Monday, August 24, 2009

More Food Porn, Please!!!

Yeah, I went to the theater to see Julia & Julie before I went to see QT’s Missplled Nastees—so fucking sue me.

And after rereading this entry of Ivanlandia, I realized that, no, I have not gotten the name of Nora Ephron’s movie correct.
It’s supposed to be Julie & Julia, but I prefer to call it Julia & Julie.
C’mon, who’s more important to us food fans?
Who should be listed first:
Julia Child or Julie Powell?

Julia & Julie (2009)
Written and directed by Nora Ephron
Based on the books “Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen” by Julie Powell
And "My Life in France" by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
Director of Photography: Stephen Goldblatt
Production Designer: Mark Ricker
Editor: Richard Marks

Although there isn’t enough food porn displayed in this flick in my opinion—it’s still a fantastical foodie’s delight.

First some gripes:
I would have much rather had more sumptuously filmed scenes of plates of food being prepared and served in glorious Technicolor close-ups than some of the subplots and heavy-handed Republican bashing—
for example,
It would have been nice to have those 10 minutes spent on the (entertaining, I’ll admit, and certainly character enhancing) subplot about Julia Child’s taller sister
being spent on the preparation of the boned duck—called “deboned duck” in the flick, I assume (making an ass of you and me?), because someone at the studio was worried us dummy audiences wouldn’t get it.
When Julie’s boss says (something like), “At least I’m not a Republican,” how come he couldn’t say something less divisive, but similar in tone and spirit, like, “Look, I may be a Republican, but I’m not an asshole” ?

Harumph! Somebody’s pushing an agenda in a very unsubtle manner!

Be that as it may,
As an amateur home chef (yeah, I’m a foodie—wanna make something of it?),
I found Julia & Julie quite inspirational (even if I spent the whole evening typing the names in the "wrong" order), and Meryl Streep’s performance to be a marvel.
And I also thought Stanley Tucci was great, too.
(And reviewers have been too harsh on Amy Adams: it’s an essentially thankless expository role, one that underutilizes her talents, but she does it well.)
I laughed, I cried, I drooled over some incredible dishes.

But keep in mind, Julia & Julie is a fantasy.
Sure, it’s based on two non-fiction books, but the movie wouldn’t be out of place as a double-feature with Amélie —or, of course, Like Water for Chocolate.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
More “true” stories adapted to film need to adopt the Magical Realism Mystery Tour approach.
Jazz things up a bit, y’know?
It also helps skip over the boring, mundane stuff that might interfere with a filmmaker’s trajectory—like Julie Powell’s affair. (Heh-heh…)

Julia & Julie also follows my (and others) belief that biopics should only cover a specific area of time in the person’s life: that time which truly defines their life, work and/or accomplishments, the time most indicative of whom they are.
When a biopic chooses to tell/telescope a person’s whole life into a movie, from birth to death: snooze city!

Good biopics include:
Movies like the classic Patton (which only covers the general’s WWII years), Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (covering the years Wood spent making Bride of the Monster and Plan Nine From Outer Space)
Hope and Glory (John Boorman’s autobiography of his WWII years as a pre-teen)

Naked Lunch doesn’t try and cover Burroughs’ entire life, just those New York and Africa years.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: the book Naked Lunch is not supposed to be an autobiography, but let’s face it, the movie of Naked Lunch sort of is a biopic.)

Amadeus focuses on Mozart’s conflict with Salieri, not necessarily the great composer’s entire life.

(Clint Eastwood’s worthy Bird can be an exception to this rule because it takes the morphine dream approach, sort of like Sergio Leone’s director's cut of Once Upon a Time in America.)

Meanwhile, J&J gets beau coup bonus points
for there being a poster of Roger Corman’s “Attack of the Crab Monsters
(one of the favorite films of The National Film Board of Ivanlandia,
and the subject of a forthcoming mega-post)
displayed prominently in Amy Adam’s living room;
as well as for its use of Dan Akroyd’s blood-splattered spoof of Julia Child’s TV show on the old SNL.

Regarding that “Attack of the Crab Monsters” poster:
Why is it there?
Was its placement the decision of the director, or of the production designer?
Or did a lowly PA manage to sneak it in, putting it up totally expecting everyone to hate it, but that nobody really even noticed?
Or could Nora Ephron be a fan of the movie?
Random accident?
I needs to know!

However (getting back to food porn), the flick really needed to show more of how a boned duck is prepared: it’s a completely insane process that is, frankly, quite daunting.

Frankly I hope the DVD has outtakes and supplemental materials regarding this, because the food porn that’s in Julia & Julie is quite fantastic, even the simple dishes.

And now it's time for...
An Ivanlandia Bonus Recipe!!!

After seeing Julia & Julie, The Missus and I went to the market. She comes up to me with some fish fillets. The package says “Basa Fillet.”

I’m completely unfamiliar with the fish—and honestly, my initial reaction was to whine and growl and say, “WHAAA?!?”

—but Meryl Streep’s delightful imitation of Dan Akroyd’s delightful imitation of Julia Child’s warbling tremolo sprang into my head:
“Go AHHHhhead!
WHHHhat’s to be WOR-ried about?
It’s JUST fishhhHHH!

Right you are, oh inspirational Ghost of Julia Child!

After some on-line R&D (did you know the basa is a kind of Vietnamese catfish?),
I combined various recipes and figured out a way to cook them:
First I mixed together some spices—

Spices: Salt, pepper, parsley, a dash of ginger, a dash of Old Bay

Then I poured out some Panko flakes in a plate.

Now, you’re supposed to dry fresh fish, and although the basa fillets were moist—not dripping or anything—I didn’t dry them:
I wanted to use the fish’s moisture to adhere the flakes to it; I didn’t want to make a thick batter (like something with milk, flour and/or eggs) that would get heavy and overpower the fish.

(As much as I love thick-crusted fried food, that sort of batter-frying should really only be used on cheap cuts—why hide the flavor of a good piece of flesh, whether fish, fowl, beef, pork, long pig or dog, under a thick crust?)

I sprinkled the spices over both sides of the fillets, then pressed them into the plate of Panko flakes, making sure there was a thin coating across all the fish.

Meanwhile I put a frying pan on medium high heat and added
3 tablespoons of butter
1 heaping tablespoon of
minced garlic (in garlic oil)

Once the butter and garlic was melted and sizzling, I added the fish, pushing the excess butter-garlic around the fillets. Occasionally, I rotated the pan to make sure the heat was even.

As the fish sizzled, I added some more spices on top, leaving a little to add to the fillets after I flipped them.

Once the edges of the fillets had turned white, it was time to flip.

After I flipped the fish, I sprinkled the last of spices on the cooked side.

Let it cook for about 3 minutes, but the best way to tell it’s done is if your fork goes through the fish easily.

Once my fork easily penetrated the fillets, I turned the heat off, but didn’t take the fillets out of the pan or moved the pan off the burner, letting the ambient heat work a little more on the fish (for about 2 or 3 minutes, as I finished plating the rest of our meal, a salad and some breadsticks I made by thinly slicing some tandoori nan flatbread and twice-toasting them in the toaster oven).

Plate the fish, sprinkle with lemon. Eat.


(And the day after that, I made Korean scallion pancakes with shrimp; substituting the Korean staple of kim-chi with celery, bell pepper, a dash of hot crushed red pepper and mushrooms—
make sure everything is chopped well—
also DEE-LISH!)

So, as Saint Child might say,

"Bon appétit!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

“Hey you damn rotten kids, get off my lawn—and go see The Hurt Locker!”

There’s a tempest in a teapot going on in segments of Intertubesville:
A few critics are lamenting that “The Kids” are not going to see The Hurt Locker in the same droves that they’re going to see Transformers 2 or G.I. Joe.

Meanwhile, the inevitable gripes about the dumbing down of “Amurikah” are trotted out.


Whew! I’m glad that that world hunger problem has been licked.

Jeffrey Wells (who? Sorry, I guess I’m hardly in the loop as much as I thought I was) and Roger Ebert (I’ll cut The Great E. some slack: his good works outweigh his bad, and maybe his cancer meds are starting to get to him)
have both recently lamented the youngsters’ lack of interest in
a war movie that just might become these same kids’ reality if the economy keeps tanking and their job prospects dry up completely.

But y’know what?
Any critic who gave James Cameron’s execrable snoozefest Titanic a good review is not allowed to claim that audiences are getting stupider:
Your praising of mediocrity tarted up with expensive visual effects and cheap sentimentality helped create this situation, dude.

The awesome Glenn Kenny has some comments about this hoopla HERE.

So, what did The National Film Board of Ivanlandia think of The Hurt Locker?

What could have been a truly great study of men addicted to combat loses many points because of its hyperactive, obtrusive and frankly unnecessary shaky-cam.
A friend with a sensitive stomach said this movie made him nauseous, and I can see how.
Meanwhile, some potentially stirring moments are lost, I feel, because the camera can’t decide between the floor or the ceiling, left or right.

But even despite that, The Hurt Locker is an intense achievement, one that reminded me of some of my fave Sam Fuller war movies, like The Steel Helmet or Fixed Bayonets!

And like those movies, it’s part of that unique sub-genre of “pro-soldier/anti-war” flicks. The Hurt Locker doesn’t go political, but it’s honest and raw as the film sticks to the nitty-gritty of IED disposal in the mayhem of Iraq.

The entire cast (including some surprise cameos) is excellent, but Anthony Mackie really shines as the responsible sergeant disturbed by bomb expert Jeremy Renner’s suicidal cowboy attitude. Mackie’s character grounds the film and is the voice of military logic in a situation that has the potential to spin wildly out of control.
And even though the shaky-cam bugs me, I can’t wait to see this movie again.

And with all the whining and whinging about The Kids Today—and because I love 1970s flicks, let’s jump into the wayback machine!

From Noon Till Three (1976)

Released to DVD in May, From Noon Till Three deserves to be rediscovered.
It’s a Charles Bronson film that most Bronson fans are unaware of—probably because it’s Bronson’s only (obvious) comedy.

Playing with our expectations from the get-go, From Noon Till Three keeps getting smarter and smarter as it goes along. It’s a witty satire of westerns, romances and celebrity culture that’s almost exhilarating.

The writing and acting really elevate the movie, despite its lack of style: it’s shot in a flat manner akin to a lame TV show.
Bronson’s a sly and horny coward, and plays with his tough guy image well, seducing frigid widow Jill Ireland (often radiant and given equal screen time as Charlie), but who’s conning whom? The film is gently cynical: Both characters are opportunists but to what degree we only find out as the film unspools.
Of course, the couple’s scenes together feel genuine.

Meanwhile, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia also recently screened
the amazing
Joe (1970)

A nasty and nihilistic movie that’s pure deliciousness!
While critical of “The Silent Majority,” the film JOE has zero sympathy for the hippies and that’s to its credit:
Every hippy in this flick is either a parasitical scam artist or a clueless and sheltered space case, and they bring their own destruction on themselves.
(This is especially refreshing considering the Baby Boomer-controlled media is currently having a self-congratulatory wankfest over that abomination Woodstock:
Die, hippy, die!)

Meanwhile, it’s awesome to watch Peter Boyle’s absolutely politically incorrect rants and opinions.
His portrayal of the sly and angry Joe is perfect: a career pinnacle. This movie is highly recommended.
(And yow, was young Susan Sarandon hot!)

The Hurt Locker (2008)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal

From Noon Till Three (1976)
Written and directed by Frank D. Gilroy
Based on his novel

Joe (1970)
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Written by Norman Wexler

And before we finish, let us point you in the direction

of THIS—an amazing live-blogging of the brilliant, underestimated and underrated Looney Tunes: Back in Action, a fave of not only The United Provinces of Ivanlandia but of Otto Mannix as well. Read the article and it will make you want to see the film (again).

And if we’re talking about cartoons, let us check out Tex (GOD) Avery’s almost forgotten masterpiece Screwball Squirrel, a piece of animation that might as well have been specifically created to entertain the Ivanlandia high command. Go HERE.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Some people don’t like to go to the doctor, even for a routine check-up. Perhaps they are expecting bad news, or have some childhood-related phobia, or just feel that the often-godlike status that is bestowed upon medical doctors is just a bit too much and that maybe these children of caduceus are even less infallible than we think.

Going to the doctor is not something that bothers me, though – honest!
And if I actually had veins that could be tapped and drained – just a little, mind you, just enough for a routine blood test, about one standard test tube’s worth – I would never be hesitant to visit the old sawbones.

But like my mother and maternal grandmother, herself a former nurse, as well as one of my colleagues at work (and perhaps millions of others worldwide), I have veins that are nearly impossible to find.

Usually the nurses – yes, plural, because after the first nurse tries, she has to call in her supervisor, and then often she has to call in the office vein specialist – try a couple of times poking around in the crook of my arm, then give up and turn to backs of my hands.
Yes, plural, because the veins on the back of my hand may be seen by the naked eye, but they sure can hide when the needle comes around.

And it is from the back of my hands, via a butterfly needle, where about 99% of my blood gets drawn - and boy! Does it sting. No lie.

For a while - a paradisiacal time I tell you - my doctor had nurse that never failed: she was so good, she’d only have to poke me maybe twice to get that test tube’s worth of my internal cherry juice. Of course, she was so good, she got a better job elsewhere. Instead of sticking with my physician for over 15 years, I should have followed her.

The needle and no damage done

This week I visited the doctor, and my veins finally beat his team. After four tries and as many nurses, they gave up, telling me to try the lab techs at the diagnostics lab.
Not that I hold this against them.
The bruises on my arm tell me their efforts were honest.

The Missus says I’m going to wind up with track marks. “Yeah,” I grumble, “without at least the sometime pleasurable benefits of becoming addicted to intravenously introduced diamorphine hydrochloride. Woo-hoo.”

So why don’t they use those big veins on the inside of my wrists? They never seem to disappear. A nurse once told me that they were supposed to keep those veins untouched until there was a traumatic accident, like a car wreck: that if they used those veins for mundane blood tests, they might toughen up too much to be of use to emergency personnel.

You watch the various CSI programs on TV, where they can determine a person’s entire genetic history from a toenail clipping, and you remember that when you were a kid, the doc would use one of those small silvery rectangles with a sharp trianglular blade at the end, tap your finger, blood would ooze out and they’d collect all they needed in a thin glass pipette – and you ask yourself, so how come they need a whole test tube now?!?

If 40% of the of my day-job has this condition, why isn’t there a name for it? Under my completely autocratic control of absolutely nothing, I’ve decided to call this condition, “Hidden Vein Syndrome” – not that it’s really a “syndrome,” it’s just that “syndrome” sounds so darn cool! Even its acronym, HVS, is snappy!

But why has HVS been ignored so far? Y’know what? I need to get me some of that stimulus money the government has been throwing around and do some more research on this….

But there is hope for me yet: Memphis, Tennessee-based Luminetx developed the VeinViewer in 2005. The device uses infrared light to project a real-time image of underlying veins directly onto a donor's skin and is reported to be a great boon to phlebotomists and nurses. Unfortunately, each unit costs about $28,000, and right now I think I’m the only one of my doctor’s patients with this problem.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fuck John Hughes, the horse he rode in on, and the cavalry behind him

Before the hagiographical retrospectives and reminiscences of John Hughes and his movies begin (whoops, they’ve already started!), I just have to get this off my chest:

The creator of J. Danforth Quayle’s fave movie is dead, and The National Film Board of Ivanlandia says good riddance.

Boo-fucking-hoo, John Hughes is dead, and everywhere around the blogosphere filmgeeks are tripping over themselves to share tales of how much Hughes’ movies meant so much to so-and-so and such-and-such. (And
I’m not linking to that crap. Search for yourself if you’re stupid enough….)

His movies never meant anything to me except a movie conversation that I wasn’t interested in joining in the first place.

The National Lampoon Lactation movies never appealed to me (mainly because I’m not a Chevy Chase fan); The Breakfast Shlub was nauseating (especially the ending that turned quirky proto-punker Ally Sheedy into a boring suburban Stepford teen); with Ferris Bueller’s Jack Off,
I wanted to jump into the screen, tear out Matthew (drunk driver killer!) Broderick’s arms and beat him to death with them; and good God almighty, I had absolutely no interest in seeing Hughes’ attempts at kiddie porn like Gnome Alone and Curly Pubes.

Meanwhile, there’s a whole generation of young Americans (Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I’m looking at you!) who are in a state of arrested development as they try and create John Hughes moments in their lives. The stupid and ridiculous dodgeball phenom, anyone?

And who else out there thinks that a bunch of middle-aged critics waxing nostalgic about a filmmaker whose work they used to routinely criticize is disingenuous?

Sure, Hughes flicks must mean something to somebody (or else he wouldn’t have gotten so rich), but not to me, and I really can’t believe that all the blogonistas out there really give a shit.

But what do I know? By posting this I’m just adding fuel to the fire, right? Maybe, but lemme tell ya:
I had to post this just to get the rage out of my head. There I was, doing my usual morning routine/goofing off at the Day Job, and
is going “Boo-hoo-hoo! The guy who foisted Molly Ringworm on the world has passed from this mortal coil.”

Fuck that noise. John Hughes was an overrated hack who sold candy-coated “better” memories to people who were too dumb to realize that high school never mattered in the first place.

You know what? I’d rather sit through a Derek Jarman or Peter Greenaway film than a John Hughes movie—and those guys are the only filmmakers whose movies I walk out on regularly.

The fab Phil Nugent has posted a very thoughtful and ANGRY critique of John Spughes and his "films" that I simply must link to.
Check it out!