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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fantastic Four (2015)

If you are not a fan of the comic book genre of movies, then you most certainly have to skip this movie.  It is solely for the die hard fan, and even they may be disappointed.  I have not seen the other adaptation of the story before, so I cannot compare to others, but I definitely enjoyed it.  I have watched many of this genre of movies over the years as the mother of four boys, and while it is not a genre that I am born to love, I have come to appreciate it.  This version tells the back story of how the four got their fantastic powers, and who they were before that fate befell them.  The one thing that the movie did an excellent job of was editing it down to a reasonable length--too often these movies go over two hours, which is just too long, and this one dodges that error.  It is also quite wooden in places, but again, I can tolerate that.  So go see it if you are a big fan, and skip it if you are not.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This book, another young adult installment for me, looks at the idea that despite your love for someone, it isn’t always possible to save them. Violet and Finch meet on the top of the bell tower when both are contemplating suicide but they both survive. Violet is coming to terms with her sister's accidental and Finch is battling with anger and possible bipolar disorder.
The book gently touches first love and how quickly you can fall for someone, but also the pain that comes when your idea of forever ends after a few months. It also explores the difficulty of teenage years and how easy it is to give your all to someone and then have it all taken away.
The characters like to think that they can save each other; that love covers up all their pain and if they both put everything into each other then they can save the other. As you turn the pages of this book you get more and more attached to the characters and you want, for their sake, it to result in the happy ending that they’re longing for.  The author has other plans for us, and it is well done and certainly touches on issues that young adults face in their lives.
The project results in them sharing road trips which causes them to grow closer and closer as they both frantically try to give the other a reason to live. A reason before it is too late. Finch is so obsessed with death but for Violet he finds reasons to live. Violet is so consumed with guilt but for Finch she puts the past behind her. They both try. They both want to make it. Even love can’t fix everything though, and I think throughout the text the characters start to learn this but they won’t let themselves believe it, they want this relationship to be enough to keep them both alive.
The book constantly explores life and death and it shows the reader just how valid life is, and it comes with an overpowering message of doing everything before it is too late. It shows that the thought of ‘what could have been’ can destroy a person.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Spicy Nuts

My son made these recently in an effort to use up nuts in his cupboard, and they are very addictive.

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups mixed nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds

Mix spices and reserve.  Heat nuts in a dry skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until begin to toast, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Add the butter, sugar, water and spices to the hot skillet and cook, stirring, until a glaze forms, about 1 minute. Return the nuts to the skillet and toss to combine with the glaze. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until the nuts are glazed and golden brown.  Remove from the heat and transfer to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, separating with a fork. Let rest until cooled and the sugar has hardened, about 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Paper Towns (2015)

This movie, which is based on the John Green book of the same title, is a faithful adaptation.  If you love the book, you are likely to enjoy the movie, and vise versa.  If you did not like the book, do not bother giving the movie a second chance to woo you.  Not going to happen.
This is the story of a childhood crush grown up.  Quentin has always been in love with Margo, and they are fast buddies in childhood, but once they get older Margo becomes the popular high school girl and Quentin becomes the nerd boy who lives on the margins of high school social life.  He is entirely likable and she is unpredictable and attention seeking, so you see where this is going.  When Margo takes Quentin on her night of revenge for being cheated on, she is giving him a chance to fly in her orbit and we root for him because we want him to get what he desires, but when she disappears afterwards, Quentin is just about the only one worried about her.  Even her parents don't get upset.
The rest of the movie is about his search for Margo and then his being able to move beyond her.  He gains from his friendship with her, but he manages to look toward college unencumbered by ties with his childhood.  Wise and simple at the same time.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder

I had my first vacation in a while recently and one of the things that I did was go to a play at the Goodman theater in Chicago.  A matinee, to be sure, but a whole play.  We all enjoyed it very much, and by going to the theater on the day of the play we got very inexpensive seats that were as good as they were reasonable.
I have not seen anything by Thorton Wilder with the exception of what everyone has seen and that is Our Town.  This is a very funny play about a woman who sets matches up, including one for herself.  Wilder wrote the play in the mid-20th century, but it is based on a play from the mid 19th century, and the situations serve to remind one that women have always had challenges when it comes to both business and society at large.  The recent election rhetoric has served to remind me that not everyone thinks that having given women the right to vote, much less own property and run businesses was perhaps a mistake.  So fun to watch someone who manages to get what she wants without raising any hackles in the meantime. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Crab Fingers

This is not so much a recipe but a plug for this easy to become addicted to preparation of crab.  I live in the Midwest, entirely landlocked and with the exception of catfish and walleye, with few native fish to be found on the dinner table.  Luckily there are entrepreneurs who drive a truck laden with seafood from the Gulf up to my town once every three weeks or so throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and bring us shrimp, crab, whole snapper and the occasional oyster or crayfish when the season is right.
So now that the weather has warmed enough for the Texans to venture northward, I am once again reminded that these delicious morsels should not be passed up.  They come as you see them.  You can drizzle garlic butter over them or even bread them and fry them, but my favorite way is just the way they come.  I often just eat them right from the container, not even bothering to arrange them in a bowl.  Don't pass them up if you see them!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Cinderella (2015)

There is absolutely nothing that is original to this movie.  It is a faithful rendition of the Disney animated classic of the same name, only this time with real people, but not much else is different.  Meaning that this is not 'Enchanted'.  There are no modern updates and no musical interludes.  As my youngest son said during the ball scene at the castle, "They went all 'Pride and Prejudice' on it."  The story is not approximate, it is identical.
That is a long way of saying that if you do not like the Disney version of the Cinderella story, then you should definitely skip this one.  It is for the real fans.  I have a soft spot for Disney that it most likely does not deserve, so while my spouse thought this was just boring (ie. he is not a true blue fan of the original story), I enjoyed it.  There is something that is compelling to me about the good hearted but poor woman marrying the man of her dreams and getting out from under her evil stepmother (who is played to perfection by the wonderful Cate Blanchett).  The movie is directed by Kenneth Branagh, whose work I like.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If a campaign had a book that demonstrated its main theme, this book could be Bernie Sanders' young adult fiction choice.  It is cool, bitter and brutal, as it casts a dispassionate eye on the insular world of the American oligarchy.
Cadence is the eldest granddaughter of a family so rich that they never mention money. Every year, the Sinclairs spend their summer on a private island, where the grandparents have built four houses for themselves and their three daughters, plus a smaller building for their cooks and cleaners.
The Sinclairs are beset by deaths, addictions and the tragedies that afflict all families, however privileged, but they tuck them away behind their strong chins and perfect smiles. Raw emotions are hidden by a curtain of politeness. "I don't know what happened," Cadence says of her aunt's divorce. "The family never speaks of it."
Cadence makes a tight little group with the two grandchildren her own age, Johnny and Mirren, and an outsider, Gat, who joins them every year. Aged 15, Cadence falls in love with Gat. At the end of that summer, she has an accident, a breakdown or some kind of illness, but she can't remember what happened, how or why. All she knows is that she was found on the shore, dressed in her underwear, the sea washing over her. "They tested me for brain tumours, meningitis, you name it. To relieve the pain they prescribed this drug and that drug and another drug, because the first one didn't work and the second one didn't work, either."
That was two summers ago. Now she is returning to the island, to her family, her grandfather, aunts and cousins, and Gat. She narrates the novel, but she doesn't use the polite, restrained style that you'd expect from such an expensively educated aristocrat. The characters are not well-rounded or beautifully drawn; the descriptions are not lush or elegant. The prose is fractured, disordered, messy. This is the voice of a girl who has been broken and is trying to put the pieces back together.
The reader searches with her, combing for clues in the family's behaviour, the lies and omissions of a tight-knit patrician clan.
Of course I won't reveal the twists and turns of the cunning plot, but I can say that when the secret at the heart of the book is finally revealed, it turns out to be nastier and more shocking than anything I had imagined.  But worth it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Crayfish Etouffee

Springtime heralds the return of fresh crayfish and even though we live quite far from the Gulf Coast, we manage to get some excellent crayfish right here.  This is one of my favorite ways to have it prepared.

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 cup green bell peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/4 c. flour 
  • 2-3 c. stock (depending on how thin you like the etouffee to be)
  • 2 pounds peeled crawfish tails
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 2 tablespoon green onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Heat the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy pot. Add the onions, bell peppers, and celery, and cook, stirring, until soft and lightly golden, 6 to 8 minutes.Add flour, stir until it browns a little.  Add the crayfish and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to throw off a little liquid, about 5 minutes. Add thestock; reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes.
Season with salt and cayenne.
Remove from the heat. Add the green onions and parsley. Serve in bowls over rice.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lady From Shanghai (1947)

My youngest son has been taking a Film Noir class, and while many of the movies have been unavailable on line or at our local library, we have managed to watch the few that are, and this is one of them.
The story is much like what happens in Double Indemnity, where a man falls hopelessly for a woman and does something seemingly ridiculously stupid in order to get or stay in her good graces.  This movie starts Rita Hayworth as the vamp woman and Orson Welles is the star struck man.  Murder is the plot, and things unravel slowly over the course of the movie to an ending that is satisfactory.  The thing that I noted and my husband corroborated is that the noir genre is not very good to women.  I guess overall it doesn't say anything good about men that they would do anything, including killing someone, for a woman they barely know, but women are portrayed as the source of the evil and men are portrayed as followers.  Since the plot goes wrong, the women do not come out ahead, even by their own assessment.  An interesting film genre, although not one that I will add to my list of favorites.