Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Champagne and Strawberries

Edward: You should try a strawberry.
Vivian: Why?
Edward: It brings out the flavor of the champagne.
Vivian: Oh. Groovy.

Edward: Are you hungry? You must be. Why don't you sit and have something to eat. I took the liberty of ordering everything on the menu. I didn't know what you'd like.

A "fairy tale" of a romantic comedy, Pretty Woman is more famous for the love scenes between screen idols Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, but the film does have two important food scenes that many moviegoers remember with great fondness. In the first, Edward (Gere) orders champagne and strawberries for Vivian (Roberts), the prostitute he hires. Unused to fine dining, Vivian downs the champagne before Edward can offer her the plate of fruit; only slightly embarrassed, Vivian takes and tastes one berry, so red and large and luscious to symbolize both the sexual basis of their business arrangement and the vast romantic potential underlying their liaison. It's a humorous exchange that is at once awkward and self-conscious, yet sexy and romantic, and viewers who have ever had "stars in their eyes" immediately relate to what the characters are feeling. In the second scene, which takes place the morning after their first night together, Edward orders everything on the menu for breakfast--orange juice, croissants, toast, peaches, pancakes and strawberries, scrambled eggs with bacon and kiwi, muffins--because he wants Vivian to have something she'd enjoy, and he doesn't know what her preference is. It's a touching moment, revealing how much he cares for her--but then, wouldn't anyone want to be treated so richly?

Released March 23, 1990
Written by J. F. Lawton
Directed by Garry Marshall
Starring Julia Roberts as Vivian Ward, Richard Gere as Edward Lewis, Jason Alexander as Philip Stuckey, Laura San Giacomo as Kit De Luca, Hector Elizondo as Barney Thompson
Awards: 1991 BMI Film Music Award (James Newton Howard) and Most Performed Song from a Film ("It Must Have Been Love" by Per Gessle), 1991 Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Comedy/Musical for Julia Roberts, 1991 German Golden Screen Award, 1991 Kids' Choice Blimp Award for Favorite Movie Actress (Roberts), 1991 People's Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Motion Picture

Monday, October 27, 2008

What a Birthday Cake!

Buck Russell [to young Miles, who is gawking at his birthday breakfast]: You should see the toast. I couldn't even get it through the door.

Uncle Buck is a fun movie that shows what can happen when a bachelor uncle has to babysit his brother's rebellious teenage daughter and her younger brother and sister. But the film is worth mentioning because of the amazing birthday breakfast. To celebrate his nephew's birthday, Buck (John Candy) decides to prepare a special breakfast treat: a huge cake made out of five enormous pancakes. Each flapjack is about three feet in diameter, and to make them, Buck flips them over on the griddle with a snow shovel. He places a thick slab of butter on top of the stack, drenches everything in maple syrup, and lights a single candle in the middle. When birthday boy Miles (Macaulay Culkin) enters the kitchen and takes in this wonderful creation, he grins with absolute delight. It's an oh-too-sweet feast that only the young (and the young at heart) can fully appreciate.

Released: August 16, 1989
Written and directed by John Hughes
Starring John Candy as Buck Russell, Macaulay Culkin as Miles Russell, Jean Louisa Kelly as Tia Russell, Amy Madigan as Chanice Kobolowski, Gaby Hoffman as Maizy Russell, Elaine Bromka as Cindy Russell, Garrett M. Brown as Bob Russell

Buck Russell: How many times a day does the dog eat? Cindy Russell: How many times do you think? Buck Russell: I don't know, four or five. Cindy Russell: He eats once a day.

Fun fact: For the scene in which Miles interrogates Uncle Buck in rapid-fire fashion, John Candy pasted the dialogue on top of his head so that Macaulay Culkin could read his lines quickly and not trip over his own words.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Big Eden

Mary Margaret: Whose is this?
Henry: That's so old. Is it any good?
Mary Margaret: It's unbelievable! Who makes tortes out here anyway?
Henry: That's the widow Thayer, she made that.
Mary Margaret: You're saying she made this?
Henry: Right. She's the one who's been doing all the cooking.
Mary Margaret: A woman did not make this.
Henry: What is that supposed to mean?
Mary Margaret: Nothing. I don't mean anything by it. I'm just saying a woman didn't make this.

Henry: Please stay for supper, Pike.
Pike: Why?
Henry: Look at the size of this trout.

The directorial debut of Thomas Bezucha (who also directed The Family Stone), Big Eden was a breakthrough film that finally depicted gay men of all shapes, sizes, and ages navigating the treacherous waters of love just like regular folks, with no over-the-top drama or circuit boys or any other stereotypically “gay” details thrown in just for laughs. When Henry (Gross) visits his hometown in rural Montana to care for his ailing grandfather, he discovers that Dean (DeKay), his high school “crush,” has also recently returned home. But while Henry pursues Dean (without actually coming out of the closet), Pike (Schweig), the owner of the general store, falls “head over heels” for Henry. Since Pike is too shy to approach Henry directly, he decides to learn to cook and proceeds to prepare dinner for Henry and his grandfather, surreptitiously substituting his dishes for the ones made by the widow Thayer (Martin). Despite promptings from his friends in town, it takes Henry a long time to get over his obsession with his straight friend Dean and to realize his affection for Pike and understand Pike’s for him.
“So, what’s for eats?” Henry asks, and the audience is richly rewarded with a parade of amazing dishes. At the same time, the film’s depiction of Pike’s progress in the kitchen serves as a real culinary education. He begins by reading The Joy of Cooking, and it remains his “bible” throughout the film; but he also refers to Cooking Light, Gourmet, and Food & Wine magazines, creating tasty dishes because he wants “things to be nice” for Henry. The film shows many of Pike’s creations—chicken with apricots, olives, and figs; stuffed green peppers; mushroom and spinach salad; baked salmon garnished with radishes and celery; steamed clams; curly endive and cucumber salad; chicken with carrots, celery, and beans; trout poached in white wine (he sends his friends out to the stream to catch the trout!); mushroom soup—and the viewer even hears tell of a delicious peach sorbet (made in Montana, in the winter!).

No movie about familial relationships would be complete without a Thanksgiving meal, and Big Eden depicts the usual dysfunctional gathering, with all the trimmings: turkey, green beans, biscuits, potato salad, and cherry and pumpkin pies. The masterpiece of this meal, however, is the platter of endive, asparagus, yellow and orange peppers, and bean sprouts.

Other foods are mentioned: cappuccino, cottage cheese and sour cream pancakes, burgers with onions or cheese or chili, ribs, corn on the cob, watermelon. The plot hinges on Henry’s discovery of who actually made the delicious torte he discusses with Mary Margaret (Cox): he thinks it was the widow, just as he believed all along that she was preparing dinner for him and his grandfather, but when she admits that the food was not hers, Henry finally opens his eyes and begins to accept the love that is being showered upon him. The way to a man’s heart truly is through his stomach!
Released 2000

Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha
Starring Arye Gross as Henry Hart, Eric Schweig as Pike Dexter, Tim DeKay as Dean Stewart, Louise Fletcher as Grace Cornwell, George Coe as Sam Hart, Nan Martin as Widow Thayer, O'Neal Compton as Jim Soams, Corinne Bohrer as Anna Rudolph, Veanne Cox as Mary Margaret Bishop
Awards: 2001 Cleveland International Film Festival Best Film and Best American Independent Feature Film (Bezucha); 2001 Florida Film Festival Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature (Bezucha); 2000 L.A. Outfest Audience Award for Outstanding Narrative Feature (Bezucha) and Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film (Schweig); 2001 Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Jury Award for Best Fiction Feature (Bezucha); 2000 San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Audience Award for Best Feature (Bezucha); 2000 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Audience Award for Favorite Narrative Feature (Bezucha); 2001 Toronto Inside Out Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival for Best Feature Film or Video (Bezucha)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tortilla Soup

Our most recent cooking endeavor was based upon the food in the film Tortilla Soup. This one expanded our boundaries a bit, for the recipes called for everything from octopus to banana leaves, squash blossoms, and cactus paddles! But it was fun to put together, and it was a great end-of-summer grilling opportunity--the last of the season?--well, who knows what the next movie will require?

Fun Fact
The chefs who prepared the food served in Tortilla Soup, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, are also known as the “Too Hot Tamales,” which was also the name of their series on the Food Network (1995-1999). The dishes they cooked for filming were based upon the menus at their famous restaurants, Cuidad in Los Angeles and the Border Grill in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

In Brief
Released August 21, 2001
Starring Hector Elizondo as Martin Naranjo, Raquel Welch as Hortensia, Jacqueline Obradors as Carmen Naranjo, Tamara Mello as Maribel Naranjo, Elizabeth Peña as Leticia Naranjo, Nikolai Kinski as Andy, Constance Marie as Yolanda, and Paul Rodriguez as Orlando Castillo
Directed by Maria Ripoll
Screenplay by Hui-Ling Wang, Ang Lee, James Schamus, Ramón Menéndez, Tom Musca, and Vera Blasi
Awards: 2002 American Latino Musical Arts (ALMA) Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (Peña); 2002 Imagen Foundation Award for Best Theatrical Feature Film
Food prepared by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken

"It's a very sensual film, and the food of course is just a metaphor for all the different characters in the story. We're all very different, and each character is quite unpredictable in their own way."
—Raquel Welch

Movie quotations
Do you know why we clink glasses before drinking?... It's so that all the five senses are involved. We touch the glass. We smell the drink. We see its color. We taste it. Hearing is the only sense that doesn't participate unless we create it.--Carmen Naranjo
I love toppings. Sometimes I go to restaurants and I just order toppings.--Orlando Castillo

The last two photos depict our version of tortilla soup--with just enough hot spiciness to inflame the palate!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fast Food Nation

Based on the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, the film Fast Food Nation is a dramatic portrayal of America’s relationship with fast food—burgers, fries, chicken tenders, shakes—and the companies that cook and sell it, the meat-processing plants that make it available, the animals that provide it, and the workers that prepare it. When a marketing executive for Mickey’s Burgers learns of tests that show his company’s Big One burgers are tainted with fecal matter, he travels to Cody, Colorado, to inspect Uni-Globe Meat Packing, the supplier of the hamburger patties. At the same time, several Mexicans who have just illegally crossed over the border are hired to work at Uni-Globe as meat cutters and cleaners. And a young cashier at a Mickey’s Burgers franchise joins with a group of newfound friends to free cows awaiting slaughter from their holding pen. The three plotlines converge, but the filmmakers have chosen realism over drama, and the actions and decisions of the individual characters have little if any lasting effect.

Although animal-slaughtering scenes don’t occur until the end of the film, Fast Food Nation is not a movie that will whet your appetite. Indeed, from the mention of feces-contaminated hamburger in the opening scenes to the depiction of an undocumented worker losing his leg in the meat-processing plant, the film causes viewers to ask if they want to participate in any way in this “machine” that seems to have taken control of America’s eating habits.

Debi Anderson: Well, I guess it is a marketing issue. If the kids die from eating your burgers, it makes them much harder to sell.
Don Anderson: Marketing 101. Don’t kill the customer. Bad for repeat business.

Rudy Martin: By the way, Don, you seem like a nice fella. But the food your company sells is crap—total crap—even when there isn’t manure in it.

Harry Rydell: It is a sad fact of life, Don. But the truth is … we all have to eat a little shit from time to time.

Remarkable Facts
Americans spend more than $140 billion annually at fast food “restaurants”; the U.S. fast-food market is the world’s largest, with China’s second. The average American spends more than $20,000 on fast food in a lifetime; about 25 percent of Americans visit a fast-food restaurant every day. The 3.5 million fast-food workers in the United States represent the largest group of minimum-wage earners.

Released November 17, 2006
Starring Greg Kinnear as Don Anderson, Bruce Willis as Harry Rydell, Ethan Hawke as Pete, Patricia Arquette as Cindy, Kris Kristofferson as Rudy Martin, Bobby Cannavale as Mike, Luis Guzmán as Benny, Ashley Johnson as Amber, Paul Dano as Brian, Catalina Sandino Moreno as Sylvia, Ana Claudia Talancón as Coco, Wilmer Valderrama as Raul, and Avril Lavigne as Alice
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Eric Schlosser and Richard Linklater, based on the book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

Monday, September 8, 2008

More Recipes from "Titanic"

As we continue to prepare dishes from the films we've selected, we find that certain meals take much longer than we might have anticipated, and sometimes we just run out of steam and have to finish up another night. This is what happened with our preparation of the famous meal from Titanic, the blockbuster film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. So here are some additional selections from that dinner.

The first is Sirloin of Beef, delectable and buttery, prepared with shallots and mushrooms:

Next is Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette, a quite refreshing dish because it is served chilled:

Finally, Chocolate and Vanilla Eclairs. This is a recipe that took us three tries to perfect: the pastry has to be light yet strong, the filling must be smooth yet substantial, and the chocolate sauce must be thick yet spreadable. As chefs, we have to remember that "presentation" is perhaps just as important as taste (but these eclairs are really yummy too!).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Another "Food" Film without Food

“Well, Tillie, when the hell are we gonna get some dinner?”
--Matt Drayton

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is another film with a meal in the title but no food in the movie. True, the plot centers around a young woman’s decision to bring her fiancé home to dine with her parents, and her further decision to invite his parents to join them all, but the “problem” facing these families (he’s African American, she’s white) keeps them away from the dinner table until very late in the evening. By the time they do sit down to eat, three of the four parents have come to accept that though it may not lead to an easy life, true love is “colorblind.” The viewer is left with hope for the future of the young lovers but only the promise of the fine meal that has been prepared for this momentous evening, a meal that was to feature turtle soup, beef tournedos, and home-baked pie. The only food shown on screen is a light lunch of sandwiches, soup, and coffee and a drive-in snack of fresh Oregon boysenberry sherbet and coffee, so moviegoers would probably have applauded Matt Drayton’s final question, “When the hell are we gonna get some dinner?”

Important Facts:
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was Spencer Tracy’s final film, but it was the first for Katharine Houghton, Katharine Hepburn’s niece.
This was the first movie to show an interracial kiss, a daring step in 1967 America.
Isabel Sanford, who played Tillie, appeared as Louise Jefferson in the hit TV shows All in the Family and The Jeffersons. Beah Richards, who played Mrs. Prentice, starred with Sidney Poitier in 1968’s In the Heat of the Night.

Released 1967
Produced and Directed by Stanley Kramer
Written by William Rose
Starring Spencer Tracy as Matt Drayton, Katharine Hepburn as Christina Drayton, Sidney Poitier as John Prentice, Katharine Houghton as Joey Drayton, Beah Richards as Mrs. Prentice, Roy Glenn as Mr. Prentice, Isabel Sanford as Tillie Binks, and Cecil Kellaway as Monsignor Mike Ryan
Awards: 1967 Academy Awards for Best Actress (Hepburn) and Best Original Screenplay; 1969 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards for Best Actor (Tracy) and Best Actress (Hepburn) and UN Award for Kramer

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Our "Big Night"

Our editor for Cooking with the Movies, Kristi, lives in Denver, so she is unable to attend the "recipe testing" dinners we host in New York, unfortunately. We would love for her to join us at least one evening soon. In the meantime, to give her a sense of "what she's missing" (and to convince her that we are indeed making good progress toward completing our manuscript on time!), here are some photos of our most recent "big night"--the meal we prepared and presented based on the 1996 award-winning film Big Night. Many viewers consider this their favorite "food" movie of all time.

Setting the scene: it was a lovely evening as our guests began to arrive.

The appetizers included Caponata, Peperoni Arrosti, Focaccia Bread with Rosemary, Melanzane Fritte (Fried Eggplant), and Tre Crostini.

Our guests gathered on our back porch for this sumptuous dinner.

The co-authors serving "il primo"--Garganelli en brodo (a soup).

One of the dishes for "il secondo"--Pollo Arrosto (Baked Chicken).

This is the Timpano, the baked pasta creation for which the film is famous.

We wowed our guests with Maialino allo Spiedo (Roasted Pig).

I must say, by the end of the evening, after having cooked for two days, we were just too "destroyed" to clean up! But the food sure was good. In the words of Primo, “To eat good food is to be close to God.”

Big Night was released September 20, 1996.
Starring Tony Shalhoub as Primo, Stanley Tucci as Secondo, Minnie Driver as Phyllis, Isabella Rossellini as Gabriella, Ian Holm as Pascal, Campbell Scott as Bob, Allison Janney as Ann, Marc Anthony as Christiano, and Liev Schreiber as Leo
Directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott
Written by Stanley Tucci and Joseph TropianoAwards: 1996 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards for Best New Filmmaker (Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott) and Best Screenplay (Stanley Tucci and Joseph Tropiano); 1997 Independent Spirits Award for Best Screenplay (Tucci and Tropiano); 1998 London Critics Circle Film Award for British Supporting Actress of the Year (Minnie Driver); 1996 National Board of Review, U.S.A. Special Recognition Award; National Society of Film Critics Awards, U.S.A. for Best Supporting Actor (Tony Shalhoub); 1996 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best New Director (Tucci and Scott); 1996 Sundance Film Festival Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (Tucci and Tropiano)

(Thanks to Pete and Shirley Longshore for providing these photographs of the dinner we served.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Wedding Banquet

“Although you kids want to be modern, what is a wedding without a banquet?”
--Old Chen

As the name indicates, The Wedding Banquet features a large wedding reception dinner. In traditional Chinese style, the parents of the groom invite hundreds of guests to celebrate the nuptials of their only son. Little do the parents realize that the marriage is a matter of convenience, arranged so that the bride, Wei Wei, can get a green card to remain in the United States, and that their son the groom, Wai Tung, is not only gay but has been living with his partner, Simon, for many years. When the parents arrive from Taiwan to oversee the long-awaited wedding, the young trio are caught in a web of their own making that is at once agonizing and hilarious.

Wai Tung Gao: …we should have moved you out.
Simon: I’ll survive.
Wai Tung Gao: Not if Wei Wei keeps cooking.

Directed by Ang Lee, now known for his highly acclaimed films Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility, and The Ice Storm, The Wedding Banquet puts keen emotions, complicated situations, and finely wrought characters on display—not to mention some glorious food! The banquet itself features fresh shrimp and lobster, perfectly steamed, and served on a bed of rice and greens to each guest, plus a four-tier wedding cake. Other scenes show Simon trying to teach Wei Wei how to cook fried eggs, the mother preparing freshly squeezed orange juice, the family eating dinners that include shredded tofu or sushi or breakfasts that combine American and Chinese foods, Simon treating the newlyweds to restaurant meal of General Tao chicken and pan-fried fish at the best Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. Interestingly for non-Chinese viewers, when the bride and groom present themselves to the groom’s parents, his mother feeds the bride a traditional lotus soup (to “help” the couple have a son quickly).

Does anyone enjoy this wedding banquet? We'll leave it to viewers to find out for themselves.

Fun Fact:
In the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock, director Ang Lee makes a cameo appearance in this film, portraying a guest at the wedding banquet.

Released August 4, 1993 in the U.S.A.
Written by Ang Lee and Neil Peng
Directed by Ang Lee
Original title: Xi yan
Starring Winston Chao as Wai Tung Gao, May Chin as Wei Wei, Mitchell Lichtenstein as Simon, Ah Lei Gua as Mrs. Gao, and Sihung Lung as Mr. Gao
Awards: 1992 Asia-Pacific Film Festival Best Film Award; 1993 Berlin International Film Festival Golden Berlin Bear Award; 1993 Deauville Film Festival Critics Award; 1994 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding (Independent) Film; 1993 Golden Horse Film Festival Awards for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Sihung Lung), and Best Supporting Actress (Ah Lei Gua); 1999 New York International Independent Film & Video Festival Director’s Choice Award; 1993 Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle Award for Best Director and Best Film

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Food" Movies without Food

In our search for the greatest “food” movies ever made—or maybe simply for the films featuring the most delicious meals—we came across a number of pictures whose titles hinted at the presence of food yet, when we viewed them, we discovered that they didn’t include food at all. One of these “food” movies without food is Breakfast on Pluto.

Patrick “Kitten” Braden: And the other thing about the Phantom Lady was, Bert, she realized, in the city that never sleeps….
Bertie: What did she realize, Kitten?
Patrick “Kitten” Braden: That all the songs she’d listened to, all the love songs, that they were only songs.
Bertie: What’s wrong with that?
Patrick “Kitten” Braden: Nothing, if you don’t believe in them. But she did, you see. She believed in enchanted evenings, and she believed that a small cloud passed overhead and cried down on a flower bed, and she even believed there was breakfast to be had…
Bertie: Where?
Patrick “Kitten” Braden: On Pluto. The mysterious, icy wastes of Pluto.

Breakfast on Pluto is a funny, moving film about a young Irish man named Patrick who is abandoned on the doorstep of the parish rectory when just an infant. Placed with a foster family, he discovers his transgender identity at a very young age and runs away from home to escape his family’s and neighbors’ disapprobation. A series of “adventures” leads him to have an affair with the lead singer of a rock band, to run afoul of the Irish Republican Army, to work as a magician’s assistant, to flee to London where he is arrested as a terrorist, to befriend a police officer who finds him a job in a peep show, to be “found” and taken in by the father who never admitted his paternity, and—finally—to find the mother who had fled to London to escape the shame of unwed motherhood in Catholic Ireland. But there are only the briefest glimpses of breakfast food in the movie.

Released January 13, 2006
Written by Neil Jordan (writer) and Pat McCabe (novel)
Directed by Neil Jordan
Starring Cillian Murphy as Patrick “Kitten” Braden, Liam Neeson as Father Liam, Ruth Negga as Charlie, Laurence Kinlan as Irwin, Brendan Gleeson as John Joe Kenny, Stephen Rea as Bertie, Gavin Friday as Billy Hatchett, and Eva Birthistle as Eily Bergin
Awards: 2007 Irish Film and Television Awards for Best Actor in a Lead Role in a Feature Film (Cillian Murphy), Best Director (Neil Jordan), Best Hair & Make-Up for Film (Lorraine Glynn and Lynn Johnson), Best Script for Film (Neil Jordan and Pat McCabe); 2006 Ljubljana International Film Festival Audience Award for Neil Jordan; 2005 National Board of Review, U.S.A. Special Recognition Award “For Excellence in Filmmaking”

Monday, June 16, 2008

"Noodle Western" or Uncategorizable?

How can one describe Tampopo? Is it, as some say, the "first noodle western"? A "humorous paean to the joys of food"? An "erotic food movie"? A "spoof of Japanese life"? Actually, it's a little bit of all of those, and more. The main plot concerns the widow Tampopo's desire to run a successful noodle bar, and her efforts to learn how to make the "perfect noodle soup." But there are many subtexts, from the eroticism of sharing food with one's beloved to a samurai-style showdown beneath the highway overpass. It's a wonderfully funny movie, with an incredible number and variety of dishes--several noodle soups, Peking duck, barbecued beef, rice omelets, sole meuniere, even spaghetti! We'll let our readers decide if we have indeed created the "perfect" noodle soup.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Our Absolutely, Positively Last Ever Thanksgiving Meal

Readers of this blog know that we've been working on the meals in the movie What's Cooking? for quite some time now, and that this film features four complete Thanksgiving dinners. FOUR! Well, we are happy to report that we have FINALLY finished all four, the last being the Vietnamese American meal prepared by the Nguyen family.

In celebration, here are some photos of the dinner spread. We invited twelve of our friends to sample the recipes, and they seemed to enjoy every dish--but we must say, they absolutely devoured the spring rolls--all 80 of them!

And now, on to the next movie meal....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Feast Your Eyes on These Pies!

Viewers, beware: just watching the film Waitress will raise your blood-sugar level! The film opens with a mouth-watering montage of incredible homemade pies—peach, apple, cherry, chocolate chip, chocolate pudding, banana and dark chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter chip and white chocolate chip, even pistachio—and then treats moviegoers to the wonderful story of these delectables.

Jenna, a waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner, is the genius behind the diner’s daily pie specials—both the recipes, which she makes up in her head, and the names, such as “Marshmallow Mermaid Pie,” “Falling in Love Chocolate Mousse Pie,” “Peachy Keen Tarts,” “Spanish Dancer Pie,” and “Jenna’s Special Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie.” Jenna inherited her pie-making talent from her mother, who created such interesting pies as “The Lonely Chicago Pie,” “Car Radio Pie,” and “Jenna’s First Kiss Pie.” But Jenna is incredibly unhappy in her abusive marriage, and when she suddenly finds herself pregnant, her pie-muse goes into overdrive, calling forth such concoctions as “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie” or “Kick in the Pants Pie.”

The wonderful thing about the narrative is that Jenna gives a brief description of each vision as she goes along: thus, “Bad Baby Quiche Pie” is a quiche of egg and Brie cheese with a smoked ham center; “I Hate My Husband Pie” has a pudding filling made from bittersweet chocolate drowned in caramel; “Baby Screaming Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie” is a New York-style cheesecake, brushed with brandy, with pecans and nutmeg on top; “Earl Murders Me ‘Cause I’m Having an Affair Pie” is made by smashing raspberries and blackberries into a chocolate crust; “I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie” is a vanilla custard pie with a banana on top, “hold the banana”; and finally “Pregnant, Miserable, Self-Pitying Loser Pie” is lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in, then flambéed. (This running narrative is fortunate for the viewer who loves to bake, because the DVD edition of the film does not provide any recipes.)

Fortunately, Jenna embodies humor as well as sadness in her pies: there are “Old Joe’s Horny Past Pie,” which she makes for the owner of the pie diner, and “Naughty Pumpkin Pie,” which she makes for her gynecologist/lover. Nevertheless, she has little faith in her own gifts, as this exchange with Joe indicates:

Joe: Nobody makes strawberry chocolate pie the way you do. Wednesday’s my favorite day of the week ‘cause I get to have a slice of it. I think about it as I’m waking up. Could solve all the problems with the world, that pie.
Jenna: You’re making too much of it. It’s just a pie.
Joe: Just a pie? It’s downright expert. A thing of beauty. How each flavor opens itself, one by one, like a chapter in a book. First the flavor of an exotic spice hits you, just a hint of it. And then you’re flooded with chocolate, dark and bittersweet, like an old love affair. And finally, strawberry, the way strawberry was always supposed to taste, but never knew how.

Or as Dr. Pomatter, Jenna’s lover, rhapsodizes about one of her pies: “It’s bliss.” And that’s an accurate thing to say about this fine movie itself, for all turns out well for Jenna (though we won’t give away the happy ending).

Inspiring Facts:
The toddler who appears as Jenna’s daughter, Lulu, in the final scene is Adrienne Shelly’s daughter, Sophie Ostroy. Writer and director Shelly was as inspired in making this film as Jenna was in creating new pies. Shelly’s talent ranged from adding in the simplest plot details (the five-minute date) to portraying Jenna’s friend Dawn on screen to writing the movie’s theme, a lullaby that begins, “Baby, don’t you cry, gonna make a pie. Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle….” Shelly’s murder in her Manhattan office was a stunning loss, not only for her family but for film-goers worldwide; despite this tragedy, Waitress, her final film released after her death, is an optimistic view of the resilience of the human spirit and a testimonial to Shelly’s fundamentally joyful outlook on the human experience. The success of the film has helped fund the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, a non-profit that provides film school scholarships and grants to female filmmakers.

Released May 25, 2007
Starring Keri Russell as Jenna, Nathan Fillion as Dr. Jim Pomatter, Cheryl Hines as Becky, Jeremy Sisto as Earl, Andy Griffith as Old Joe, Adrienne Shelly as Dawn, Eddie Jemison as Ogie, and Lew Temple as Cal
Written and Directed by Adrienne Shelly
Awards: Chlotrudis Award for Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast; Newport Beach Film Festival Audience Award for Feature Film and Feature Film Award for Acting (Nathan Fillion); Sarasota Film Festival Award for Narrative Feature (Adrienne Shelly); Southeastern Film Critics Association Wyatt Award