Tuesday, August 31, 2010

They Took Him for A Fall Guy...But He Threw Them for a Hoop

Well I haven't been around much lately thanks to starting the school year.  Its my second year of teaching and guess what?  I feel a little bit more at home in the job.  Last week I started with a practice writing test and this week I started last year's lecture on grammar with a few new surprises, and I think I'm actually getting some of the kids to understand.  Also, this year's classes are basically good with only a few talkers with little to feed off of.  I tell you, everyday is like a vacation compared to what I did last year.  I'm really riding high.  We're only a few days away from a holiday weekend, so my endorphins are doing great.

Now lets talk about tonight's movie.  Its a lesser known little gem from the Cohen Brothers, before they hit it big with Fargo and after they had success with Raising Arizona.  This film hit middling audience appeal and mixed critical appeal upon its release and was an attempt at reaching mainstream audiences with a throwback to screwball comedies and the feel-good films of Frank Capra.  To enjoy the film, one needs to embrace a love of the bizarre and the over-the-top and that's exactly what I love when watching a comedy that emulates the old black and white films that I love.  Also, I think films with strange titles are usually great...so follow me as I take you through The Hudsucker Proxy.

Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) is a recent graduate of the Muncie College of Business Administration in 1958 and has just hit the streets of New York City looking for a job.  He manages to get a job in the mailroom of Hudsucker Industries at the same time that the company C.E.O., Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), decides to commit suicide by jumping from the 45th floor window oh his building.  Hudsucker's second in command, Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), realizes at that moment that the company's stock will go public on January 1st and they could lose control of the company to anyone.  The board of directors decides that they will hire a fake boss, a proxy, who will look like a huge financial risk and therefore allow the price of the stock to plummet so it can be bought cheaply.  Suddenly, after a terrible introduction, Mussburger decides to put Norville in the role of C.E.O. because he has no experience.  The stock drops fast and a tenacious reporter named Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) becomes convinced that Norville is a fraud and sets out to expose him.  However, Norville has a surprise up his sleeve.  Its round, inexpensive, and destined to take the nation by storm.  Will the proxy succeed or will the world of business crush him?

I really loved this movie.  I mean, its very much a fluff piece with a large budget and gets much of its entertainment value from referencing comedies from the 30s and 40s...but its a wonderful ride getting to the end.  The cold industrial look and huge stature of the sets makes you feel like you're in another world...a version of New York City that probably resides somewhere within miles of Tim Burton's vision of Gotham City from Batman Returns.  The performances are also genuine and satirical at the same time.  Tim Robbins displays a fine grasp of the everyman character that was popularized by Jimmy Stewart...with a generous dash of Don Knotts' penchant for clumsiness and good-natured foolishness. Paul Newman is also delightfully miserly as the scrooge-like Mussburger, who could easily have gotten along with Lionel Barrymore's Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life.  Hard to believe he was ever a heartthrob in the role.  My personal favorite, however, is Jennifer Jason Leigh's turn as the fast-talking, tough cookie reporter who carries herself like Rosalind Russel from His Girl Friday and speaks as fast as Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby.  She really sells the authenticity of the film as a throwback to that type of movie, and it reminds me of why I admired those characters in those films.  She's not a wimp, she's got bite and yet she also has a tender side that is completely believable when she allows Robbins' Norville to get close to her.  It is not often that an actor achieves such a spot-on homage and that success must be applauded.  I hope by now that you have decided to give The Hudsucker Proxy a look based on my recommendation, it is a funny and witty feel-good film that is better than one might think.  Give it a try, you might discover a new favorite.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Enough is Never Enough

I know today's post seems like the title of a Bond movie, but its actually a slogan from a low-budget favorite of mine which always gets me thinking about dessert and snack foods and the way such products are advertised and consumed.  I mean, how often do we ask ourselves what's in that pint of ice cream or that bag of chips.  Sure, we know the basic elements, but there's a TON of crap on that label that I have no idea what it is, or even how to pronounce it.  Researchers and journalists have all had a fun kick examining the Twinkie and what happens to it when it mutates in the microwave or when its been submerged in water...and have effectively proven that it can't possibly be food.  Yet people still eat it...why?  We must like the taste or something, or we've been seduced by what a Twinkie is supposed to be and thus want to be a part of it.  Either way, it goes against practical thought.  I suppose that Larry Cohen was thinking along the same lines when he wrote the script for this campy chiller.  Lets look at the film that asked "Are you eating it or is it eating you?" and have a taste of The Stuff.

It all begins innocently enough.  A humble foreman working at a mine notices something white and gooey bubbling up from the ground.  Through happenstance, he tastes some of it and finds that it tastes sweet and creamy.  Flash forward a few months and we find that a new dessert sensation is sweeping the nation.  Everywhere you go you hear and see advertisements for The Stuff, an ice cream-like product, and it seems that everyone is eating it.  Why shouldn't they?  It tastes great, it has no calories, its filling, and it doesn't even leave a stain if it falls on the floor.  It seems like its the perfect food.  However, competing food companies are curious about how The Stuff is made and enlist Mo Rutherford, an investigator, to find out for them.  Suspecting chemical tampering and bribery of the FDA, what Mo finds is much more disturbing.  The Stuff, the same goop that was bubbling up out of the ground in the beginning, is actually a living organism that devours those who eat it from the inside out and turns them into addicted zombies who want nothing more than to help The Stuff take over the world.  Is up to Mo, the advertising executive who invented the campaign, and a young boy who lost his family to the evil dessert to stop The Stuff and its minions from succeeding.

Yes, the idea of a killer dessert sounds dorky and one wonders how a director could actually succeed in making it sound scary.  Well, he doesn't really.  I mean, there are some wonderful moments of tension and suspense but the film's real success is how it uses a witty sense of humor about advertising and fads to paint a realistic picture of what a situation like this would really be like.  Once a product is approved by the FDA and goes out on the street, people consume it blindly until something goes wrong.  And the more popular a product is, the harder it is to get rid of it once a problem (no matter how small) is located.  I also love how many celebrity cameos he managed to get in the commercials, one of the best being the "Where's the Beef?" Lady asking "WHERE'S THE STUFF??" in a fancy restaurant.  On the performance side of things, Michael Moriarty is excellent as Mo, the sarcastic and tough hero.  The other actors are merely ok, but they do what needs to be done in a movie about killer ice cream.  If you've never heard of it...and I wager many of you haven't...you really should watch this.  It goes well along side 50s monster films.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Week In Review

Its hard to believe that a week ago today I was in New York City with my friend Tall John.  We were friends in college and he lives in Connecticut now, quite close to the city that never sleeps, so I went up and we took the commuter train into the city and played around on dem ol' city streets.  It was a lot of fun.  I got to see a lot of my favorite landmarks and go into some fun stores.  We ate brunch at Ellen's Stardust cafe, where the wait staff sings.  That sounds like it could get annoying, but it was a lot of fun really.  The highlight of the meal was when a waiter and a waitress sang Meatloaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light", it was pretty awesome.  I hope some of those guys actually make it on Broadway (they were all aspiring actors) because they certainly had talent.  Later in the day we caught a matinee performance of Promises, Promises, a revival of the stage musical based on the classic film comedy, The Apartment.  It was headlined by Sean Hayes (of "Will and Grace" fame) and Kristen Chenoweth (from "Pushing Daisies" and "Glee") and they were awesome.  Sean flubbed a line once, but he recovered gracefully and even gave a cute little bow.  We clapped.  After that we walked all the way up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and about died in the attempt.  It was about 30 more blocks than I had originally thought.  Following that, I gave in and let Tall John take me to an Irish Pub for dinner...and it wasn't half bad.  We got back to Fairfield around 9:30 and were beat, but it was a very full day.  We're gonna do it again, hopefully soon.  I'd love to get a group of friends together and go.  Can you imagine what NYC would be like if Me, JP, Bond, and Clay came to paint the town red.  No one would get out alive.

The rest of the week I've spent on video games mostly.  I finished playing through The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask for the first time early in the week, and it was an overall disappointing experience.  I'm a big Zelda fan, but this one was a touch too different and complicated.  I got so frustrated having to deal with only having 3 days (game time, not real time) to complete certain tasks (sometimes needing to do tasks that last all three days) and if you run out of time you have to turn back time and start all over again (sometimes having to do things you've already done over again as well).  It was a pain in the butt, but fun at some stretches.  I don't know if I'll ever play it again, but I feel better having had the experience.  I've spent this week playing through Zelda: Twilight Princess again.  I'm quite close to the end of the game, and I hope to finish it by Monday or Tuesday so that I can start on Zelda: The Wind Waker and finish that before I start back to school.  As long as I still have free time, I want to use it as I see fit.

Oh, and I've gotten a pet finally.  My friend Clay is moving soon, and he owned a pet ball python named Xander but didn't want to take him with him.  So I adopted the little guy and he now lives with me.  Its not quite the dog I was hoping to get, but it is something.  He's a real sweetie too, very tame and likes people.  He's also the most low maintenance pet one could probably have.  All he needs is a tank to live in, some heat, water, and food once a week (if not longer).  I really like him, and he seems to like me.  I just hope he gets used to me as his owner soon.  Oh, and how many people can say they have a cool pet like mine?  A lot probably, but no one else I know haha.  That's really all for this week.  I'll be back soon with more.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Party Success

I'm very late in updating you guys on Friday's dinner party, but I thought you'd want to know that it was a raging success.  My friends all got along famously, considering two of them hadn't met the other two, and the personality dynamic was super.  We sat there talking and laughing for several hours and then played some video games.  The food was also a triumph.  Everyone loved the pizza bar, and I think its something that anyone could successfully pull off for an easy and fun way to feed your guests.  First, you make all your pizza dough in advance, a batch or more depending on how many people you have coming.  FYI, you really only need to make enough for each person to have one pizza cause they're very filling.  Here's the dough I used (credit goes to FabulousFoods.com):

Mitch's Basic Pizza Dough
3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

I always use a food processor.  To start, add the warm water honey and salt and mix together for just a few seconds.  Then you add your yeast and mix, allowing it to melt and activate.  Next, add one cup flour and mix for 15-30 seconds and then add the olive oil, again mixing for 15-30 seconds to get it all incorporated.  You can add any other ingredients that you want and this stage, and then you mix in the remaining flour a little at a time until the dough rolls up into a ball.  Next you must kneed the dough for 8-10 minutes to activate the yeast, and then you let it rise anywhere from 10 minutes to a half an hour.  After its done rising you can divide the dough into as many portions as you like.  I like to cut it in half to make two full thin pizzas, but for the party I cut it into five pieces and each one made a proper 6-8 inch pizza.  Top them with whatever you want and then back for 9 minutes in a 450 degree oven.  (FYI, to my dinner pizza I add a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt and a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and for dessert pizza I add the same measurements of cinnamon and sugar).

Our toppings were numerous.  We had tomato, alfredo, and olive oil sauces and several different meats like chicken, hamburger, bacon, sausage, and pepperoni.  Our vegetables were roma tomatoes, fresh basil, mushrooms, and fresh spinach.  For cheese we had mozzarella, parmigiana, gorgonzola, romano, and goat cheese.  For the dessert pizzas we brushed the dough with a mixture of melted butter, cinnamon, and sugar and topped it with apple pie filling and a crumble topping (1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, and 4 tablespoons of butter (though I can't quite remember that last measurement, its from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook).  That one I over estimated on and made too much dough for, we all only ate one dessert pizza between the 5 of us.  I had a ton of leftovers, but I've just been cooking it all into different things.  Chicken alfredo one night, spaghetti another, and yet another pizza the other night.  So if you plan to do this, make sure you estimate your food well so you don't end up with too much.

That's really all for tonight, sorry to sound so much like Martha Stewart...I'll be back to talking movies by tomorrow.  Take care for now and enjoy the weather.