Movie & Menu: Bad Boys II (2003)

The month of May is one of my favorite times of year. It is like an extended weekend: a month of rest and recovery. A small window of a break where I can enjoy a few lazy days and have time to do the things I enjoy without fitting them in between stressful deadlines. (Because, sadly, I’m not traveling to the French seaside for Cannes – unlike Will Smith.)

After completing a festival, I spend this month watching films or TV shows that I consider to be “guilty pleasures”. Movies I can watch and not think about. Sometimes it’s a film I’ve seen more than a dozen times, other times a big blockbuster. A film that isn’t necessarily a critical darling, but that washes over me and cleanses my palate. This month, I’m going to focus my blog on some of these favorite guilty pleasures.

Today, I’m starting this series with an all time favorite guilty pleasure: Bad Boys II (2003).

First, let me be clear: Michael Bay is an auteur. He is a one-of-a-kind filmmaker, that much is true. Whether or not you like his work is a different matter. Bay has had plenty of misses (Pearl Harbor) amongst the hits (Bad Boys, Pain & Gain). I’ve lost track of how many Transformer movies exist now and can not argue for more. I’m not a diehard Bay fan (like my colleague, James Faust, is), but I appreciate the work for what it is and for the most part enjoy the insanity he brings to the screen. If you haven’t yet seen Tony Zhou’s great video essay on Michael Bay’s style, Bayhem, take a few minutes to watch it below.

Ok, back to Bad Boys II. For those unfamiliar with the plot: Marcus (Martin Lawrence) and Mike (Will Smith) are a pair of Miami narcotic detectives investigating a Cuban drug kingpin’s connection to an influx of Ecstasy into Florida.

I’ve seen this sequel many times more than the first film. Both films are great, but the sheer epic-ness of this sequel is what brings me back. The opening sequence includes some of Bay’s most classic (and ridiculous) shots: the helicopter over the Miami sign, the lighting of a KKK cross against the final credit and of course, let’s not forget, the camera moving through the dance floor and under-a-woman’s-skirt in the club.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s comedy chemistry makes this film pop. Also, Michael Shannon! I always forget he is in this movie until the credits begin.BadBoysII

What makes this a guilty pleasure for me is watching the car chases, of which there are several. Two are my all time favorite: the final climatic scene where Marcus and Mike drive a yellow Hummer through a slum, with debris and explosions everywhere. The number of shots and the setup involved in this one take is incredible (look to the special features for more). But even more than that climatic scene, I most enjoy Bad Boy II‘s first car chase: where Syd’s (Gabrielle Union) drug/money drop off goes array. Marcus and Mike follow in Mike’s Ferrari (not a plausible concept for a cop to own that car even if he has a trust fund, but again…not thinking when watching) as a group of Haitian drug thugs chase after Syd. As the chase progresses, the Haitians take over a big rig hauling cars, dropping one at a time in front of the Ferrari before ultimately dropping a speedboat into the detective’s path. A BOAT. While plenty of CGI was used, the absurdity and complexity of this chase makes me smile and drop by jaw every time I watch it. If your heart doesn’t start beating faster during this action, I’m not sure what will.

After watching months and months of documentaries about human rights and narratives with subtle drama, Bad Boys II is a long, funny and absurd reset button on my world. It is a film that feels both bad for my health and totally satisfying. I like to pair it with potato chips – barbecue flavored to be exact. I don’t allow myself to buy chips because they are another guilty pleasure. I’ll sit an eat a whole bag if it’s open in front of me, which makes it the perfect snack to eat with Bad Boys II.

What are some of your guilty pleasures? Are you a Michael Bay hater, fan or apologist? What’s your favorite scene in Bad Boys II? Let me know in the comments!

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Movie & Menu: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

While today is all about your bestie, tomorrow you’ll have trouble avoiding all the pink and red hearts.

I’m not anti-Valentine’s Day. I’m actually a hopeless romantic, but I think love is complicated. It’s full of messy emotions and memories. It makes you the best person and sometimes the worst person.

There are dozens of amazing romantic movies. I think, by far, one of the greatest is Casablanca (which I’ve written about before). When considering what romance film to write about this week, I was drawn to one I frequently revisit: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I first saw this movie while in college. I remember being blown away by the opening scenes – it is bold and unique. I remember being immediately curious about how the rest of the story would reveal itself. Many viewings later – knowing how it unfolds – I’m still memorized by it. There are many quotable lines from the film. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet shine as Joel and Clementine. Eternal Sunshine is the work of two brilliant people (director Michele Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman) coming together to make something purely magical. This kind of film is rare and something to cherish.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

It is a story of intimacy and love entangled in our memories. Love so powerful that choosing to erase someone and escape the pain of being without them is a better option. That choice creates a peculiar void and deep down something seems off. This film beautifully shows how love is messy and not perfect. How our heart beats faster with each memory of a shared intimate moment. Many romance films show moments of passion and heartbreak, but Eternal Sunshine goes deeper than that. It encourages us to share all of our messy feelings with the person we love: the fear, the sadness, the frustration, the anger, the joy and the laughter. And, in one of my favorite exchanges in the film, reminding us to enjoy it.

I recommend getting some Asian take-out and settling in for the night. Whether or not you’re with the one you love, enjoy those precious memories of romance.

What are some of your favorite romance movies? What scenes from Eternal Sunshine stick with you the most? Would you erase someone from you mind if you could?

Watch Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
on Netflix, Amazon or iTunes

Movie & Menu: Clueless (1995)

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday I’ve often overlooked because, this time of year, I’m trying to stay alive and in one piece. In the past I typically had no one to “celebrate” the day with so I focused on my work and ate some chocolate like any other night. My mind is going in all these other places during February and it’s all I can do to stay focused on my work and all the decisions I need to make. This “holiday was made by greeting cards” and “love should be shared every day” mentality..that was me.

Then a few years ago I fell in love (yes, crazy gooey love that I didn’t think was actually possible) and Valentine’s Day became just another day, but now I felt like I needed to “do” something. Equal parts fun and exhausting (again, lots of work happening!). I’ve only gone out of my way once with a fun Valentine’s gift (check back later for details). Other than that, E usually gets a small treat and extra flirting from me that day. We don’t do a gift exchange. Maybe we get each other a card. Maybe. I’m a romantic deep down, but I don’t like a spotlight on my love. Certainly not just for ONE day. I love big and love hard. There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in it. It has to be spread out.

All that to say, I’m not a huge Valentine’s Day fan, but I am a Galentine’s Day fan.

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Parks and Rec

My gals have been there for a lot of ups and downs. We don’t always talk regularly, but I know I can text or call them at any time and they’ll be there for me to cry on the phone or lift me up with encouragement. That’s something worth celebrating.

In the spirit of Galentine’s Day, I’m highlighting a film that’s truly close to my heart. A film I can watch over and over and over again with my girls, quoting all the lines we know by heart.

Of course, I’m talking about Clueless.

Judge if you like, but this story of friendship and love is one of my favorite films ever. (I’m sure it will appear on this blog again in the future.) Cher may seem superficial on the surface, but you have to dig a little deeper with her. She’s a true friend, genuine and thoughtful.

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Clueless (1995)

Make a date with your best gal, whip up some Chocolate Cake Mix Waffles and spend an evening with Cher and her friends. Sounds like a perfect Galentine’s Day to me!

Are you a big Valentine’s Day fan? If so, what are your plans? If not, what’s your pick for a Galentine’s movie night? Curious to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Chocolate Cake Mix Waffles
from DessertForTwo.com

Yields 4 waffles

1 1/4 cup dry chocolate cake mix
1 large egg
2 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed)
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
ice cream, for serving

Blackberry sauce:
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons crème de cassis (black currant liquor), optional

  1. Preheat a waffle iron to the highest setting.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cake mix, egg, oil, water and chocolate chips.
  3. Scoop batter into waffle iron (i have a Belgium waffle iron that holds 1/2 cup batter per waffle; I made 4 waffles from this recipe).
  4. Cook the waffles until done.
  5. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, combine the blackberries with the sugar and a splash of water. Simmer until the blackberries collapse into a sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in the crème de cassis, if using.
  6. Scoop ice cream over each waffle and top with blackberry sauce.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
Clueless on iTunes, Netflix or Amazon.

Movies & Menu: Moulin Rouge! (2001)

2016 has been a mixed bag. The highs were very high (Getting married! Seeing Radiohead from the front row!) and the lows have been..pretty low (health issues, job issues, the election blues…). There have been more of them than I’d like to think about.

I watched Moulin Rouge! recently and I think it’s a great film to end this year on. The characters share the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It’s also a lovely way to honor one of the (too many) artists we lost this year, David Bowie.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Moulin Rouge! is a story of truth, beauty, freedom and love. In the late 1800s, a poor poet (Ewan McGregor) moves to bohemian Paris and falls in love with a courtesan (Nicole Kidman). They must hide their love from a jealous duke, who funds their new play at the infamous Moulin Rouge night club.

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Moulin Rouge! (2001) presented by 20th Century Fox

I saw this film the first time when it was originally released. Similar to experiencing Luhrmann’s previous film Romeo + Juliet, I watched in awe as this creative, sensory feast unveiled before me. My heart jumped in delight with the very first frame: a conductor on-screen setting the mood and opening curtains for the studio logo. Until seeing R+J and Moulin Rouge!, I had never seen a film cut so quickly (I wasn’t as well versed in action films or Michael Bay at the time). The crosscutting as the Moulin Rouge club is first introduced and, later, the “El Tango de Roxanne” scenes are particular highlights and favorites. I remember a wave of excitement each time a new pop song weaved into a scene. Many viewings later and I still singing along loudly to this film (and know most of it by heart from my endless days of listening to the soundtrack). If you’ve had a rollercoast of a year like me, then I would recommend coming back to Moulin Rouge!, singing along and let the feelings flow. (If you live in Seattle, then you should hang out with the good folks at SIFF and do it up right on New Years Eve!)

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Moulin Rouge! (2001) from 20th Century Fox

While watching this dazzling musical, I suggest making yourself a stiff and spectacular Sazerac. The Sazerac is a well-known drink in New Orleans (and you can read more about the history on the Esquire link below). Absinthe is the fun addition to this cocktail and it, of course, makes an appearance in Moulin Rougeas the poet and his bohemian friends celebrate with the green fairy.

What do you remember feeling when you first saw a Baz Luhrmann film? What’s your favorite scene in Moulin Rouge!?

Cheers to a new year!
2017, I’m ready for you.

Sazerac
Recipe from Esquire

Ingredients

1 Sugar Cube
2 1/2 oz. (GOOD) rye whisky
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Angostura Bitters
absinthe
lemon peel
old-fashioned glass

  1. In an Old-Fashioned glass (not a mixing glass; it’s part of the ritual), muddle a sugar cube with a few drops of water.
  2. Add several small ice cubes and the rye whiskey, the Peychaud’s bitters, and the Angostura bitters.
  3. Stir well and strain into a second, chilled, Old-Fashioned glass in which you have rolled around a few drops of absinthe until its inside is thoroughly coated, pouring off the excess.
  4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
Moulin Rouge! on iTunes, Amazon, add to Netflix queue.
– Or support your local video store!

Movies & Menu: Elf (2003)

Elf is definitely a “new” Christmas classic. It is one of those films that you can’t not laugh when watching. Buddy’s childlike Christmas spirit is contagious. After spending half an hour at the post office or navigating the lines in your grocery store, Elf is the holiday perk you need in your life.

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Elf (2003)

In Elf, Buddy (Will Ferrell) was raised by elves in Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. When he goes to look for his birth father, he is introduced to New York City and the human world. Most of those he meets lack Christmas cheer and don’t believe in Santa Claus. Buddy discovers his identity in this new culture and changes a few minds in the process.

I bet “Will Ferrell dressed in yellow tights” had to be part of the film’s pitch too.

One of my favorite scenes is when Buddy and his father (James Caan) visit the doctor (played by director Jon Favreau). The three men perform this moment with great comic timing. I especially love Ferrell’s layered reactions in it. He’s excited, serious (for Buddy’s character that is), playful, charming and curious all at once.

Since adding maple syrup to spaghetti is not really my thing, I think the perfect match for snacking on while watching Elf is your favorite childhood Christmas cookie.

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Decorating rich roll cookies!

For me, it’s a rich roll cookie. My mother would bake these with us every December. After cutting them into fun shapes, my brother and I would decorate them by painting on the icing. It’s a tradition that I continue each year now with E. They are buttery, sugary and delightful. Each bite brings back that little bit of childhood wonder. Buddy (and Santa) would approve.

What is your favorite Christmas cookie? Have you watched Elf countless times like me? What’s your favorite scene from the film? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


Rich Roll Cookies
Recipe from Joy of Cooking

Makes about sixty 2-inch cookies

Cream:
1 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar

Beat in:
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine and add:
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Chill dough 3 to 4 hours before rolling.*
Preheat oven to 350°.
Bake on a greased cookie sheet 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly colored.

*Chilling the dough is key. As you roll, use as little extra flour as possible. Sometimes a rolling pin cover (like a pantyhose or pastry cloth) will help. If you’re baking one sheet, stick the dough back in the refrigerator to get it cold again while you wait. Warm dough is not your friend here.

Icing: We typically used lime or lemon juice mixed powdered sugar. Mix in small bowls and add food coloring as you like! Start with a little bit of juice. It’s always easier to make the icing thinner than it is to make it thicker. Remember to let the cookies cool completely before adding icing!

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
Elf on iTunes, Amazon, Netflix
– Or support your local video store!
– Check for your local free screenings too!

Movies & Menu: Birthday edition

It’s my birthday week and I’m struggling to pick a movie to watch that fits my mood. I had hoped to have something picked by now to share here, but alas, the inspiration has not come.

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Sixteen Candles (1984), 20th Century Fox

The film to watch that first comes to mind is Sixteen Candles (1984). It is the quintessential birthday film. John Hughes films are usually a good choice, but I’m not eager to reminisce about my teenage angst right now. While not excited to be turning older, I’m certainly happy with being in my 30’s than my teens. Perhaps I’ll make this the back up for now.

While exploring my options, I found a website that tells you what film was #1 at the box office on the day you were born. Mine: E.T. The Extraterrestrial. It also happens to be the film I always reference when people want to know how old I am. I didn’t see it until I was five or six years-old and I had nightmares for weeks about E.T. living under my bed and the scary men in white puffy spacesuits coming to take my family. Luckily, like most nightmares, this never actually happened. This film could be a decent option to revisit. (Also, the price of a movie ticket then: $2.94!)

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Junior (1994), Universal Pictures

I remembered going to the movies for my birthday one year with a group of friends. We saw Junior (1994). I don’t remember much of this movie other than it being terrible. The film was an attempt to play off of the success of Twins (1988), reuniting director Ivan Reitman with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. The plot: the Terminator agrees to be the test subject in an experiment and becomes pregnant. Yeah…NOT going to watch that. (Just for fun, I’ve posted the trailer below. It’s painful. The flute in that score! Oh my ears!)

So readers, I’m curious to hear from you. What movie do you typically like to watch around your birthday and why?  What film pairs best with your birthday (cup)cake? Let’s discuss!

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
Sixteen Candles on iTunes, Amazon or Netflix
– E.T. The Extraterrestrial on iTunes, Amazon or Netflix
– Junior on iTunes, Amazon or Netflix
– Or even better, support your local video store!

Movie & Menu: Home for the Holidays (1995)

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. My mother is a wonderful cook. I have fond memories of the house smelling amazing all day long and delicious holiday meals.

We never had an annual, large family gathering for Thanksgiving. It was typically small, just the four of us and my grandparents (and sometimes my Dad was working, so the day’s schedule worked around whether he would be home). There were one or two times we travelled to see family (and those road trips are memorable for various other reasons), but for the most part we did a low-key holiday. It wasn’t until I started dating E that I experienced another family’s holiday get-together. E’s extended family travels to Northern California every other year to spend Thanksgiving weekend together. The first time I attended it was a whirlwind: over a dozen family members under one roof. I was not as emotionally prepared as I needed to be. I managed to find a quiet spot to hide at one point and called my mother. I missed hanging out in the kitchen with her, observing how she managed to make it all come together and helping when I could. After spending several Thanksgivings with E’s family, I now know what to expect and understand how many other families often experience this holiday. This week is another one of the big family Thanksgivings. After having been in work mode for most of this month, I sat down to watch Home for the Holidays in an effort to get in the Thanksgiving spirit.

Directed by Jodie Foster, Home for the Holidays is a playful family drama and very much a ’90s movie: back when your parents could meet you at the airport gate as you walked off a plane. Claudia (played by Holly Hunter) has a rough day before her Thanksgiving trip to visit her family. She’s lost her job and her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) is staying home to spend the holiday with her boyfriend. Claudia is not looking forward to spending the weekend with her parents. She confesses her current misery in a call to her brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr) on the flight home. Remember those giant airplane phones? Yep, more 90’s nostalgia for you.

This film hosts another wonderful ensemble cast. Besides Hunter, Danes and Downey, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Steve Guttenberg and Cynthia Stevenson fill out the family members. Geraldine Chaplin is the kooky aunt (we all have one, or several). The legendary Anne Bancroft plays Claire’s mother. How I miss her presence on-screen these days.

I’m drawn to ensemble casts. Interesting staging and playing with dialogue are typically key elements to the directing. In Home for the Holiday, Foster does this well during the main event: the Thanksgiving dinner scene. Emotions rise and fall, moving from awkwardness, to comedy, to that frustration we’ve all felt with our family before. Momentum builds with each scene. One scene quickly leads to another. Family members pair off in different ways and there’s no place to escape or be alone. Adults act in childish ways. Bitterness lies under the surface and compromises must be found through the tension. You’re all under the same roof for these few hours, love it or hate it. This is family. homefortheholidays

These holiday get-togethers pressure us to have it “together”. Let’s be honest here: none of us know what we’re doing with our lives. We’re all trying in our own way. We’re all making mistakes along the way too. None of us are perfect. And while this movie may not be perfect either, Home for the Holidays reminds us how Thanksgiving brings out the best and worst of our messy lives. We can be mean to family because they are just that, family. It takes work to be around siblings, parents, aunts and uncles and yet, the holidays are supposed to be a break from work. It is one of life’s great oxymorons.

Family takes different shapes and forms. It is having each other in life despite differences or frustrations. Deep down there’s love and understanding – even on those occasions when you have to dig really deep. Whatever your family, it offers community and belonging, just as you are. At the risk of being too warm and fuzzy, I must say, that’s something to be thankful for.

Whether or not you’re spending Thanksgiving with crazy family members or quietly binge-watching your favorite show after the parade & dog show, I hope you’ll have a slice of turkey and a holiday treat. Enjoy the moment before the real madness begins (aka Christmas).

Below is a recipe for a dip I made the first time I spent Thanksgiving with E’s family and away from my home. I figured with caramelized onions, cheese AND bacon, how could I not win them over?

Do you spend your Thanksgiving with lots of family or find a quiet escape? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving meal? What shows or movies get you in the Thanksgiving spirit? Please share in the comments!

Caramelized Onion, Gruyére & Bacon spread
Recipe from Cooking Light, Nov. 2011

Serves 8
Serve with crackers or bread.

Cooking spray
3 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded and divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
1/3 cup canola mayonnaise
1/3 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan lightly with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cook 20 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

3. Reserve 2 tablespoons cheese. Combine remaining cheese, caramelized onion, 1 tablespoon chives, and the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Transfer the mixture to a 1-quart glass or ceramic baking dish coated lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons cheese. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon chives.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
– Home for the Holidays on iTunes.
– Or even better, support your local video store!