4/25/12: Shepherds Boss’ Pot Pie

 1/3 lb hickory smoked bacon
 1 lb filet mignon tips
 4 medium all-purpose potatoes, washed & peeled
 1 lb can salted golden sweet corn
 1 raw pie shell
 1 large white onion, quartered & sliced
 6 oz white mushrooms, sliced
 8 large garlic cloves, 5 minced and 3 peeled & smashed
 1 plum tomato, diced
 Zest of medium lemon
 2 tbls EVOO
 3 oz white wine
 1 stick butter, 5 tbls melted
 5 oz milk
 4 tsp sea salt
 1 tbls table salt
 3 tsp ground black pepper
 2 tsp Good Seasons Italian Salad Dressing Mix
 1 tsp seasoned salt
 1 tsp dried oregano
 1 tsp Herbs de Provence
 1 tsp dried parsley
 ½ tsp red pepper flakes

 ¾ fill a large pasta pot w/ table salted water & bring to a boil
 Add potatoes & smashed garlic
 Boil until the potatoes are fork tender, appx 12 min’s
 Drain & set aside
 Drain corn in a colander, top w/ ½ tsp black pepper, and set aside
 Render bacon in a large non-stick wok or frying pan at medium temperature until cooked medium
 Add EVOO, then filet tips
– Season w/ 1 tsp each of sea salt, black pepper & Good Seasons
– Add oregano & seasoned salt, and mix
– Sauté until medium, stirring occasionally, appx 5 minutes
 While the tips are sautéing, whip the potatoes & garlic together w/ an electric mixer
– Add 1 tsp salt & ½ tsp black pepper
– Gradually add the melted butter & milk until the potatoes are smooth & creamy
 Add the onions & mushrooms to the wok
– Add the remaining sea salt, black pepper & Good Seasons
– Add the Herbs de Provence
– Sauté until the onions are soft, appx 3 minutes
 While the onions & mushrooms are sautéing, form the pie crust the bottom & sides of a pie plate
– Crimp the top down to ensure a rounded crust
– Poke the bottom of the raw crust w/ a fork evenly in 8 places
– Bake at 425° for 12 min’s then remove & let cool for 2 minutes
 Add the tomato, minced garlic, remaining butter, wine, lemon zest, parsley & red pepper
– Bring to a boil
– Reduce heat to medium low & simmer until reduced by ½, appx 8 min’s
 Build & finish the Shepherds Boss’ Pot Pie by layering atop the pie crust from bottom to top
– The wok contents
* Use a slotted spoon in order to include some but not all of the sauce
* Spread evenly
– The potatoes smoothly in the form of a dome
– The corn evenly across the potato dome
– Bake for 10 minutes at 350°
* Remove & let cool for 5 min’s
* Slice into wedges
 Serves 6 – 8
 Appx cost: $22


4/18/12: The Gold Rush

“Let’s have some fun with our friend, The Little Tramp!”

The Gold Rush was the third film of roughly an hour or more directed by Charlie Chaplin. He went on to direct another 8 such films. He wrote, produced & appeared in all of them, starring in all but his final directorial project, 1967’s A Countess from Hong Kong, for which Marlon Brando was the leading man. Chaplin was a Renaissance film pioneer. He was also an accomplished dancer & musician, winning his one competitive Oscar at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973 for Best Original Dramatic Score for his 1952 film Limelight. Because Limelight wasn’t released in L.A. until 1972, under the Academy’s rules at that time, it was Oscar eligible despite being 20 years old. In 1929, Chaplin also won a Special Award for directing, producing, writing & starring in The Circus at the very first Oscars; and in 1971, at the 44th Oscars, he received an Honorary Award for the incalculable effect he had in making motion pictures the art form of the 20th century. He also received two nominations for the Great Dictator and one for Monsieur Verdoux.

The Gold Rush was originally released in 1925 and pre-dated the first Academy Awards. As a result, when it was re-released in 1942, it was eligible for the 15th Academy Awards. It received nominations for Best Music for a Drama or Comedy and Best Sound Recording. The quality of the re-release is stunning and the sound & music are incredible, especially considering that the reworked film is now 70 years old. In 1992, The Gold Rush was selected to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, and was voted the 58th Greatest American Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute in 2007.

In The Gold Rush, Chaplin plays The Lone Prospector in search of riches in Alaska at the end of the 19th century. The terrain & weather are harsh and many prospectors turn back. But The Lone Prospector and another prospector, Big Jim, stay the course. Big Jim is rewarded by finding a cache of gold ore just before a terrible blizzard strikes. The Lone Prospector and Big Jim seek shelter and end up together in what seems to be an unoccupied cabin of another prospector. Then the owner returns & mayhem ensues. The plot thickens when The Lone Prospector meets & falls in love with the beautiful showgirl Georgia, played by Georgia Hale, with whom Chaplin was having an affair while the movie was being filmed. Charlie originally penned the role for his second wife, 16 year old Lita Grey, but she was pregnant when filming began & was replaced by Georgia Hale.

There are many great scenes in this wonderful, early comedy. My favorite is the Dancing Rolls segment. It shows The Little Tramp at his best – a brilliant mime able to use the most ordinary items as compelling props. I’m sure you’ll love this historic motion picture. It’s available for streaming on Netflix and rental on Blockbuster.com.

4/10/12: Coriolanus

“I will fight against my cankered country with the spleen of all the under fiends. But if thou dares not this, then I present my throat to thee & to thy ancient malice”

William Shakespeare penned 11 tragedies. Coriolanus was his penultimate & is widely regarded as his final great one. The only tragedy that followed it is Timon of Athens, a minor work, and 5 more plays, one per year from 1608-1612: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and Henry VIII; the first two & last are histories, and the other two comedies. The recent film version of Coriolanus, screenplay by John Logan based very much on The Bard’s original script, is a great adaptation of the piece. It stars Ralph Fiennes as Caius Martius Coriolanus in his directorial debut.

The movie was passed over by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for all Oscar nominations last year. I thought this was because it was either not submitted for consideration or was being held for potential nomination for the 85th Academy Awards whose presentation ceremony will be on 2/24/13. This is not the case. Logan’s screenplay was submitted for consideration (see http://www.twcguilds.com/assets/screenplay/coriolanus.pdf). I loved this film. That it got not a single nomination was a snub.

As aforementioned, the screenplay is quite similar to Shakespeare’s script. Interestingly, however, the setting is current day, in a political city-state of Rome. This may be the reason for the snub: We have all the military & communications technologies of today; but the language is that of Renaissance London; and the political climate that of ancient Rome. I found this at first only a minor nuisance, and only because of my personal traditionalist neurosis. The casual film-goer may at first have difficulty acclimating to the linguistics, but after a few moments relaxing the mind, it’s as natural a transition as having your first beer in the late morning on the heels of multiple cups of coffee.

Fiennes, who was nominated for Best and Supporting Actor Oscars in The English Patient and Schindler’s List respectively is, as usual, brilliant. As director, he gets the most of his cast of seasoned journey-persons and exceptional relative newcomers: Gerard Butler (300, The Phantom of the Opera) plays the antagonist, Tullus Aufidius; Brian Cox (Stryker in X2) is Menenius; Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter, Tree of Life, and Best Supporting Actress Oscar Nominee for The Help) is brilliant as Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia; and Vanessa Redgrave (6 Oscar nominations, and the Best Actress winner for Julia) as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother. Logan, who penned the play Red about the abstract artist Mark Rothko which is currently in production at TheaterWorks Hartford, has 3 Oscar nominations – Original Screenplay for Gladiator shared with David Franzoni & William Nicholson; Original Screenplay for The Aviator; and this year’s Adapted Screenplay for Hugo. This fantastic film with its fantastic cast & crew, as of yesterday 4/16/12, grossed $668,116. Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds came out over a month later & has grossed $34,803,241. Nice to see our taxpayer dollars working hard to educate our youth, isn’t it?

The major themes of this film are, as with all tragedies, the main character’s hubris – he refuses to apologize for insulting the citizenry of Rome; his egomania – he calls them curs & considers them subhuman by comparison to him; war & patriotism; banishment & revenge; his lack of emotional temperance; maternal & spousal love; and his rise to & fall from power. Coriolanus is a complex character whose major flaw is that he feels he is above all and this causes his doom. Though not as well known as many of Shakespeare’s other great tragedies – Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Othello, and Hamlet are all more widely read & regarded – it is in the same class.

The plot follows the life of warrior Caius Martius as he defends Rome from the invading warrior Tullus Aufidius & his army. After driving them back in a vicious battle in Act I, Caius refuses to display his wounds to the citizens: He feels they are neither worthy nor that his injuries are entertainment for the plebeians. He is elevated to the rank of Coriolanus, but must be approved by the citizens. Instead, they banish him for his insolence & pride. Coriolanus, in turn, vows revenge on Rome’s leaders & citizens. Coriolanus is a fine reworking of Shakespeare’s play, brought forward in time, presumably to make it more palatable to younger audiences. So much for that idea! But go see it – or rather rent it since it’s already gone from Connecticut theaters. Or don’t! You plebeian curs are unworthy of Ralph Fiennes fine performance & first directorial venture anyway!

4/9/12: A Night to Remember

“The first five compartments are flooding. She’s going to sink, Captain.” “But, she can’t sink. She’s unsinkable.”

Saturday April 14 marks the 100th year anniversary of the tragic sinking of the passenger liner RMS Titanic. It’s no mere coincidence (as if something as mystical as ‘coincidence’ could possibly be described as ‘mere’) that Titanic 3D was released on 4/4/12 to allow it to be up & fully running in conjunction with the centennial. And a tip of the Captain’s Cap to Christine Packnick, Assistant Manager of Rave Motion Pictures Southington, who runs the theater’s Monday afternoon Cinema Classics series for scheduling A Night to Remember on the first Monday after the historic anniversary. A Night to Remember is a fine drama directed by Roy Ward Baker loosely documenting the widely publicized maiden & singular voyage of the “unsinkable” ship. The film was originally released in the U.S. for the Christmas season of ’58.

Baker directed 35 full length movies, including two TV movies, most of which are largely forgettable. The most notable are A Night to Remember and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. He was an uncredited Co-Director of Kilimanjaro along with Henry King, who was credited for directing the 1952 release. The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which  stars Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward & Ava Gardner, was nominated for the 25th Academy Awards’ Color Cinematography and Color Art Direction Oscars. It’s based on the 1936 Hemingway short story and is a great film but for embarrassing performance turned in by Gardner. A Night to Remember is, to my mind, a better film. It wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, but won a Golden Globe for Best English Language Foreign Film.

A Night to Remember has an ensemble cast featuring: Kenneth More as Second Officer Lightoller, who before the ship launches proudly proclaims to his wife that he’d “rather be Second on the Titanic than First, or even Chief on any other ship”; Lawrence Naismith as Captain Smith; and Tucker McGuire as Molly Brown, to name just a few of the fine performances turned in on this motion picture. Lightoller, the highest ranking officer to survive the disaster, was called up from the Royal Naval Reserves in World War I and further distinguished himself as a retired war hero saving British soldiers with his private yacht during the Second World War’s evacuation of Dunkirk. As Molly Brown in Cameron’s Titanic, Kathy Bates’ resemblance to Tucker’s portrayal is striking & seemingly an homage to A Night to Remember, especially considering that the role was originally was offered to & accepted by Reba McEntire until scheduling conflicts prevented her from doing the film.

The special effects and cinematography are top-notch for 1958. Early in the film, footage of what seems to be the actual Titanic docked in & departing from Southampton ENGLAND is blended into the film nicely, if not transparently. The quality discrepancies are so striking that the viewer is fully aware of the inclusion of the segments of the “news reels”. The footage, however, is not of the Titanic because no such film existed then nor has been located since. It’s actual footage of the ships Queen Elizabeth and Mauretania, and a segment culled from the 1943 Nazi propaganda film Titanic.

A Night to Remember makes no apology for the inadequacies of the safety precautions on the Titanic, nor the Upstairs Downstairs distinction between & treatment of the two classes of passengers aboard it. It’s been reported by a number of survivors that the last song the band performed was Nearer My God to Thee. As in both Jean Negulesco’s 1953 version and Cameron’s Titanic, A Night to Remember documents this little known fact as the ship is fast approaching doom with a fine rendention of Nearer My God to Thee performed & sung by the ship’s band. The ship goes down in one piece in the movie because it wasn’t known until 1985, when the wreckage of the Titanic was discovered, that it split in two while sinking.

So, if you get a chance, go to the Rave Southington on Monday April 16 at 3:00 and check out Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember. It’s only $3 and comes with a small popcorn & a small soft drink!!

4/8/12: God Is the Bigger Elvis

“We are very sexual women here at the Abbey. Our sexuality is not denied us in any way.”

This fine documentary short subject, produced by HBO Films, was nominated for, but did not win the Oscar this year at the 84th Academy Awards. It premiered on 4/1/12 and this perhaps accounts for why, of the 15 short films nominated in the three categories last year – the other two being Live Action Short and Animated Short – God Is the Bigger Elvis was the only one not included in The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012 Blu-ray distributed to theaters for screening to audiences in the roll-up to the Academy Awards. The winner, Saving Face, deserved the Oscar, but had The Bigger Elvis received the award, it would not have been a travesty by any means.

The short tells the story of Mother Dolores Hart, who left Hollywood as a starlet at the age of 24 to join the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem CT and become a nun. She is now Reverend Mother Prioress Dolores Hart, O(rder of)S(t.)B(enedict), and has been Prioress (i.e., 2nd in command of the Abbey, the rank below Abbess) of the Abbey since 2001. She is still a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is the only nun ever to be an Oscar-voting member of Academy. She starred besides Elvis in two films and even shared a kiss with him on Loving You. The film is relatively long as shorts go, timing in at 37 minutes. For a Connecticutian like me, it’s particularly interesting. The Abbey was long a visiting place for my parents when my Mom was alive.

The Abbey is a working farm and the film bears this out, showing the sisters working the land, caring for the livestock including the llama, running tractors, etc. It also the home of an open-air, covered theater which holds a performance each summer with the financial & theatrical assistance of Mother Hart and her late friend, Academy Award Winner Patricia Neal. Neal won her Best Actress Oscar for her role as Alma Brown in Hud but is perhaps most remembered as the creepy cougar (before that word was even a remote thought) Emily in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Recent productions include West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma, and You can’t Take It With You. This summer, two productions will be done at the community theater, The Solid Gold Cadillac and South Pacific.

The most endearing quality of The Bigger Elvis, directed by Rebecca Cammisa, is its ability to portray these sisters as humans – noble, loving, caring women. As the opening line of this review states, these are sexual beings. I guess just knowing Patricia Neal is enough to make a woman creepy, irrespective of her vocation.

The film is running now on HBO East and West in regular rotation, and is available on HBO On Demand. Watch it. It’s great!

4/6/12: Warrior

You don’t knock him out, you lose the fight. Understand me? You don’t knock him out, you don’t have a home.

Warrior is one the numerous good films released in 2011. But it was not amongst the surprisingly high number of great ones. There are good performances and great performances in it – interspersed with a number of mediocre and even embarrassing ones. But its main problem: It suffers from the bane of all film issues: Predictability! That said, this review begins with the most important premise: Warrior is a good movie that’s worth the 2:20 investment. Yes, it’s a long film which has its ups & downs, but the 140 minutes do not drag. There is enough excitement to keep you interested. And while this is not a boxing movie, M(ixed)M(artial)A(rts) is close enough. Sports films are notoriously campy, cheesy fare with a few exceptions – boxing films because of the single character focus (in this case, double), and a few masterpieces like Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, A League of Their Own, etc.

The great performances: Co-leading men Joel Edgerton & Tom Hardy, Brendan & his younger brother Tommy Conlon respectively, estranged & vying for the winner takes all $5 million Sparta MMA Tournament Championship – a once only tournament dubbed “The Superbowl of MMA”; Kevin Dunn as Principal Zito, Brendan’s boss when he isn’t moonlighting from his high school physics teacher job at amateur MMA tournaments to supplement the family’s income in an attempt to save their home from foreclosure; and Nick Nolte, Paddy Conlon, their recovering alcoholic & estranged father, whose violent & abusive behavior when they were adolescents broke up the family.

Nolte earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nomination for his fantastic job, as expected, in bringing Paddy to life. He longs now to be the father as to his sons, but they refuse his supplications. His only relationship with the two boys is to cheer on Brendan at Sparta, only to be given dagger sharp looks in return, and as a trainer for Tommy. Tommy treats him with disdain: Belittling him for finding God (“So you found God, huh? That’s awesome. See, Mom kept calling out for him but he wasn’t around.”); joining AA (“Is that one of the 12 steps? Or does a guy like you get 24?”);  and attempting at this late juncture to be a father to him (“I think I liked you better when you were a drunk.”). He makes sure there is no mincing words when reminding “Pop” of his treatment of his now dead mother who he feels could have been saved had she been cared for and afforded the opportunity to have health care (“Must be tough to find a girl who could take a punch nowadays.”). In my mind, Hardy steals the show. He’s brilliant. His characterization makes you simultaneously pity, admire & hate him. He’s sharp-witted and yet a dumb jock. He’s real, he’s angry, he’s tough, and in the end, he grows & learns compassion. The interplay between Nolte & Hardy is a prime example of what brings me back to the movies over & over: The confrontational & honest exploration of the human condition!

The film was directed by Gavin O’Connor and the bad performances reflect directly on him, while the good ones only in part. But one of the good ones is O’Connor’s himself, who plays the uncredited role of Sparta promoter J.J. Riley.

The terrible performance: Jennifer Morrison as Brendan’s wife, Tess. Every second that she is on screen is either a cringe or a cringe at the thought of the surely impending cringe. Morrison’s career is a basically a decade and change of one TV show after another and her leap to a major role in a major motion picture is about as seamless & soulless as Geronimo’s moccasins. There are other bad performances: Mainly the bit part high school seniors in one of Brendan’s classes, but these roles are small, even when taken in total, and much more easily forgiven.

The predictability factor is unfortunate. Almost from the moment the characters are introduced, you know what’s in store and how the film ends. That said, it’s a good ending. No surprises here. I think in most cases, and this film in particular, that is worse.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another of the very strong points of Warrior: The music. The soundtrack is excellent. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is thematic in the film, weaving in & out of the soundtrack like Playin’ in the Band in that certain Grateful dead concert. Mark Isham, notable for his work on what I think is the best film of the last decade & one of the best ever, Crash, wrote the original music and it’s wonderful. I recommend this film highly when you have a couple & a half hours and bottles of wine to spare: 3 Stars.

3/14/12: Patton

“Remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”.

George C. Scott as General George S. Patton is amongst the most famous and best performances in film history. It won him a most well deserved Best Actor Academy Award in 1971 at the 43rd Oscars, which he refused because he viewed the Oscars as political. He was the first actor ever to do so, calling the ceremony a “demeaning” “two-hour meat parade”. Only two other Oscars have ever been refused. Dudley Nichols refused the Award for Best Screenplay for The Informer at the 8th Academy Awards in 1936 because, at the time, the Writers Guild was on strike with the studios. And Marlon Brando refused his 1973 Best Actor Oscar for his role as Don Corleone in The Godfather at the 45th Academy Awards in protest of Hollywood’s characterization of Native Americans. Besides Best Actor, Patton was nominated for 9 other Oscars and won 6, including Best Picture which went to producer Frank McCarthy, Franklin J. Schaffner for Best Director, and Francis Ford Coppola (who was not at the ceremony, presumably working on The Godfather) & Edmund H. North for Best Original Screenplay.

Patton is a biopic in the true sense of the word: A study of the character or lack thereof of General Patton, renowned for his egomaniacal behavior, insubordination & guile. It paints no patriotic, Polly-Anna-ish portrait of man. It does nothing to detract from his legend, and the result is to further his myth. And that, in the embarrassingly rank-and-file, paternalistic, “USA USA USA” chanting post-9/11/2001 (and since there have been 10 of them since that horrible day, the year is warranted at this point in my opinion) country we live in, is very refreshing. It clearly points out the greatest of Patton as a field general, while reminding us of how wretched, mean-spirited, and almost evil he was.

The film’s opening scene is perhaps its most famous: Patton is a full four-star General. He stands against the backdrop of a gigantic American flag, addressing his troops on presumably the eve of a battle in the most to the point, you just may die, language possible. It’s stunning. His uniform, linguistics, presentation & timing are impeccable. This scene alone makes the film worth watching. But the next 2:45 are also great! After that opening scene, the setting moves back in time to 1943, Tunisia in Northern Africa, shortly after America’s first battle against Rommel, the German military commander there. The American’s take a battering. Patton, at the bequest of General Omar Bradley, is brought on to fix the situation. Bradley is played brilliantly by Karl Malden in what has to be one of the greatest nomination snubs of all time. The other nominees and winner are a myriad of good films & forgettable performances: Richard Castellano as Frank Vecchio in Lovers and Other Strangers; Chief Dan George as Old Lodge Skins in Little Big Man; Gene Hackman as Gene Garrison in I Never Sang for My Father; John Marley as Phil Cavilleri in the most overrated Love Story ever committed to celluloid; and the winner was John Mills as Michael in Ryan’s Daughter.

Bradley’s idea is a good one. Patton does indeed rectify the situation. He proceeds to assign Bradley to be his deputy commander; adorn his uniform and Jeep with a third star after FDR nominates him for Lieutenant General, but before he’s confirmed by the Senate, telling Bradley “they have their schedule and I have mine”; get his troops and base in tiptop shape; instill previously completely lacking discipline in his commands;  and make sure that everyone including Eisenhower knows who is running the American Theater in North Africa. Patton & his American Army ambush and annihilate Rommel’s army in one battle. Unfortunately for Patton, who longs to outsmart and out battle the man for whom he has immense respect, Rommel was not there. He was recovering from a minor illness in Berlin. The result of the battle and the North African campaign is that Patton’s prominence rises immeasurably. He is suddenly to all but Ike and perhaps Bradley, British Field Marshal Montgomery’s equal. Monty had been pushing Rommel back in the Allied North African campaign for quite some time at that point. Throughout the remainder of the film, there are hints or outright attention called to the none-to-healthy professional rivalry between the British and American commanders.

In what is a very difficult scene to watch, another of the great scenes in this fantastic motion picture, Patton slaps and degrades a soldier in a military hospital for having shell shock. He demands that he “Shut up!”. He “won’t have a yellow bastard sitting…crying in front of…brave men who have been wounded in battle!”! This mistake proves to be the start of his undoing. Ike forces him to apologize to his men and to the disgraced soldier in particular.

The realism in Patton is amazing, in part because producer Frank McCarthy was a Brigadier General under five-star General of the Army George Marshall in World War II. The film is a masterpiece: A must see; a rollercoaster ride of emotions for the viewer toward Patton generated by the script, the setting, the topic, Schaffner’s direction, and most of all Scott’s performance. You’re constantly torn between being honored & amazed by the Lieutenant General’s military genius and discipline, and disgusted by his outrageously unstable & dishonorable behavior. You want him to be removed from power, yet you feel sorry for him when he finally is. The Academy did well to award Patton seven Oscars, even if it really deserved eight.