woods This took me so far back to my 80s childhood movie collection that every time I saw Bradley Whitford on screen, his Too Cool license plate from Adventures in Babysitting flashed before my eyes. It also made me want to re-watch Friday the 13th Part VII.
Star Trek Into Darkness My experience while watching this film: Mickey Smith! RoboCop! And then BAM, I was Cumberbatched.
X2 Watched this with Nina, and she was quite taken with “the little blue fella.” I see a new comic book collection in her future.
Elysium As soon as I realized Diego Luna and Alice Braga were both in this, I just sat back and enjoyed it for the overblown popcorn flick that it was.

Films so awful my eyes bled:
The Lone Ranger No. Just, no.
Beautiful Creatures Mute your television and pretend you’re in the gothic South while doing anything but paying attention to this horrible, horrible movie.
Collateral Damage Thanks to this movie, my husband experienced his first Two Thumbs Up burn.